The Minister for Media and Data
(Mr John Whittingdale)

I beg to move, That the Committee has considered the motion: That, from 1 November 2021—

(1) the Information Commissioner shall be paid a salary of £200,000 per annum and pension benefits in accordance with the standard award for the civil service pension scheme;

(2) all previous resolutions relating to the salary and pension of the Information Commissioner shall cease to have effect.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. The Information Commissioner’s Office is now one of the most important regulators in the United Kingdom. It is responsible for supervising almost every organisation in the country. We want to invest in its future success and to sustain its world-leading reputation.

The Information Commissioner must play an active role to keep the ICO at the forefront of regulatory best practice, continuing to develop governance, key decision making and other processes to reflect the ICO’s evolving role. There is an opportunity for the UK’s ICO to take a lead internationally, at a time when the establishment and development of, typically, governance structures for data, artificial intelligence and other new technologies are critical. The Information Commissioner therefore has a key role to play to drive the responsible use of data across the economy, to build trust and confidence, and to communicate the wider benefits of data sharing for our society in competition, innovation and growth.

This Government’s ambition is to make the UK the data destination across the world, and to use data to drive growth and innovation and to deliver our levelling-up agenda. Our national data strategy, published recently, sets out that ambition for the UK’s pro-growth and trusted data regime. We want to help innovators and entrepreneurs to use data responsibly and securely, without undue regulatory uncertainty or risk, in order to drive growth across the economy. Data is a strategic asset, and its responsible use should be seen as a huge opportunity to embrace. Getting that right is critical to jobs and growth as the UK economy becomes increasingly digitised and data-enabled.

We want the public to be active agents in the thriving digital economy and to have confidence and trust in how data, including personal data, is used. That will mean maintaining high standards of data protection without creating unnecessary barriers to data use. The opportunity to create a new and independent data regime is one of the key benefits of the UK’s departure from the European Union. We have no intention of dismantling our high standards of data protection, but we are no longer required necessarily to follow every dot and comma of the General Data Protection Regulation. We will be looking to see how we may better utilise data and enable it to flow more freely, while at the same time maintaining those high standards.

We need to attract world-class individuals who have the skills necessary to balance protecting individual data rights while simultaneously ensuring that data enables digital growth and innovation. We also need to attract people who can represent the UK on the international data stage. The Information Commissioner’s responsibilities have increased since we left the European Union; they now include overseeing existing EU adequacy decisions by 2024, as well as strategic engagement with European and international competent authorities. The UK now has a huge opportunity to use data responsibly as a strategic asset that can drive growth.

One of the other opportunities arising from our no longer being a member state is the ability to apply the framework of transfer tools inherited from GDPR in a more flexible way. As the ICO has now left the European Data Protection Board, we are able to be more agile than was possible when we were within the EU. The ICO has a strong international reputation and an influential position in key global regulatory forums. It engages effectively with foreign partners and EU adequacy. Therefore, the next Information Commissioner will not only focus on privacy, but ensure in part that people can use data to achieve economic and social goals. The next commissioner will need to have a deep understanding of how businesses use data in a cutting-edge way.

Data has many societal benefits and, as we emerge from the covid pandemic, the UK has an opportunity to be at the forefront of global data-driven growth. The next Information Commissioner will play a critical role in delivering that agenda. We need to attract an outstanding individual to take the ICO forward. They will have a key role to play. They need to build trust and confidence in responsible data use, while also being able to communicate the wider benefits of data sharing.

Since 2018, the salary of the Information Commissioner has fallen below the market averages for comparative roles. Salaries of heads of data protection regulators internationally range up to £270,000. In Italy, the Data Protection Authority chairman and chief executive officer both receive €240,000. We have received some outstanding applicants for this role, but they would potentially need to take a cut of up to 50% of their current salaries if they were to accept even the £200,000 salary that we are debating. Without the motion, the salary of the Information Commissioner would remain at £164,000, and we would risk losing the outstanding candidates we so badly need.

The introduction of GDPR and the rapidly developing data protection landscape have vastly increased the responsibilities of the Information Commissioner. They have increased still further since our exit from the EU. The global position of the ICO, the increased workload after leaving the European Union and the rapidly increasing demands on the sector and the statutory requirements of the organisation mean that it has grown by two thirds to more than 850 employees since 2018.

