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Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Volume 671: debated on Thursday 13 February 2020

The Minister of State was asked—


1. What steps his Department is taking to help support the roll-out of (a) full-fibre and (b) gigabit-capable broadband to homes and businesses throughout the UK by 2025. (900773)

3. What steps his Department is taking to help support the roll-out of (a) full-fibre and (b) gigabit-capable broadband to homes and businesses throughout the UK by 2025. (900776)

5. What steps his Department is taking to help support the roll-out of (a) full-fibre and (b) gigabit-capable broadband to homes and businesses throughout the UK by 2025. (900778)

6. What steps his Department is taking to help support the roll-out of (a) full-fibre and (b) gigabit-capable broadband to homes and businesses throughout the UK by 2025. (900779)

Gigabit broadband roll-out is accelerating, and as a result of the steps that the Government are taking, full-fibre coverage has doubled in the past year. We have introduced legislation to make it easier for operators to deploy broadband in blocks of flats and will legislate to mandate gigabit connectivity in new builds, while providing £5 billion of funding to support the roll-out in hard-to-reach areas.

I was delighted when this one nation Government announced a £5 billion package to roll out broadband to the hardest-to-reach areas, but can the Minister tell us when we will see that money being put into action, so that places such as west Oxfordshire can benefit?

As my hon. Friend knows, through our rural gigabit connectivity programme we are already putting £200 million into some of the hardest-to-reach places, not least in west Oxfordshire. The £5 billion of funding, which we will talk about in much greater detail in the Budget and beyond, will see us work with local authorities, particularly in areas such as west Oxfordshire, to get this broadband rolled out there as quickly as possible.

Does my hon. Friend agree that no business should be held back because of poor broadband infrastructure? Can he confirm that this one nation Conservative Government are making record investment in levelling up digital infrastructure?

I can. The value of superfast and gigabit broadband to businesses is enormous, and it will allow the businesses of the future to power this country’s economy. It is the fact that those benefits can be shared so widely that makes the £5 billion Government investment so valuable.

The percentage of residents without access to superfast broadband in Banff and Buchan has decreased from 18% to 16% in the last two years, but that is still far too many and nowhere near fast enough in both senses. In 2020, decent broadband is a necessity for everyone in my constituency, not a luxury. Can the Minister assure me and my constituents that the Government will do all they can, including keeping up pressure on the Scottish Government, to accelerate the roll-out of superfast broadband to my constituents?

Like my hon. Friend, I welcome the progress that has been made in his constituency, but there is more to do. I recently spoke with my Scottish counterpart, Paul Wheelhouse, and the sense that we can work together to deliver this vital programme means that perhaps in Scotland we can have more broadband and less party politics.

Does my hon. Friend agree that remote communities in the Derbyshire Dales, such as Chelmorton, Stanton in Peak, Birchover, Taddington and Cressbrook, like other parts of the country, need to be levelled up and have a chance of getting decent broadband, because they have been forgotten?

It is precisely because of the needs of remote areas such as those in her constituency that we are investing £5 billion in gigabit-capable broadband. I know that, with her speaking up on behalf of her constituents, they will by no means be left behind.

If only complacency built networks, we would have the fastest broadband in the world, but it does not, and neither does it keep our network secure. In June, the National Cyber Security Centre said that we had to act to mitigate the risk of high-risk vendors such as Huawei in our 5G and full-fibre networks. Since then, we have had more disturbing reports from our Five Eyes allies Canada and the US, while former Cabinet Ministers fall over themselves to criticise the Government, but we have had no legislation and not even a plan for legislation. Where is the plan to keep our networks safe?

As the hon. Lady knows, the NCSC has published comprehensive guidance, which the networks are paying close attention to. The networks work closely with our agencies. We will bring forward legislation on this as quickly as we can, because national security will always be at the top of our priority list. That is why we have taken the decision we have taken.

Scotland is approximately two thirds the size of England, but we have more challenging topography and islands to serve, yet Scotland will get a fifth of England’s Building Digital UK fund, and for the R100 programme, the UK Government are only committing £20 million towards the £600 million programme. Does the Minister agree with the recommendation of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee that future allocations to Scotland should be based on need, taking into account all those factors?

