John Whittingdale - A strong voice for Maldon

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House of Commons

Creative Industries

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Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): Is my hon. Friend aware of the concern expressed by creative industries in London and elsewhere about the way in which the EU regulation covering temporary structures is being interpreted as that could lead to huge extra costs in the building of film sets and theatrical and musical stages? Is he aware that other European countries are not interpreting it in this way, and will he ensure that we are not gold-plating unnecessarily?

Mr Vaizey: Yes, I am well aware of this issue. The Secretary of State is also closely aware of it and discussing it keenly. I am sure that my hon. Friend understands where our sympathies lie.

 

Select Committee Report - Future of the BBC

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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.

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Service Personel Ukraine

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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

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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.

 

Copyright Law

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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.

 

Sports Aid

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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

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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.

 

Phone coverage

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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.

 

Red Arrows

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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.

 

Community Hospitals

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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.

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Vodafone coverage in Maldon

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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

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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.

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Unemployment figures

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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.

 

Parliamentary Privilege

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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

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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?

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Deregulation Bill

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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.

 

Cultural Diplomacy

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Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that soft power is all the more important in increasing understanding between ourselves and countries with which we may have differences of view? She has just referred to the forthcoming UK-Russia year of culture. May I invite her and the shadow Secretary of State to join me at the launch of that event in this place on 24 February, in advance of her attending the winter Olympics in Sochi?

Maria Miller: My hon. Friend’s invitation is kind, and I will certainly see whether I am able to attend that event, although I think he will know that the games start next week.

I agree with my hon. Friend that there is a huge opportunity to utilise the role of culture in developing our relations with a whole host of nations. I was pleased to sign a cultural agreement with my counterpart on my recent visit to China, and in the past 12 months we have also signed a cultural agreement with South Korea. He is right that the UK-Russia year of culture will be an enormously important opportunity.

 

Nuisance Calls

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Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Mike Crockart) on securing the debate. This matter is clearly the cause of great annoyance and anger, and it results in complaints from a large number of people. I suspect that Members of Parliament are no different from any other member of the public in this regard. I started getting calls some time ago asking me whether I wanted to make a claim for having been mis-sold payment protection insurance. I found that a little puzzling as I had never had PPI, but I then discovered that the calls were made indiscriminately and bore no relation to whether the recipients had actually bought the product. That is probably the most common kind of nuisance call, although it is not exceptional.

I also want to congratulate Which?It has been very effective in raising awareness of this issue and has mounted a good campaign. I went on to Radio 5 Live to debate the issue with some of the main regulators, and the extent of the problem and the strength of feeling about it became apparent from the calls to the programme. It was then that I suggested the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport might investigate it. The hon. Member for Edinburgh West and my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns) also founded the all-party parliamentary group on nuisance calls, which has held its inquiry in parallel with ours. All those investigations have contributed to the recommendations that we will be debating.

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Fixed Odds Betting Terminals

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Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): I welcome the debate as an opportunity to bring some light to the subject, rather than the large amount of smoke that has obscured it so far, but that might be a statement of hope, rather than experience.

It is important to bring some perspective to the debate. Gambling is a legitimate activity that brings considerable pleasure to millions of people in this country, that generates a lot of economic activity and that provides employment and tax revenue for the Government. Betting shops are not a blight on the high street; they are regulated and controlled environments that provide employment and, in some cases, a social benefit.

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman says that gambling raises revenue for the Government, but in actual fact the Government receive about £3 billion a year in revenue and the profit on fixed odds betting terminals is about £1.5 billion. It costs the state £3.6 billion to deal with problem gamblers, so does not that suggest that this is bad economics?

Mr Whittingdale: I shall come on to problem gambling, but it is a myth to suggest that that is entirely a result of FOBTs. There is a difficulty due to problem gambling, and a small number of people suffer from addiction—of course they need some protection. It has always been a principle that the harder forms of gambling are permitted in more controlled environments. To that extent, it was something of an anomaly that the previous Government allowed B2 machines on the high street while there were restrictions on those machines in adult gaming centres and casinos. It was ironic, too, that the previous Government wanted to introduce category A gaming machines, for which there were no limits on stakes or prizes, in super-casinos. Perhaps those anomalies should have been addressed. That was why, when the Culture, Media and Sport Committee looked at the problem, we recommended allowing up to 20 B2 machines in casinos and some B2 machines in adult gaming centres.

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Stow Maries Aerodrome

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Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon): Will the Secretary of State join me in welcoming the £1.5 million grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund to save Stow Maries aerodrome in my constituency, which is the last remaining, intact first world war airfield? Does she agree that Stow Maries, from which pilots flew to defend us against zeppelin attacks, would be a fitting place to start the commemorations that her Department is planning?

Maria Miller: My hon. Friend is right to point out that there are not that many structures remaining for us to look at as part of our commemorations around the first world war centenary. I am sure that that airfield could play an important role in bringing this to life for new generations.

 

Visteon

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Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon): I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe) not just on securing the debate from the Backbench Business Committee but on how he has led the campaign, which has been supported on both sides of the House, as demonstrated this afternoon. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies), who has also been tireless in pursuing the matter. It is notable that four parties are represented in the House this afternoon. Sometimes MPs put aside their party differences and come together when it is plain that there has been an injustice that needs to be put right. That is certainly the case with the issue we are debating this afternoon.

There is a danger in such a debate that one simply repeats the points that have been made. We have already heard some powerful speeches from both sides of the House, such as that from my constituency neighbour, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns), who represents many of the Essex Visteon pensioners, as I do. As has been pointed out, it is particularly sad that it is necessary to have this debate a second time—I participated in the debate in Westminster Hall—because we all still have great respect and admiration for the Ford Motor Company. It has a proud history in this country and a strong reputation across the world, yet this is a terrible stain on that reputation.

It is perhaps because Ford has previously been seen as such a strong company that it was understandable that its employees, who had given many years of service, should believe the assurances they were given when they told that they were being transferred to the Visteon company and that their pensions could be transferred to a new Visteon pension fund. I will not repeat the quotations given by many hon. Members about how they were told that there would be no detriment and that their pensions were guaranteed under the same terms and conditions. Of course they believed that, yet today they find that the position is very different.

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