The ICO has had an increased enforcement role since the introduction of heavier fines and penalties. That is in addition to the commissioner’s increasing role in the regulation of the privacy and electronic communications regulations. In particular, the ICO continues to tackle nuisance telephone calls and texts, which I suspect every Member of this House knows can cause huge distress to the public. In the fourth quarter of 2020-21 alone, the ICO issued fines amounting to more than £1.1 million under PECR to companies that have been sending out nuisance calls and texts.

In summary, we believe that the proposed increase in the commissioner’s salary appropriately reflects the increased importance, challenge and responsibilities of the role. Finding the right candidate to fill that position will be a critical component of delivering our ambition to make the UK the most technologically innovative and growth-driven economy in the world.

The Minister for Media and Data
Mr John Whittindale

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ghani. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) on securing the debate and on his work to promote media freedom. I am particularly grateful to him for taking over as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on media freedom, which I chaired until February 2020.

A lot of Members have focused on dreadful abuses of media freedom in different countries around the world, and so to some extent Members might have expected a response from a Foreign Office Minister. The Minister who has specific responsibility for the subject is my noble Friend Lord Ahmad, the Minister for South Asia and the Commonwealth, who is doing a great job championing media freedom internationally. He is obviously prevented from taking part in this debate in our House, but I work with him closely.

It is encouraging that there has been widespread recognition across this Chamber that media freedom is a crucial component of an open, democratic society. We may not always like or agree with what is written about us in the press, but the role of a free media in holding Government to account, in exposing corruption or malpractice and in providing trusted, reliable information and reporting has never been more important. However, media freedom is under increasing threat across the world. A number of Members pointed out that 50 journalists were killed last year while doing their job. According to Reporters Without Borders, which does a terrific job of monitoring that and campaigning, already this year 13 more journalists or media assistants have been killed, and there are currently 439 in prison. The summary analysis of its World Press Freedom Index 2021, published in April, said that journalism is completely or partly blocked in 73% of the 180 countries ranked in the index; that the coronavirus pandemic has been used by Governments as cover for blocking journalists’ access to information; and that journalists find it increasingly hard to investigate and report sensitive stories, especially in Asia, the middle east and Europe.

I join a number of those who have contributed in paying tribute to the courage of journalists working in some of the most difficult, dangerous and challenging parts of the world. The hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (John Nicolson) reminded us of our own Marie Colvin, who was killed in Syria along with her photographer, French journalist Rémi Ochlik, in 2012. I am sure he heard, as I have, Paul Conroy, who was also badly injured at that time, talk about how the shelling that killed Marie Colvin and her colleague was deliberately aimed at them because they were journalists.

The Minister for Media and Data 

(Mr John Whittingdale)

Lord Dyson’s report makes shocking reading. It details not just an appalling failure to uphold basic journalistic standards but an unwillingness to investigate complaints and to discover the truth. That these failures occurred at our national broadcaster is an even greater source of shame. The new leadership at the BBC deserve credit for setting up an independent inquiry and for accepting its findings in full. However, the reputation of the BBC—its most precious asset—has been badly tarnished, and it is right that the BBC board and wider leadership now consider urgently how confidence and trust in the corporation can be restored.

It is not for the Government to interfere in editorial decisions, but it is the job of Government to ensure that there is a strong and robust system of governance at the BBC with effective external oversight. It was to deliver that that we made fundamental changes when the BBC’s charter was renewed in 2015-16. Since then, the BBC Trust has been replaced by a more powerful board with an external regulator, Ofcom, responsible for overseeing the BBC’s content and being the ultimate adjudicator of complaints. We also made provision at that time for a mid-term review by the Government to ensure that the new governance arrangements were working effectively. That review is due next year but work on it will start now. In particular, we will wish to be satisfied that the failures that have been identified could not have occurred if the new governance arrangements had been in place. The BBC board has also announced today its own review, led by the senior independent director and two non-executive members, of the BBC’s editorial guidelines and standards committee. That review will examine editorial oversight, the robustness and independence of whistleblowing processes, and the wider culture within the BBC. It will take independent expert advice and will report by September.