As I said a minute ago, I recently had a productive conversation with my Scottish counterpart on how the Scottish and UK Governments can work together to get the broadband into Scotland that it so clearly needs.

It is a nice view from up here, Mr Speaker.

The Minister’s Duracell Bunny-like enthusiasm is all very well, and I hope it stands him in good stead during the clear-out today, but it is not enough. Does the Government’s ambition not fall pathetically short of what is really required?

The £5 billion will go an awfully long way and build on the huge progress being made already, but the hon. Gentleman is right: this is not simply about money. That is why we are making legislative changes as well. The Prime Minister has been very clear on his ambition. The recent roundtable at No. 10 with all the broadband providers shows that this is far more than words; it is a real commitment in legislative and financial terms, and it will get Britain the broadband it deserves.

The Prime Minister promised full fibre broadband roll-out by 2025, but pretty quickly that was watered down to “as soon as possible”. What proportion of houses will have full fibre broadband by 2025?

The hon. Member is right: we have said we will make gigabit-capable networks available as soon as possible. The Prime Minister has talked very clearly about that 2025 target and we will legislate to make sure that all new builds have gigabit-capable broadband, and of course we will focus our greatest attention on the hardest-to-reach areas where broadband is currently the worst in the country.

Problem Gambling

We know that about 1% of the population are problem gamblers, and I want to make sure this group is helped, not harmed. That is why I have asked the Gambling Commission to use its powers to make sure gamblers are not taken advantage of—for instance, through exploitative VIP schemes—and why we have recently banned gambling with credit cards and will be reviewing the Gambling Act 2005 to make sure it is fit for the modern age.

Too many people have had their lives turned upside down by gambling addiction, so I commend the Minister for her decision to ban people from gambling using credit cards—essentially gambling with money they do not have—but what more will the Government do to tackle the scourge of problem gambling? We have probably all seen constituents in surgeries who have had their lives ruined by this terrible problem.

I thank my hon. Friend for his support for the ban on gambling with credit cards, which was an important decision, but our work to tackle problem gambling continues. The intention of the Gambling Act review is to make sure we have the right legislation to protect people from harm, but in the meantime, for those struggling with problem gambling, the Department of Health and Social Care is opening 14 new specialist NHS clinics, and we are working on a cross-Government addiction strategy, which will include gambling.

As chair of the all-party group for gambling related harm, I am delighted that the Government have adopted so many of our recommendations over the last 18 months. Our latest one is that we would very much like to see no gambling advertising in sports activities. Will the Minister agree that this is a way forward?

I know the hon. Lady is a determined campaigner on this issue. I am also well aware of concerns about gambling in sports. I have spoken about this with the Sports Minister, who is here beside me. There are already controls on advertising in sport—the whistle-to-whistle ban is a step forward—and as I said, the Gambling Act review is coming up. We are working on the scope of that at the moment.

The 2018 gaming machines review, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, the NHS lead on mental health, the Children’s Commissioner and many Members of the House have expressed concerns about loot boxes, skins and e-gaming. What discussions has the Minister had with the Gambling Commission about its exercising its powers to safeguard young gamers from gambling?

My hon. Friend did a huge amount of work in this area when she was Minister with this responsibility. I have spoken to the Gambling Commission about loot boxes and the risks of online gambling, and we are working at the moment on the scope of the gambling review.

The gambling arena currently resembles the wild west. This is resulting in increased harm and even suicides. Rather than tinkering around the edges of the Gambling Act, will the UK Government rip it up and write a new one fit for the 21st century and in doing so engage with those people with lived experience?

Absolutely. We intend to engage with people with lived experience and a wide range of stakeholders as we review the Gambling Act. We must get a balance here: making sure we get on and update that legislation, hand in hand with doing it thoroughly and making the changes so that our gambling legislation is fit for the modern age.

Grassroots Sport

The Government are committed to making sure that everyone is able to participate in sport and physical activity, regardless of their background or ability. Sport England is investing over £1 billion of lottery and Exchequer funding in grassroots sports over the period 2017 to 2021 to support a physically active nation.

