Rt Hon John Whittingdale OBE MP

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House of Commons

BBC Licence Fee for Over 75s

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The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr John Whittingdale): My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be making his Budget statement on Wednesday, but following news reports on Sunday, I would like to take the opportunity now to confirm details of the agreement that we have reached with the BBC. Under the agreement, the BBC will take on the cost of providing free television licences for those households with over-75s, and that will be phased in from 2018-19, with the BBC taking on the full costs from 2020-21. Having inherited a challenging fiscal position, the Government are pleased that the BBC has agreed to play its part in contributing to reductions in spending, like much of the rest of the public sector, while at the same time further reducing its overall reliance on taxpayers.

As part of these new arrangements, the Government will ensure that the BBC can adapt to a changing media landscape. The Government will therefore bring forward legislation in the next year to modernise the licence fee to cover public service broadcast catch-up TV. In addition, the Government will reduce the broadband ring fence to £80 million in 2017-18, to £20 million in 2018-19, to £10 million in 2019-20 and to zero in 2020-21. The Government will consider carefully the case for decriminalisation in the light of the Perry report and the need for the BBC to be funded appropriately. No decision will be taken in advance of charter renewal.

The Government anticipate that the licence fee will rise in line with the consumer prices index over the next charter review period, subject to the conclusions of the charter review on the purposes and scope of the BBC, and the BBC demonstrating that it is undertaking efficiency savings at least equivalent to those in other parts of the public sector. The commitment made in the Conservative manifesto that all households with an over-75-year-old will be eligible for a free TV licence will be honoured throughout the Parliament. As requested by the BBC, it will take responsibility for this policy from thereon.

Charter review will provide an opportunity to consider wider issues relating to the purposes and scope of the BBC. We look forward to using it to engage on the full range of issues with the public, industry and the House. I will be making an announcement about the process for the review in due course.



Broadband in Gloucestershire and Superfast Broadband

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2. Alex Chalk (Cheltenham) (Con): What steps his Department is taking to improve broadband coverage in Gloucestershire. [900096]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr John Whittingdale): The Government have committed nearly £27 million to the roll-out of superfast broadband in Herefordshire and Gloucestershire. This should take superfast broadband coverage to an additional 130,000 homes and businesses across the two counties, providing almost 93% coverage by the end of 2017. Small and medium-sized enterprises in Gloucester and Cheltenham are now eligible for a grant of up to £3,000 to improve their broadband connectivity under the broadband connection voucher scheme.

Alex Chalk: I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. None the less, a significant number of homes and businesses in Cheltenham fall between two stools, being, apparently, not sufficiently rural for Fastershire to see fit to step in but too rural for commercial providers to consider it viable to extend broadband provision. Will he meet me to discuss how we can help those stuck in limbo and cut this Gordian knot?

Mr Whittingdale: First, I congratulate my hon. Friend on his election to this House and commend him on his efforts on behalf of his constituents in order that they should obtain superfast broadband. He will be aware that 96% of Cheltenham will already have access to it by the end of 2017, which is above the national target, and many small and medium-sized enterprises can also benefit from the broadband connection voucher I mentioned. We are examining ways of extending the reach beyond that 96%, but I would of course be happy to meet him and some of his constituents to discuss what more we might do to help.

Mark Spencer (Sherwood) (Con) rose—

Mr Speaker: Order. I note the ingenuity of the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mark Spencer), but Nottinghamshire is a little distance away from Gloucestershire and Herefordshire.

Mr Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): May I support the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) and remind the Secretary of State that many rural villages, certainly in my constituency, still do not have sufficiently strong broadband connections? That hampers people who are running small businesses from home, as well as children who are trying to use the internet to learn. What can he do to speed up the provision in those small villages?

Mr Whittingdale: I understand my hon. Friend’s concern for his constituents, particularly those in more rural areas. As he may be aware, under phase 1 of the broadband scheme we expect to reach 87.1% of premises across the whole of Herefordshire and Gloucestershire by December 2016, and under phase 2 we hope to extend that to 92.8%. Those in the more remote areas may still prove to be outside, and we will be looking at alternative means by which we can reach them with superfast broadband, but, again, I am happy to talk him further about this.

Superfast Broadband

3. Heidi Allen (South Cambridgeshire) (Con): What progress his Department is making on the roll-out of superfast broadband. [900097]

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The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr John Whittingdale): More than 2.5 million additional homes and businesses now have access to superfast broadband as a result of the Government’s intervention. We continue to add 40,000 more homes and businesses every week.

Heidi Allen: I feel that I am about to gatecrash a party, but we have exactly the same situation in South Cambridgeshire. Connecting Cambridgeshire is doing a fantastic job of rolling out broadband across much of the constituency, but our roads are at gridlock—a happy consequence of our economic success—and it is vital that we keep people working in local hubs and from home. I, too, am interested in what other technologies we might explore to reach those people who are missing, so please may I come along too?

Mr Whittingdale: I congratulate my hon. Friend on her election and she is a very welcome party guest. The Government are investing more than £8 million in Connecting Cambridgeshire, which will increase coverage in her constituency to 94% by 2017. As she pointed out, there will be some areas that are much harder to reach and it might not be possible to do so by the traditional methods, so we are running pilot projects to explore other ways in which we can bring coverage up to reach even the furthest parts of her and other hon. Members’ constituencies. I would be happy to talk to her further.

20. [900114] Nigel Mills (Amber Valley) (Con): Further to that answer, what more can we do to support alternative ways of delivering broadband, such as that offered by W3Z in my constituency, which can provide high-speed broadband to the most rural homes and can get it to them far quicker than fibre broadband will?

