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Topical Questions

Volume 640: debated on Thursday 10 May 2018

It has been another busy month for the Department. We have announced the artificial intelligence sector deal and the creative industries sector deal, agreed an ambitious new tech partnership in India and piloted the Data Protection Bill through the House, while protecting press freedoms.

I will, if I may, take a moment to congratulate my colleague and very honourable Friend, the Minister for Sport and Civil Society. She reaches a milestone of three very successful years in post on Saturday, and here’s to many more to come.

I will never forget the day that David Cameron set up the Leveson inquiry, because on that day I met the family of the late Milly Dowler, and you just had to spend a few minutes in their company to understand how radically their lives had been affected by press intrusion. That is why we set up the Leveson inquiry in 2011. That is why David Cameron stood at the Dispatch Box in 2012 and promised the victims of press intrusion that there would be a second part to that inquiry. Can the Secretary of State tell the House what has changed?

As the right hon. Gentleman says, there has been bad behaviour by the press, but what has changed is that we have to look forward to how we address things now. Strengthening the Independent Press Standards Organisation and the improvements that we made to the Data Protection Bill yesterday are all about ensuring that we have a system for the future which ensures that the press is reasonable and fair but can also thrive in the difficulties of a digital age.

In my constituency, the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, based in the University of the West of England, is recognised as the UK’s leading academic centre for robotics. Can my right hon. Friend tell me what steps his Department is taking to support emerging technologies, and AI in particular?

We are enormously enthusiastic about the advances in robotics, including in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and I would love to hear more about that laboratory. We put £1 billion of public and private funds into AI just two weeks ago, and there is a lot more to do to ensure that we remain world leaders in this amazing technology.

I am sure the whole House will want to congratulate Cardiff City on their rightful return to the premier league.

When the Secretary of State was scouring the newspapers this morning searching for favourable headlines about himself, did he see the story in The Times relating to the fixed odds betting terminals decision and the need to reduce the maximum stake to £2? The intervention by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the right hon. Member for Tatton (Ms McVey), has apparently blocked the Secretary of State from being able to make that announcement. Who is in charge of gambling policy in this country—him or the right hon. Member for Tatton?

T5. The recently announced CityFibre-Vodafone partnership will make ultrafast, gigabit-capable, full-fibre broadband a reality for Stirling’s residents and businesses. What steps will my right hon. Friend be taking to further encourage private sector involvement in the construction of digital infrastructure? (905215)

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Stirling, where I saw on the ground the leadership my hon. Friend has shown in making sure that Stirling is a fully connected, future-facing city. He has lobbied me endlessly to make sure that we can get the strongest possible connectivity, including full-fibre connectivity, in Stirling. He is doing a sterling job.

T2. The Secretary of State will be aware of the recent in-depth report by the highly regarded Lords Committee on Artificial Intelligence. Among its recommendations, it calls on the Government, with the Competition and Markets Authority, to proactively review the use and potential monopolisation of data by big tech companies in the UK. What is the Secretary of State doing about its recommendation? (905211)

We are studying those recommendations closely. That report by the Lords Select Committee was one of the best reports by a Lords Select Committee I have ever read, so we are taking it extremely seriously.

T6. I never thought I would say it, but HS2 will mean shorter journey times between the west midlands and London, so does that not make the region an obvious choice for Channel 4? When will it make the decision to change its headquarters? (905216)

It has made the decision to move its national headquarters, and it will make the decision about where to move them before the end of this year, with the move taking place next year. The case that my hon. Friend makes for Birmingham is a very strong one.

T7. What steps is the Secretary of State taking, and what resources does he intend to provide, to facilitate the UK’s commitments under the European charter for regional and minority languages? (905217)

I am a great fan of minority languages. I grew up just on the Welsh border; I love the Welsh language, and I have strengthened the support for S4C through the S4C review. I am in discussions with the hon. Lady’s colleagues about BBC Alba as well.

Fixed wireless could provide an immediate solution to superfast broadband in rural areas. Openreach knows this, but constantly refuses to deploy it. Will my right hon. Friend do all he can to persuade it to change its mind?

