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Topical Questions

Volume 638: debated on Thursday 22 March 2018

I take this opportunity to congratulate all those in Team GB who competed at the Winter Olympics and Paralympics in Pyeongchang. It was one of our most successful Winter Olympics and Paralympics, and Team GB exceeded its medals target with some brilliant performances. I know that the whole House will join me in saying well done to our athletes, who have done their country proud. We continue to support them through the national lottery and look forward to many future successes.

As we are talking about competitions, Lewisham is in today’s final of the world cup of London boroughs on Twitter, and if anybody has not yet done so, please feel free to vote Lewisham. The competition has been social media at its best: fun and engaging. Unfortunately, we know that social media can also be a platform for bullying and harassment. I know that the Government are consulting on a code of conduct, but when will they finally take action?

Of course I congratulate those who win that Twitter competition, but the hon. Lady raises a serious point. We are already taking action, both through the Data Protection Bill, which will protect children online, and more broadly through the internet safety strategy. I pay tribute to Baroness Kidron and other peers who have put a huge amount of effort into getting the details of the Bill right. We continue to work with them to make sure that we do everything we can to make Britain the safest place to be online.

T2. South Gloucestershire Council’s broadband roll-out scheme has been hugely successful so far. It has brought connection up from 61% to 92% in just four years. With fibre- to-the-premises technology being required to connect the remaining households, what more support can the Department give to make sure that rural communities are not left behind? (904541)

As I said earlier, we have changed the national planning policy framework, we have a £30 million rural development programme with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to improve connectivity, and we have a broadband voucher scheme that will provide subsidy for small and medium-sized enterprises and for communities, so that they can connect in an ultrafast way.

When it comes to personal data theft, the Secretary of State said that

“the Leveson inquiry looked into everything in this area, and it was followed by three police investigations…We looked into these things as a society. We had a comprehensive Leveson inquiry.”—[Official Report, 1 March 2018; Vol. 636, c. 974.]

Will he tell me which of the inquiries and investigations that he says were comprehensive surfaced the evidence of the illegal data theft of the personal information of Dr David Kelly, who was very distressed when subsequently a journalist from The Sunday Times turned up unannounced at his home, just a week before he took his own life?

The point that I have made repeatedly about the Leveson inquiry is that it was broad and police investigations followed it. The question we face now is what to do in future. I am determined to make sure that we get the answer to that question right.

In his non-answer, the Secretary of State has shown that the previous inquiries were not comprehensive. There are still questions to answer, including allegations that at least one senior editor misled the first part of the Leveson inquiry and possibly even perjured himself. In caving in to the press barons, the Secretary of State betrays not just the victims of phone hacking but the promises of the previous Prime Minister. Will he at least have the decency today to admit that he was wrong to tell the House that previous inquiries were comprehensive and got to all the facts of criminal behaviour in our national newspapers?

Of course they were comprehensive. If the hon. Gentleman’s accusations of perjury, which he is alleging today, are true, then we have rules in place to deal with them. If there is evidence of criminal wrongdoing, it should be brought forward, and that is the proper way to proceed.

T4. Britain is well placed to lead the fourth industrial revolution. A new research centre, such as the one proposed by the World Economic Forum, would help us to stay ahead of the curve. Will my right hon. Friend consider its proposal and meet me to discuss it further? (904544)

I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend on that question. He has done so much to promote the importance of the fourth industrial revolution and artificial intelligence. Indeed, I am on the board of a World Economic Forum body, which is looking into how we can make the most of this, and I look forward to engaging with him on it.

T3. The 25 March marks precisely three years since the then Culture, Media and Sport Committee published its report on society lotteries, which was supportive of raising the fundraising limits. With every month that passes, funds that could otherwise go to good causes are instead spent on additional administrative costs arising from outdated fundraising limits. Does the Minister not agree that it is time that those limits are addressed? (904543)

On this day last year, I remember being in the Westminster Parliament during our attack and lockdown. I also remember two years ago on this day being in the Brussels Parliament during that attack. How does the Minister intend for us to continue to interact with Europe on data issues after we have left the EU?

