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Topical Questions

Volume 608: debated on Thursday 21 April 2016

Since the last oral questions, my Department has published the first cultural White Paper in 50 years.

Sadly, we have seen the passing of a number of distinguished figures, including the “voice of Cornwall” Ted Gundry, the playwright Arnold Wesker, the architect Zaha Hadid, and the national treasures Ronnie Corbett and Victoria Wood. On a happier note, we saw England reach the final of the men’s T20 cricket world cup and the semi-final of the women’s competition, and Danny Willett become the second Englishman to win the Masters in Augusta.

We warmly congratulate Her Majesty the Queen on her 90th birthday today. We look forward to commemorating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death on Saturday, and we look forward to the London marathon on Sunday, in which I understand that eight hon. Members of this House will be participating.

The Department has indicated that it wants the BBC to allocate £100 million of its annual budget for local news and children’s TV to outside suppliers. Which outside suppliers are meant, and what impact assessment has been made of that?

At the moment, the BBC is subject to the 25% independent production quota. It is not specified which particular genres that should cover, but there is a general requirement for 25%. The extent to which the BBC offers up the rest of its schedule to competition from outside independent producers is a matter we are considering very carefully. I do think there are some very good independent production companies in the sectors she mentions, and I hope that the BBC will take maximum advantage of competition to ensure that we have the best possible programmes available to the licence fee payer.

T3. My constituents in Crawley appreciate lower prices and improved service, so will my right hon. Friend tell us what his Department is doing to improve competition in both the telephone and broadband markets? (904579)

While we are on anniversaries, may I congratulate Charlotte Brontë on her 200th birthday, which falls today? [Interruption.] I do not see anything wrong with congratulating her. [Laughter.] Shall I get on with it, Mr Speaker?

We have done a lot. I want to welcome Ofcom’s digital communications review and to congratulate Ofcom on it. The review is not 200 years old; in fact, it is extremely fresh—straight out of the box. It will promote competition, and we have issued a very clear statement that we will back Ofcom all the way on this.

I am starting to realise why this Department is known as the Ministry for fun.

We all know that the Secretary of State has been distracted from doing his job as Culture Secretary lately by his extracurricular activities. I am talking about his moonlighting for the leave campaign. Last November, he promised the UK music industry that he would support clarifying EU law to level the playing field between online platforms and content providers, which would hugely boost the benefits to the UK of the digital single market. He reiterated that undertaking in writing earlier this year. Why has he allowed his Department to renege on that promise this month?

That is something to which I attach great importance. I discussed that matter with Vice-President Ansip of the European Commission not that long ago. I was reassured that he shared our concern that action should be taken to ensure the music industry receives the returns it is entitled to from intermediaries that are currently underpaying. I have to say that that is not something from which my Department has backed away. Indeed, I am determined that we will continue to press the European Commission on it.

UK Music has written to the Secretary of State about this. I have the letter here—it has fallen into my lap. After expressing surprise and concern about this turn of events, it seeks

“your explicit confirmation that the UK Government remains committed to a clarification of EU law on the liability of online intermediaries and the use of safe harbour provisions.”

Is it not true that he has spent more time running around arguing that Britain should walk away from the biggest single market in the world than he has looking after the interests of UK creative industries in these crucial negotiations?

The answer is no. Whether we will be subject to the regulations and directives under the digital single market, and indeed any other measures of the European Commission, is something that the British people will decide in two months’ time. In the meantime, I assure the hon. Lady that I discussed the matter on Tuesday evening with the chairman of UK Music. I reassured him that in no way had we reduced or diminished our support for the UK music industry, and that we share its determination to make sure that, if proper clarification of the rules on this point was necessary, we would be pressing for that.

T6. In times of community crisis, challenge or indeed success, listening to the local BBC radio station and watching local TV are vital for many of our constituents. Having worked in local broadcasting, I can say that it sometimes feels like a Cinderella service. Does the Minister agree that BBC and local commercial radio play a crucial part in the life of our communities and both should be supported, promoted and funded appropriately? (904584)

As I indicated a little earlier, local radio plays an absolutely vital role in communities. I know that my hon. Friend has particular experience in this area and speaks with that knowledge. To give a single example, during the recent flooding crisis in the north of England, both BBC and commercial local radio played a vital part in ensuring that communities were kept aware of what was happening and were given advice as to what to do about it. That is where local radio becomes incredibly important. I of course want to see it sustained and maintained.

