Mr. Whittingdale: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has for a national database maintaining records of (a) e-mails, (b) Voice Over Internet Protocol telephone calls and (c) instant messages; and if he will make statement. [283859]

Mr. Hanson: The Government have no plans to build a national database maintaining records of e-mails, VoIP telephone calls or instant messages. This was made clear in the public consultation “Protecting the Public in a Changing Communications Environment” which was published by the Home Secretary on 27 April 2009.

14. Mr. Whittingdale: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what recent discussions he has had with internet service providers on maintaining records of electronic communications; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Hanson: The Home Office has regular discussions with a wide range of communications service providers. These discussions include the implementation of the EU Data Retention Directive, and potential future policies set out in the recent consultation document, “Protecting the Public in a Changing Communications Environment”.

Mr. Whittingdale: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has for a compulsory register of mobile telephones; and if he will make a statement. [283858]

Mr. Hanson: We have no plans to introduce a mandatory registration scheme for mobile phones and would want firm evidence of the effectiveness of any such scheme before deciding whether legislation, as proposed by some European member states, was appropriate.

22. Mr. Whittingdale: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what plans have been made for total Departmental Expenditure Limits in real and cash terms for 2010-11 and 2013-14. [286213]

Mr. Byrne: Departmental budgets are set until April 2011. The exceptional economic uncertainty we now face means that it would not make sense to set budgets now for 2014, less than half way through the current spending review period. The Chancellor will set out economic and fiscal forecasts at the time of the Pre-Budget report, when he will return to this issue.

Mr. Whittingdale: To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change if he will bring forward legislative proposals to permit the export of graphite nuclear waste to the United States; and if he will make statement. [283860]

Mr. Kidney: There are currently no proposals to bring forward legislation to permit the export of graphite nuclear waste to the United States of America.

The Government’s policy, as set out in the Command Paper 2919, is that radioactive wastes should not be exported from the UK except in circumstances where is to be treated so that its storage and/or disposal is more manageable; where other countries have the ability to deal with it appropriately; and where it will not add materially to their existing radioactive waste legacy.

Mr. Whittingdale: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills when his Department intends to consult on the wider application of the Kent County Council Act 2001 and the Medway Council Act 2001 for the regulation of markets and occasional sales.

Kevin Brennan: A consultation on measures to tighten the regulation of markets and occasional sales was recommended in the Gower Review of intellectual property. However, the Department’s resources are limited and current efforts are focused on providing targeted help and protection for consumers struggling to make ends meet as a result of the global downturn. It is therefore not possible to give a specific timeframe for implementing this recommendation.

Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): Does the Secretary of State accept that in many communities the local newspaper is as important as the local post office, the local shop or the local pub? Given the number of closures, which he has already referred to, and the fact that journalists are being laid off, offices are being centralised and newspapers are becoming more distant from their local communities, there needs to be urgent action, in particular to relax the competition rules so that markets are judged more broadly in terms of media consumption, and also to encourage local newspapers to take part in consortiums for the provision of regional news, while at the same time perhaps addressing the problem in the broadcast market for news.

Andy Burnham: The hon. Gentleman, as Chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, is quite right to say that we need to look afresh at how best to provide local news in future and to consider other ways of working—perhaps local newspapers working with media at a regional level or other possibilities that might include considering the role of regional development agencies and the Learning and Skills Council. Those are all ideas that I am perfectly happy to consider.

The hon. Gentleman raised specifically cross-media ownership rules. He will know that, as part of the “Digital Britain” interim report it was proposed that there be now a review by Ofcom and the Office of Fair Trading on the appropriateness of current rules, given the structural change in the media industry. That work will come forward as part of the final “Digital Britain” report, but the views that he has placed on the record today will obviously be heard as part of that.

1. Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): What steps the Government are taking to prevent the recruitment of young people to dissident republican groups. [269403]

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Shaun Woodward): Dissident republican groups have nothing to offer but violence and suffering and are funded by criminal activity. Resources for the prevention of recruitment are shared between the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Executive and the Northern Ireland Office.

Mr. Whittingdale: Is the Secretary of State aware of reports that dissident groups are using social networking sites, websites and blogs to recruit young people, some of whom may be as young as 13? Will he say what he is doing to tackle that and, in particular, whether he will consider taking down any offensive material promoting terrorism or violence that appears on social networking sites, or blocking access to any such websites?

Mr. Woodward: I have been made aware of this, and the police are indeed investigating it. The site itself has vowed to remove materials that it considers illegal, defamatory or fraudulent or that infringe or violate any individual’s rights. There are clearly some legitimate concerns, and obviously the police will act if there is any evidence of activity of a criminal nature going on. The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. Whether this activity is done on social networking sites or in any other way, these organisations are criminal organisations and we need to ensure that young people realise that they are just that.

Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Surrey (Mr. Hunt) on initiating this debate on the licence fee. If ever there was a time when it was right to ask again whether the licence fee should continue to increase, it is now. My hon. Friend set out some of the background to the increase in the fee against the rate of inflation, but the BBC’s income is determined not just by the level of the licence fee, but the number of households that pay it, which also has been going up. As a result, the BBC has enjoyed perpetual income increases, year on year, at a time when the rest of the media sector is facing its worst crisis for 50 years.

