52 Jamie Stone debates involving the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport

Telegraph Media Group Ltd: Acquisition

Jamie Stone Excerpts
Tuesday 30th April 2024

(3 weeks, 3 days ago)

Commons Chamber
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Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer
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Let me offer my right hon. Friend reassurance, because that legislation is coming to the House today. I know that a lot of Members of this House and of the other place raised those concerns, and it is right that we brought forward an amendment to put absolutely beyond doubt that fact that it would be inappropriate for a foreign state to own our news media. That is why we built on Baroness Stowell’s amendment to put that beyond doubt and to put it in a form that works well. I am grateful to Baroness Stowell for the work she is putting into her amendment. I recognise the other point my right hon. Friend made about online media and it is absolutely something we are looking at.

Jamie Stone Portrait Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD)
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Thanks are due to the Secretary of State for this decision. The Spectator will be free from foreign influence and can carry on describing me as, “A languid old gent who represents a craggy constituency somewhere near Norway.” As she says, that is freedom of speech and one must put up with what one must put up with—good luck to these eminent publications. Does she realise, however, that also fundamental to democracy and freedom of speech is the continued survival of our myriad local newspapers the length and breadth of this sceptred isle? They are in difficulty and if they go down, we will be the poorer for it. I do not expect an answer now, but may I at least ask her to look at this issue as one that is important?

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer
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I absolutely understand that and I have done a number of roundtables where I have talked to the local media sector. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that in the past we have had a local news fund. He will also be aware of the measures we have on business rates for local news media. I am very conscious of the need to support our local media, which play a vital role in ensuring that we have local democracy. He will also know that one measure we put in at the mid-term review was to ensure that where the BBC took steps in spaces where there was already a competitive media market, it should engage more widely with those it was affecting.

Oral Answers to Questions

Jamie Stone Excerpts
Thursday 22nd February 2024

(3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Kim Leadbeater Portrait Kim Leadbeater (Batley and Spen) (Lab)
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10. For what reason charity lotteries have annual sale limits.

Jamie Stone Portrait Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD)
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16. If she will take steps to remove annual sales limits on charity lotteries.

Stuart Andrew Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Stuart Andrew)
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The limits for society lotteries allow them to raise funding for charities but to remain distinct from other forms of gambling and from the national lottery. The limits were last increased recently, in 2020, but I am aware that some operators want to see the limits raised or removed entirely. It is important that any decisions that are made are based on strong evidence. As such, I have commissioned research in this area, which I hope we will review by the end of the year.

Stuart Andrew Portrait Stuart Andrew
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As I said at the reception that the People’s Postcode Lottery held the other night, it was my privilege to set up a society lottery when I worked in a hospice. I recognise the value of such lotteries to charities, and I am aware of the issues that the PPL has raised. I have worked with the Gambling Commission to suggest ways that it can grow under the current network, as it is the largest brand in the sector, but as I say, I want to see more research. We need to understand what the potential harms are, and what the potential effects are on the national lottery. There is not enough data at the moment. That is why I am commissioning independent research, so that we can make decisions based on evidence.

Jamie Stone Portrait Jamie Stone
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Clearly, in my vast and far-flung constituency, it is difficult for charities to raise money, as Members can imagine. To date, some £432,000 in community grants has been awarded to those charities. That is very welcome indeed. The Minister mentioned that consideration will be given to raising limits, or perhaps abolishing them altogether. May I make an impassioned plea that the particular circumstances of remote parts of the UK are considered when the decisions are made?

Stuart Andrew Portrait Stuart Andrew
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I recognise the vast contribution that these lotteries make to charities, particularly those that work in rural areas. Of course, we will make sure that we take evidence on all those issues. I am sure the hon. Gentleman would agree that we want to make sure that we are developing policy based on evidence, but that does not detract from our recognition of the enormous work that these lotteries do, and we are incredibly grateful to them.

John Whittingdale Portrait Sir John Whittingdale
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I do not think success can be judged simply on the number of complaints upheld. Indeed, as we have seen in other organisations, such as the BBC, we may find that a large number of those complaints relate to a single issue that has generated a great deal of concern. It is not as simple as, “There were x thousand complaints, and only so many were upheld.” Generally, however, IPSO is definitely an improvement on the Press Complaints Commission, which went before it. It is not perfect—no regulator ever is—and I myself have criticised it for not having yet imposed any fines, but the atmosphere surrounding the behaviour of the press is very different from what it was when, for instance, Hacked Off was created, and when I chaired the inquiry on phone hacking, which led to the establishment of Sir Brian Leveson’s report.