T2. Like the Secretary of State, I have had my experience of the press tested, but—and this is not about politicians or celebrities—the years are rolling on, so when should victims of press abuse expect him to make his mind up on deciding to protect them? (904578)

We covered this a little earlier. As I said, I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman that people who have not chosen to enter public life but who find themselves the subject of press abuse deserve protection most. That is why the Government were extremely keen that a new, independent and tough regulator should be put in place. Two regulators are now being established, and we will see how effective they are. We have already implemented part of the provisions of section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013. We are keeping an open mind about when to implement the remaining provisions. I accept that we will need to reach a decision about that relatively soon, and I will ensure that the House is kept informed.

T7. It is good to see the hon. Members for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Paul Farrelly), for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) and for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan) in their places, because they have turned out for the Commons and Lords rugby club, which has distinguished itself this season by actually winning a game. In addition to engaging with other Parliaments, the club has raised substantial sums of money for charity. Will the Minister join me in congratulating its members on the sums they have raised, in particular for the Rugby Football Union’s wonderful Injured Players Foundation? (904585)

I of course would like to join my hon. Friend in congratulating not only him on all the work he has done for rugby—[Interruption.] Football is my game. The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) always likes to make fun from a sedentary position—

I shall be supporting Crystal Palace on Sunday, because they are my local team, unfortunately for the hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford). I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey) on the work he has done, as well as the parliamentary rugby team on all its charitable work, and on winning a game. I hope the team has more success in future. I also offer my good wishes to all those participating in the London marathon on Sunday, particularly those who are Members of this House.

T4. The Responsible Gambling Trust has indicated that it received £7 million from the betting industry as a voluntary donation. How much annual funding does the Department provide for research, education and treatment for gambling-related harm? (904580)

This is an important matter. It is already a requirement on all gambling licence holders to make an annual financial contribution to one or more organisations that perform research into the prevention and treatment of gambling-related harm. The vast majority choose to make that contribution to the Responsible Gambling Trust, which raised £6.5 million from the British-based gambling industry in 2014-15. I entirely agree that we need research into this matter, and we must take decisions based on the evidence.

As always, I appreciate your patience and guidance, Mr Speaker. On the occasion of Her Majesty’s 90th birthday, will the Minister join me in acknowledging the Queen’s vital contribution to the UK tourism industry?

I would be delighted to add my congratulations to Her Majesty on her birthday, and I commend the tremendous service that she has given to the country in so many fields, including tourism.

T5. The UK video games industry is a fantastic UK success story, thanks in no small part to access to a huge European market. If we stay in the European Union, we will influence the future digital single market, which rules over app stores, for example. What say would we have if we walked away from the table? (904583)

What can I say? I think it would be a disaster if we left the European Union. Thanks to the fantastic support for our introduction of tax credits and putting coding in the national curriculum, and our backing for e-sports, Britain is forging ahead in the video games industry. However, we must work with our European partners.

Last night you and I, Mr Speaker, attended the 10th anniversary of Asianlite, an Asian newspaper that is online and in print. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State join me in congratulating it on 10 years of wonderful publication, and in looking forward to at least another 10 years of its celebrated works?

I am happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating Asianlite. I have had several recent meetings with representatives of Asian media organisations to talk about how we can support them and work with them in tackling problems such as extremism. It is essential that those communities have thriving media, so I am very happy to hear about this latest edition and wish it every success.

The Conservative manifesto pledged

“to stop children's exposure to harmful sexualised content online, by requiring age verification for access to all sites containing pornographic material and age-rating for all music videos”.

Why did the Secretary of State exclude that from the consultation document on child safety online, which he published in February?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for advance warning of her question, and she is right to say that this is a serious matter. We think that age verification should be in place for adult pornographic websites. Images of child abuse are absolutely illegal and we must take every measure to counter them, and I share the hon. Lady’s alarm about the figures today. However, there is a big distinction between those sites, and sites that are legal for adults but where we need to increase protection for children. The manifesto was clear that we will introduce measures to ensure age verification, and I hope that we will bring those forward very soon in legislation in the next Session.