John Whittingdale, Conservative, Maldon


It is a pleasure to welcome the Digital Economy Bill, not least because it still has my name on the front of it. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) and I can claim a degree of joint paternity on this particular measure.

 

The Bill is something of a Christmas tree and contains a number of different measures within it. Let me speak first about the two major provisions, which both relate to connectivity. The reform of the electronic communications code has been something that communications providers have been urging for a considerable time. Indeed, it was part of the deal struck with mobile phone providers by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid) in return for their guarantee of extending coverage. It was attempted to be introduced in the Enterprise Bill in the last Parliament. It has been around for a long time.

I found out from my own constituency about 18 months ago that Vodafone had a problem with one of its transmitters, which led to a large number of my constituents losing the service. That was impossible to put right for something like eight weeks as a result of Vodafone being unable to access the transmitter.

Read more ...

09 June 2016

Gavin Newlands (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (SNP)

f he will take steps to ensure that football supporters from all nations of the UK have non-paying access to watch their national team play on TV. [905302]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr John Whittingdale)

The Ofcom code on listed events ensures that key sporting events are made available for free-to-air channels. Our sport strategy, published last year, made it clear that the Government do not propose to review that list.

Gavin Newlands

Like every other football fan on these islands, Scottish fans are looking forward to Euro 2016. We have our wallcharts at the ready and will be watching keenly. During qualification, however, we were unable to watch significant matches, including those against the world champions, Germany, on free-to-air channels. This month, we will be able to watch matches such as Romania versus Albania and Iceland versus Austria. How can those fixtures be regarded as of national interest when those of our national teams are not?

Scottish football fans will have the choice of the three home nations that have qualified in the championships to support, and I am sorry that on this occasion Scotland did not make it through. However, the question of which matches are shown by which broadcaster is essentially one for the sporting authorities. The limited list applies only to a very restricted number of sporting events, but beyond that it is for each sporting body to decide how best to strike the balance between maximising revenue for their sport and reaching as large an audience as possible.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab)

I am sure that the whole House will want to wish the teams of England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland all the best in the European championships. Football shows us that we have more in common with our European neighbours than divides us, as I am sure the Secretary of State will agree. That was demonstrated by the singing of the Marseillaise at Wembley in defiant response to the attacks in Paris. In that spirit, will he join me in urging fans to enjoy the tournament peacefully, whether they are travelling to France or watching in the company of their friends at home or in public places, and to assist the police and security services in trying to ensure that we have a safe and secure tournament?

Mr Whittingdale

I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman and I am grateful to him for putting the case as he has done and giving me the opportunity to endorse everything that he says. We look forward to the matches in the championships to come and we wish all the home nations success. I have a second interest in that I drew England in the departmental sweepstake and will be supporting England in their match against Russia, which, sadly, was drawn by the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), so she will have torn loyalties. We hope nevertheless that that match and every other match pass peaceably and to the maximum enjoyment of those participating and watching.

 

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr John Whittingdale)

I thank the hon. Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) for giving the House the opportunity to debate the White Paper on the future of the BBC, even if I am less than happy with the terms of her motion. The motion talks about the “threat” to the

“editorial and financial independence of the BBC”—

two principles that will be explicitly strengthened, rather than weakened, under the proposals in the White Paper. However, that is typical of the entire debate around the charter renewal process, which has been characterised by the Government’s critics tilting at windmills, perhaps in tribute to Cervantes, the 400th anniversary of whose death we are commemorating, alongside that of Shakespeare.

Read more ...

10. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): Whether he plans to meet FIFA representatives to discuss arrangements for the World cup; and if he will make a statement. [900104]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr John Whittingdale): I have no plans to meet FIFA officials at this stage. However, I did meet the chairman and the chief executive of the English Football Association yesterday, and I intend to keep in close touch with them on this matter and, indeed, on other matters relating to football in this country.

Michael Fabricant: My right hon. Friend might like first to thank the Americans for finally exposing the corruption in FIFA that we have all suspected has been endemic for the past 10 or 20 years. Will he speak to his colleague the Foreign Secretary to see whether there can be a re-analysis with Qatar as to whether the World cup should be held there? Precisely what should our relationship with FIFA be, because Blatter’s departure is not necessarily going to mean that corruption has ended?

Mr Whittingdale: I agree with my hon. Friend. In order to achieve the reforms that all of us believe are vitally necessary in FIFA, the first requirement was a change in leadership. We have now obtained that, but that is the beginning of the process and certainly not the end of it. It is for the football associations of the home nations to work with other football associations that are equally determined to see change, in order to ensure that the new leadership is properly committed to achieving those changes.

In response to my hon. Friend’s second question, on Qatar, that is a separate matter. The Swiss authorities are continuing to investigate the bidding process that resulted in the decision to give the 2018 games to Russia and the 2022 games to Qatar, and we await the outcome of those investigations.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): I welcome the Secretary of State and the sports Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), to their new posts.The investigation into FIFA will go on, but the fight for its heart and soul will start now that Sepp Blatter has announced he is standing down. I wonder about these people at the top of FIFA and whether they have ever actually been to a football match for which they bought their own tickets, whether they have followed a football team week in, week out, or whether they have pulled on a football shirt and played in a match. We really need to get rid of these people at the top of the game.

Is the Secretary of State satisfied that Government agencies that are investigating the possibilities of corruption involving UK financial institutions have all the resources they need and that they are doing all they can to root out any criminal activity that may have taken place? Will he say exactly what he can do to ensure that we root out corruption in FIFA?

