Helen Whately debates with Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

There have been 6 exchanges between Helen Whately and Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Thu 13th February 2020 Oral Answers to Questions 19 interactions (536 words)
Thu 16th January 2020 Oral Answers to Questions 36 interactions (1,099 words)
Wed 8th January 2020 SPAC Nation 12 interactions (1,714 words)
Thu 13th December 2018 Oral Answers to Questions 5 interactions (92 words)
Thu 21st June 2018 Oral Answers to Questions 7 interactions (65 words)
Mon 10th July 2017 Telecommunications Infrastructure (Relief from Non-Domestic Rates) Bill 36 interactions (2,851 words)

Oral Answers to Questions

Helen Whately Excerpts
Thursday 13th February 2020

(11 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Andrew Jones Portrait Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con)
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2. What steps his Department is taking to help tackle problem gambling. [900774]

Helen Whately Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Helen Whately)
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13 Feb 2020, 9:41 a.m.

We know that about 1% of the population are problem gamblers, and I want to make sure this group is helped, not harmed. That is why I have asked the Gambling Commission to use its powers to make sure gamblers are not taken advantage of—for instance, through exploitative VIP schemes—and why we have recently banned gambling with credit cards and will be reviewing the Gambling Act 2005 to make sure it is fit for the modern age.

Andrew Jones Portrait Andrew Jones
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13 Feb 2020, 9:41 a.m.

Too many people have had their lives turned upside down by gambling addiction, so I commend the Minister for her decision to ban people from gambling using credit cards—essentially gambling with money they do not have—but what more will the Government do to tackle the scourge of problem gambling? We have probably all seen constituents in surgeries who have had their lives ruined by this terrible problem.

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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13 Feb 2020, 9:41 a.m.

I thank my hon. Friend for his support for the ban on gambling with credit cards, which was an important decision, but our work to tackle problem gambling continues. The intention of the Gambling Act review is to make sure we have the right legislation to protect people from harm, but in the meantime, for those struggling with problem gambling, the Department of Health and Social Care is opening 14 new specialist NHS clinics, and we are working on a cross-Government addiction strategy, which will include gambling.

Carolyn Harris Portrait Carolyn Harris (Swansea East) (Lab)
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13 Feb 2020, 9:41 a.m.

As chair of the all-party group for gambling related harm, I am delighted that the Government have adopted so many of our recommendations over the last 18 months. Our latest one is that we would very much like to see no gambling advertising in sports activities. Will the Minister agree that this is a way forward?

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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13 Feb 2020, 9:41 a.m.

I know the hon. Lady is a determined campaigner on this issue. I am also well aware of concerns about gambling in sports. I have spoken about this with the Sports Minister, who is here beside me. There are already controls on advertising in sport—the whistle-to-whistle ban is a step forward—and as I said, the Gambling Act review is coming up. We are working on the scope of that at the moment.

Tracey Crouch Portrait Tracey Crouch (Chatham and Aylesford) (Con)
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13 Feb 2020, 9:41 a.m.

The 2018 gaming machines review, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, the NHS lead on mental health, the Children’s Commissioner and many Members of the House have expressed concerns about loot boxes, skins and e-gaming. What discussions has the Minister had with the Gambling Commission about it exercising its powers to safeguard young gamers from gambling?

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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13 Feb 2020, 9:41 a.m.

My hon. Friend did a huge amount of work in this area when she was Minister with this responsibility. I have spoken to the Gambling Commission about loot boxes and the risks of online gambling, and we are working at the moment on the scope of the gambling review.

Ronnie Cowan Portrait Ronnie Cowan (Inverclyde) (SNP)
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The gambling arena currently resembles the wild west. This is resulting in increased harm and even suicides. Rather than tinkering around the edges of the Gambling Act, will the UK Government rip it up and write a new one fit for the 21st century and in doing so engage with those people with lived experience?

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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Absolutely. We intend to engage with people with lived experience and a wide range of stakeholders as we review the Gambling Act. We must get a balance here: making sure we get on and update that legislation, hand in hand with doing it thoroughly and making the changes so that our gambling legislation is fit for the modern age.

Sarah Atherton Portrait Sarah Atherton (Wrexham) (Con)
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4. What steps his Department is taking to support grassroots sport. [900777]

Break in Debate

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con)
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11. What steps his Department is taking to support local theatres. [900787]

Helen Whately Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Helen Whately)
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13 Feb 2020, 9:54 a.m.

Many of the stars of stage and screen who recently won awards at the BAFTAs and the Oscars started out on stage at a local theatre, but even if a role in a local panto does not lead to a BAFTA, we know that local theatres bring people together in a way that no west end theatre can rival. The Government recognise the importance of local theatres and we are actively supporting them. Arts Council England invested £650 million in theatres over the past five years. Theatres all around the country benefit from theatre tax relief. I recently attended the launch of this year’s Theatres at Risk list, a successful scheme that has saved 80 theatres since it started.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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13 Feb 2020, 9:54 a.m.

Carshalton and Wallington was left as nearly the only part of London that did not have a local theatre, so will the Minister join me in thanking and congratulating the team at CryerArts, a local community group which has stepped up and saved the Cryer in Carshalton to promote local artists?

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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13 Feb 2020, 9:54 a.m.

I am very glad to join my hon. Friend in congratulating the team at CryerArts. I understand that the theatre reopened in November and I hope it continues to be a much-loved local venue.

Thangam Debbonaire Portrait Thangam Debbonaire (Bristol West) (Lab)
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13 Feb 2020, 9:54 a.m.

In order to ensure the future of local theatres, what conversations is the Minister having with counterparts in the Department for Education to ensure that all children are given access to high-quality performing arts education from a young age?

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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I am in conversation with the Department for Education about arts in school. The hon. Lady may be aware that an arts premium is coming in for secondary schools, which will mean more investment in arts in our schools.

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes (Walsall North) (Con)
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12. What his policy is on BBC licence fee penalties and payments. [900808]

Oral Answers to Questions

Helen Whately Excerpts
Thursday 16th January 2020

(1 year ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Adam Afriyie Portrait Adam Afriyie (Windsor) (Con)
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14. What steps her Department is taking to support the tourism industry throughout the UK. [900213]

Helen Whately Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Helen Whately)
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16 Jan 2020, 9:45 a.m.

Tourism contributes £60 billion to the UK economy each year and my Department is committed to encouraging visitors from across the world to visit the whole United Kingdom. Our strong and growing tourism industry is good news for the economy and local communities, supporting small businesses and jobs up and down our country. The tourism sector deal will help to solve some of the industry’s challenges and establish tourism zones in areas with great tourism ambitions. The £45 million Discover England fund encourages visitors to travel beyond London, contributing to levelling up across the country.

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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16 Jan 2020, 9:45 a.m.

I thank the Minister for her response. As she will know, in constituencies such as mine, the tourist industry is heavily based on our industrial heritage and history. The Chesterfield Canal Trust is midway through a restoration to celebrate its 250th anniversary in 2027; it is restoring the final nine miles of the canal. May I invite my hon. Friend to visit the Chesterfield canal to see the fantastic tourist offer in North East Derbyshire?

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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16 Jan 2020, 9:46 a.m.

I know that my hon. Friend has been working hard and lobbying a range of Ministers to support the regeneration of the Chesterfield canal—rightly so, as it is a fabulously ambitious project to restore that historic and beautiful waterway in time for its 250th anniversary. I would be delighted to visit to find out more.

Mark Menzies Portrait Mark Menzies
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16 Jan 2020, 9:46 a.m.

As you are well aware, Mr Speaker, Fylde is at the heart of the Lancashire riviera, with fabulous beaches and world-class golf courses. With inadequate transport infrastructure, however, people struggle to access it. What representation is the Minister making in Government to ensure that people can visit our seaside gems?

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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16 Jan 2020, 9:47 a.m.

