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.
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.
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.
Fixed Odds Betting Terminals
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.
Stow Maries Aerodrome
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.
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.
Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr Speaker: Exceptionally, I shall take the point of order before the statement.
Mr Whittingdale: I am most grateful to you for making an exception in this case, Mr Speaker. As you are aware, Lord Triesman gave evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee as part of our inquiry into the 2018 world cup bid. During his evidence, under parliamentary privilege, Lord Triesman made specific accusations of corruption against four named members of FIFA’s executive committee. In the subsequent review conducted by the Football Association, Lord Triesman was careful to say in answer to questions from James Dingemans QC, who was conducting the review, that he invited him to rely on the evidence that he had given to the Select Committee, and that he did not wish to add to it. In January 2013, one of those accused, Mr Makudi, brought an action for defamation against Lord Triesman, which was struck out. However, in June this year the Court of Appeal granted leave to Mr Makudi to appeal.
This matter goes to the heart of the privilege afforded to Members of Parliament and to witnesses who give evidence to Parliament. If witnesses to Select Committees cannot be confident that their evidence is covered by absolute privilege, and that if they do not repeat the allegations outside Parliament they are fully protected against legal action, that will severely damage the ability of Select Committees to obtain the information that they require. I should therefore be grateful, Mr Speaker, if you would consider what action you, or Parliament, can take to defend the principle of parliamentary privilege, which is a fundamental right enshrined in the Bill of Rights.
Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who chairs the Culture, Media and Sport Committee with great skill, for his courtesy in giving me notice of his point of order.
I have followed these matters very closely, and the possible implications give me cause for grave concern. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the matter is awaiting determination by the Court of Appeal, so I will not of course comment on the substance of the case; but I will say to the hon. Gentleman, and to the House, that I consider these matters to be of such importance for the House and for its Members, and to the protection of free speech in our proceedings, that written submissions have been made to the court on my behalf by Speaker’s Counsel. I shall of course be following developments closely, as, I know, will the hon. Gentleman. I am extremely grateful to him.
Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): May I begin by reminding the House of my entry in the register showing that I paid a visit to Gibraltar in September, at the invitation of the Gibraltar Betting and Gaming Association, to discuss the provisions of the Bill?
Paul Farrelly: Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that point?
Mr Whittingdale: I am not sure that there is anything on that point, but I am happy to give way.
Paul Farrelly: Following the hon. Gentleman’s discussions over the summer with the Gibraltar-based companies, can he tell the House whether they are still minded to launch a last-minute legal action in Europe against these provisions? When he was there, did he discourage them from doing so?
Mr Whittingdale: The hon. Gentleman will have to ask the Gibraltar gaming authorities whether they intend to launch legal action. They have certainly expressed concern as to whether the Bill’s provisions are legal, and it is obviously up to them whether they take legal action. I made it clear to the authorities and the gaming associations that I supported the Bill, and that therefore I would certainly discourage them from doing so. They did raise some concerns, which I shall discuss in the course of my remarks.
I wish to make it clear that my Select Committee supports the Bill’s general provisions, as do I. The Committee has spent some time examining gambling. We carried out post-legislative scrutiny in 2011-12 of the entire Gambling Act 2005. Although we examined online gaming, which is obviously the most rapidly increasing form of gambling, inevitably the main focus on the 2005 Act related to casinos, the previous Government’s abortive attempt to introduce regional casinos—super-casinos—in the UK and the provisions relating to fixed odds betting terminals in betting shops. I do not propose to explore the latter issue at great length today, although it remains one of some controversy.
Hon. Members may recall that when that Gambling Bill became an Act, the then Secretary of State declared that one of its purposes was to make the UK the world centre for online gaming and that that would be of great benefit to the UK economy. Unfortunately, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer holed the then Secretary of State amidships by setting the tax rate at a level that led to almost every operator moving offshore. There is a single exception, which I am sure the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Paul Farrelly), my friend from the Select Committee, will mention: bet365 remains the last operator headquartered in the UK. Almost all the others have moved to offshore jurisdictions such as Gibraltar, Alderney and some European Union member states.
Future of the BBC
Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns) on his success in obtaining this debate, which comes at a time when some serious questions need to be addressed. I do not want to detain the House for too long, because the Culture, Media and Sport Committee will take evidence tomorrow morning from the chairman of the BBC Trust and the director-general, so we will cover a lot of the issues in detail. We have also announced that we intend to hold a full inquiry into the future of the BBC, and that is likely to commence in the new year. That will provide an opportunity to examine these matters and I do not want to prejudge the inquiry. It is, however, worth spending a little time on the subject, because there have been some very difficult issues raised, and some very clear failures by, the BBC over the past year.
It is important not just to focus on criticisms, but to recognise that the BBC remains one of the finest broadcasters in the world and that, at its best, it is unequalled. That is not to say that one should just point at the successes. It is important that we look at the failures and see how they can be prevented from happening again.
Mr Nigel Evans: There was once a time when people said that only the BBC could do the arts and that it could not be done commercially. Does my hon. Friend agree that Sky Arts is now doing a tremendous job in providing arts to the masses, and that Classic FM on the radio provides classical music to a group of people who perhaps would never previously have listened to Radio 3? The onus is therefore on the BBC to keep raising the game. It does not have to chase the ratings, but it needs to ensure that it keeps providing high-quality programmes.