I do not want to detain the House any longer. I intend to press the Government, but not as far as a vote; I should say that I urge the Government to look at ways in which they can support local television through my amendment. Given the point about section 40, I cannot support the new clause tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth.

Jamie Stone Portrait Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD)
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I want to express my gratitude for the fact that the Bill has been prioritised in this new term, and is progressing quickly. For our public service broadcasters in particular, this legislation is long overdue. I want to refer to my amendment about the language surrounding prominence for PSBs such as the BBC, ITV and Channel 4. The Bill gives public service content an “appropriate” level of prominence on online services, which should make it easier to find not only the apps that take us to the BBC or ITV on a smart TV, but to find those channels on the traditional TV guide with which we are all familiar. However, the Culture, Media and Sport Committee made the suggestion, which I have tabled in the form of an amendment, that the word “appropriate” is perhaps unhelpfully subjective, and should be replaced with “significant”. The prominence of PSBs is an existential issue that should not be underestimated, so I ask the Government to consider that suggestion as the Bill progresses.

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con)
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for tabling his amendment. I strongly agree with him: the issue cannot just be left in the air, given the importance of public service broadcasting. I therefore think that the guidance for Ofcom should be stronger than the Government have recognised so far. I look forward to hearing from the Minister what they propose to do about that.

Jamie Stone Portrait Jamie Stone
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I thank the right hon. Member for her intervention.

Let me move on to the subject of Channel 4 and the removal of the restriction on in-house production. I have concerns about that change to Channel 4’s model, which has worked extremely well for a long time, although the previous Secretary of State was not so keen on its existence—or, at least, its future. Channel 4 has historically supported the independent production sector throughout the UK, in places such as my constituency in the far north of Scotland, but there are concerns that allowing it to create its own content could destabilise the sector. Given the Government’s track record on Channel 4, my ultimate fear is that this could be used as a stick with which to beat the channel, although I hope that does not happen. That being said, Channel 4 and the independent production sector are integral to each other, which is why I am glad to see the channel’s qualifying independent commitment to the sector increased to 40%, and to hear that any changes are likely to be very gradual, allowing the market to adjust accordingly. That can only be a good thing.

I come to the new clause tabled by the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) on listed events. The Government must take his proposal forward, so that major sporting events such as the Olympics, the Euros, Wimbledon and the World cup remain free to air in their entirety. In an increasingly digital-first world, digital rights must be included in the listed events regime. Let me turn to a subject that is close to my heart. Earlier this week, Ben Stokes said that England’s test win over India was his “greatest triumph” since he had become England’s captain. I think we can all take pleasure in that, regardless of which of the four corners of the United Kingdom we inhabit. I acknowledge the nod from my colleague on the Scottish National party Benches, the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands), for which I thank him courteously. I feel that this sort of shared cultural moment should be available for everyone to watch on free-to-air television. My amendment would enable people to see a cricket test and a one-day international on free-to-air TV each summer, and I hope that Members will strongly consider supporting it.

On the subject of local radio—something that I have mentioned in the past, and was beaten up about when I was a councillor long ago—I tabled amendments 7 to 13 to broaden the scope of the requirements in local radio broadcasting licences, so that the current scope of “local material” as

“news, information and other spoken material and music”

is retained. If only I could have heard myself say those words all those years ago! I can see the good that it does. It would not be right for the BBC to be left as sole provider of local speech radio. On a similar point, I welcome part 6 of the Bill, which safeguards the future of the industry with relation to voice-activated smart devices.

Local radio is integral to upholding democracy—a point made many times by many of us in this place. It provides trusted news and information, particularly during an emergency, as we saw during covid, and also provides entertainment. That is especially important to my constituents, who, as may be imagined, often face long drives across very large rural areas.