In an era of fake news and disinformation, the need for public service broadcasting and trusted journalism has never been stronger. The BBC has been, and should be, a beacon setting standards to which others can aspire, but it has fallen short so badly and has damaged its reputation both here and across the world. The BBC now needs urgently to demonstrate that these failings have been addressed and that this can never happen again.

Mr Richard Holden
(North West Durham) (Con)

What steps the Government are taking to ensure fair competition for the fourth national lottery licence.

Mr John Whittingdale

The national lottery is a national treasure that enhances the cultural and sporting lives of millions of people across the UK, and it has funded over £1 billion in projects supporting the response to covid-19. The Gambling Commission is running the competition for the next licence and is following best practice from across the public sector for competitions of this nature.

Mr Holden

I thank the Minister for his answer. It is vital that the national lottery competition is not just open and transparent but seen to be open and transparent by everyone involved. One of the biggest funds that the national lottery supports is grassroots sport. This week, Consett AFC heard that its FA Vase final will have to be played without any supporters at it, despite the FA cup final just a couple of weeks later being played with supporters. May I urge the Minister to speak to colleagues and the FA to see whether there is any possibility that this vital final—the first time Consett has been to Wembley in over 120 years—might be played with fans?

Mr Whittingdale

I am aware that my hon. Friend is a huge fan of Consett AFC, and of course he and his fellow fans are very excited about this historic match, which is due to take place in Wembley. We are working to try to get spectators back into stadiums as soon as possible. I fully understand his disappointment that it does not look as if it will be possible in time for the match, but I have no doubt that he and thousands of others will be cheering on his team from their sofas.

Alex Sobel

I will ask a question more directly to do with the national lottery. The national lottery helps to fund many charities, cultural organisations and heritage sites, and whoever is awarded the new licence must be beyond reproach. Conservative party donor Richard Desmond—who persuaded the Prime Minister to raise the jackpot limit to benefit his own lottery and then successfully lobbied the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government over the controversial Westferry development, saving himself £40 million, resulting in an unlawful planning decision that was followed soon after by another donation to the Conservative party—wants to run our national lottery. Does the Minister believe that Mr Desmond is a fit and proper person to do this?

Mr Whittingdale

The hon. Gentleman is right about the importance of the national lottery. Indeed, I point out that his constituency has received over £6 million in funding over the last five years. Which applicant should take on the franchise is determined by the Gambling Commission, and of course it will want to be satisfied that the successful applicant meets the highest standards of probity and integrity, but it is a matter for the Gambling Commission.

The Minister for Media and Data
(Mr John Whittingdale)

It is a pleasure to respond to this important debate on behalf of the Government. As the Minister for Digital and Culture, my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage) said at the beginning, this has been a hugely challenging year for the entertainment and cultural sectors. Although the vast number of businesses in this country have suffered from the restrictions of lockdown, it is perhaps, as my hon. Friends the Members for Stockton South (Matt Vickers) and for North West Durham (Mr Holden) said, the entertainment and cultural sectors that have been hit among the hardest in the economy.

I would like to thank all those who have participated in the debate. We have had 55 Back-Bench speeches during the course of the debate, and I know, as you indicated, Mr Deputy Speaker, that more wanted to speak but were unable to do so. The passion shown today is a demonstration of how important culture and entertainment are not just to our economy and our heritage, but to our wellbeing as a nation. A number of speakers emphasised that by pointing out the economic contribution that the creative industries make, in particular my hon. Friends the Members for Clacton (Giles Watling), for High Peak (Robert Largan), for Bury North (James Daly) and for Bolton West (Chris Green), and my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers). They all pointed to the vast contribution—£116 billion—that the creative industries make, supporting 2.1 million jobs. However, they also went on to point out that the contribution is not just economic.

The cultural industries and entertainment sector are critical to the wellbeing of the nation. They bring joy to us. Although many have been unable to operate over the past year, I pay tribute to those who have sought to fill the gap, in particular the broadcasters who have done a fantastic job in keeping us entertained and keeping up the morale of the nation. However, it is not the same as being able to enjoy at first hand the cultural interactions that bring so much value to our lives. I think we all yearn to be able to walk through a museum again, to sit and watch a play or, in my case particularly, to go to the cinema and to enjoy live music. As the hon. Members for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) and for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) said, live music brings an enjoyment that all of us feel is absent from our lives. I have taken particular note of the recommendation from my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Robbie Moore) to look up Deco and their mash-ups as soon as I am able to do so again.

