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Topical Questions

Volume 715: debated on Thursday 26 May 2022

My Department has a wide-ranging and comprehensive legislative programme announced as part of the Queen’s Speech. The Online Safety Bill and the Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill are making great progress on digital connectivity across the UK. Our data reform Bill will reduce the burdens on scientists and businesses and will truly take advantage of Brexit. Our draft digital markets Bill will rebalance power from big tech to business and consumers and we will shortly set out our plans to legislate for an independent regulator of English football. We will boost our public service broadcasters through our upcoming media Bill.

I am also planning to announce today that we will publish the terms of reference for the BBC mid-term charter review, setting out our plans to review the governance and regulation of the BBC.

The House of Commons Library confirms that the majority of my Delyn constituency is in the worst 30% for connectivity in the UK, with more than 10% of my constituents still receiving less than 10 megabits per second broadband speeds. It is not a devolved matter and should be delivered by DCMS, so I hope that my right hon. Friend can confirm what the UK Government specifically are doing to help my constituents out.

Responses to the recent Welsh market review are being assessed to determine which premises require Government subsidy through Project Gigabit. We will then work out with the Welsh Government how to provide gigabit coverage to as many premises as possible. Further support is available through our gigabit broadband voucher scheme and those unable to access at least 10 megabits per second may be able to request an upgrade through the universal service obligation. As of January, Ofcom reported that 0.3% of premises in Delyn may be eligible for a broadband universal service obligation connection.

I congratulate St Johnstone on their emphatic premiership play-off win last week and wish Scotland good luck next week against Ukraine, for if we win we will move on to Wales the following weekend when we will surely cuff them. That game next week, which I am sure you are looking forward to, Madam Deputy Speaker, will be broadcast live on Sky Sports. With the awarding of Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish TV rights to Premier Sports and Viaplay, Scottish fans will have to subscribe to four different platforms to follow the game. England fans are able to watch their men’s national team free to air through ITV and now Channel 4. Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss how we can address this inequity without harming Scottish football’s financial situation?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. The Minister for Sport, the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston), and, I think, probably the Minister for Media, Data and Digital Infrastructure would be happy to meet him to discuss that. As the hon. Gentleman may know, the broadcasting White Paper has just been published and the media Bill is coming forward shortly. I am sure his comments can be considered, and he may want to contribute to the process.

T3.   How can my right hon. Friend ensure the availability of sufficient clean spectrum for programme making and special events, or PMSE, after 2030 to support the use of radio microphones in our vibrant entertainment and film industry? (900255)

We are in regular contact with Ofcom and the radio industry on these issues, and I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the matter further, so that I understand the interest driving his question.

T4. Further to the comments made by the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell), 96% of the people who responded to the Channel 4 consultation did not support privatisation. Having worked directly in the independent sector with a Channel 4-backed project, I saw for myself the importance of the drive that Channel 4 brings to that particular market, which is vital to our economy. There is no support in the creative sector for privatising Channel 4. Can the Government please explain why they are not paying attention and are determined to privatise Channel 4? (900256)

Some 53% of people in a public poll actually thought that Channel 4 was already privately owned. They did not realise—[Interruption.] As my hon. Friend the Minister for Media, Data and Digital Infrastructure has already said, we have to address a rapidly changing broadcasting landscape in the UK at the moment. It is a bad business model for any organisation to depend on one form of revenue. As we know, linear advertising is decreasing and Channel 4 is dependent on that advertising. It is a decision we have to take for the benefit of Channel 4. As I have already said, Channel 4 itself—[Interruption.]

As Channel 4 highlighted in its own document, “4: The Next Episode”, it wants to raise investment and invest in more content, and we are setting Channel 4 free to be able to do that. If Channel 4 does that while state-owned, it is offset against the public balance sheet. We cannot allow that, because Governments do not own money—we only have taxpayers’ money—so we have to enable Channel 4 to be set free to raise investment and to continue to make the amazing and distinctive British content and edgy, diverse programmes that it does.

T5. I welcome the Government’s intention to strengthen the protections for legitimate journalism in the Online Safety Bill, but can my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State say when those clauses will be brought forward? Will she extend them to cover specialist publications? (900257)

I thank my right hon. Friend for his question and his long-standing interest in this area. Clause 50 of the Online Safety Bill already exempts recognised news publishers from the provisions of the Bill, and in clause 16 there are particular protections for content of journalistic importance. As we committed on Second Reading, I think in response to one of his interventions, we will be looking to go further to provide a right of appeal in relation to journalistic content. Work is going on to deliver that commitment right now, and we will bring forward further news as soon as possible. I will make sure that my right hon. Friend is the first to hear about it.

T6. The Government claim that protecting children online is key to the Online Safety Bill, yet we now know that the issue of breadcrumbing, whereby abusers move children from one platform to another to cause them harm, is sadly extremely widespread. Can the Secretary of State explain exactly how the Government, through the Online Safety Bill in its current form, will prevent this vile abuse from continuing? (900259)

We have targeted in the Online Safety Bill the platforms that create the most harm and where the most harm happens. We have done that in consultation with a number of stakeholders, including the Children’s Commissioner, but we do understand the problem that the hon. Member talks about. The Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp), is taking the Bill through Committee. We are looking at other platforms where harm exists and the practices that the hon. Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) talks about. What I will say is that the Online Safety Bill cannot fix absolutely everything on the internet—we cannot fix the internet, but we can do as much as possible within that Bill to reduce as much harm as possible, because keeping children safe is at the heart of the Bill and is the core principle that runs through it. We are open to discussions about anything we can do to improve the Bill, but we think we have gone as far as we can in protecting freedoms of speech and democratic content and protecting children, who are the most important part of the Bill. I am sure my hon. Friend will have discussions with the hon. Member.

Like the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine), I have worked in the broadcast industry. Subject to certain conditions, I support the sale of Channel 4. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that any sell-off will be subject to requirements to make minimum British content, news content and the innovative programming that we so much enjoy on that station?

I thank my hon. Friend for enabling me to lay out some important points. Channel 4 is being sold as a public service broadcaster and the criteria that he has outlined will absolutely be in there. If anybody cares to read the broadcasting White Paper, we have put a number of things into the media Bill—not just the sale of Channel 4—that will help Channel 4, including provisions on prominence and the introduction of a code that will put all public service broadcasters and streamers on a level playing field in terms of what they can broadcast in the UK. It will be sold as a public service broadcaster and there will be a requirement to continue to make distinctive British content, such as “Derry Girls”, “Gogglebox” and all those programmes that are distinctly British. There will be a requirement to do that, as well as what he has listed.

T7. I put on record my best wishes to the two opposing sides around my constituency, the men’s and women’s teams of Newcastle United and Sunderland AFC, on a successful season for all involved. To stay on football, I and many of my constituents are disappointed that the north-east has not been selected to host any games in the upcoming 2022 women’s Euros and the closest game will take place more than 120 miles away in Rotherham. Can the Secretary of State tell the House why the north-east will not be home to any of the games? What benefits will people from Jarrow and the north-east gain from that highly anticipated football tournament? (900260)

There is always overwhelming demand from our fantastic sports facilities around the country to host those amazing events. That is why we are aggressively pursuing many international and other sporting events so we can make sure that the love is spread across the whole country. I am sorry that the hon. Lady is disappointed on this occasion. Those decisions are not made directly by Government, but we work with all the organising authorities to try to ensure that we level up sporting opportunities across the country. I am happy to speak to her about future opportunities.