My hon. Friend is correct that our wonderful coastline, including in his constituency, is one of the great things that our country has to offer visitors. We are supporting coastal tourism, including with the £45 Discover England fund. The Government have also invested £229 million in the Coastal Communities fund—including in his area—and there is the English coast path. I completely agree, however, that we could and should be doing more to support our seaside attractions. I would be delighted to meet him to discuss his constituency’s infrastructure requirements and to arrange a meeting with the Secretary of State for Transport to lobby on his behalf.

Adam Afriyie Portrait Adam Afriyie
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16 Jan 2020, 9:48 a.m.

Putting rivieras to one side, the Windsor constituency enjoys 7 million visitors a year and I would say it is one of the most attractive constituencies in the entire country. Yes, we are known for military and monarchy, but we also have two race courses—Ascot and Windsor—and two barracks, with regular parades in Windsor town centre. We have magnificent buildings such as Windsor castle and Windsor Great Park, as well as Legoland, which all our children enjoy. Does the Minister agree that investment in public transport and links to places outside London would make a huge difference when we are drawing tourists into parts of the country that are not the capital?

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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16 Jan 2020, 9:48 a.m.

My hon. Friend is an excellent advocate for his constituency and all its wonderful places to visit, including Legoland, which is popular with my children. I completely agree that visitors to the UK must be able to get to destinations outside London by public transport. I welcome our Government’s commitment to investment in public transport. I want to make that travel as easy as possible for tourists. I would be happy to talk further with my hon. Friend if he has any specific suggestions to help visitors get to his constituency.

Derek Twigg Portrait Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab)
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16 Jan 2020, 9:49 a.m.

Many of our northern towns have great tourist attractions, such as Norton priory in Runcorn and the Catalyst Science Discovery Centre in Widnes. What is the Minister doing to ensure there is more focus on getting tourism into our northern towns, not just concentrating on cities?

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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I completely agree with the hon. Member. I am very keen as a Minister to ensure that visitors to the UK go beyond London and the great cities, important though those are, and get to the towns and further afield. That is one of the things that the £45 million Discover England fund supports, including with bookable packages to enable international visitors to come and travel further afield. I want that to go further in the months ahead.

Christine Jardine Portrait Christine Jardine (Edinburgh West) (LD)
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16 Jan 2020, 9:49 a.m.

I do not need to tell everyone in this place how beautiful Edinburgh is and how important it is to the tourism industry in this country generally. However, with our departure from the European Union, it will face a problem, not just day-to-day in the hospitality industry but every August with the festival; there is the issue of visas for foreign nationals coming from other EU countries. What will the Government do to ensure that important events, such as the Edinburgh International Festival, are not damaged by Brexit?

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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16 Jan 2020, 9:49 a.m.

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. As she will know, once we have left the EU with the withdrawal agreement on 31 January, visitor arrangements will not change. The arrangements for the future, however, will be subject to the relationship negotiations with the European Union. We are shifting to an immigration system that will deliver on the needs of the United Kingdom, rather than being dependant on where people come from. We will continue to engage with the tourism sector and the creative industries to ensure that the system works as they need it to.

David Jones Portrait Mr David Jones (Clwyd West) (Con)
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16 Jan 2020, 9:49 a.m.

My hon. Friend will know that north Wales is one of the pre-eminent tourist destinations in the country, with over 30 million visits per annum. Increasingly, the area is specialising in adventure tourism, with such attractions as Plas Menai and the world’s only inland surfing lagoon. Is she willing to meet me and representatives of the North Wales Economic Ambition Board to discuss the possibility of creating an adventure tourism zone in north Wales?

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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That sounds very exciting, particularly the inland surfing lagoon. I am not sure whether my right hon. Friend is asking me to visit the destination itself, but I would be delighted to meet him and colleagues to discuss the opportunities.

Paul Blomfield Portrait Paul Blomfield (Sheffield Central) (Lab)
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4. What recent steps she has taken to improve access to arts and culture in Yorkshire. [900203]

Helen Whately Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Helen Whately)
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16 Jan 2020, 9:49 a.m.

Through Arts Council England, we have invested over £190 million in Yorkshire for arts and culture programmes since 2017, including six projects in the hon. Member’s constituency. Last year, we also announced £18.5 million for the National Railway Museum in York, which will support a £55 million transformation project to create new exhibition space and restore heritage buildings to their original glory.

Paul Blomfield Portrait Paul Blomfield
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16 Jan 2020, 9:49 a.m.

I thank the Minister for her answer. She is right to highlight the one-off and capital funding that has been available. That is welcome, but she will know that the key challenges our regional museums face are the fall in revenue funding; extra inflationary pressures in the year ahead; and the continuing imbalance in funding between London and the regions. Does she agree that the Arts Council should do more to rebalance revenue funding for arts and culture towards the regions? Will she agree to meet me and the chief executive of Museums Sheffield, ideally at one of our excellent museums, to discuss the challenges they face?

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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I can see that my diary will get very busy, but I am keen in my role to get out and about as far as I possibly can and spend time in regional museums, not just those in London. I point the hon. Gentleman particularly to the £125 million investment as part of the cultural investment fund, which will go in particular to regional museums and libraries to support their repair and maintenance. I am very keen to ensure that our regional museums thrive.

Carol Monaghan Portrait Carol Monaghan (Glasgow North West) (SNP)
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5. What steps the Government are taking to protect UNESCO world heritage sites throughout the world. [900204]

Gavin Newlands Portrait Gavin Newlands (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (SNP)
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16. What steps the Government are taking to protect UNESCO world heritage sites throughout the world. [900215]

Helen Whately Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Helen Whately)
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There are over 1,000 UNESCO world heritage sites globally. The UK is the proud home to 32, six of which are in Scotland. The Government take their responsibilities under the world heritage convention very seriously. In recent years, we have sadly seen some of the world’s great cultural treasures destroyed by conflict or natural disasters. We are working around the world to help to protect world heritage sites.

Carol Monaghan Portrait Carol Monaghan
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Of course we are concerned about the destruction of cultural sites due to conflict. Any attack on one of these sites is an attack on our shared global history, but when we have President Trump tweeting one thing and his advisers saying the opposite, can we really trust the assurances that these sites will not be targeted in conflict?

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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16 Jan 2020, 9:55 a.m.

The targeting of cultural sites contravenes several international conventions to which the United States is a party, including the world heritage convention and the 1954 Hague convention. The Foreign Secretary was very clear that we expect those conventions to be adhered to.

Gavin Newlands Portrait Gavin Newlands
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16 Jan 2020, 9:55 a.m.

The lack of direct condemnation of Donald Trump’s threats by either the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary was actually pretty shameful. Putting to one side for just a moment the Government’s desperate need for a US trade deal, will the Minister do what her colleagues have failed to do and unequivocally condemn the White House and President Trump for his reckless and provocative threats?

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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16 Jan 2020, 9:55 a.m.

I think that my previous answer was very clear. The Foreign Secretary made it clear that he expected the conventions on world heritage to be adhered to.

John Nicolson Portrait John Nicolson (Ochil and South Perthshire) (SNP)
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16 Jan 2020, 9:55 a.m.

I am sure that we are all comforted to know that the Secretary of State is watching us from the Gallery. Further to the questions from my colleagues, the next time the Minister speaks with the Secretary of State, who has been elevated to the Lords and so is beyond the reach of elected Members down here, will she ask whether she has had a firm guarantee from President Trump that he has withdrawn his threat? It is not enough to condemn the threat; has he withdrawn it and given that assurance?

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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This questioning from the SNP feels slightly repetitive. I think that the United States can speak for itself on its policy towards heritage sites. As I have said, and as the Foreign Secretary has been very clear, we expect the international conventions to be adhered to.

Julian Knight Portrait Julian Knight (Solihull) (Con)
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6. What steps her Department is taking to ensure that the 2022 Commonwealth games deliver benefits throughout the west midlands. [900205]

Break in Debate

Kevin Brennan Portrait Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab)
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16 Jan 2020, 10:06 a.m.