Yes, I will. In terms of using technologies to get broadband rolled out, we should use whatever technologies are best in the location and the geography that there is. Of course, North Yorkshire has very big spaces, and fixed wireless is often the best approach.

I declare an interest as a season ticket holder at Liverpool. Does the Minister agree that it is appalling that Liverpool football club has been allocated only 16,626 tickets for the Champions League final, some of them costing up to £400? Liverpool is one of the best-supported clubs in the world. This is not really paying due respect to the fans who support the game.

That is a matter for UEFA, but I share the view that we want to make sure that Liverpool fans get the opportunity to go along and celebrate being in the Champions League final.

Recently in my constituency, I delivered surveys in rural areas to see how my constituents felt about the mobile coverage that was being delivered. I have had over 200 responses in the last week, and many people are not particularly happy with what is being delivered in their areas. What is my right hon. Friend doing to ensure that these notspots are eliminated?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that, while we have improved mobile coverage, and 90% of the country is now covered, 10% still is not. We are therefore going to put requirements on the mobile phone companies, so if they get licences in future spectrum auctions, they are going to have to do more in rural areas.

I have seen with interest Martin Lewis’s legal action against Facebook. We are following that with great interest. The internet safety strategy will be coming out in the coming weeks, and that will address these issues.

Yesterday’s Ofcom report stated that Scotland had the lowest average rural download speeds anywhere in the UK. That has a huge impact on my constituency, so what are both of Scotland’s Governments doing to address that?

Overall in the UK, we have seen improvements of over 28% in download speeds over the past year, but it is frustrating that we have not been able to get as much broadband coverage in Scotland as we could have done, because the SNP Government in Holyrood have been sitting on millions of pounds of UK cash for over four years now.

In March, a Populus poll of premier league fans showed that 72% supported the introduction of standing areas at football grounds. Why does the Minister believe that only a “vocal minority” want this to happen, and where did she get the figures for such an assertion?

I speak regularly with the Premier League, which has done many surveys on this issue. While I regret using the phrase “vocal minority”, it is true that only 5% of fans would themselves like to stand, but I appreciate that there is a wider group of very passionate fans who think that standing should be reintroduced.

What assessment has the Secretary of State made of yesterday’s article in The Daily Telegraph by Adrian Parkinson, who led the campaign against FOBTs for the Campaign for Fairer Gambling? In it, he said that the campaign was

“greased in hyperbole, spin, misconstrued evidence and, worst of all, commercial jealousy”,

that there is no justification at all for a £2 maximum stake, and that

“the Government has fallen for the spin and hyperbole—hook, line and sinker.”

I did see the article, not least because my hon. Friend sent it to me via WhatsApp, and it is safe to say that I did not agree with all of it.

The Scottish Government are having to invest £25 million to cover some of the mobile notspots, so rather than talking about future licensing requirements, when are the UK Government going to come up with cash to help with Scotland’s geography?

A very significant proportion of the mobile masts that went up thanks to our UK taxpayer-funded emergency services network were in Scotland, and the drive for greater geographical mobile coverage will benefit Scotland disproportionately.

What is being done to help with mobile phone signals, particularly in rural areas such as west Oxfordshire where a signal is vital for businesses?

Since the Government launched their review of gambling, more than £2.8 billion—£57 a second—has been lost on fixed-odds betting terminals. I urge the Secretary of State to put an end to this misery.

I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for her work on this subject and the cross-party effort she has led. We have looked at all the evidence, and we will be coming out with our response shortly.

Ministers will know that Cleethorpes is the premier resort of the east coast, and we much appreciate the support that has come through the coastal communities fund, but what policies do Ministers have further to enhance the support for seaside resorts?

We are supporting seaside resorts—in fact, we are supporting locations all around the country—because tourism is a vital asset for Cleethorpes and many other areas.

As I am in a very generous mood, each of the two remaining Members may have a sentence, but no more—[Interruption.] Order. We are running late; you are a lucky man, and I have been kind to you. Mr Morgan, get in there.

Will the Secretary of State join me in visiting the D-Day Story, a fantastic new museum that is opening in Southsea tomorrow?

Will the Minister join me in congratulating AFC Corsham, which battled the heat on Saturday to play a 12-hour football match in aid of the wonderful charity Scotty’s Little Soldiers?