As we all know, rugby is in the blood of the Welsh, but in Wrexham football is prevalent. Would the Minister like to accompany me to Wrexham rugby club to see the work it and Welsh Rugby Union are doing to introduce grassroots rugby to the children of Wrexham?

Of course, I would love to go to Wrexham. I would love to go to Wrexham regardless of whether I have still got the job. I can tell my hon. Friend that it will not be my first visit. If anybody remembers, Goole Town—the mighty Goole Town—played Wrexham in the FA cup third round in 1976, and I was there. If anybody can tell me the score, there will be a prize for them.

I would like to thank my hon. Friend for her interest in this area. Nowhere has a richer rugby heritage than Wales. I would like to offer my commiserations on Wales’s disappointing Six Nations result on Saturday—a valiant clash—but we look forward to 7 March. She will know that sport is a devolved matter, but I look forward—fingers crossed—to coming to Wrexham very shortly.

At the moment, horse racing is the only sport where there is a levy from gambling. Are the Government considering taking a levy from gambling in other sports to pay for grassroots sports participation, given that there has been a 20% drop since 2010 in grassroots cricket and tennis?

The hon. Member will be aware that there is huge investment going into grassroots sport, no more so than the £550 million that we announced for grassroots football. Of course, currently the lottery does play a big part in grassroots sport, and Exchequer funding goes in. She asks about the levy. We have no plans currently to introduce a levy on other sports, but like any Government, we keep an open mind.

Just a few years ago, Buckingham Ladies hockey team were using marmite jars on a table top to plan their tactics, and they had only five players and no goalkeeper, but I am delighted to say that, on 2 February, they lifted the cup, winning the Jaffa Super 6s final. Will my hon. Friend join me in warmly congratulating Buckingham Ladies, and let me know what plans the Government have to support more teams like them to thrive?

First, I congratulate my hon. Friend on taking his seat; it is great that Buckingham has a Conservative MP once again. I also congratulate Buckingham Ladies: what a fantastic effort to win the Jaffa Super 6s. I really encourage my hon. Friend to get the club to engage with local representatives from Sport England. These are exactly the sorts of clubs we need to nurture and see grow.

Online Harmful Material

The Government are committed to making the UK the safest place in the world to go online. Yesterday, we published our initial response to the consultation on the world-leading proposals in our online harms White Paper. This document set out in additional detail how we will introduce a duty of care on companies to keep their users safe online while protecting freedom of expression.

It has been many months since the consultation on the Government’s online harms White Paper closed, and we have only just received the initial response. Based on the latest police recorded crime data, it is estimated that an average of one online abuse offence against a child was recorded every 16 minutes in England and Wales, which equates to up to 90 online sexual offences against children every day. Can the Minister tell us today when we can expect to see legislation brought forward?

This Government are absolutely committed to moving as quickly as we possibly can on this legislation. That is why we have said we will be publishing a full response in the spring, and why we will be legislating this Session. Many of the offences that she talks about are already covered by other legislation, but the online harms Bill will bring a coherent and world-leading approach to some of the most important issues of our age.

Recent figures from Ofcom show that half of all parents are worried about the online safety of their children, and sadly, as we have heard, they are right to be worried. The Government’s online harms consultation closed more than 200 days ago. If NSPCC estimates are right, there have been more than 20,000 unspeakable child offences and abuses in the time that it has taken for the Government to string together an initial response. We are told that legislation is on its way, but how many more days will anxious parents have to wait? Who will take responsibility for children who are harmed while this Government dither?

The NSPCC has come out strongly and welcomed what we announced yesterday, which is a hugely important step. The hon. Lady is right to say that there is never an excuse for delay in this sort of area, but as the NSPCC said to me yesterday, bad regulation is worse than no regulation. We will take our time to get this right, but we will not delay for a second longer. That is why we will legislate in this Session.

Shared Rural Mobile Network

The Government announced support in principle for the mobile network operators shared rural network programme, which will see those operators collectively increase 4G mobile coverage throughout the UK to 95% by 2025. Although the SRN is not yet a done deal, the Prime Minister has made improvements to rural mobile coverage a key part of his “first 100 days” pledge.

In answer to the Sports Minister’s question, I think that Wrexham won 1-0, and he was one of—off the top of my head—the 4,200 people in the crowd.