My father used to enjoy a weekly 10 bob yankee down the bookies, but he would have been appalled at the sheer volume of advertising and the dodgy practices that are going on in picking on vulnerable people in relation to gambling. The Government seem to be following rather than leading events in this regard, with today’s intervention from the NHS leadership adding to that. When are the Government going to introduce the new gambling Bill that is so long overdue? Will the Minister tell us that right now?

Helen Whately Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Helen Whately)
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I am slightly surprised by the tone of the hon. Gentleman’s question. The Government have been taking steady steps to increase protections to ensure that people can gamble safely, unlike previous Labour Administrations, who oversaw a huge liberalisation of gambling. As we committed to doing in our manifesto, we will be launching a review of the Gambling Act 2005, and work is going on right now to identify the scope and timeframe of that review.

Marco Longhi Portrait Marco Longhi (Dudley North) (Con)
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T2. Many people have had their lives ruined by a gambling addiction, so I commend my hon. Friend for her decision to ban people from gambling using credit cards and therefore using money that they often do not have. What other steps are the Government taking to deal with the scourge of problem gambling? [900219]

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He is absolutely right to raise this again, because there is a huge level of concern about gambling in this country. As he says, we announced this week that we were banning gambling on credit cards, because we know that that is particularly harmful. We are also going to review the Gambling Act to ensure that it is fit for the modern age. Also, in healthcare, there is increasing support for people who are struggling with gambling addiction, including 14 new clinics being opened to provide specialist support.

Brendan O'Hara Portrait Brendan O’Hara (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)
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T3. It is six months to the day since the Government announced that the limits on charity lotteries would be raised, but to the frustration of charities and good causes, nothing has been done and they are losing millions of pounds of potential funding. Could the Minister perhaps text the Public Gallery and ask the Secretary of State when this will be done? [900220]

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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As the hon. Gentleman said, we announced last year that we would be increasing society lottery sales and prize limits. These changes require affirmative secondary legislation, and our aim is to lay this in Parliament very soon.

James Wild Portrait James Wild (North West Norfolk) (Con)
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T5. While I warmly welcome the pledge to deliver gigabit broadband, many of my constituents in Grimston, Heacham, Brancaster and other places have yet to receive speeds of 10 megabits per second. Will the Minister confirm that the plans are ready to deliver minimum speeds from March, and that the Government will hold BT to account to do that? [900222]

SPAC Nation

Helen Whately Excerpts
Wednesday 8th January 2020

(1 year ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Steve Reed Portrait Mr Reed
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As always, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, and I agree with every word he says.

What concerns me further are the worrying echoes of the Rotherham child abuse scandal. In that case, vulnerable young girls’ allegations of serious abuse were dismissed because they came from poor or difficult backgrounds, and it is the same with SPAC Nation. I cannot help wondering, as one desperate mum told me: if this was happening to white middle-class children, would it have been ignored for so many years? Would it have been allowed to go on in this way? We need to address that question, because it is a real feeling and concern in the community. In my opinion, SPAC Nation is a criminal enterprise masquerading as a Church, because that gives it access to vulnerable young people and cover for exploiting them.

I would like to say this to every young person who is afraid or at risk from SPAC Nation’s activities tonight. This organisation might seem powerful, but we are stronger and we are on your side. Collectively, we will not stop until every young person is safe. We will not stop until the wrongdoers inside SPAC Nation have been brought to justice. And we will not stop until this dangerous, manipulative organisation can do no more harm.

Helen Whately Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Helen Whately)
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8 Jan 2020, 9:42 p.m.

I begin by thanking the hon. Member for Croydon North (Mr Reed) for calling this debate and raising these very serious concerns. I also thank his constituents and all those who have had the courage to speak up and bring this situation to his and our attention. I thank other Members who stayed here tonight to intervene and contribute to this debate.

I am answering the debate, as the Minister for arts, heritage and tourism, on behalf of the Minister for civil society, Baroness Barran, who sits in the House of Lords. The allegations concern a charity, and charity policy sits within our Department. I am grateful to have the Minister for safeguarding and vulnerability—the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins)—and the Minister for London, my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp), on the Front Bench with me.

I have listened carefully to the hon. Member for Croydon North; I have read a great deal of the media coverage; and I watched the “Panorama” documentary. I find the accusations deeply concerning. These are very serious allegations, and they clearly must be properly and urgently investigated.

The Charity Commission opened a statutory inquiry into SPAC Nation on 5 December 2019, and that inquiry is looking into its finances, governance, safeguarding and overall compliance with charity law. However, it was not the Charity Commission’s first engagement with SPAC Nation. The Charity Commission launched a regulatory compliance case in April 2018 and then issued an action plan to SPAC Nation’s trustees in June 2019.

The Charity Commission was not satisfied with SPAC Nation’s response to the action plan. Along with the further allegations and concerns that have been raised in the media and by the hon. Gentleman, that is why it launched its statutory inquiry in December. It also issued an order under section 84 of the Charities Act 2011, requiring the charity to bank the money it holds in cash.

I hope the hon. Gentleman will understand that while the Charity Commission is carrying out its statutory inquiry, I cannot comment on the specific allegations in this case. A report will be published by the Charity Commission once the investigation is complete. Although the Charity Commission cannot investigate criminal offences, it does have the power to refer charities to the police. I understand that, in parallel, the Metropolitan police are already reviewing these allegations of fraud and other offences relating to SPAC Nation that he has raised, including directly with them.

One of the most upsetting aspects of the allegations is the alleged exploitation of vulnerable young people. The suggestion that the very people who most need help and support are being taken advantage of is particularly worrying. This is a known risk, which is why a huge amount of work has been and is being done across government to improve safeguarding practices and make our society safer for young people.

Florence Eshalomi Portrait Florence Eshalomi (Vauxhall) (Lab/Co-op)
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8 Jan 2020, 9:40 p.m.

The Minister may agree that this is an important issue in terms of the safeguarding of young people, but the reality is that this is still happening now to a number of young people, not just in London but across other cities, as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon North (Mr Reed). Is there not something the Government can do now to investigate some of these serious allegations, whereby a number of young people continue to be exploited?

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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8 Jan 2020, 9:40 p.m.

As I am trying to make clear, these allegations are being investigated by the Charity Commission and reviewed by the police, so this is not something the Government can intervene in at this point. However, this debate is certainly raising this issue up the agenda and making sure that there is a great deal of awareness about the situation. I will do my best to address the questions as I proceed.

I wish to talk a bit more about the important role of safeguarding in charities. It is important because it should prevent the exploitation of vulnerable people or enable a rapid and effective response if exploitation does happen. I want to make clear how seriously the Government take this; since 2018, we have invested more than £1 million in the domestic charity safeguarding programme. We have been working with charities and other partners, including the National Crime Agency, to raise awareness of safeguarding; to ensure that charities, whatever their size, whether large or small, know their responsibilities, know how to handle concerns quickly and can easily access advice. The Charity Commission has also launched a whistleblowing helpline to help people report safeguarding concerns, and I encourage anyone who has experienced or witnessed wrongdoing, or are concerned about it, to use that as a means of reporting it. Obviously, Members here can refer people to do that.

Allegations such as those raised by the hon. Gentleman reinforce the importance of this vital work on strengthening safeguarding, and further announcements will be made on that shortly. Protecting people from harm must always take precedence over protecting a charity’s brand or status. Charities must be clear that they will listen to safeguarding concerns and that those concerns must be treated promptly and seriously acted upon. The majority of charities take their safeguarding responsibilities extremely seriously, and it is right that we recognise that, but when concerns are raised, action should be taken by the Charity Commission and, if necessary, local safeguarding authorities and the police.

Many of the hon. Gentleman’s concerns relate to the police matters. As I have said, the police are reviewing the evidence they have received. May I suggest that if he has not done so already, he raises these concerns about policing with both the Mayor of London and the Commissioner of the Metropolitan police?