The media are affected by the recession in the same way as every other industry. As many people who have been in business will know, one of the first casualties in a recession is advertising spend, and there has been a significant drop in advertising expenditure across the board. On top of that, we are seeing a fundamental structural change in people’s consumption of media. More and more people consume media online, and as they move from traditional media outlets advertisers are following them. The result is that every commercial operator is under greater pressure than ever before. ITV has moved from children’s programming and regional programming, and it has now pulled out of arts programming with the ending of “The South Bank Show”. It has also cut drama. Channel 4 has identified a £150 million gap in its funding. Channel 5 is struggling to survive. Every commercial radio station is now considering its economic prospects and wondering whether it will still be in business in a year’s time. As we know, local newspapers are going out of business every week.

All those sectors face competition from the BBC, and that has always been a matter for concern, but the disparity between the amount available to commercial media and that available to the BBC has now become enormous, and it is distorting the market. For the first time, the BBC’s income will exceed the total advertising revenue of the entire commercial sector. That gap will grow to more than £1 billion.

Philip Davies: Does my hon. Friend agree that, as opposed to the BBC press release masquerading as the Liberal Democrat spokesman’s speech, even if the motion were to be passed today, that would not comprise a cut in BBC expenditure? The motion would simply result in the BBC’s not being given a further increase in funding. It is nothing to do with a cut to the BBC’s funding, anyway.

Mr. Whittingdale: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Conservatives are entirely familiar with the claim that there will be cuts when in fact we are talking about a slightly reduced increase in expenditure.

Andy Burnham: The hon. Gentleman is of course absolutely right to describe the pressure on established media businesses, but, given that, will the public get the quality of media they deserve if the licence fee is cut? How can the public in this country get the quality of media they deserve and that democracy needs if the licence fee is to be cut?

Mr. Whittingdale: We simply cannot ignore the environment in which the BBC is operating. That is not to say that the BBC does not do masses of things that are essential. However, my question is whether it needs £3.6 billion to do them. The BBC will always point to its comedy, drama, children’s television, regional television and its religion, arts and education coverage. However, just because the BBC produced “Cranford”, “Life in Cold Blood” or “Panorama” does not necessarily justify £3.6 billion. We have to ask whether we need all the channels that the BBC produces. BBC 3 has cost more than £500 million since it was set up, and to be honest I do not believe that the amount of product that has appeared on BBC 3 justifies that amount.

The Secretary of State said that “The BBC is there to provide content that the commercial sector would not”. I entirely agree, but too often the BBC is providing content that looks very similar, if not wholly identical, to the content that the commercial sector provides. One has to ask whether it is justified for the BBC to go on paying the amount that it does in recruiting talent, top salaries, competing against commercial providers and, as my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Surrey said, bidding against commercial television to acquire imported American television or to acquire Hollywood movies—in that case, the only beneficiaries are the Hollywood studios.

The BBC does not need all the money it receives and, in the longer term, we need to be having a bigger debate necessarily about whether the BBC needs this amount or that amount, but about how we can sustain public service broadcasting in this country. There is a desperate crisis, and it is essential that the BBC is not left as the sole provider of public service broadcasting. If we are to sustain plurality, we must support commercial providers’ continuing to provide public service programming. That might well need public support, and the obvious source for that is the licence fee.

Is it more in the interests of the public and the viewing public in this country that we should go on sustaining BBC 3 or yet another American import, or should we be using that money to ensure that regional news does not just appear on the BBC but continues to be broadcast on ITV? Should there be other providers of children’s programming outside the BBC? I welcome that debate, which Lord Carter is currently conducting, but those points have to be taken into account in this debate.

There is very little time, but I want to finish by saying that I am profoundly disturbed by the comments made by the chairman of the BBC Trust, which was set up to be different from the board of governors. It was supposed to be an arm’s length regulator, yet increasingly the chairman of the trust appears to be a champion of the BBC. When he suggests that it was somehow wrong for the Opposition to table this motion today, I have to say that he is straying on to political territory, which is very dangerous. He is also questioning the right of Parliament to determine the appropriate level of funding for the BBC. Of course Parliament should not interfere in the BBC’s editorial independence, but debating the right amount of public money to go to the BBC is not interfering in editorial independence. It is a function of this House. If the chairman of the trust is suggesting that we should not be having this debate, I believe that he is in severe danger of overstepping the mark. I hope that he will think very carefully before continuing to make that argument.

1. Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): What recent discussions he has had on the availability of agricultural labour; and if he will make a statement. [276574]

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Jane Kennedy): May I say on behalf of those who come to Prayers that it is a little disconcerting to have the blinds run up and down during them, particularly as we need all the help we can get these days and Prayers are quite important?

At the end of last year, in response to concerns expressed by the industry about shortages of seasonal labour, the Government announced a 5,000 increase in the seasonal agricultural workers scheme quota for 2009. I am pleased that we were also recently able to address swiftly some practical problems that could have arisen affecting the availability of sheep shearers. I am grateful for the assistance of my Home Office colleagues, and the hon. Gentleman will know that we meet representatives of farmers regularly on all sorts of subjects.

Mr. Whittingdale: I welcome the measures that the Minister refers to, but she will be aware that many people, particularly in the horticultural and fruit growing industries, depend heavily on the seasonal agricultural workers scheme and are concerned about what will happen when Bulgaria and Romania become full members of the European Union. Will she consider extending the scheme to other countries to ensure that there remains a flow of seasonal workers for those very important industries?

Jane Kennedy: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the matter. We are being advised that there is more confidence among farmers and growers this year that they will have sufficient labour for seasonal fruit and vegetable harvesting, largely due to the economic climate in which they are operating. However, I can assure him that we keep the situation under close review. Indeed, all being well, my noble Friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath will meet my hon. Friend the Minister for Borders and Immigration in the week after the recess.