There is clearly huge benefit for both the rest of the EU and the UK in having a strong, rich and deep relationship in terms of how data are transferred, but as the evidence of the past few days has shown, that must be done on the basis of strong data protection. That is why we have the Data Protection Bill before the House, and why we think that the GDPR is a good measure that we will not only implement but implement in full, and we will make sure that we have that relationship in the future.

T5. The Secretary of State complains about the data protection legislation that he inherited eight years ago, when Facebook had one tenth of the number of users it has now. Just last year, when I asked him whether he thought that the collection and use of data by Facebook was abusive, he said it was not for his Government to have a view, but that it was an interesting question. Does he now agree that it was abusive, and given that this has happened on his watch, will he agree to bring forward a digital bill of rights which we are pressing for? (904545)

It is increasingly clear that we need a new settlement with these big tech companies. There is no doubt that the Data Protection Bill currently before this Parliament takes us significantly forward. I have been worried for some time about these concerns, which is why we brought forward this Bill.

What assessment has the Department made of the costs of data protection officers for community and parish councils?

We are aware of the issues facing community and parish councils. As public authorities, they do come under the GDPR. They are able to share a data officer, so that is some help, but we will be reviewing the concerns that they have as a matter of urgency.

One of my friends took his own life, at least partly as a result of online bullying. Why are the Government still pursuing a model of voluntary codes for social media when they have already demonstrably failed?

We have made it extremely clear that we are prepared to legislate further if that is necessary. We are currently consulting on the internet safety strategy. I would be very happy if the hon. Gentleman wanted to feed back into that. We have shown, and made the case, over the past year that this wild west free-for-all of the internet companies must come to an end, and this is a turning point.

Newquay is Cornwall’s premier tourist resort, attracting hundreds of thousands of people a week in the summer. However, too many families have the shine taken off their holiday when they get home and find a penalty charge notice from an aggressive parking firm on their door mats. Does the Minister agree that these firms should take more responsibility for the impact their actions have on the tourism industry?

I understand that my predecessor went to Newquay and did some bodyboarding, but I cannot guarantee the same activity from this Minister for tourism. All local authorities should think carefully about the impact of parking penalties on tourism generally.

York—the second most visited city in the country—is a centre of tourism for visitors from across England. However, the hotel and hospitality sector is really struggling to recruit staff, given the European situation. What is the Minister doing on recruitment and retaining skills in the sector?

I visited the city of York just a few weeks ago. It is a beautiful site that clearly attracts large numbers of tourists because of its facilities. As far as staffing is concerned, hotels and other holiday destinations will want to consider carefully how much they pay their staff. With regard to the European situation, I am confident that things will continue to progress in the right direction.

The Secretary of State and the Minister will probably be bored of me lobbying them about the Bradford Odeon being a recipient of the northern cultural regeneration fund but, if I may, I will test their patience once more. The project has widespread support across the Leeds city region and among many people in the cultural sector, and it will do a massive amount to regenerate the Bradford district, so can the Bradford Odeon be a recipient of the fund?

I do not want the hon. Gentleman suddenly to develop self-effacement, with which he has not traditionally been identified. I have been in the House with him for 13 years and I can honestly say that he has done many things, but he has never, ever bored me.

Nobody has done more to make the case for the rejuvenation of the Bradford Odeon than my hon. Friend. The Odeon has applied to our fund for support for its rejuvenation, right in the heart of Bradford, and this man has put his heart and soul into the campaign. We will be announcing the results very soon. I cannot tell him the answer today, but I have a smile on my face.

The hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) may never know—the Secretary of State might one day want his vote.

I visited Coventry just a short time ago. The city has a wonderful opportunity as city of culture 2021. The tremendous success of Hull as city of culture brought huge sums and huge numbers of visitors to that city, and I am confident that Coventry will benefit in every way, shape and form.

Will my right hon. Friend set out what progress the UK Government have made on ensuring that mobile coverage notspots in rural areas such as my constituency are a thing of the past?

We are absolutely determined to ensure that there is decent mobile coverage where people live, work and travel right across the UK. We have made further progress in Scotland than in any other part of the country. There is clearly more to do and we are absolutely determined to do it.