Mr Whittingdale: I am not in the least surprised to find that I agree completely with my hon. Friend, who was an excellent member of the Committee for a time. I will come on to this issue, but he is absolutely right that there has been a change in terms of the amount and diversity of content available. The advent of Classic FM, which is hugely successful, means that Radio 3 should no longer need to occupy the same space, but concentrate, as it does most of the time, on a little more challenging and difficult classical music than the more commercial Classic FM output. That applies equally in other areas.
UK Nuclear Energy Programme
Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): Will the Secretary of State confirm that it is the Government’s ambition that this should be the first of a series of investments in new nuclear generation? What are the Government doing to attract other potential investors who may be persuaded to look at designated sites, such as Bradwell-on-Sea in my constituency, which is already a model of successful decommissioning?
Mr Davey: Yes, we envisage a series of new nuclear power stations being built. I and other members of the Government have, on various trips, engaged in commercial diplomacy, meeting potential investors and nuclear companies in other countries, and there is huge interest in the nuclear market. When German companies RWE and E.ON put the Horizon consortium on the market everyone said, “This is a disaster. It shows that nuclear policy isn’t working.” Far from it. We had huge interest from around the world. Hitachi ended up paying nearly £700 million for the privilege of having the consortium, even before it had got its reactor design through the generic design assessment. That is the level of interest and the vote of confidence in our policy.
Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend accept the first principle set out in Lord Justice Leveson’s report that any solution must be perceived as credible and effective by the press and the public? Does she agree that it would be infinitely preferable to achieve a system of press regulation that delivers the objectives of Lord Justice Leveson’s report, but which also commands the support of as many of the newspapers as possible, rather than a system which commands the support of none of them?
Maria Miller: My hon. Friend goes to the heart of the matter when he reminds the House of Lord Leveson’s statement that whatever we take forward, to be effective it must also be credible, and we must take the press and the public with us. It is vital that we do that. Nobody would thank us for putting in place a system that was ineffective, did not work and did not attempt to make sure that self-regulation of the press in this country is effective.
European Union (Referendum) Bill
Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): May I first join Members on both sides in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (James Wharton) on a magnificent speech introducing his Bill?
My first act of political campaigning was to take part in the 1979 referendum campaign. I was not old enough to vote, I hasten to add. However, I did go around putting leaflets through doors. I did so, first, because as a Conservative I strongly believed in the free trade opportunities that the European Economic Community represented. I thought it would be good for our economy and for business. I was also in favour because of the statements in the leaflets I was putting through the doors, such as “The case for staying in the EEC”, which said that we would gain, not lose, effective sovereignty over our destiny, and that in the last resort we would be able to veto any proposal put forward in Brussels if we considered it to be against our vital national interests.
There was also the leaflet paid for by the taxpayer that went through every single door in the country which stated:
“No important new policy can be decided in Brussels or anywhere else without the consent of a British Minister answerable to a British government and British Parliament.”
Since that time, we have seen those assurances undermined time and again.
East of England Ambulance Service
Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): I agree with what my hon. Friend says about ambulance delays, but does she agree that this is a particularly severe problem in more rural areas, such as the Dengie peninsula, which I represent, where one survey of a patient group of a medical practice, the William Fisher medical centre, showed that patients had to wait for more than 40 minutes, and in some cases more than a hour, before the ambulance arrived?
Priti Patel (Witham) (Con): My hon. Friend is right. Many hon. Members have experienced horrific delays, particularly across our rural constituencies. I know of delays in excess of two hours. That is unacceptable. Lives are put at risk.
Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): Is the Home Secretary aware of the growing concern regarding the actions of the police in some instances and the inactions of the police in others? Can she comment on the reports at the weekend that the police have uncovered widespread use of private investigators to hack telephones not just by journalists, but by lawyers’ firms and other corporations? Can she say why it appears that the police thought it right to tell Lord Justice Leveson about that, but not pursue any action against those who committed criminal offences?
Mrs May: My hon. Friend will be well aware that decisions on whether the police investigate individuals and alleged offences are an operational matter for the police, and that it is for the police, with the Crown Prosecution Service, to decide whether those investigations lead to charges and prosecution. However, I recognise the degree of concern that he raises. Phone hacking by some aspects of the press has caused disquiet in this House for some time. Suggestions that it could have been more widespread are, of course, equally worrying.
Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): It is excellent news that visitor numbers and visitor spend rose last year to record levels, but my right hon. Friend will also be aware that the UK still slipped by one place, from seventh to eighth, in the list of top 10 destinations. Can she say what is being done to attract more visitors to the UK, particularly from China, many of whom are still being deterred by the cost and difficulty of obtaining visas?
Maria Miller: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that we always need to be actively marketing Britain abroad. That is where our GREAT campaign, with £37 million already invested, comes into its own. It is a campaign that this country can be proud of. As for visas, we have made significant improvements to the situation that we inherited. We have now seen an increase of, I believe, around 30% in visas from that country.