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Topical Questions

Volume 664: debated on Thursday 3 October 2019

As I said earlier, this is my first oral questions since I was appointed, and I am thrilled to be holding this role and working to make the country better connected and more creative.

This week, the Government announced £5 billion further to support the roll-out of gigabit connectivity, delivering greater connectivity to those who need it. Hon. Members will be aware of our ongoing work to keep people safe online and our proposals around age verification for online pornography. I wish to notify the House that the standstill period under the EU’s technical services and regulations directive expired at midnight last night. I understand the interest in this issue that exists in all parts of the House, and I will update the House on next steps in due course.

Finally, I am sure that the whole House will want to congratulate Dina Asher-Smith, who won a 200 metres gold medal at the World Athletics Championships. She is the first British woman to win a major global sprint title and the first Brit to win a world or an Olympic sprint title since 1993.

The Government have been taking out full-page newspaper adverts, including in the Cambridge News, to warn businesses of the issues ahead. On data issues, they have been inviting businesses to take out standard contractual clauses. One business in my constituency tells me that they will have to take out 72,000 such clauses, so will the Secretary of State tell us how many clauses will have to be negotiated for the entire economy and how many are actually in place?

The hon Gentleman is right that, if we are not able to reach a deal with the European Union, one of the ways—the recommended way—to handle the transfer of personal data is to insert standard contractual clauses in relevant contracts, and the Information Commissioner’s Office has full details. We have tried to make that as easy as possible. Inevitably, many private businesses are, of course, reliant on, or focusing on, running their business, but I refer really to what my ministerial colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately), said earlier on: if we want to avoid any of these problems, the best way is to have a deal and for Members to vote for that deal when, hopefully, it is presented to them.

Can the Secretary of State confirm that the Prime Minister’s very welcome announcement yesterday about broadband access and mobile phone connectivity really will have a transformational impact on rural areas such as North West Norfolk. Can she also confirm that it is actually new money?

Yes, it is new money, but it is also very much intended to ensure that our rural areas do not lose out in the search for greater connectivity. My hon. Friend will know from his constituency work just how important it is that businesses and households in his constituency are fully connected to the internet and how important that is for driving up productivity in our economy.

Given that spending on youth work has fallen by £880 million since 2010, I was very interested in the Government’s announcement this week, but note that it is just £50 million a year in revenue for the sector. Given that at least 760 youth centres have closed their doors and 14,500 youth and community workers have lost their jobs since 2010, does the Secretary of State think that the announcement of just 60 new youth centres really cuts it?

I do find it extraordinary that there is no welcome—only criticism—from the Opposition Front Bench for this £500 million youth investment fund to be spent in myriad different ways. Actually, the sector has shown itself to be very strong and resilient. Of course, it is typical of the Labour party to focus on buildings and facilities, not on what is going in or on the support offered to young people.

Further to that answer from my right hon. Friend, let me say that the £500 million youth investment fund is warmly welcomed across the country. What steps will she take to ensure that young people can participate in sport, drama and music as a result of the fund?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I can give him that reassurance. Access to art, drama, sport, and other creative and cultural activities is an absolute right and entitlement for young people. I am delighted and excited to find that this Department is responsible for youth policy outside of school hours. I hope that my hon. Friend will encourage organisations in his constituency to put in bids for this funding when details are announced.

T2.   On the question of online abuse, what steps are the Government taking with regard to those who pour out bile while hiding behind anonymous accounts, so that these people can be held to account for their comments? (912551)

As part of our online harms work, we will of course look at the benefits and costs of online anonymity. We are very conscious that online anonymity can be important for purposes such as whistleblowing, but we all also know that people hide behind anonymity as keyboard warriors.

The Stirling constituency is the third worst constituency for mobile phone coverage in Scotland. What are the Government doing to remedy this?

As my hon. Friend knows, we have recently announced £5 billion that will cover connectivity in all its forms, and that will of course include Scotland. It is probably worth saying that I recently met Paul Wheelhouse, my opposite number in the Scottish Government. We got on well and will work well together. It is a good job that we got on well, because broadband needs all the help it can get under the Scottish National party.

