Skip to main content

Topical Questions

Volume 646: debated on Thursday 6 September 2018

It is a privilege to have been appointed Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport at the start of a very busy summer for the Department and its sectors, not least with England reaching the semi-finals of the World cup. That was the point at which I took over, and England made no further progress. However, Gareth Southgate and his team deserve congratulations, not just on their performance, but on the way they showed the power that sport has to bring us together. We have also welcomed millions of tourists to the United Kingdom this summer, including to the Edinburgh festivals and fringe, which I had the pleasure of attending last month, and where I was able to welcome colleagues from across the world to the international culture summit.

Finally, if you will allow me, Mr Speaker, may I offer my congratulations to the new Attorney General, who I am pleased to see in his place? I wish him well in that hugely rewarding role and thank the Solicitor General for the tremendous support he gave me and which I know he will offer to my right hon. and learned Friend.

I welcome the Secretary of State to his place. He omitted to mention that Glasgow recently co-hosted the European athletics championships, which provided a great economic boost to the city. Earlier in the year, however, the EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee was advised that major sporting events may shun Britain after Brexit, so will he tell us what engagement he has had with sporting bodies and the devolved nations on the potential impact of that, and will he report on his findings?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind welcome and apologise to him for the omission; he will understand that it has been a remarkable summer of sport and listing all of it would, I am sure, have antagonised Mr Speaker. The hon. Gentleman is right to point out Glasgow’s success in that regard. There has been a great deal of engagement, not least that involving the Sport Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch). We shall continue to engage as much as we can.

Shockingly, only 17% of the tech workforce are women. I therefore welcome the recent announcement of a digital skills innovation fund of £1 million, which is there to help under-represented groups. Will the Minister outline what further measures are being taken to ensure that our digital economy is accessible and diverse?

Diversity in the tech sector is vital. In addition to the digital skills partnership, which is bringing government and industry together to solve these problems, we are also backing the tech talent charter, which is driving diversity, especially regarding gender, across the sector.

As the Secretary of State will know, 300 newspapers have closed in the past decade and there are 6,000 fewer local journalists than there were in 2007. That is hardly surprising, given that two companies, Facebook and Google, control nearly 60% of global online advertising revenues, using content created by local journalists, playing their role in our democratic system. Does he think that that duopoly is healthy for journalism and local democracy in the UK?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that. The position he sets out and the problem he raises is one of the most serious we face, certainly within my Department and, arguably, beyond. He will appreciate that I want to understand this issue properly before I start to set out any decisions. This is an issue where cross-party discussions are useful and I hope we will be able to have those discussions together—perhaps even live, rather than on Twitter. It would also be helpful to have the conclusions of the Cairncross review, of which he will be aware. I met Frances Cairncross yesterday to talk through some of her preliminary thoughts on the way in which her investigations are proceeding, and I look forward very much to what she has to say on the issues he has raised.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. I know he is new to his brief, but I was hoping that his Front-Bench team could provide more reassurance on the protection of voters and consumers, and show more interest in protecting the music industry and local newspapers. The problem seems to be that the Government as a whole are either unwilling or unable to deal with the market dominance of the big tech giants. The Opposition believe that these companies are running rings around Governments, legislators and regulators. There is no better example of that than Mark Zuckerberg’s cowardly refusal to appear before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee. Even Rupert Murdoch did that. Does the Secretary of State agree that the time is now right for a new single, powerful regulator to take on the big tech giants and redress this huge imbalance of market power?

Well, the other aspect that the hon. Gentleman has not mentioned but about which I know he shares my concern is the range of online harms, on which we can realistically expect more assistance from the tech companies than we currently get. We need to think about a whole range of areas. The truth is that the tech economy has changed dramatically, as has the online companies’ power. The hon. Gentleman will understand that I want to make sure that whatever the actions this Government and this country take, they are properly thought through. That is for two reasons: first, they will be substantially attacked, and the hon. Gentleman knows that; and secondly, I very much hope that they will be an example to the world, and that will be so only if we have thought them through properly and designed them carefully, so that they are robust under scrutiny. He has my reassurance that that is exactly the process with which I intend to engage.

I gently remind the House that topical questions and answers are supposed to be substantially shorter than those for substantive questions. We are behind time. I seek to help colleagues, but colleagues must help each other. Single-sentence questions are in order; a great exemplar of that, I am sure, will be Mr Stephen Kerr.

Given the announcement last week that RootsTech will hold a global event next October at the ExCeL in London—the first time the event has been held outside North America; it will be attended by 10,000 enthusiastic family-history professionals and so forth—what is the Minister’s estimation of the value of family history to the UK and to Scotland’s cultural economy?

