Select Committee Report - Future of the BBC
Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): I am pleased to have the opportunity to present to the House the Committee’s report “Future of the BBC”. Our major inquiry began well over a year ago, and I express my thanks to my colleagues on the Committee, our Clerks and our specialist adviser, Mr Ray Gallagher.
As is well known, the BBC charter expires at the end of 2016. The renewal process provides an opportunity to examine all aspects of the BBC—scale, scope, governance and funding. Since the previous charter renewal, huge changes have taken place to the way in which people watch television. At the time of that renewal, most households had access to only four channels, but since then we have had analogue switch-off, meaning that everyone has access to 40 or more digital channels. Many people also access catch-up television through the iPlayer or some of the new streaming services. The whole media landscape therefore looks very different from how it did 10 years before.
The Secretary of State has said that it will be for the next Government to consider the future of the BBC and charter renewal—I understand his reasons—but the Committee points out that at the time of the previous review, an independent panel led by Lord Burns conducted a long public consultation before reaching conclusions. We think that this matter is so important that a similar process should take place this time, and there is no reason why that could not be initiated as soon as possible. Either way, I hope that our report will set the agenda for the forthcoming debate.
Service Personel Ukraine
Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): Is my right hon. Friend aware that last week Prime Minister Yatsenyuk told me that he regarded Britain, alongside America, as Ukraine’s strongest allies, and his statement this afternoon confirms that? Is my right hon. Friend aware that we have a special responsibility as a signatory of the Budapest memorandum to help Ukraine? Specifically, will he consider the requests made by the Ukrainian Government for defensive weapons such as counter-battery radar, electronic jamming equipment and anti-tank weaponry?
Michael Fallon: My hon. Friend is probably as knowledgeable as anybody about the affairs of Ukraine, as he chairs the all-party group. It is very clear to us that the Ukrainian armed forces are in desperate need of further equipment and they have supplied lists of equipment they would like. We are focusing, as I have said, on the non-lethal equipment we can supply and are considering the additional requests.
Digital Single Market
Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): What the Government’s policy is on the creation of the digital single market; and if he will make a statement.
The Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy (Mr Edward Vaizey): In homage to the elaborate nomenclature of the Minister for Skills and Equalities, which you have revealed this morning, Mr Speaker, let me quote our greatest romantic poet:
“Nothing is so contagious as enthusiasm.”
I can tell you, Mr Speaker, that our non-paper on the digital single market, which contains an enthusiastic vision for a digital single market, has gone down an absolute storm in Europe, partly because it is online, with interactive graphics.
Mr Whittingdale: I welcome the progress we are making on creating a digital single market—and indeed the interactive graphics. Is the Minister aware that the business models of some of our most successful industries, particularly those in the audiovisual sector and sports rights, depend on territorial licensing. Will he confirm that the Government’s policy is to continue to support their right to do that?
Mr Vaizey: Let me say that
“common sense in an uncommon degree is what the world calls wisdom.”
That is Coleridge as well, but nobody understood. My hon. Friend has displayed immense common sense in pointing out that it is important that we stand up for the intellectual property rights of our very successful creative industries. It has to be said as well that we should be mindful of what the consumer now wants, which is to access content in a fair and reasonable way wherever they are based. So we need to work with industry and the consumer to achieve a happy result.
Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): Further to the reply that my hon. Friend the Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy gave a moment ago, can he confirm that the Government’s position remains as set out in the response to the consultation on the review of EU copyright law—that any changes should be based on hard evidence? Perhaps I might ask him a second time to be a little clearer—just so that we can be absolutely certain that everyone is aware—that the Government support the right of territorial licensing, as the Prime Minister’s special adviser set out to the creative industries yesterday.
The Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy (Mr Edward Vaizey): Yes, that is the case. I should make it absolutely clear that the non-paper that we have submitted to the European Commission represents a vision for the digital single market. It is our firm belief that consumers should be able to access content in a fair and reasonable way wherever they are, but we do support the right of industries with internet protocol to sell territorial licensing.
Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that, while the immediate priority must be to try to stop the bloodshed in eastern Ukraine, if Ukraine is to have a future and avoid complete financial collapse it will require an international bail-out on a scale that is not yet under discussion, as well as very urgent political and economic reform to deal with the endemic corruption at every level throughout the country?
Mr Hammond: I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I thank him for the important work his all-party group on Ukraine does to maintain Anglo-Ukrainian relations. He is right that Ukraine is going to need massive international support, but it cannot be delivered unconditionally. We cannot pour the money of our taxpayers and our international financial institutions into the sink of corruption that is, frankly, the Ukrainian economy at the moment. Ukraine has to make progress on sorting out the endemic corruption if we are to be able to support it towards a better economic future.