T3. Major national cultural institutions such as the Tate should put their brands as well as the art in their collections behind efforts to support regional and local art galleries and museums. Will the Minister therefore encourage the Tate to support proposals for pop-up Tate galleries at art galleries such as Harrow Arts Centre, which serves my constituents? (912552)

That is an excellent proposal. I have already visited the Tate since becoming a Minister, and I am well aware of the huge amount of work that it and other museums and galleries do to ensure that their collections are available around the country and to support other parts of the country as well as London.

A number of my constituents are stuck with a single broadband provider, which is in a monopoly position, so it is charging very high prices for very poor service. What steps are the Government taking to ensure greater competition, which will drive down prices and improve the service?

We are acutely conscious that the best possible market is one driven by competition. As we take forward our huge investment to ensure a better connected country, one of our key long-term aspirations will be to develop greater competition.

T4. We have been waiting since July for the Government to raise the charity lottery annual sales limit to £50 million. Every month of dither and delay means good causes across the UK missing out. When will this widely supported and carefully consulted on policy finally be delivered? (912553)

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government ran a consultation from June to September 2018, reviewed the 1,600 responses and concluded that the per-draw limit for society lotteries would increase from £4 million to £5 million and that the prize limit would increase from £400,000 to £500,000. The Government are committed to making sure that the regulatory framework for lotteries is appropriate and that both society lotteries and the national lottery can thrive. The Gambling Commission will, however, run a consultation seeking views on additional transparency measures before the new limits are implemented.

It has been another brilliant year for National Citizen Service schemes in Witney, through which young people learn vital life skills and have great fun at the same time. Will the Minister please confirm that the scheme continues, and will continue, to have the Government’s full support?

I am happy to provide that commitment. We think the National Citizen Service is a fantastic scheme. I think it is the fastest growing youth activity scheme in the country. My hon. Friend has obviously enjoyed his visits to see it; I very much enjoyed my visits to NCS in Loughborough.

T6. Yesterday, the Premier League announced a new chief executive, who will face the same old problems: lack of financial transparency, lack of fan engagement and disreputable ownership. The Secretary of State talked about the English Football League review, but she cannot leave our premier sporting and economic asset in the hands of the vested interests of self-regulation. Will she urgently meet fans to ensure that whatever the results on the pitch—as a Newcastle United fan, I know that they can be up and down —fans are the winners off the pitch when it comes to the financial regulation of football? (912555)

The hon. Lady is right to say that being a fan of a football club is quite an emotional experience; it can be a bit of a rollercoaster. I think that we ought to see how the new appointee decides to embrace the role, but of course I and the Minister with responsibility for sport are always very happy to meet organisations.

Gigabit fast would be fantastic, but a bit fast would be great for many East Hampshire homes and businesses. What comfort can my hon. Friend give to not just the hardest-to-reach 20% and 10%, but the hardest-to-reach 5% and 3%?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this issue. In some ways, we have look at the very hardest-to-reach areas first, because while it is important to upgrade commercial areas to gigabit levels, it is in areas where there is very often no broadband at all that we will make the greatest social and economic impact.

T7. Age UK has warned that the changes to eligibility for a free TV licence are likely to result in a big increase in fraudulent activity targeting vulnerable elderly people. Is that not yet one more reason why the Government should stop outsourcing their social policy and commit to keeping TV licences free for all over-75s? (912556)

The BBC has provided assurances that it will deliver the most sensitive possible handling for those who are affected and will work with older people’s groups, charities and voluntary organisations to design a bespoke system to support all those over 75 that will include new easy payment plans and an information and advice programme. We want everyone who is eligible for pension credit to make sure that they claim it, so that they get the benefit of the free TV licence.

I declare my interest as a member of Kettering Borough Council. Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating the council on its decision to match-fund its successful £2 million bid for a heritage action zone in Kettering town centre with a further £2 million, and does she agree that that £4 million proactive investment in the local high street must be good news for the local economy?

I am delighted to congratulate Kettering Borough Council on its match funding. It shows that Government investment will often unlock other funding, whether from the private sector, the local authority or others, to make sure that our high streets are the thriving places that we all want them to be.