Mr Whittingdale: My hon. Friend is completely right that although fibre will, we hope, supply superfast broadband to the overwhelming majority of premises in the country there will be some for which it is not practical. That is why we are piloting alternatives through our three pilot projects testing fixed wireless technologies in rural areas in North Yorkshire, North Lincolnshire and Monmouthshire. These are being run by Airwave, Quickline and AB Internet. We will consider the results to assess the best way of extending the programme still further into the most difficult areas.

18. [900112] Matt Warman (Boston and Skegness) (Con): One of the issues that remain for the people who will not get superfast broadband via fibre is that it is very hard to find out from BT or local councils that they will definitely not get it. Our programme has made remarkable progress, but would the Secretary of State like to see BT and local councils providing much greater clarity to communities so that they can explore other technologies such as microwave, wi-fi or satellite?

Mr Whittingdale: Again, I congratulate my hon. Friend on his election. I know that in his capacity as a former technology editor he brings a particular expertise to our debates on this subject. He is absolutely right that there will be some cases where, for the time being, it will not be possible to extend superfast broadband. I hope that we will eventually be able to do so, but in the meantime I entirely agree with him that it is important that people should be aware of that position. We are introducing a seven-digit postcode checker, which is now on the gov.uk website, so that people can be made aware of that position.



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10. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): Whether he plans to meet FIFA representatives to discuss arrangements for the World cup; and if he will make a statement. [900104]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr John Whittingdale): I have no plans to meet FIFA officials at this stage. However, I did meet the chairman and the chief executive of the English Football Association yesterday, and I intend to keep in close touch with them on this matter and, indeed, on other matters relating to football in this country.

Michael Fabricant: My right hon. Friend might like first to thank the Americans for finally exposing the corruption in FIFA that we have all suspected has been endemic for the past 10 or 20 years. Will he speak to his colleague the Foreign Secretary to see whether there can be a re-analysis with Qatar as to whether the World cup should be held there? Precisely what should our relationship with FIFA be, because Blatter’s departure is not necessarily going to mean that corruption has ended?

Mr Whittingdale: I agree with my hon. Friend. In order to achieve the reforms that all of us believe are vitally necessary in FIFA, the first requirement was a change in leadership. We have now obtained that, but that is the beginning of the process and certainly not the end of it. It is for the football associations of the home nations to work with other football associations that are equally determined to see change, in order to ensure that the new leadership is properly committed to achieving those changes.

In response to my hon. Friend’s second question, on Qatar, that is a separate matter. The Swiss authorities are continuing to investigate the bidding process that resulted in the decision to give the 2018 games to Russia and the 2022 games to Qatar, and we await the outcome of those investigations.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): I welcome the Secretary of State and the sports Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), to their new posts.The investigation into FIFA will go on, but the fight for its heart and soul will start now that Sepp Blatter has announced he is standing down. I wonder about these people at the top of FIFA and whether they have ever actually been to a football match for which they bought their own tickets, whether they have followed a football team week in, week out, or whether they have pulled on a football shirt and played in a match. We really need to get rid of these people at the top of the game.

Is the Secretary of State satisfied that Government agencies that are investigating the possibilities of corruption involving UK financial institutions have all the resources they need and that they are doing all they can to root out any criminal activity that may have taken place? Will he say exactly what he can do to ensure that we root out corruption in FIFA?

Mr Whittingdale: In the first instance, that is obviously a matter for the Serious Fraud Office and other investigatory bodies in this country, but I have spoken to the Attorney General about it. We will of course ensure that all the resources necessary to carry out a thorough investigation are available to those bodies and we will work closely with the Swiss and American authorities, which are leading on this matter.

On the reforms necessary in FIFA, we are absolutely committed to working through the FA and other football associations to ensure that the new leadership of FIFA is utterly committed to carrying out the sweeping reforms that are so obviously necessary.


FIFA debate

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Stephen Phillips (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con) (Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport if he will make a statement as to the implications for the Football Association and the home nations of the indictment preferred against certain FIFA officials by the Department of Justice in the United States and the criminal proceedings opened by the Attorney General of Switzerland.

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr John Whittingdale): The arrests that took place in Zurich yesterday, along with the statements released by both the US Department of Justice and the Swiss Attorney General, were shocking in both scale and scope. However, they were also far from surprising. Anyone who has spent time looking at FIFA, as the Culture, Media and Sport Committee did during the previous Parliament, will know that this is merely the latest sorry episode to suggest that FIFA is a deeply flawed and corrupt organisation.

The revelations have shown how important it is for sports bodies to uphold the highest standards of governance, transparency and accountability. That is what we ask and expect of all our domestic sports bodies in the UK. International bodies should be no different. That is particularly true for an organisation such as FIFA, an organisation that should be the guardian of the world’s most popular sport, not one whose members seek to profit personally from the passion of the game’s fans.

I welcome the investigations now under way into the allegations of bribery and corruption, and I fully support the Football Association’s position that significant and wide-ranging reforms are urgently needed at the very top of FIFA, including a change of leadership. I also welcome the statement from UEFA, which has called for a postponement of the election, and the statement from Visa this morning. It is important that other sponsors reflect on their links to FIFA and consider following Visa’s lead. The Minister for sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), will be writing to her European counterparts later today to set out our concerns and seek their support for change.

Finally, I would like to pay tribute to the insight team of The Sunday Times, without whose investigations many of these allegations may never have come to light. Football is the world’s game, and it is our national game. It is a fundamental part of British life and culture. Yet these revelations have dragged the game’s reputation into the mud. The time has clearly come for a change, and we will offer whatever support is necessary to the Football Association to see that change realised.


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.


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.



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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.


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.


UK Relations with Russia

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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.


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.


Question to the Prime Minister - Ukraine

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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

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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.


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.


Ukraine - Flight MH17 - Question to the Prime Minister

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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

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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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