A number of Members have spoken with great power about the cultural institutions in their own constituencies. We are, of course, familiar with west end theatre, which is famous throughout the world, but there are other theatres in London, including the Theatre Royal at Stratford, mentioned by the right hon. Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge), and the New Wimbledon Theatre, mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond). However, as my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes) said, it is not just about London. We should recognise that the cultural institutions of our country are strong right across all our nations. One of my regrets is that I was appointed to this job just three weeks before lockdown started, and I wish for the day when I can go out and visit some of the places that have been mentioned, including the opera house in Buxton, the railways of Darlington, the zoo in Dudley, the castle in Dover and even Funny Girls in Blackpool.

The best support that we can give to all these cultural institutions is an assurance that the time when they can reopen is coming. That is why the road map is so critical, as my hon. Friends the Members for Gravesham (Adam Holloway) and for Bracknell (James Sunderland) pointed out. We now have a clear plan, which is irreversible. We have a certainty that we can give as to when these institutions can start to operate again. Of course I understand that people would rather this happened sooner, but I can say to my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell that grass-roots sport, including golf, will be able to resume from 29 March. The reason that we have been able to offer that assurance has been the success of the vaccination programme, as my hon. Friends the

Members for Blackpool South (Scott Benton) and for Dudley North (Marco Longhi) pointed out, and I pay tribute to all those who have worked so hard to roll it out and continue to do so—including, indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North, who told us that he was a volunteer in his local vaccination centre.

The worst thing that could happen to our cultural institutions would be to give them a date on which they could reopen and then have to reverse it again. We all know the huge disappointment and, indeed, cost to many who had planned to reopen. An example was Bill Kenwright’s “Love Letters”, which was due to reopen at the beginning of December but, just a few days later, London was put back into tier 3 status and it was unable to go ahead. So we need to be relatively confident about those dates.

Several hon. Members mentioned the work that the Department is doing, particularly to explore how large events can return, preferably without social distancing and restrictive capacity caps. I want to assure my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Jane Hunt), my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet and my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon that we have established the events research programme to look at how those large events can resume. In doing so, we are looking at the pilots that were conducted last year to consider the effectiveness of various measures to reduce the transmission risk in larger venues, including testing. Officials from my Department and from the Department of Health and Social Care are working closely to combine the existing workstreams into one overall research programme, and that programme will start with events such as Project Encore, which will hopefully set out the road map for when those larger events, which are perhaps the most challenging, can start again.

A number of my hon. Friends have recognised the huge commitment that the Government have made to the cultural sector through the £1.57 billion cultural recovery fund. I would like to thank my hon. Friends the Members for Heywood and Middleton (Chris Clarkson), for Gloucester (Richard Graham) and for North Norfolk (Duncan Baker) for recognising the strength of that commitment, and, indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (Andy Carter), who pointed out that, on top of the £1.57 billion, we have the £500 million film and TV production restart scheme. And of course the Government recognise the need to continue that support until these institutions can reopen once again. I cannot give details of what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor the Exchequer will announce tomorrow, although there have already been some indications that he will be giving further support to the cultural sector. As I have said, the sector has benefited and should continue to do so, and I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Dr Mullan) that that includes nightclubs and music venues, which have been eligible for support.

As many Members have recognised, our cultural and entertainment sectors are world-leading. They are a major contributor not just to the economic growth of this country but to our standing around the world. I echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North (Ben Everitt): I am confident that when we resume, those sectors will come back even stronger. 

Martyn Day

What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the retention of (a) the GDPR and (b) other EU regulations on data protection after the transition period.

Mr John Whittingdale

The general data protection regulation regime will be retained in domestic law after the transition period through the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. The UK remains committed to maintaining high data protection standards now and in the future.