The Home Office is working extremely hard to transform its approach to dealing with crimes against vulnerable young people. It has invested significantly in a programme of reform to help the police to respond to changing crimes, including child sexual abuse. Child sexual abuse has been prioritised as a national threat, and the Home Office are empowering police forces to develop their specialist skills and expertise, increasing the police’s capabilities to tackle this terrible crime.

Marsha De Cordova Portrait Marsha De Cordova
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8 Jan 2020, 9:50 p.m.

Forgive me if I am being ignorant on this point, but the Minister has asked my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon North (Mr Reed) to raise this with the Mayor of London and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, if he has not already done so. The Home Office is the Government’s responsibility and this sounds to me like a Home Office issue that the Government need to look into, so will she clarify whether or not this is an issue that the Home Office should be addressing?

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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8 Jan 2020, 9:50 p.m.

The important point is that this is a police matter, which is why the Mayor of London, as the police and crime commissioner for London, is the appropriate person with whom to raise concerns. However, there is a bigger-picture point, which is why I am talking about what the Home Office is doing to prevent and respond to crime against young people, particularly sexual abuse.

Let me come to something that is very relevant to this specific topic. In 2015, the Home Office launched the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse, and in May last year that inquiry announced its final investigation strand—into child protection in religious organisations and settings. That strand of the inquiry is now examining the nature and adequacy of child protection policies, practices and procedures, and it will consider whether safeguarding in those kinds of settings needs to be strengthened further.

On safeguarding across government, in July 2018, the Department for Education updated the statutory guidance on inter-agency working to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, and it is funding a £2 million tackling child exploitation support programme to help to deliver more effective responses to child sexual and criminal exploitation and involvement in gangs and drugs.

Steve Reed Portrait Mr Reed
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8 Jan 2020, 9:52 p.m.

How much longer does the Minister think that this organisation should be allowed to access vulnerable young people and exploit them?

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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I am doing my best to make clear how seriously I take these allegations, and I know that the other Ministers on the Front Bench take the allegations very seriously, but the allegations are being investigated, so the hon. Member puts me in a difficult position by asking me to say things that it would be inappropriate for me to say at the Dispatch Box. I recognise that I may not be able to answer all his questions right here and now, so I will do my best to follow up and write to him with the best possible answers that I can give. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle, has suggested that she might be able to meet the hon. Member and the other Croydon MPs to discuss the wider issues raised by the concerns he has expressed.

Steve Reed Portrait Mr Reed
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I did not mean to put the Minister in a difficult position or to be disingenuous in any way; I am just concerned. Given the severity and volume of the allegations, and the type of allegations that we are hearing, can nothing further be done, perhaps by the Government working with the police and crime commissioners, wherever that may be necessary, or with the police forces, wherever that may be necessary, to prevent this organisation, even if only temporarily, from being able to stand outside school gates and youth centres and target young people? I would be happy to work collaboratively with the Minister and her colleagues to seek an answer to that—I understand that I have not given warning of that question this evening—but if there were some way for us to look at working together to prevent any more young lives being destroyed, even while investigations are going on, I would be immensely grateful.

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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8 Jan 2020, 9:54 p.m.

I am sorry but I cannot give a different answer from this Dispatch Box, but what I do want to say is that none of us would want to say anything this evening that might perhaps prevent an effective investigation taking place, or that might prejudice the outcome in any way that might be unhelpful. Given how serious these allegations are, let us make sure that they can be effectively investigated and pursued.

Siobhain McDonagh Portrait Siobhain McDonagh
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

8 Jan 2020, 9:55 p.m.

I thank the Minister for giving way. She is being very generous. The Charity Commission can often move very slowly, and given the seriousness of the allegations, would it not be possible to suspend charitable status while the investigations are going ahead? Considering other charities that deal with young people from memory, I am aware that this has happened in the past.

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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8 Jan 2020, 9:56 p.m.

I am very happy to write to the hon. Lady with a full response to that question, but let me reiterate that I know that the Charity Commission is, as I said before, investigating the matter and that, because it does not look into criminal activity, the police are reviewing these allegations. Those two things are happening.

Before we finish, I want to put the record straight on one matter. I do understand that the pastor to whom the hon. Gentleman referred went to No. 10 Downing Street, but I have been told that he did not meet the Prime Minister. I think that that is appropriate to say that. My understanding is that he attended a roundtable event along with 25 other Church leaders to discuss youth violence, and it was in that context that he was in No. 10 Downing Street.

Just before I conclude, I want to make an important point and say how mindful I am, given the context of this debate, of the important role that religion, faith and worship play in our society and what a significant and important contribution that many religious charities make to our communities. They are often the first in and last out of marginal communities, providing invaluable help and support for those most in need. That includes many black majority Churches up and down the country that support their local communities, contributing positively to wider society. That is a very important point to put on the record.

As I have said, I will write to the hon. Gentleman. He has the offer of a meeting with the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department to discuss these wider issues in principle. May I thank him for calling this debate and for highlighting these very serious allegations? His concerns have been fully heard by me, by the other Ministers here and by many thousands via the media coverage that this has received. The crucial next step is for the Charity Commission and the police to investigate the allegations and to take appropriate action.

Question put and agreed to.

Oral Answers to Questions

Helen Whately Excerpts
Thursday 13th December 2018

(2 years, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Jeremy Wright Portrait Jeremy Wright
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

13 Dec 2018, 9:59 a.m.

No, of course not, because that has not happened. Let me just say again to the right hon. Gentleman that he is positing a hypothetical situation. It has not happened. It is important that the BBC gets the chance to consider the right way forward. All that he says about the importance of television to those who are elderly, particularly those who are lonely, is quite right, but no decision has been made yet. It is right to give the BBC the space in which to make it. That is the right way forward.

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately (Faversham and Mid Kent) (Con)
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9. What steps his Department is taking to support tourism throughout the UK. [908179]

Jeremy Wright Portrait The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Jeremy Wright)
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13 Dec 2018, 9:59 a.m.

Tourism is an incredibly important part of the UK’s economy, generating approximately £68 billion and employing over 1.5 million people. Visit Britain and the GREAT campaign, backed by Government support, continue to successfully promote the UK internationally. The House will know that the Government will now take forward into formal negotiations a tourism sector deal which will benefit tourism across the country. That is the result of a good deal of hard work by people across the tourism sector and, if may I say so, others including my hon. Friend the tourism Minister.

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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13 Dec 2018, 9:59 a.m.

Some of my constituents have bought park homes only to find that they are actually leisure home owners, with very few rights against their landlords who charge extortionate fees and rent rises. I have heard that the mis-selling of leisure homes and the abuse of tenants is happening across the country. Will my right hon. Friend look into this matter and take action to ensure that leisure home owners are not subject to the whims of rogue landlords?

Jeremy Wright Portrait Jeremy Wright
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that important matter. It is vital that anyone engaging in such transactions does so in full possession of the information they need and understands the consequences of their decisions. No one should be taken advantage of in this way. She will understand that this is a matter predominantly for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, which has policy responsibility in this area, but I will certainly discuss it with colleagues there. We will see what more we can do.

Oral Answers to Questions

Helen Whately Excerpts
Thursday 21st June 2018

(2 years, 7 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Alan Mak Portrait Alan Mak (Havant) (Con)
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5. What the Government’s policy is on the role of international law in relation to cyber-space. [905994]

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately (Faversham and Mid Kent) (Con)
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7. What the Government’s policy is on the role of international law in relation to cyber-space. [905996]

Jeremy Wright Portrait The Attorney General (Jeremy Wright)
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21 Jun 2018, 10:27 a.m.

Cyber-space is an integral part of the rules-based international order, and there must be boundaries of acceptable state behaviour in cyber-space, just as there are everywhere else. In my speech on this subject at Chatham House on 23 May, I underlined that hostile actors cannot take action by cyber means without consequence, both in peacetime and in times of conflict.