I’m being intervened on by the Sports Minister!

The £1 billion shared rural network, 50% of which is paid for by the taxpayer, has the support of just about every rural parliamentarian in this place, but apparently it is at risk because BT is increasing its charges to other operators. What can the Minister do to bring BT back to the table and ensure that the deal goes through?

I am sorry there is a dispute about the important matter of the score at Wrexham. To return to my hon. Friend’s substantive point, I pay tribute to his work on behalf of so many rural MPs on this important issue, and I will continue to work with the sector to ensure that the shared rural network is delivered. It would be inappropriate to comment on the detail of commercial negotiations, but if mobile network operators are unable to reach an agreement for any reason—I very much hope they will be able to—we will continue to explore all possible options, including rural roaming.

What discussions have been held with the Northern Ireland Executive to ensure that the roll-out of the rural network programme—that began in this place, and is now continued by the Assembly, which is operating again—is on a par with the rest of the United Kingdom?

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that when we talk about “levelling up”, it is vital that we bring all parts of the United Kingdom with us. I have already been to Northern Ireland to talk about this and other issues, not least the roll-out of the fibre network in Dundrum, which was impressive. We will continue those conversations to ensure that every aspect of the United Kingdom gets the broadband and mobile coverage it deserves.

Youth Projects

The Government are committed to investing in young people’s futures, and alongside delivering the national citizen service, we announced a new £500 million youth investment fund from April this year, which will provide capital and revenue investment in youth services for the next five years. The £7 million youth accelerator fund, which was launched last month by the Secretary of State, will deliver extra sessions and youth clubs, alongside a range of positive activities in sport and culture for young people.

Local clubs are a great way to help young people participate in sport. In my Broxtowe constituency, Sarah Green, a parent volunteer, has worked tirelessly to renovate the Trent Vale community sports association clubhouse. Will the Minister join me in paying tribute to all community volunteers who support grassroots sport?

It gives me great pleasure to congratulate my hon. Friend’s constituents. There are 6.7 million volunteers in sport throughout the UK, which is an incredible number. We must recognise the people who give of their own time by volunteering specifically to help young people. Sport England is investing £15 million a year through its community asset fund between 2017 and 2021 to support communities just like my hon. Friend’s.

The Way Youth Zone provides young people in Wolverhampton with a variety of facilities and fantastic activities in the heart of the city. However, many young people in Wolverhampton are unable to access the Way Youth Zone, as they live too far away. What plans does my hon. Friend have to provide investment opportunities for replicating that successful youth inclusion model in other areas of Wolverhampton, such as Whitmore Reans?

My hon. Friend is right. Young people in Wolverhampton and elsewhere should have access to high-quality youth services such as the Way Youth Zone regardless of where they live—whether that is in a city, a village or a town, or on the coast. The youth investment fund to which I referred will enable the development and expansion of capital resources, including buildings and mobile facilities for harder-to-reach areas, alongside investment for positive activities across the country.

With youth services having been slashed by 73% since 2010 under savage local government cuts, and given that a peer gets more for turning up for one day than an under-25 year old has to live on for a month under universal credit, when they are already suffering from job and housing insecurity, when will Ministers admit that, under this Government, youth have never had it so bad?

It is always a pleasure to listen to the hon. Member’s questions, which are usually positive and upbeat, as we have seen this morning. I would just remind her—politely and gently—of what I said in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Darren Henry). We have announced a £500 million youth investment fund, which starts this year. We also have the £7 million accelerator fund. I am not going to use her words about having it so bad; I think she should recognise and reflect on the fact that the sums being invested in youth services are huge.

Local Theatres

Many of the stars of stage and screen who recently won awards at the BAFTAs and the Oscars started out on stage at a local theatre, but even if a role in a local panto does not lead to a BAFTA, we know that local theatres bring people together in a way that no west end theatre can rival. The Government recognise the importance of local theatres and we are actively supporting them. Arts Council England invested £650 million in theatres over the past five years. Theatres all around the country benefit from theatre tax relief. I recently attended the launch of this year’s Theatres at Risk list, a successful scheme that has saved 80 theatres since it started.