Martyn Day

The EU has been a world leader when it comes to the protection of citizens’ digital rights. This is evidenced by the large number of countries, such as South Korea, Japan and Brazil, that sought to emulate its groundbreaking GDPR policy. As the end of the transition period looms, how will the UK Government ensure that digital rights law not only lives up to the EU’s high standards but exceeds them?

Mr John Whittingdale

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the GDPR has ensured that we have high standards and, as I say, we are absolutely committed to maintaining them. We have no intention of diverging substantially from GDPR, but obviously we will be looking to see whether there are ways in which we can improve our regime while maintaining those high standards.

John Nicolson

The independent Information Commissioner recently revealed that the Conservative party had racially and religiously profiled 10 million voters at the last election. I was shocked to learn that it did this by buying data that "identified a person’s…ethnic origin and religion based on their first and last name.” Can the Minister explain to the House why his party does this?

Mr John Whittingdale

As I recall, the Information Commissioner examined the practices of all political parties and made comments against all of them. However, it did not find that any breaches of the law had occurred.

 
 
The Minister for Media and Data 
(Mr John Whittingdale)
 
I am not sure I can claim that title, particularly having listened to the contributions this evening. I would like to start by congratulating the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Tracy Brabin) on obtaining the debate and managing to unite the House. Members on both sides of the House have spoken with real admiration and affection for what is undoubtedly the world’s greatest soap.

I am delighted to join others in congratulating “Coronation Street” and ITV on the 60th anniversary. At the beginning of this year, the programme transmitted its 10,000th episode, and the 60th anniversary is next week. It is the world’s longest running soap opera, and it is still the most popular. It also demonstrates the extraordinary changes that have taken place in the media landscape over those 60 years. Today, it is still bringing in the biggest audience of any soap, but that is around 7 million, whereas in the ’90s, it was regularly getting 20 million. Indeed, the departure of Hilda Ogden in the 1987 Christmas episode had an audience of 26.65 million. It is still getting something like a third of the audience share. This just shows how linear television has changed during that time, but nevertheless, “Coronation Street” has maintained its position at No.1.

I cannot claim the encyclopaedic knowledge that has been displayed by so many Members, but I, too, have twice visited the set of “Coronation Street”. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth West (Conor Burns) said, the first time I did so was with Margaret Thatcher in January 1990, and it was indeed the case that I had to brief her on the way to the set on the characters who were stars at that time. I did indeed go through all the various storylines, and she was particularly keen to visit Alf Roberts’ corner shop, because of course her own father was Alfred Roberts, who ran the grocer’s shop in Grantham. She arrived on set and was very upset to see that Alf Roberts’ corner shop had the sign saying, “Licensed to sell alcohol”. She said that that would certainly have never been allowed in her father’s shop, as he would not have dreamt of selling alcohol. Having said that, she did then visit the Rovers Return, but she was very clear that she would have a bitter lemon from behind the bar.

Some 24 years later, I was lucky enough to visit the set again. This was organised by the redoubtable Jane Luca, of ITV, whom I suspect was responsible for the visits of most of my hon. Friends who have spoken of their own experiences. She organised for the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, which I was Chair of at the time, to visit the new set. This was in 2014, after the set had been transferred to the new location in MediaCityUK in Salford. I was indeed accompanied by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth West, whose excitement at going to the new set I remember. We met a number of cast members, including Michelle Keegan and Sam Aston. One thing that struck me was that the set had been made slightly bigger so that two cars could drive down the street and pass each other, and 54,000 cobbles had been laid, with extraordinary attention to detail. Each cobble was both positioned and weathered in order that it remained absolutely authentic. My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (Andy Carter) referred to the extraordinary amount of ancillary occupations involved and jobs created on a major TV production—I suspect that the 54,000 cobbles employed quite a lot of people.

Over the years, “Coronation Street” has had a number of famous visitors. There is a wonderful picture of Alfred Hitchcock peering around the door of the Rovers Return, and a young Prince Charles visited. As the hon. Member for Batley and Spen and one or two others have said, many great actors started their careers in Weatherfield; as well as the hon. Lady, we have the trio of theatrical knights, Sir Ben Kingsley, Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart, as well as Sarah Lancashire and Joanna Lumley. As well as the actors, screenwriters such as Jack Rosenthal and Russell T. Davies started off in “Coronation Street”, and directors such as Paul Greengrass, Mike Newell and Michael Apted all directed episodes.