Break in Debate

Jeremy Wright Portrait The Attorney General
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21 Jun 2018, 10:27 a.m.

I can confirm that, and my hon. Friend and the House will know that, where it is possible and appropriate to attribute these cyber-attacks to nation states, that is exactly what we do. He and others will recall the attack on, among others, a number of NHS institutions, which we were able to attribute to the North Koreans. We have done so again in relation to the Russians, and that is entirely right because nation states should be held to account for what they do.

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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21 Jun 2018, 10:28 a.m.

The World Economic Forum has listed cyber-attacks as the third greatest threat to global stability. Given that there are no borders in cyber-space, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that we need to work to build international consensus on how international law is applied to cyber-space?

Jeremy Wright Portrait The Attorney General
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

21 Jun 2018, 10:28 a.m.

Yes, I do agree. We should recognise the progress that has been made, difficult though it is. In 2015, 20 nation states agreed that the provisions of the UN charter should apply in cyber-space. Included among those 20 nation states were Russia and China, so we have been able to make some progress. In the end, every nation state takes responsibility for its own actions, and it is right that the UK gives leadership where it can.

Telecommunications Infrastructure (Relief from Non-Domestic Rates) Bill

(2nd reading: House of Commons)
Helen Whately Excerpts
Andrew Gwynne Portrait Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab)
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10 Jul 2017, 5:56 p.m.

May I welcome you to the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker? It is a pleasure to see you in your rightful place. I wish to take this opportunity to welcome my shadow Communities and Local Government team: my hon. Friends the Members for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon) and for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue), and my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth South (Stephen Morgan), who has today agreed to act as my PPS.

The Opposition cautiously welcome the Government’s apparent commitment to provide financial relief for all new investment in full-fibre internet for five years. In the course of my speech, I shall set out why I say “cautiously”. Until the intervention from the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton), the Minister had waxed lyrical for twenty minutes before coming to business rate relief, which is the subject of this very short Bill.

The Opposition welcome the opportunity finally to discuss a crucial piece of infrastructure policy—a policy that will have a huge impact on the potential investment opportunities for all our communities over the coming decades. It is rather ironic that we are talking about IT connections on a day when pretty much all the parliamentary internet connection is down. I have it on good assurance that the parliamentary information and communications technology officers are busily trying to reconnect MPs to the internet and their email accounts.

All Members will know that the policy in the Bill will affect every part of the country—north or south; England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; urban or rural—so we have to get this right. I am sure Members will feel that acutely today as we and our staff struggle with the collapse of internet connection across the Westminster estate which I just mentioned.

We were expecting a larger, more substantial Bill, not least considering the scope of investment and certainty needed not only for full-fibre infrastructure but on business rates more widely. However, it appears that the Government have been in permanent listening mode for quite some time now, which would explain their decision to acquiesce in the concerns of independent and large internet providers who at the end of last year faced an excessive fourfold increase in their rateable values.

The UK’s main providers and the Broadband Commission have estimated that UK 5G infrastructure will outstrip the economic benefits of fibre broadband, which most of the country currently uses, by 2026, when it will be outdated. By 2026, therefore, the UK will reach a tipping point where the direct economic benefits of new 5G optical fibre internet will beat the conventional fibre broadband. Various estimates point to a boost to the UK economy of between £5 billion to £7 billion just six years from roll-out, with 5G broadband delivering economic growth almost twice as quickly as conventional fibre broadband used today. Much as with our railways and road links, the quicker the connection, the faster businesses will grow, particularly in an age when online sales, social media and direct online contact with buyers and sellers are becoming the norm.

A study by O2 has revealed that national 5G infrastructure will also add an extra £3 billion a year through secondary supply chain impacts, boosting overall UK productivity by a total of £10 billion, which, as I have already said, makes good, sound economic sense. With improved connectivity comes greater economic growth, more jobs and improved links between business hubs and individuals alike. Although today’s Bill will be welcomed by larger providers in the sector as it will relieve some of the burden that they face from increased business rates—£60 million is on offer, which is a big giveaway to them—I worry that it will do not as much as it should for the independent providers, and it will not come close to mitigating the fourfold increase that all providers have faced. Perhaps the Minister can give us some assurances when he winds up the debate. Providers are not the only ones who need assurances; consumers do, too, and they need to know that those costs will not be passed on to them.

Additionally, I am slightly disappointed that this Bill contains only partial measures, instead of the more detailed and wide-ranging set of proposals that were outlined in the Local Government Finance Bill, of which these measures were originally a part. I mention that Bill, which had successfully passed through Committee, as it included proposals on local business rate retention for local authorities as well as the legislation for business rate relief for new full-fibre broadband, which we are now discussing today. However, those fuller measures seem to have disappeared since the general election.

Since that election, I have asked the Secretary of State on three separate occasions about the progress that has been made on delivering business rate retention for local authorities. Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), has something to say on that. He can intervene on me now or respond in his closing remarks. I ask him again: what is happening to retention and why has business rate relief for new 5G connectivity now been separated into this smaller, separate Bill?

As I have said, I have written to the Secretary of State about this matter and I await his response, although I hope that, by this stage, the Department will do less listening and more acting on this issue of business rate retention. In the spirit of the cross-party co-operation that the Prime Minister is now asking for, and in respect of the exchange of ideas and genuine dialogue between the Opposition and the Government, I suggest that perhaps we can work together on a shared future for local government finance. The local government sector deserves more than a policy and a financial black hole with which it is currently faced with the exclusion of the Local Government Finance Bill from the Queen’s Speech. At the same time, the Government are still announcing their intention to remove the revenue support grant. Perhaps the Minister can clarify that when he closes the debate.

The Secretary of State and I visited the LGA conference last week—admittedly we received slightly different receptions. I am sure that he was reminded again and again by representatives from councils of all political colours of the financial certainty that local authorities desperately need—specifically at a time when they have already absorbed budgets cuts of 40%. However, like me, they have received no updates and no certainty. While we are talking about an element of the business rate in this Bill, perhaps we can remind the Secretary of State that local authorities need to have that clarity and certainty for future financial planning. They need some idea from this Government of where the wider business rate policy is going.

I will repeat what I said during my speech to the Local Government Association: “The Secretary of State told local government that they faced a looming crisis in confidence. He’s wrong. It is this Government who are facing a looming crisis in confidence.” The lack of clarity on business rates and the botched business rates revaluations have left thousands of businesses facing cliff-edge increases in their rates. In addition, the Government’s support package and promises to review the revaluation process go nowhere near far enough.

It is clear that business rates are this Department’s ticking time bomb, which threatens to destroy high streets and town centres across the country. Labour advocates introducing statutory annual revaluations to stop businesses facing periodic and unmanageable hikes, and guarantees a fair and transparent appeals process. We will reform business rates, scrap quarterly reporting and end the scourge of late payments, because it is Labour which is the party of business. [Interruption.] Members can heckle, but the facts speak clearly: this Government have let down business and they have let down local government.

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately (Faversham and Mid Kent) (Con)
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10 Jul 2017, 6:07 p.m.

Will the hon. Gentleman just remind us of the Labour party’s policy on corporation tax rates?

Andrew Gwynne Portrait Andrew Gwynne
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

10 Jul 2017, 6:08 p.m.

Absolutely. Labour would have increased corporation tax to pay for better public services, but our rates would still have been among the lowest in the G20. It is a question of priorities. We can put money where people want it—in a better NHS, in better local government and in better education—or we can have poorly funded public services and tax giveaways to those at the very top. For all its rhetoric about ending austerity, it seems quite clear that the Conservative party has not changed one iota. There was a further omission to this Bill—

Break in Debate

Andrew Gwynne Portrait Andrew Gwynne
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10 Jul 2017, 6:09 p.m.

I will not give way, because we are talking about infrastructure.