T2. Thanks to the Welsh Government in Cardiff, the infrastructure is in place for the majority of my constituents to have superfast broadband, but for many the cost is prohibitive. Will the Secretary of State commit to taking on the broadband providers, to make superfast broadband more affordable for my constituents? (906674)

We are all interested in the provision of superfast broadband at reasonable rates for those in Wales and elsewhere. The hon. Gentleman will understand that there is an overlap—particularly when it comes to the delivery of such services to very rural areas—between what can be done in fixed broadband and what can be done in mobile telephony. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman also speaks to his colleagues in the Welsh Government about the planning changes that are necessary to enable more mobile infrastructure to be rolled out more quickly. Those changes have been made in England and Scotland, but not yet in Wales.

Given the Home Secretary’s comments this week about internet safety, will the Secretary of State confirm that the Government’s internet safety strategy will ensure that tech companies have to manage their content more responsibly?

T3. Arts Council England has awarded £750,000 to the Hepworth Gallery and Yorkshire Sculpture Park—both in Wakefield—and the Henry Moore Institute and Leeds Art Gallery, to stage the first ever Yorkshire Sculpture International, which will put Yorkshire firmly on the international art map. Will the Minister make sure that he puts the opening in his diary? (906676)

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. Wakefield has a thriving cultural and museums sector. I am looking forward to visiting the Hepworth, Yorkshire Sculpture Park and the National Coal Mining Museum. I am looking forward to a visit to Wakefield soon.

When it comes to superfast broadband, Scotland still lags behind the rest of the UK. Will my hon. Friend update the House on plans to allow Scottish local authorities to bid directly for UK Government funding?

My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State made it clear earlier that full fibre roll-out plans will ensure that rural parts of my hon. Friend’s constituency are not left behind, whether that investment is made commercially or via the public purse.

T4. The UN concluded that false reports on Facebook contributed to Myanmar genocide and that its algorithms contributed towards violence against refugees in Germany. The Secretary of State says that he needs to think about these issues, but will he back the deputy leader of the Labour party, my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East (Tom Watson), with his “nospaceforhate” campaign and support proposals for a new regulator with the power to fine social media companies that fail to act against false reports and hate speech on their platforms? (906677)

What the hon. Gentleman raises is hugely important and we will certainly consider ideas from wherever they come. As Secretary of State, I do not take the view that just because an idea comes from a Labour Front Bencher it is automatically bad—the odds are good that that will be the case, but the idea will not be automatically bad—so I will, of course, consider these ideas from wherever they come.

Will the Secretary of State congratulate Andy Street and his team on successfully securing £50 million of Government investment for 5G technology in the midlands? How might my constituents in Redditch benefit from this?

I am delighted that my hon. Friend is so pleased with the good news. The 5G pilot will benefit constituents across the west midlands in many different ways, such as regarding health, but it would probably take me too long to actually go into detail.

T5. I am proud to represent the beating heart of emerging tech and digital businesses in Hackney South and Shoreditch, but dismayed that still, according to the Centre for Towns and the House of Commons Library, my constituency is ranked 384th out 650 for broadband speed. I welcome the Secretary of State’s tone on broadband, but will he make sure that areas such as mine also get the benefit? (906678)

We will work very hard to bring the benefit of superfast broadband to all residents. I am aware that there are pockets of London where speeds are inadequate and unsatisfactory, as the hon. Lady has just described. Where an area is commercially viable, it is difficult for the Government to intervene, but we are in close contact—

Will Ministers commit to working with providers so that when much-needed broadband and mobile upgrades are rolled out to rural areas, roads are properly repaired? Ideally, infrastructure should be put in verges.

My Department is working with local government to ensure that all local authorities step up to the plate with regard to their streets. Planning obstacles should be much reduced so that my hon. Friend’s constituents can benefit from superfast broadband.

T6. Earlier this year, BT announced that it was set to hire 3,000 engineers to fill broadband notspots in cities and suburban areas. What assessment has the Minister made of progress in areas such as the Meadows estate in my constituency, which has been blighted for far too long by BT inaction? Will she meet me to understand the specific issues that those residents are facing? (906679)

I am very aware of the difficulties that the hon. Lady quite rightly complains about. I am willing to meet her to discuss the needs of her constituents.

For three days every two years, I put everything else to one side and consider myself to be a European. Will my hon. Friend join me in wishing Team Europe all the very best for wresting back the Ryder cup in Paris later this month?

I will certainly do that. I thought that yesterday’s wildcard picks were very sensible, bringing in a level of experience to the rookie team that had automatically qualified. As part of my ministerial duties, I look forward to supporting the team in Paris.

T7. Scotland’s land mass is two thirds the size of England’s, and we have more challenging geography and islands to cover, yet when it comes to broadband funding, Scotland gets only a fifth of what England gets. Why is that? (906680)

Broadband coverage is improving in Scotland. Continuing the improvements is a matter for not only my Department, but the companies, the sector and the Scottish Government.