A number of the speakers in this debate have referred to the willingness of “Coronation Street” to confront difficult issues, and we have heard a number of examples of that, starting with the issue of racism in the very early episodes in the 1960s. Since then, it has addressed teenage pregnancy; domestic abuse, of both males as well as females; and transgender issues. It has even covered the challenge of someone having to try to find the money to pay the TV licence and failing, with this resulting in imprisonment. I am happy to tell the hon. Lady that almost nobody now goes to prison for a failure to pay the TV licence or meet the fine. I am sorry that in her case this came at a time when that was not true.

Tracy Brabin 
 
It was pressure from this place that changed that law and a subsequent “Panorama” programme that unearthed all these cases of women who were sent straight to prison for non-payment. So I would like to thank the predecessors of MPs in here who saved so many women from experiencing that.
 
Mr Whittingdale 

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that. It has been some years since anyone was sent to prison for that and I hope it does not happen again, but it was disproportionately women who suffered.

My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Greg Smith) talked about the issue of raising awareness of sepsis. It is perhaps worth observing that there cannot be another street in Britain that has experienced so many disasters and so many tragedies in such a short space of time.

Of course, most recently, the programme has had to wrestle with the challenges of covid, both in terms of production and also as a storyline. Covid stopped production of “Coronation Street” in March, but it was able to resume in June under the protocols to ensure safety. I want to pay tribute to the ITV health and safety team and to Magnus Brooke of ITV who played a very large part in helping to draw up those protocols so that not just ITV Studios productions could get going again, but all the other broadcasters and film companies could, too.
 
I have been chairing the broadcasting, film and production working group, which has brought together representatives of all the broadcasters, film companies and production companies to discuss how we could get production going again. We have now put in place very strict protocols to ensure that production can take place safely. As the hon. Member for Batley and Spen mentioned, we have also put in place the £500 million film and TV restart scheme. She is absolutely right that one obstacle was the difficulty in obtaining insurance of productions against the possibility of their having to stop because of covid. I am glad to say that that is in place and, as a result, productions have been resumed by most of the major broadcasters and film companies, but it has required some quite inventive solutions.

I understand that, on “Coronation Street”, furniture is quite often placed between characters in order that they can remain apart and socially distanced. Indeed, in a particularly inventive way, filming of romantic scenes takes place with one actor sitting on one end of a sofa looking longingly at a tennis ball suspended from the ceiling and then, once that section has been filmed, the other actor takes their place at the other end of the sofa and stares at a different tennis ball longingly and the production crew then splice the two together so that no one can tell. It is very important not just, obviously, that production is done safely, but that a show like “Coronation Street” gets across the public messaging about the importance of maintaining social distancing and mask wearing. “Coronation Street” had the socially distanced wedding between Maria and Gary.

I fear that it is almost certain that Weatherfield would still be in tier 3 at the end of the national lockdown, which would mean that the Rovers Return would be able to supply only a takeaway service, but I hope that it would not be long before the Rovers Return would be in tier 2, which would, of course, allow the sale of alcohol with a substantial meal such as Betty’s hotpot.

The hon. Lady also rightly referred to the importance of the UK production sector and our creative industries and the need to ensure that every region and every nation of the UK benefits from them, and we have been very keen to ensure that more production is done outside London. The BBC now has a major centre in Salford at MediaCity. ITV is now located with the “Coronation Street” set there. I have also had the pleasure of visiting the “Emmerdale” set in Leeds. ITV still has a presence in Leeds and Channel 4 has now established its headquarters in Leeds. I am absolutely clear that it is very important that we continue to encourage production to take place right across the UK, because it brings enormous economic benefits in terms of jobs and wealth creation.

The hon. Member for Batley and Spen and my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham referred to the importance of public service broadcasting. We are living through extraordinary changes in the media landscape that have brought huge extra opportunities for viewers in the range of content available through a number of streaming services that did not even exist two or three years ago. Now we have a choice of Amazon, Apple, Disney and Netflix, as well as Sky and the public service broadcasting companies. The PSBs have a tremendous role in supporting the UK creative industries, and while some of the streaming services are now commissioning content in this country, because we are so good at it here, the PSBs nevertheless still represent the major commissioners of UK content. We have recently established the Public Service Broadcasting Advisory Panel to examine the way in which PSB needs to adapt to this new landscape, but I am absolutely clear that there is still a role for public service broadcasting, and we will be looking at the issues and challenges facing public service broadcasters, such as the issue of prominence that my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham raised.