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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10 Jul 2017, 6:09 p.m.

rose—

Andrew Gwynne Portrait Andrew Gwynne
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

10 Jul 2017, 6:09 p.m.

No, I have given way once to the hon. Lady, I will not do so again.

There is a further omission in this Bill—the exclusion of any real and meaningful legislative commitments on growing rural broadband. I am worried that there appears to be absolutely no mention in the body of the Bill or the explanatory notes of growing and expanding the UK’s superfast broadband in our rural areas, although the Minister touched on it and I think there is some consensus about its desirability.

Let me give a short anecdote. Last year, I was privileged to be in a delegation to Zambia for the Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly. In the middle of Africa, in the middle of nowhere, on a visit to a health scheme near the Zambezi river, I received an almost-perfect 4G connection to my mobile phone. There are parts of my constituency where I do not get such a perfect 4G connection. We need to look at our internet connections, broadband connections and mobile telephone connections in this country so that we have the very best to support business, consumers and individuals.

As I am sure the Minister is aware, many families living in rural areas struggle to get anything close to fast broadband, let alone 5G, which is what we are discussing today. Many others struggle to get anything above 2 megabits per second, making most average use of day-to-day internet functions incredibly frustrating. The impact on rural businesses is steep, with the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs warning before the 2015 general election that rural communities are being overlooked for potential investment by businesses looking to expand and develop because certain regions have very poor digital connectivity. The then Chair of the Committee, the former Member for Thirsk and Malton, said:

“There is a risk in the current approach that improving service for those who already have it will leave even further behind those who have little or none.”

Rather than taking responsibility for this ever-growing chasm in our technology and identifying specific areas that desperately need investment, the Government have chosen to rely solely on the market to encourage improvements in any given area.

Break in Debate

Andrew Gwynne Portrait Andrew Gwynne
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10 Jul 2017, 6:13 p.m.

rose—

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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10 Jul 2017, 6:13 p.m.

rose—

Andrew Gwynne Portrait Andrew Gwynne
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the hon. Lady to let me answer the Minister’s intervention before I take another?

I am grateful to hear that from the Minister, and we will hold the Government to account to ensure that that intervention takes place. As he knows, we are all here to ensure that improvements happen, and if he has given a commitment from the Dispatch Box that he will use his ministerial position to ensure that the market is not a free-for-all and that the Government will ensure those improvements in rural areas, for rural businesses and consumers, the Opposition will support him.

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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10 Jul 2017, 6:15 p.m.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way to one of the Back Benchers he mentions. Yes, many of us are campaigning on behalf of our constituents for better broadband, but on behalf of many of my constituents I appreciate that 20% of properties have been connected to superfast broadband thanks to the Government’s intervention. I expect up to 100% to be connected thanks to further Government intervention through the universal service obligation, as the Minister mentioned earlier. I look forward to being very grateful to the Government for all the work they are doing for my constituents.

Andrew Gwynne Portrait Andrew Gwynne
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

10 Jul 2017, 6:15 p.m.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that intervention, because, of course, it was not just the Government who did that. I do not know whether she was a remainer or a leaver, but it would be remiss of the House, whatever our views on Brexit, not to acknowledge the involvement of the European Commission in funding some of the roll-out of this infrastructure and technology. It has come not just from the Government but from others, and we can see the European flag stickers on boxes, cabinets and infrastructure up and down the country.

Break in Debate

Kit Malthouse Portrait Kit Malthouse
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10 Jul 2017, 7:05 p.m.

I think that is rather churlish of my hon. Friend, given how complimentary I have been about him. I hope that one day I will reach the level of popularity and name recognition in my constituency that Commander Peake has reached in the world.

Small business is becoming increasingly important in rural areas. Some 25% of small businesses—nearly half a million—are located in rural areas, where they provide lots of employment and create wealth. The Bill points to a wider issue with which the House will have to grapple over the next few years—the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) mentioned it—and that is the appropriateness of the business rate system. We are applying a tax first devised in 1572 to a 21st-century economy, much of which exists somewhere in the cloud. The Bill acknowledges at its core the disproportionate impact of business rates on competition in this sector. Those of us who have rural constituencies—indeed, anybody whose constituency contains a high street—understand the disproportionality of business rates for retail businesses, particularly now that more and more people buy things online, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset said. If we are to keep our high streets vibrant, keep our businesses working and maintain the competitiveness of the rural economy against the huge businesses that these days operate from nowhere, I question whether taxing property—frankly, taxing investment and expansion—remains an appropriate way to gather the revenue that we need.

There will come a point, over the next couple of decades, when we have to consider shifting taxation on corporations away from property and profit, and towards turnover. If we taxed the turnover of the large multinationals —the Googles and the Amazons—we would collect more from them than we currently do, but in a fair way. Small shops on the high streets in North West Hampshire compete with corporations that transact in this country, dispatch goods from a second country and book the profits in a third country. We have to think about the asymmetric nature of the taxation of those organisations if we want to create a level playing field for competition.

I welcome the Bill. I welcome the move towards the designation of broadband as a utility and the recognition of the distortive effect of business rates on commerce. I hope that over the next five years or so, many companies will take advantage of the rate relief window. I suspect that at the end of that period it will be somehow extended, and I hope that any such extension will become permanent. I hope that businesses will take advantage of the window and come to North West Hampshire to plaster my entire constituency with broadband fibre, to the cabinet and to the premises, with my pleasure and approval.

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately (Faversham and Mid Kent) (Con)
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10 Jul 2017, 7:09 p.m.

Like several Members here, I have the pleasure of representing a beautiful and very rural constituency. In fact, 42% of my constituency is part of an area of outstanding natural beauty. It is a lovely constituency in which to walk, have picnics and spend time. It is fabulous for farming, but less good for connectivity.

Over the two-and-a-bit years for which I have been the Member of Parliament for Faversham and Mid Kent, I have received letters—and occasionally emails, if people have managed to get online—from constituents in many villages including Headcorn, Kingswood, Doddington, Eastling, Selling and Sheldwich. Those are all lovely villages, but they struggle with connectivity, and residents have had difficulty getting fast broadband.

In several of those villages, it can be difficult even to get a mobile phone signal. A couple of months ago, during the general election campaign, I was in Headcorn, and I thought I might tweet a picture from Headcorn station. Not only did I not have 4G on my mobile phone, but I did not have any mobile phone signal at all. I could not even make an old-fashioned mobile telephone call or send a text message. There are parts of my constituency, such as that patch of Headcorn, where unless people happen to be with the one operator serving it a little, it is impossible even to make a mobile phone call.

My constituency wants to have better broadband and better mobile phone connections, and that is why I welcome the commitment this Government have been and are making to connectivity across this country. As I mentioned in an intervention, thanks to the Government’s programme of rolling out high-speed broadband, 8,432 properties have now got a high-speed broadband connection that would not have had one without the programme. By September 2018, I am expecting about 2,000 more properties to be on high-speed broadband thanks to the programme. That amounts to 25% of the properties in my constituency being connected thanks to this Government’s work and commitment to high-speed broadband, and it will get Faversham and Mid Kent up to about 90% of properties being on high-speed broadband.

We are still some way off the 100% level that I would like, so I very much welcome the universal service obligation that is coming into force. I pay tribute to the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Matt Warman) in campaigning very hard to put that into law. I also welcome the commitment made earlier by my right hon. Friend the Minister from the Dispatch Box that the financial cap will be high enough to make sure that 100% of properties in constituencies such as mine receive access to broadband of at least 10 megabits per second. That is not the high speed that we hope will be delivered by the Bill, but for those who have no or incredibly slow broadband at the moment, 10 megabits per second will make a great difference.

All of us who represent rural constituencies know the difference between the haves and the have-nots on broadband, but having high-speed broadband is genuinely life changing. It enables us to do things that we now consider everyday functions of life, and whether it is sending emails, booking tickets or flights online, choosing hotels or B&Bs, comparing offers on travel insurance or car insurance, or shopping for groceries, there is so much that those of us with high-speed broadband take for granted. However, in my constituency, some people still do not even have such access.

