John Whittingdale Conservative, Maldon 

It is a pleasure to follow Yvette Cooper. I did not agree with everything that she said, but the one thing with which I most certainly did agree was her congratulations to my hon. Friend Dr Johnson who made an excellent first speech in this House. It is probably the case that she will never speak in a more important debate in this House no matter that she has, I am sure, a long career ahead of her here.

My first political act was to take part in the referendum campaign in 1975. I put leaflets through doors calling on people to vote yes in that referendum. I did so because I believed in free trade, and because I believed the assurances that were written on those leaflets that the decision taken would not affect the sovereignty of the UK Parliament.

I was working for Margaret Thatcher when she first delivered the Bruges speech, which highlighted the fact that that assurance was being steadily eroded and that the European Community was heading in the wrong direction. As a result, when I entered this House I opposed the Maastricht treaty, the Amsterdam treaty, the Nice treaty and indeed the Lisbon treaty as it was becoming steadily clearer that, although there may or may not have been economic benefits from our membership, this was a political project that was heading in the one direction of ever closer union.

It was a project on which the British people had not been consulted and which they did not support. I had hoped that the Prime Minister, David Cameron, would negotiate an arrangement that allowed us to opt out from the elements that we did not want. He tried valiantly, but what he came back with was insufficient, which left us with no alternative but to leave and then to seek new arrangements allowing us to co-operate in those areas where there was a benefit. The result of the referendum was clear. In my constituency, it was nearly two to one, and people did understand what they were voting for. It does not matter that a majority of younger people may have voted to remain, that a majority of those with degrees may have voted to remain, or even that some parts of the UK may have voted to remain. This was a nationwide referendum of the British people, and the British people spoke. I agree with the Prime Minister that we have no alternative but to leave the single market, as it is essential that we have control over our borders once more and that we are no longer subject to European Union law.

Charles Walker, Conservative, Broxbourne

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

John Whittingdale Conservative, Maldon 

I really am sorry, but I do not have time.

We have to leave the customs union if the condition of remaining in it is that we are unable to negotiate our own trade agreements. There are precedents, although I would not necessarily want to follow them completely. The new arrangements, for instance, between the European Union and Canada, and between the European Union and Ukraine, offer no application of European law in those countries and no free movement, but do give them access to the internal market and allow them to negotiate their own trade agreements. Ultimately, the European Union is flexible and an arrangement is perfectly possible.

The negotiations will be complicated. I am concerned, for instance, that we must have recognition of the adequacy of our data protection, so that data can continue to flow across borders. I would like us still to be recognised under the country of origin principle. However, it is vital for European businesses still to have access to our markets, so they will be putting pressure on their Governments to reach a sensible deal. The one thing I have found most astonishing is that when Britain voted to leave the European Union, the reaction of other member states has been more to seek to punish Britain than to ask the question why. The European Union is a flawed—

John Bercow Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. I call Geoffrey Robinson.

 

John Whittingdale Conservative, Maldon 


Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that, contrary to the assertion of Edward Miliband in The Guardian, Sky’s share of the television news market is actually 5%, not 20%? Although there may well be a case for asking the regulator to look at this bid, does she recognise that it represents a £12 billion investment into a British company, and is a vote of confidence that Britain will remain a centre of international broadcasting after it leaves the European Union?


Karen Bradley The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport 


My right hon. Friend has significant interest in this area, having been an exceptionally good predecessor for me, but will, I know, understand the position I am in and that I cannot comment

John Whittingdale Conservative, Maldon 


As my right hon. Friend knows, more than 10,000 Ukrainian servicemen have been killed since the beginning of the Russian-backed conflict, and progress on Minsk appears to have stalled. Does she agree that, as signatories to the Budapest memorandum, we have a special responsibility? Will she look into what further pressure we can put on Russia, and also what additional assistance we can give the people of Ukraine?


Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party 


We do consider what more we can do. My right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary announced recently that we would undertake an extension of the training of Ukrainian forces, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is looking into whether there are other ways in which we can ensure that the Minsk agreement is implemented in full. However, I think it important for us also to work through the European Union, and to put the pressure of the EU behind the process.

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.

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John Whittingdale Conservative, Maldon 


I welcome my right hon. Friend’s intention to continue to listen very carefully on these matters. Will she confirm that in considering how best to proceed, she will take account of the significant deterioration in the economic health of traditional media, which has taken place even since Leveson and is still leading to the closure of titles at both national and local level? Will she bear in mind that the real media giants of today, such as Facebook and Google, are outside the scope of legislation and regulation altogether?


Karen Bradley The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport 


My right hon. Friend, who was my predecessor in this role, sets out important arguments, which we need to consider. He rightly says that we need to make sure that this regulation affects the whole of the press, not just the print media that are on our high streets and that are produced locally, but those global players on the internet.

John Whittingdale Conservative, Maldon 


Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the UK is to remain competitive and our citizens are to enjoy the benefits of the digital revolution, it is essential that we should be at the forefront of the deployment of both ultra-fast broadband and 5G mobile connectivity? May I therefore welcome the announcement, which we are led to believe may be made shortly, of a £1 billion investment to achieve this?


Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party 


My right hon. Friend will, of course, be waiting in anticipation for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor’s autumn statement, but he is absolutely right that, as we look at improving productivity in this country and as we look to the economy of the future, the provision of superfast broadband and those new technological opportunities for people is absolutely a crucial part of that, and that is something that this Government recognise and will act on.


John Whittingdale Conservative, Maldon  


I am delighted to welcome the Bill’s Second Reading. As has been pointed out, this is a Bill we have welcomed in the past; indeed, I chaired the Select Committee that considered the draft Bill in 2008, when we subjected it to pre-legislative scrutiny. At the time, we very much welcomed the Government’s intention to introduce it. We pointed out that then it was 55 years since the adoption of The Hague convention and that 118 countries had already signed the convention. Another eight years have passed since then, and I am proud that the Bill should finally go on to the statute book under a Conservative Government in their second Session in office.

When we took evidence, it was pointed out to us that there had been some examples of damage to heritage assets during the course of the Iraq war, particularly some in the city of Babel, that may have been caused by coalition forces. Although that was obviously not deliberate, it highlighted the importance of stressing the need to protect cultural assets.

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John Whittingdale Conservative, Maldon


I welcome the publication of both the draft charter and now the agreement. This is the culmination of a process that started a year ago with the publication of the consultation paper on the future of the BBC. As both Front-Bench spokespeople have mentioned, that produced a very wide-ranging and voluminous response, ranging from the 192,000 people who responded by email or letter to a number of luminaries of the creative industries who wrote to defend the BBC against the threat that they saw, but that I believe, as my hon. Friend Nigel Huddleston pointed out, never really existed.

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John Whittingdale Conservative, Maldon 


Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State confirm that the draft charter is not, as some have said, either a damp squib or the brainchild of Rupert Murdoch? Does she agree that the charter makes significant changes—including the new governance structure, the new requirements for diversity, distinctiveness and impartiality, the opening up of the schedule to 100% competition, and full access to the National Audit Office—and that those changes will ensure that the BBC continues to be the best broadcaster in the world?

Karen Bradley The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport 

I have a suitably pithy response, Mr Speaker: yes, I agree with my right hon. Friend, to whom we owe a great debt for where we are with the charter today.