Mr Whittingdale: In the first instance, that is obviously a matter for the Serious Fraud Office and other investigatory bodies in this country, but I have spoken to the Attorney General about it. We will of course ensure that all the resources necessary to carry out a thorough investigation are available to those bodies and we will work closely with the Swiss and American authorities, which are leading on this matter.

On the reforms necessary in FIFA, we are absolutely committed to working through the FA and other football associations to ensure that the new leadership of FIFA is utterly committed to carrying out the sweeping reforms that are so obviously necessary.

2. Alex Chalk (Cheltenham) (Con): What steps his Department is taking to improve broadband coverage in Gloucestershire. [900096]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr John Whittingdale): The Government have committed nearly £27 million to the roll-out of superfast broadband in Herefordshire and Gloucestershire. This should take superfast broadband coverage to an additional 130,000 homes and businesses across the two counties, providing almost 93% coverage by the end of 2017. Small and medium-sized enterprises in Gloucester and Cheltenham are now eligible for a grant of up to £3,000 to improve their broadband connectivity under the broadband connection voucher scheme.

Alex Chalk: I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. None the less, a significant number of homes and businesses in Cheltenham fall between two stools, being, apparently, not sufficiently rural for Fastershire to see fit to step in but too rural for commercial providers to consider it viable to extend broadband provision. Will he meet me to discuss how we can help those stuck in limbo and cut this Gordian knot?

Mr Whittingdale: First, I congratulate my hon. Friend on his election to this House and commend him on his efforts on behalf of his constituents in order that they should obtain superfast broadband. He will be aware that 96% of Cheltenham will already have access to it by the end of 2017, which is above the national target, and many small and medium-sized enterprises can also benefit from the broadband connection voucher I mentioned. We are examining ways of extending the reach beyond that 96%, but I would of course be happy to meet him and some of his constituents to discuss what more we might do to help.

Mark Spencer (Sherwood) (Con) rose—

Mr Speaker: Order. I note the ingenuity of the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mark Spencer), but Nottinghamshire is a little distance away from Gloucestershire and Herefordshire.

Mr Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): May I support the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) and remind the Secretary of State that many rural villages, certainly in my constituency, still do not have sufficiently strong broadband connections? That hampers people who are running small businesses from home, as well as children who are trying to use the internet to learn. What can he do to speed up the provision in those small villages?

Mr Whittingdale: I understand my hon. Friend’s concern for his constituents, particularly those in more rural areas. As he may be aware, under phase 1 of the broadband scheme we expect to reach 87.1% of premises across the whole of Herefordshire and Gloucestershire by December 2016, and under phase 2 we hope to extend that to 92.8%. Those in the more remote areas may still prove to be outside, and we will be looking at alternative means by which we can reach them with superfast broadband, but, again, I am happy to talk him further about this.

Superfast Broadband

3. Heidi Allen (South Cambridgeshire) (Con): What progress his Department is making on the roll-out of superfast broadband. [900097]

4 Jun 2015 : Column 733

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr John Whittingdale): More than 2.5 million additional homes and businesses now have access to superfast broadband as a result of the Government’s intervention. We continue to add 40,000 more homes and businesses every week.

Heidi Allen: I feel that I am about to gatecrash a party, but we have exactly the same situation in South Cambridgeshire. Connecting Cambridgeshire is doing a fantastic job of rolling out broadband across much of the constituency, but our roads are at gridlock—a happy consequence of our economic success—and it is vital that we keep people working in local hubs and from home. I, too, am interested in what other technologies we might explore to reach those people who are missing, so please may I come along too?

Mr Whittingdale: I congratulate my hon. Friend on her election and she is a very welcome party guest. The Government are investing more than £8 million in Connecting Cambridgeshire, which will increase coverage in her constituency to 94% by 2017. As she pointed out, there will be some areas that are much harder to reach and it might not be possible to do so by the traditional methods, so we are running pilot projects to explore other ways in which we can bring coverage up to reach even the furthest parts of her and other hon. Members’ constituencies. I would be happy to talk to her further.

20. [900114] Nigel Mills (Amber Valley) (Con): Further to that answer, what more can we do to support alternative ways of delivering broadband, such as that offered by W3Z in my constituency, which can provide high-speed broadband to the most rural homes and can get it to them far quicker than fibre broadband will?

Mr Whittingdale: My hon. Friend is completely right that although fibre will, we hope, supply superfast broadband to the overwhelming majority of premises in the country there will be some for which it is not practical. That is why we are piloting alternatives through our three pilot projects testing fixed wireless technologies in rural areas in North Yorkshire, North Lincolnshire and Monmouthshire. These are being run by Airwave, Quickline and AB Internet. We will consider the results to assess the best way of extending the programme still further into the most difficult areas.

18. [900112] Matt Warman (Boston and Skegness) (Con): One of the issues that remain for the people who will not get superfast broadband via fibre is that it is very hard to find out from BT or local councils that they will definitely not get it. Our programme has made remarkable progress, but would the Secretary of State like to see BT and local councils providing much greater clarity to communities so that they can explore other technologies such as microwave, wi-fi or satellite?

Mr Whittingdale: Again, I congratulate my hon. Friend on his election. I know that in his capacity as a former technology editor he brings a particular expertise to our debates on this subject. He is absolutely right that there will be some cases where, for the time being, it will not be possible to extend superfast broadband. I hope that we will eventually be able to do so, but in the meantime I entirely agree with him that it is important that people should be aware of that position. We are introducing a seven-digit postcode checker, which is now on the gov.uk website, so that people can be made aware of that position.