Ranil Jayawardena Portrait Mr Ranil Jayawardena (North East Hampshire) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

10 Jul 2017, 7:12 p.m.

Will my hon. Friend not add watching BBC Parliament so that all her constituents in Faversham and Mid Kent can see her excellent speech?

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
- Hansard - -

10 Jul 2017, 7:13 p.m.

I thank my hon. Friend very much, although I doubt whether even one of my constituents is watching my speech. I will not hold my breath while waiting for confirmation.

We know that children, including mine, often get set homework tasks requiring them to look up things on the internet. If a child lives in a rural village or at the end of a track and they cannot get online, they are disadvantaged. There is also the very basic thing of staying in touch with distant relatives, who often live all around the world. I remember when I was a child that the cost of making an international call was enormous. During my gap year as an 18-year-old, I made two phone calls to my parents in nine months, because it cost such a huge amount to phone home, but people can now make video calls basically for nothing so families around the world can stay in touch. As older people go online—many people in their 70s, 80s and 90s are very active internet users—I hope that the internet will be one way in which we can tackle the challenge of loneliness. For someone to make a FaceTime call to their grandma or grandpa is a great way for them to keep in touch, and that is often much easier if it is very difficult to go to see them.

There is also the question of the use of the internet for work, where it can make a huge difference for rural areas, as it does for the economy in general. It enables people to work from home—I have two caseworkers who do most of their work supporting me and my constituents from home, which enables them to juggle that work and their family commitments—and I know that a huge number of people in my constituency now run businesses from home, including many quite significant rural businesses. There is a fabulous business called Bombus around the corner from where I live just outside Faversham, which makes amazing products out of maps. If any hon. Members want interesting products based on maps of their constituencies, I recommend that they contact Bombus to get all sorts of books, paper goods and lampshades. On the other side of my constituency, near Maidstone, a business enabling people to compare utility prices has about 100 employees in a really rural spot. There is no way in which that business could exist without good broadband, so it is very important for the rural economy.

We have got to this point very quickly. About 12 years ago I worked at AOL Time Warner launching digital products, such as the UK’s first video on-demand service for downloading films. Back then, just over 10 years ago, people had to plan ahead: if they wanted to watch a film, they had to start downloading it and then go away, perhaps to cook something for supper, and come back a couple of hours later when enough of it had downloaded to enable them to watch it, if they were lucky, although it may well have stopped downloading halfway through. We probably launched the product a little ahead of what the technology could do. Now, however, my children sit down in front of the television on a Sunday morning, when I am trying to catch up on some sleep, turn on the iPlayer and watch something immediately, with none of that delay. That change has turned watching television into a completely different experience.

I welcome the Government’s commitment to this area, but I very much ask them to press on with making sure that we get high-speed broadband to 100% of properties across constituencies such as mine. I also ask them to make sure that the new technologies enabled by the Bill such as 5G and full-fibre broadband—I will now turn to the Bill— benefit those not only in more urban areas of the country, but in rural areas. I would ask that as far as possible that should not be a simple sequential process, with the people of Headcorn being able, if they are lucky, to make a phone call and then getting 3G, 4G and eventually 5G sometime in the distant future. I am very keen for some leapfrogging so that those in more rural areas can catch up thanks to new forms of technology.

It is particularly important for the Bill to go ahead, with investment in these new technologies, in the challenging economic climate and the challenging economic times in which we live. I am very mindful of the ageing population in this country. We have talked a lot during the past couple of weeks about the cost of the public sector and the desire to increase the pay of people working in the public sector. We know that as a country we face a productivity challenge in that we are not nearly as productive as we need to be for people to have a good or a better standard of living, and we face global competition. I am pretty realistic in saying that—unfortunately, unlike the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), who wishes to raise business rates and thinks, erroneously, that that will increase revenue to spend on public services—history tells us that, as we very well know, increasing business rates results in a fall in revenue.

Andrew Gwynne Portrait Andrew Gwynne
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

10 Jul 2017, 7:19 p.m.

rose—

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
- Hansard - -

10 Jul 2017, 7:19 p.m.

As the hon. Gentleman gave way to me, I will give way to him.

Andrew Gwynne Portrait Andrew Gwynne
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I merely wish to correct the record: at no stage have either I or the Labour party said that we want to increase business rates. We want a small increase in corporation tax, which would still result in our having one of the lowest rates of corporation tax in the world.

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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10 Jul 2017, 7:19 p.m.

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s putting the record straight, because I made an error in my notes. Instead of business rates, I meant to say corporation tax. We disagreed about this point earlier. My point about corporation tax stands. Unfortunately, raising corporation tax results in a reduction in revenue for the Government, as my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse) pointed out.

James Cartlidge Portrait James Cartlidge (South Suffolk) (Con)
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10 Jul 2017, 7:20 p.m.

My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Was she as shocked as I was to hear the shadow Secretary of State refer to a “small” increase in corporation tax, because the rate Labour would move it to would be almost a 50% increase on the 17% rate that we will have?

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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10 Jul 2017, 7:20 p.m.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This point really is significant because as corporation tax rates come down below 20%, businesses behave differently. Businesses are more likely to locate in this country, to invest in their businesses in this country and to create jobs, which is what my constituents and, I am sure, the constituents of the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish want. That also generates the revenue that is paid in taxes to fund public services.

Jim McMahon Portrait Jim McMahon (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab/Co-op)
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10 Jul 2017, 7:21 p.m.

On the subject of large increases, given that the hon. Lady would be outraged by a 50% increase, she must be absolutely distraught at the business rates revaluation, which has seen some business rates go up by 200%.

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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10 Jul 2017, 7:22 p.m.

In some respects, the hon. Gentleman and I may agree, although not on the specifics of his point. As other hon. Members have said, the business rates system does need a further look. For instance, I am unhappy with the way business rates tend to penalise high street shops in some of my smaller towns. The largest employer in my constituency is a brewer, and pubs have struggled with some of the increases in business rates. However, I recognise the efforts that the Chancellor made following lobbying by me and other Members of Parliament to help pubs with the changes to business rates. There is no question but that there is further work to be done on business rates, and that has been acknowledged by the Government.

Michael Tomlinson Portrait Michael Tomlinson
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10 Jul 2017, 7:22 p.m.

May I take my hon. Friend back to corporation tax? She is absolutely right that the reduction in the rate has seen an increase in tax take. Surely the important thing is to look not at the tax rate, but at the tax take—how much tax is actually raised. The final point she made about jobs is crucial. We see record levels of employment across all our constituencies, which is to be welcomed. That has happened because businesses want to expand and take on more people.

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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10 Jul 2017, 7:22 p.m.

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I will return to the content of the Bill in a moment, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I am spending a little time on corporation tax because the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish spent some time talking about it. It is important that Government Members make it clear that we are absolutely committed to raising revenue for public services. The last thing we want to see is tax changes that gain the right headlines but have the wrong effect on the bottom line from the Government’s point of view. We are absolutely committed to making sure that we can raise revenue for public services, about which we care very much, but we recognise that, to do so, we must have a tax environment that is supportive to businesses, because they are what provides the jobs and the economic growth.

On economic growth and people working harder to keep up their standard of living, as an economy, we need to be more productive and technology is the crucial enabler in that. That is exactly what the Bill will support. For instance, 5G as a technology is and will be a great enabler of the internet of things. Every second around the world, 127 devices are newly connected to the internet. That rate will surely increase, so the demand for connectivity and the ability to carry large volumes of data will only go up.

It is vital that we are at the forefront of that. In fact, 5G is forecast to boost economic value by $4 trillion to $11 trillion globally by 2020. That is a huge increase in economic value, so it is vital that we as a country take our share of that economic growth. In practice, it will mean developments that allow us to have smart household appliances, driverless cars and, one day, driverless lorries, which for my constituents, who are very unhappy about lorries being parked up in laybys a lot, will be an interesting prospect.