I would like to conclude by joining all those who have spoken in paying tribute to a show that has not only brought pleasure and entertainment to millions of people over the course of the last 60 years, not just in the UK but in many other countries around the world, but also played a vital role in raising awareness and affecting attitudes on so many important public issues. As several people have said, I look forward to at least another 60 years. Mr Deputy Speaker 
(Mr Nigel Evans)
 
I am not going to let the moment pass without saying a few words. This is rare and exceptional, but we are going to do it, and I am grateful to Mr Speaker for allowing me to chair this part of the Adjournment debate. Congratulations, Tracy, there is nobody more appropriate than you to have this particular debate. I have to say, as well, that I have seen many Ministers answer Adjournment debates with speeches prepared by their own Departments, but John, you wrote every word of that speech. I was looking at it, and that is your handwriting. I do not know if you could read it, but none the less it is your handwriting. You have grown up with the series, as we all have in this Chamber.

I know that Mr Speaker would have wanted, in normal circumstances, to have done a big reception at the end of this debate and had many of the stars past and present in his state rooms, but I am afraid covid has meant that that cannot be. We cannot even go into the snug in the Strangers Bar, because that is closed. None the less, I am sure that at some stage we will be able to properly mark the 60 years of “Coronation Street” in the Palace of Westminster. I know that that Chamber would have been full of some of the stars looking down before we went on to the reception.
 
I grew up in the 1960s watching “Coronation Street” on the huge TV we had in the corner—a small screen, but a big TV—all in black and white. I lay on the floor and listened to the haunting melody on a Monday and Wednesday. My father would close the shop early in order to watch “Coronation Street” because he loved it so much. Little did I think, watching that series, that I would be chairing a debate on “Coronation Street” in the House of Commons as Deputy Speaker.

I remember once meeting Jean Alexander, the great Hilda Ogden, and I could not get over how posh she sounded when she was not being Hilda Ogden. She was such a great actress, and that is part of the thing about “Coronation Street”: the great actors and actresses—yourself included, Tracy—who have performed in the amazing, longest running soap opera in the entire world.

In the 1960s, Bill Roache opened Swansea carnival. My mother dragged me down to the front to watch Bill in the back of an open-top car. I thought I was looking at a Hollywood actor—that is the height of the fame of people who starred in “Coronation Street” in those days. Little did I think then that I would represent the Ribble Valley, in the north-west of England, in Lancashire, or that in the village I bought a house in, Pendleton, I would be living opposite Vicky Entwistle—Janice Battersby—who is now a personal friend. I went to her wedding in Manchester, when she married Andy Chapman. Lots of stars of “Coronation Street” were there.

Bill Roache, too, has become a personal friend of mine over the years—a wonderful man. He has helped me out in a couple of general election campaigns, as he has a number of people who became MPs. Bill is the longest-serving actor in the longest-serving soap. What an amazing accolade! John, you mentioned Jane Luca, and she helped me to get on to the set of “Coronation Street” as well. We are all grateful for the fantastic facilitation that Jane has given many people over the period. 

Another thing that has come out about “Coronation Street” is the humour—yes, the drama, and the fact that it treat difficult subjects, but it is one of the most humorous things on TV, more than some of the other soaps on at the moment, where you feel a bit depressed at the end. With “Coronation Street”, humour runs through the entire series, the entire 60 years of its production. For me, as far as broadcasting is concerned, you can stick your “Crowns”; I am going to stick with “Corrie”, as I have for the past 60 years, and as I am sure we all will in the future.
 
It is a real shame that at the end of this debate, we cannot have that haunting melody of “Coronation Street” playing, which I am sure we are all thinking about now. 

It is the thing that got us there to watch the show and, even at the point of highest drama, there would be silence in our living rooms as we listened to that closing melody. So thank you, “Corrie”, for everything that you have done over the past 60 years.