Carshalton and Wallington was left as nearly the only part of London that did not have a local theatre, so will the Minister join me in thanking and congratulating the team at CryerArts, a local community group which has stepped up and saved the Cryer in Carshalton to promote local artists?

I am very glad to join my hon. Friend in congratulating the team at CryerArts. I understand that the theatre reopened in November and I hope it continues to be a much-loved local venue.

In order to ensure the future of local theatres, what conversations is the Minister having with counterparts in the Department for Education to ensure that all children are given access to high-quality performing arts education from a young age?

I am in conversation with the Department for Education about arts in school. The hon. Lady may be aware that an arts premium is coming in for secondary schools, which will mean more investment in arts in our schools.

BBC Licence Fee

The Government have committed to maintaining the licence fee funding model for the duration of this 11-year charter period. We want to help vulnerable people who may struggle to pay for their TV licence, which is why we have announced the simple payment plan, which will come into effect on 1 April. On penalties for evasion, we believe it is right to look again at whether the criminal sanction remains appropriate, given ongoing concerns about whether it is unfair and disproportionate.

I thank the Minister for that answer. Does he agree that the BBC should stop focusing on criminalising customers who cannot pay for the licence and focus instead on its agreement to provide free TV licences for over-75s?

I agree with my hon. Friend. As we made clear in our manifesto, we recognise the value of free TV licences for over-75s. They should be funded by the BBC, and we remain disappointed with the BBC’s decision to restrict the over-75 licence fee concession only to those in receipt of pension credit.

As the Minister just made clear, he is aware that in only a few weeks’ time, some of our poorest and most vulnerable pensioners will be hit with TV licence fee charges. The Government deliberately foisted what should be a social provision on to the BBC which, foolishly under Lord Hall, accepted this responsibility. Does the Minister agree with the Secretary of State that the Government have no business doing that, and will he commit today to stepping in to cover the cost for the most vulnerable in society?

Forgive me for repeating the answer that I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes), and the answer that I gave to the urgent question last week, but we are consulting on whether the decriminalisation of TV licence fee evasion should go ahead—that is absolutely the case. If the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (John Nicolson) is saying to me that, in 2020, the future of a broadcaster’s financing is based on potentially sending someone to prison, we perhaps need to look at other models of funding.

Topical Questions

I am sure that the whole House will join me in congratulating the British film “1917” on picking up three awards at the Oscars, along with the seven BAFTAs that it picked up earlier this month. “1917” is one of thousands of film productions that has benefited from the Government’s creative industry tax reliefs, which the producer of “1917” said were “crucial” to supporting our world-leading production industry.

As we heard, yesterday the Government published their initial response to the online harms White Paper, confirming their commitment to free speech and that they want the UK to be the safest place for users to be online.

Bridgend’s local council is proposing to increase the fees that it charges local sports clubs by up to 500%. Many of these clubs tell me that they will need to close if that is implemented. Does my hon. Friend agree that every step should be taken, at all levels of government, to improve grassroots sport?

That is absolutely right. I agree that the Government should seek to support sport and physical activity at every level so that everyone, regardless of their age or ability, has the option to get more active. That is why, through Sport England, we are investing more than £1 billion between 2017 and 2021 to get more people active and to reach out to people who traditionally have not necessarily thought that sport and physical activity is for them.

DCMS has not published impact data on the National Citizen Service since 2016. With former partner organisations going out of business and the transition to new contracts reported as being, at best, turbulent, what are the Government doing to ensure that taxpayers’ money is spent appropriately and for the benefit of all young people across the UK?

I remind the hon. Lady that the National Citizen Service has benefited almost 600,000 young people in disadvantaged areas across the country. It teaches life skills, improves confidence—I have seen that in my constituency—and boosts employability. It is still the fastest-growing youth movement that we have had in this country for a century.

T2. Football fans have long called for safe standing in stadiums. Does my hon. Friend agree that if the fans want it, and it can be done safely, we should work with clubs towards introducing standing options in their stands? (900789)

I fully intend to deliver on our commitment to work with fans to move towards standing at football. In one of my first meetings following the election, I met the Premier League, the English Football League, the Football Association, the Sports Grounds Safety Authority and the Football Supporters’ Association to discuss this pledge with them. Last week, I was pleased to receive the interim findings of the Sports Grounds Safety Authority’s research, and I have asked it to continue that research with a view to delivering safe standing at football for football supporters.