John Whittingdale attended an event organised by the SportsAid charity to highlight the support that they give to promising young athletes with money raised from My Lotto 24. At the reception, John met Danica Brazier who lives in Bicknacre and plays water polo for the GB ladies junior under 17s water polo team. Her home swimming club is Chelmsford Swimming Club, although she also trains with Basildon, Crawley, London Otter and Mid Sussex Marlins. Last year, Danica received an award of £1000 from SportsAid and My Lotto 24.
In March she will take part in the qualifying competition for the 1st European Olympics being held in Baku, Azerbaijan in June. John said: “I am very much aware of the significant costs faced by young elite athletes and am very pleased that SportsAid is supporting them in this way. I warmly congratulate Danica on the success that she has already achieved and wish her every success in her future sporting career.”
Question to the Prime Minister - Journalists
Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the past 12 months, more than 60 journalists have been killed in the course of their work, including those at Charlie Hebdo last week? Just five weeks ago, I and several other Members of Parliament attended the signing in Paris of a declaration by representatives of every European country, recognising the vital role of journalists in a free society and pledging to do everything possible to protect their safety. Will my right hon. Friend reaffirm that commitment today?
The Prime Minister: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work he does in supporting the freedom of the press and I certainly reiterate what he says today. This most struck me when I visited Jaffna, in northern Sri Lanka, and went to see a newspaper office that had been shot up, bombed and burned. That brings home what journalists in other countries have for years faced in bringing the truth and putting it in front of the people, which is a vital part of a free democratic system. Obviously, the events in Paris are truly horrific, and the duty of everyone in public life is not necessarily to say whether or not we agree with this or that being published—everyone can have their opinion; it is not that that matters. What matters is that we should always defend the right of people to publish whatever is inside the law and in their opinion right to publish. That is our job and we must do it properly.
UK Relations with Russia
Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): I beg to move,
That this House has considered Ukraine and UK relations with Russia.
May I start by thanking the Backbench Business Committee for agreeing to hold this debate this afternoon? I also thank my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe, who changed his diary so that he could respond to the debate.
Some might think that events in Ukraine have calmed down and that there is no longer the same conflict raging as a few weeks ago, as there is not nearly as much coverage of it in our own media. It has been superseded by events in the middle east and the threat from Ebola in west Africa, but the truth is that the situation in Ukraine is no better. It dominated a large part of the recent discussion at the G20, and the war, which has now been raging for several months, has led to more and more people being killed every day. Therefore, it is absolutely right that this House should debate the events in Ukraine and their consequences for our own relations with Russia.
Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): I commend my hon. Friend and the Secretary of State for their efforts to address this problem of partial not spots and not spots. But does my hon. Friend agree that the best solution would be to obtain an agreement with the industry on how to move forward and that it may also require the Government to make some changes to the electronic communications code and possibly the planning rules?
Mr Vaizey: When I said that we are consulting on national roaming, I should have made it clear that we are consulting on a range of options, and a voluntary agreement with the operator remains our preferred solution. Looking at the electronic communications code and the planning laws is also part of the options that we are considering.
Question to the Prime Minister - Ukraine
Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend accept not only that we are facing the threat of a further Russian military invasion of Ukraine but that we are in the middle of an information war? Will he consider what more can be done to counter the entirely false depiction of events in Ukraine that is being put out by the Russian media, both inside and outside Russia?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. A number of leaders in the Baltic states have said how damaging it is that so much of their television consists of Russian-backed news channels pumping out a completely distorted picture of what is happening. It is vital that we play our part in putting forward correct and accurate information, and I have raised this issue with President Obama.
Ukraine - Question to the Minister for the Armed Forces
Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): What assistance his Department (the Foreign and Commonwealth Office) is giving to Ukraine.
The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr Mark Francois): The UK remains firmly committed to Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity. We welcome the ceasefire agreement reached between Ukraine and Russia in Minsk on 5 September and the subsequent agreement on 19 September setting out the modalities for its implementation. The ceasefire agreement is broadly holding, although there have been a number of breaches on both sides. The MOD will continue to build on its long-standing relationship with the Ukrainian MOD. We have increased our defence engagement, providing additional support on crisis management, anti-corruption measures, defence reform and strategic communications.
Mr Whittingdale: As my right hon. Friend is aware, Ukrainian forces recently engaged not just with Russian-backed separatists, but with regular Russian army troops and their armour, which invaded their country and inflicted upon them heavy losses. Will he see what more can be done to rebuild Ukraine’s defence capability?