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling
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My hon. Friend and I both have residents and businesses that face the plight of HGV fly-parking. I know that she, too, is very passionate about this. Does she agree that, as technology advances, we should look at different ways of doing business?

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing)
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10 Jul 2017, 7:25 p.m.

Order. I am sure that the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately) will find an ingenious way of relating the intervention by the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Amanda Milling) precisely to the Bill. I can see a way of doing it and I am sure she will succeed.

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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10 Jul 2017, 7:27 p.m.

I could see the frown on your face, Madam Deputy Speaker. It might seem like a stretch to go from talking about telecommunications to lorry fly-parking, but as 5G is an enabler of the internet of things and, potentially, of driverless cars and driverless lorries, it might mean that lorry drivers no longer have to take long breaks to sleep. The reason lorries are parked in the laybys of our roads is that the drivers are sleeping because they have to have a compulsory rest before they can keep driving, but we could have lorries without a driver, so the subjects genuinely connect.

To return to what I was planning to talk about, another important potential application of 5G is in healthcare, with wearable devices. For instance, people’s heart rate and blood pressure could be tracked. That is very much part of the future of healthcare and preventive healthcare to help us all to look after ourselves. As somebody who is very committed to the NHS and to making sure we have a sustainable NHS and a healthier population, I am keen that we enable such developments in healthcare.

Those are just a handful of examples of what we hope 5G will enable. We hope to be at the forefront of this technology by investing in it.

Michael Tomlinson Portrait Michael Tomlinson
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10 Jul 2017, 7:28 p.m.

My hon. Friend is being very generous with her time, but before she moves away from 5G, I invite her to reflect on this point. It is important not to leave behind those communities that are yet to clock on to 3G and 4G. I am sure that, in her constituency, as in mine, there are areas where people simply cannot access 3G or 4G. Although 5G is to be welcomed, will she join me in calling on the Government to ensure that those areas are not left behind?

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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10 Jul 2017, 7:28 p.m.

I completely agree. As in his constituency, there are parts of my constituency that do not have 4G, 3G or even enough mobile signal to make a phone call. I am very keen for the Government to intervene to ensure that there is comprehensive mobile phone reception across rural areas. I also hope that we can have a catch-up for those areas, so that they can canter quickly through 3G and 4G and then go straight to 5G.

Vicky Ford Portrait Vicky Ford (Chelmsford) (Con)
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While we are on the subject of notspots and blackout areas, does my hon. Friend agree that there are priority areas such as along railway lines? Many of my constituents commute every day and it is so frustrating not even being able to get a phone signal on the railway line. The Bill will enable extra infrastructure, so that we have connected commuters, which is key in the 21st century.

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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10 Jul 2017, 7:29 p.m.

My hon. Friend has made an important point about the Bill’s focus on the infrastructure along routes such as rail lines and motorways, where it will be of particular benefit. My constituency, like hers, contains commuters who would like to be able to do more work on the train, and the Bill will make that possible.

Full-fibre broadband should bring an end to a problem about which I often hear from BT engineers: the challenge of the “last mile”, the old copper wires that are so dated, some of them more than 100 years old. Although that technology has served us very well for many years, it is probably time to move on, so that people can get proper high-speed broadband, especially those who live further away from the cabinet and the traditional infrastructure.

It is right for the Government to support the development of new infrastructure by providing incentives in the form of appropriate conditions for substantial private investment in that infrastructure, which will multiply by many times the investment that they are making with the use of taxpayer funds. The combination of the £400 million digital infrastructure fund and the £60 million business rates relief for which the Bill provides should be wearable for the Government, while also resulting in much more investment in the country’s digital infrastructure, which we badly need.

I want to ensure that we reach out to and communicate with younger voters. I say to them, “You may not be watching the Parliament channel on your internet connection, but take note of what is being said.” This is an example of the Government’s looking ahead to the sort of economy that we need for the future: looking towards investing in the infrastructure that we need, so that we will be able to compete globally, have a modern economy, have innovation and have the kind of jobs and the kind of economy that will give younger workers opportunities for decades to come, and give us the economic growth that we need in order to fund a high standard of living and the public services about which we care so much.

Matt Warman Portrait Matt Warman (Boston and Skegness) (Con)
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10 Jul 2017, 7:32 p.m.

Let me begin by thanking my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare), although he is no longer in the Chamber—and, indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately)—for being so kind about the work that I have done on broadband. When my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset said that I would not speak in the debate, I was going to leap to my feet like some sort of digital gazelle, but I thought I would keep the House waiting. We have heard several extensive speeches about the many benefits of Government investment in digital infrastructure, but my speech will be somewhat briefer.

My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent said that some of her constituents were not able to do something as old-fashioned as making a mobile telephone call. Mobile telephone calls are, in our modern world, pretty old-fashioned, but we should not forget that not many years ago they were simply impossible in this place. Since then, we have not only been through the period of the invention of mobile phones; we have been through a period during which all our constituents railed against the installation of mobile phone masts. Now we have come full circle, and they rail against the absence of mobile phone masts. The digital revolution has thoroughly revolved.

I want to make some brief points about the Bill. It seems obvious to me that, although adopting this approach to encouraging digital infrastructure investment means that the Government are forgoing a certain amount of revenue from business rates, their fostering of digital innovation and infrastructure investment will ensure that the amount they get back through the broader benefits of economic growth is many times greater than the amount that the business rates themselves cost the state and the taxpayer. That strikes me as a definition of the way in which the Government should be using public money, pump-priming economic growth to allow the development of an economy that works in the digital way that, as we have heard, our children will expect, and that all modern businesses already expect.

I commend the Government for taking that approach. It is also commendable that, by giving the relief a five-year term—which my right hon. Friend the Minister hinted could even be extended—they are giving firms an incentive to invest in installing fibre now, even if they do not turn it on, so to speak, for a number of years. I hope that we will secure the economies of scale of broader investment while continuing to benefit from business rate relief on that investment. That can only be a good thing, and it also addresses some of the concerns raised by the industry before the introduction of the Bill.

We should bear in mind that the growth in demand for fibre will only increase. When I was a journalist writing about the launch of the iPlayer—the BBC cunningly launched it in Christmas Day, because it knew that demand would be rather more limited—the BBC did not think for one moment that it would itself be broadcasting in 4K come 2016-17. Still less did it think that we would, as a matter of course, live in households in which half a dozen people wanted to download the 4K streams that broadcasters now routinely provide.

It is no small irony that, by all accounts, when Bazalgette built the London sewers he offered quadruple the capacity that was required in Victorian London. Now we see that that quadruple capacity has been more than exhausted by a growing population, and we should take the same approach when it comes to investing in our digital infrastructure. To point out that a prominent Bazalgette is still involved in the life of our digital nation is not in any way to draw a comparison between sewage and the modern digital output with which he is concerned. The huge benefits provided by the man who brought us “Big Brother” and a host of other programmes are not to be described in that way in the slightest degree. All we can say is that this is clearly a family that has contributed a huge amount to the life of our nation, at every level of our infrastructure.

In this day and age, there is never an excuse for underestimating the amount of digital capacity that we will require. Although 4K may appear to be perfectly adequate for our purposes today, we will look back on it in a number of years and see that it is paltry in comparison with what we will be using on a routine basis, whether that involves virtual reality, driverless cars, or all the technologies that will eradicate the digital scourge of fly-parking mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Amanda Milling).

We should not only encourage the Government to proceed with the Bill as quickly as possible, but encourage any Government to ensure that this sort of rate relief applies to investment in digital infrastructure, whether mobile or fixed, thus ensuring—following the launch of the iPlayer not so very long ago—that the internet of things that is now coming upon us will be fully served. That will be thanks to the investment of Governments such as this.