T4. The Department’s contribution to the funding of S4C is due to cease in 2022. Does the Minister intend the licence fee to make up the shortfall? Given the present uncertainty about the fee, will he, as a matter of urgency, make a statement about how the funding will be protected post 2022? (900791)

The funding model that was agreed in 2015 is guaranteed, and the licence fee model is guaranteed until 2027. S4C is a very important public service broadcaster. Conversations will continue from this period onwards, and the funding element of S4C will feature strongly in them.

T3. While cities embrace 5G, 3G is a dream for many of my constituents, particularly in the Teme valley, which is a large rural notspot. Can the Minister confirm that tackling poor mobile signals in rural areas is very much part of the Government’s commitment to levelling up? (900790)

I absolutely can confirm that. I know how important any kind of mobile coverage still is in some parts of the country. My hon. Friend will have heard the earlier answer about the shared rural network. It is still being negotiated, and the exact sites that will benefit first will be negotiated by the mobile networks themselves, but I would welcome the opportunity to meet my hon. Friend and talk about where we can benefit her constituents most.

Since the Glazers took over Manchester United in 2005, more than £1 billion has been taken out of the club, which they are using as a personal cash cow. Does the Minister agree that that model of ownership is not what we want for our football clubs?

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. Football clubs such as Manchester United are at the heart of local communities. They have unique social value, and many of them have a great history. We have committed ourselves to a fan-led review of football governance, which will include consideration of the owners and directors test, but, as the hon. Gentleman says, it is very important for us to ensure that our game is protected for the fans.

T5. Given the almost weekly stories showing the unsuitability of Huawei as a high-risk, high-tech vendor of our 5G, is the Minister aware that while we in this country are saying that we can build a 5G network that separates core and periphery, nearly all our closest allies and their cyber agencies say that that cannot be done? (900792)

As my hon. Friend knows, the Government will legislate at the earliest opportunity to ensure that we do everything in line with the advice of our agencies, which is that with the “ban and cap” approach, we can ensure that national security is our top priority while also building the 5G network that we deserve safely.

I have lost count of the number of times I have raised the faltering roll-out of broadband in my vast and remote constituency. The UK Government give money to the Scottish Government to ensure that that roll-out happens. May I suggest that the UK Government carry out some kind of audit to see where the money has gone—or, in my case, not gone?

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that no one is happy with the speed of the roll-out in Scotland, particularly in constituencies such as his. That is why I look forward to working with my Scottish counterpart to improve the position. I expect the Scottish audit authorities to take careful note of what he has just said.

T6. Local newspapers are crucial both to our local democracy, in holding people to account, and to bringing our local communities together. What steps is my hon. Friend taking to ensure that newspapers such as the Jewish Telegraph in my constituency have the support that they need to flourish? (900793)

My hon. Friend is right to mention the important role played by local newspapers—not least the Selby Times. It is clear to the Government that they play an invaluable role in the fabric of our society, ensuring that there is a healthy democracy both nationally and locally. On 27 January, we published our formal response to the independent Cairncross review, which outlines the steps that regulators, Government and industry will take to support the future of the news publishing industry nationally and locally.

In the first weekend of this year, nearly 200,000 people participated in parkrun events. As the chair of the new all-party parliamentary group on parkrun, may I ask the Minister to meet me to discuss how the Government can support this new social phenomenon and improve public health?

I will definitely meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss this issue. Park runs have taken off phenomenally well across the country. As yet, my schedule has been so busy that I have not managed to fit one in, but I am sure that the opportunity will arise. Park runs are great things—they are great for community meeting—so let us potentially do one together.

T7. I should like to reiterate the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Fay Jones). Does the Minister agree that, while every effort is rightly being made to roll out 5G, it is not just rural communities that are having a problem? The peripheries of towns such as Wrexham are also struggling to obtain 3G. Will he please meet me as well? (900795)

I look forward to having a meeting with my hon. Friend on this subject, but I reiterate that it is not only rural areas that will benefit from the shared rural network; urban and suburban areas will benefit as well.