Mr Francois: We are clear that there cannot be a simply military solution to this conflict. We have provided military support and additional non-lethal support in line with Ukrainian priorities. Specifically, the Government have already provided non-lethal support to the Ukrainian security forces, including personal protective equipment, and last week the Government announced their intention to deliver more than £800,000-worth of further kit, including body armour, medical kits and winter supplies. Also at the NATO summit the UK committed to leading a new C4—command, control, communications and computers—trust fund. We have pledged over £500,000 to the C4 logistics and standardisation trust fund as well. With contributions from other nations, those trust funds and wider NATO activity will play a significant role in supporting the Ukrainian armed forces.
Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the Red Arrows on their 50th display season this year? Will he give an assurance that the future of the Red Arrows is secure under a future Conservative Government? The shadow Secretary of State was unable to give such an assurance for a future Labour Government.
Michael Fallon (Secretary of State for Defence): Yes. As the Prime Minister made clear, so long as there is a Conservative Government, the Red Arrows will continue flying.
Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. I too congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) on obtaining this debate, and add my congratulations to the Minister on his appointment.
Every speaker so far has talked about the value of community hospitals. I do not want to repeat what has been said, but I utterly endorse the tributes that have been paid to the dedicated staff who work in those hospitals, the intimate care that they are able to provide to patients—sometimes lacking in very large, more general hospitals—the proximity they have to communities and the fact that patients can be visited by relatives and friends much more easily. All those factors are real strengths that contribute to faster recovery times.
I am afraid that, like every Member, I will talk about my own experience of my local community hospital in Maldon, St Peter’s community hospital, which is greatly loved. Like many, it offers out-patient treatments, has rehabilitation beds and offers therapies. It also has a maternity unit. In my early days as a Member of Parliament I marched down Whitehall with the local protest group in defence of that unit when it was suggested that it might close. I am pleased to say that it did not and is still there; although I cannot personally say that I have contributed to its work, my hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel), who I am sure would be here had she not become a Minister, had her first child in the Maldon hospital maternity unit.
Ukraine - Flight MH17 - Question to the Prime Minister
Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the appalling incident in Ukraine is the consequence of a war that has been raging for many months and that had already led to the loss of hundreds of lives? As well as now imposing the toughest possible sanctions on President Putin and Russia, if it is shown that they continue to support the separatists, will he consider what additional support he can give to President Poroshenko to restore the authority of the Ukrainian Administration throughout the whole of the country?
The Prime Minister: I agree with my hon. Friend. The most important thing we can do with regard to Ukraine is to help its economy recover and to make sure it has the assistance to restructure and be a successful, prosperous democracy. That is the best thing we can do. The association agreement signed between the EU and Ukraine is very important in that regard.
Vodafone coverage in Maldon
Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): May I commend my right hon. Friend on his efforts to extend mobile coverage, but is he aware that many of my constituents have been without any mobile coverage for nearly three weeks due to Vodafone having to remove a mast from premises that the landlord required it to vacate? Will he consider looking at the electronic communications code to see whether it can be strengthened to give the same sorts of rights that already exist for other utilities, such as water and electricity?
The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Sajid Javid): I was not aware of that particular issue in my hon. Friend’s constituency, but now he has raised it I will certainly look into it and see whether we can help. The electronic communications code is a very important issue and I am looking into it right now, because I agree that it was set up for a different age and there need to be significant changes.
Future of English Heritage
Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): The hon. Lady is absolutely right that the majority of English Heritage properties are what are known as unroofed and operate mainly on a maintenance basis. If English Heritage is to become self-sustaining in terms of revenue, it will need to concentrate on the 130 properties that are currently charged for. To become self-sustaining within the period will be a huge task, and it is not at all clear what will happen if it fails to do so.
Jenny Chapman: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, because that is precisely the reason for this debate. In principle, there is no objection to the proposal, but there is deep concern about how realistic it is. All Governments have a track record of rushing into reforms with the best of intentions, but it would be a disgrace if this were allowed to fail. We need to know how the Government plan to act should that happen.
Moving on from the sites to those going to see them, the National Trust has pointed out that the targets for membership and visitor numbers, on which the new model relies, are what it would call ambitious. The predicted growth in membership is 86% over the next 10 years. Even in its most successful decade, the National Trust grew its membership by only 20%, and the trust is five-star outstanding in terms of its membership organisation. If it questions the nature of the membership target, I would listen very carefully. The model is also reliant on visitor numbers going up by a predicted third. I hope that that is the case—we want this to work—and that we see English Heritage attract more and more of our constituents to enjoy its sites, but it is quite a leap, and many of us are worried about what would happen if we fail to make that leap in membership, visitor numbers and revenue.
Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): May I join my right hon. Friend in paying tribute to Tony Benn, whose ancestral seat of Stansgate is in my constituency? He was held in high regard by my constituents, even though they may not have agreed with his views. Is my right hon. Friend aware that today’s figures show that unemployment in Maldon has fallen by 27% since the last election, and does he agree that that is further proof that the Chancellor was absolutely right to ignore his critics on the Opposition Benches and stick to his guns?
The Prime Minister: I thank my hon. Friend for what he has said. As I said, there is good news in the unemployment figures about getting women and young people into work and about falls in long-term unemployment, but there has also been the largest annual fall in the claimant count—the number of people claiming unemployment benefit—since February 1998. Getting people back to work and giving them the chance of a job, dignity and security in their lives is really important. That is what our economic plan is all about.
Mr Whittingdale: On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You may recall that in November last year, I raised a point of order to express my concern that Dato Makudi had been given leave to take to the Court of Appeal his action for defamation that related to remarks made by Lord Triesman to the Football Association, in which he merely referred to statements that he had made to the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport about possible corruption in FIFA. Those remarks were, of course, made under privilege.
At that time, I expressed my concern that the action represented a significant threat to the privilege conferred on Members and, indeed, on witnesses who appear before Select Committees of this House, and that it could have the severe effects of preventing us from exposing truth and giving witnesses the impression that they do not enjoy the protection of parliamentary privilege. You were sufficiently concerned, Mr Speaker, to make a submission to the Court of Appeal.
As you may be aware, Mr Speaker, the Court of Appeal has reached a judgment in which it is clearly stated that Lord Triesman’s remarks were covered by article 9 of the Bill of Rights. I believe that that is a significant re-establishment of the rights of this House. I wonder whether you would like to make a statement in the light of that.
Mr Speaker: I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. As he rightly says, I shared his grave concern, not principally on behalf of Lord Triesman, but on behalf of the House, that a threat to parliamentary privilege and, therefore, to Parliament was entailed. I did, as I indicated to the hon. Gentleman was my intention, cause representations to be made to the Court of Appeal. It was, of course, a matter for the court and I am absolutely delighted that it found in favour of Lord Triesman. That was a victory not just for Lord Triesman, but for the precious principle of parliamentary privilege and for Parliament itself. It was a very important day, and the hon. Gentleman is right to celebrate it and to give me the opportunity, on behalf of the House, to do the same.
Supporting the Creative Economy
Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): Thank you, Mr Benton, for this opportunity to debate the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport report, “Supporting the Creative Economy”. It was the result of a major inquiry, in which we took a great deal of evidence and came up with a wide range of conclusions. There has been a lot of interest in some of our proposals across the industry and the House. I thank Elizabeth Flood, the Committee’s principal Clerk, and all the staff for their hard work on this inquiry and others.
We are debating a great success story. There is no question but that in this country we are very good at creative industries. Since the report was published, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has published the latest figures, which show that the creative industries are worth £71.5 billion to the UK economy and generate around 1.68 million jobs. They are a substantial part of our economic activity and are growing steadily. We are achieving ever greater success.
Those bare figures conceal remarkable achievements. In almost every sector of the creative industries that we have examined, there have been fantastic successes. The British film industry continued to produce some great films, and we have some of the greatest talent in the world, but we have also been remarkably successful in attracting highly mobile international investment to the UK to make films.
Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): I welcome the Committee’s report. Did the hon. Gentleman look at the arts and the financial contribution that they make to this country? He mentioned the film industry, but could he say something about the broader remit of the arts?
Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): My right hon. Friend said that the Bill’s provisions were being introduced on the advice of those who were most affected by the regulations, but he will be aware of the concern that has been expressed by a wide range of media and broadcasting organisations about the effect of clause 47 in removing important journalistic protections. Is there anything he can say to reassure them that it will not have the effect they fear?
Mr Letwin: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, the Chairman of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, for raising that issue, which is indeed important. It was a late entrant, in the sense that it was no part of the intention of clause 47 to have the effect that some of the media organisations are worried about. Those organisations have been worried that the clause would obviate the need for both parties to be in court when a court orders what is called a production order, which typically requires, for example, a bank to produce the accounts of a person accused of a particular malfeasance, where those accounts are relevant to the trial.
In the case that the media are concerned about, a production order would be used to ask a media organisation to produce some piece of information it holds. Those media organisations were worried that they would no longer have the guarantee of their day in court to contest such a production order, because the effect of clause 47 would be to replace the need for the existence of primary legislation governing inter partes rules with the criminal procedure rules committee. The media were afraid that the criminal procedure rules committee might in some way weaken the inter partes rules. I have good news for my hon. Friend and his Committee, and indeed for the media organisations—which, incidentally, I have offered to meet later in the week or next week. As it was no part of the intention of clause 47 to do that, we are now looking for ways specifically to exempt journalism and all such media items from the clause. If I may, I would like to discuss with him and his Committee the precise drafting of that change, so that we can be sure that the media organisations themselves and the Select Committee are content with the changes we make.