New clause 3 and amendments 2 to 4 relate to section 40 and our press, a subject already mentioned by a number of Members today. Ten years ago, all the parties made commitments to the victims of press abuse that we would introduce the system of regulation recommended in the Leveson report to protect the public from press wrongdoing. We in this country benefit from a vibrant and rich media, as was pointed out in an urgent question earlier today, but whereas our broadcasting media are the envy of the world, our print media languish at the bottom of international league tables when it comes to public trust and confidence. However, the Government now seek to repeal section 40, although they have no plans to replace it with any alternative mechanism of independent and impartial regulation. That not only leaves local and independent newspapers unable to defend themselves against expensive litigation in the form of strategic lawsuits against public participation, but makes it harder for a normal person to take legal action against a large publisher. As they say, those with the deepest pockets win.

These amendments offer two ways forward. New clause 3 and amendments 3 and 4 would permit the repeal of section 40, but not before there has been a consultation on alternative incentives for the Leveson system. Amendment 2 would repeal the part of section 40 that would disadvantage unregulated newspapers, but keep the part that protects local independent titles that have done the right thing and signed up to regulation. Under either of those amendments, national newspapers would face no detriment at all for their potentially bad behaviour—there is no free speech reason to object to them—but they allow us to show our support for the victims of press abuse and for the underlying principles of independent regulation.

Many sensible amendments have been tabled to this Bill, and I am glad that the majority of us in the House and, indeed, the industry are singing from the same hymn sheet. The world and the way in which our media operate have changed beyond recognition since the Communications Act 2003, and I and my party will be very pleased to watch this Bill make its way swiftly through both Houses, so that our legislation at last reflects the world we live in today. I close by paying tribute to Members for the great efforts that have been made on all sides of this House to make sure that this legislation is fit for purpose.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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I call the Father of the House.

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Thangam Debbonaire Portrait Thangam Debbonaire
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Of course I would, and I am glad to confirm what my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley East said in Committee. If the hon. Gentleman is trying to press me on a specific aspect, I am also happy to confirm that we would support the new clause tabled in his name if it were pushed to a vote. I will be interested to see whether colleagues in his party will support our new clause on Gaelic broadcasting, as they seemed not to vote for it in Committee. It will be interesting to see whether they take up that challenge as well.

It is likely that, even in the near future, key sporting moments will take place in the middle of the night in this country. Despite the fact that Conservative Ministers ordered a review of this in 2022, there is simply nothing in this Bill as drafted to update the listed events rules so that clips or highlights from those events do not get stuck behind a paywall. Our new clause 10 seeks to guarantee that action is taken on this issue, but it is flexible enough to accommodate whatever mechanisms are identified as most appropriate following their review. I also note new clause 7, in the name of the Father of the House, the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley), which is more prescriptive than ours but addresses the same issue.

If Ministers cannot lend their support to either of these amendments, they should at the very least publish the response to the review in full. It would be helpful if the Government took up the suggestion from my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley East that criteria be published, so that we get a clearer sense, rather than having this ad hoc debate—sympathetic though I may be to certain sporting events. There is the question of national fairness—that is a principle—and also the question of what criteria we should use to add to the listings regime.

New clause 12 seeks to fix another problem with the Bill, which is that it fails to take the rising popularity of podcasts into account. I have mentioned podcasts before on the Floor of the House, and it gives me great pleasure to mention them again when discussing the regulation of selection services for audio content. Some 10 million adults listen to podcasts every week. It is emerging as a format that encourages collaboration, new partnerships, interesting discussion and the presence of a range of politicians and other personalities who have something interesting or unique to say. It seems counterintuitive, therefore, to exclude this fast-growing audio medium from the Bill. For example, the Bill as drafted guarantees access to the LBC breakfast show with Nick Ferrari but not to “The News Agents” podcast. Some of us will be listening to both, and we expect similar treatment for both. This new clause would simply provide that consistency.

New clause 11 is designed to ensure that public service content is available to linear services as well as online. Part 1 of the Media Bill introduces new measures to allow public service broadcasters to meet some of their remit requirements through their online services and on-demand channels. Given that streaming and on-demand are growing rapidly, this seems a reasonable forward-looking change. However, there are still millions of people who watch their television through a traditional broadcast set-up. This group of people primarily includes older residents, families in rural areas and those struggling with bills as a result of the cost of living crisis. It is crucial that they can still access public service content as usual. This new clause would give Ofcom the means to assess whether public service broadcasting delivery on linear services was adequate; and, if it found that provision to be inadequate, it would have the power to set binding quotas.

I have already mentioned new clause 13, which encourages the Secretary of State to consider and take advice on whether a Gaelic language service should be recognised as a public service broadcaster in its own right. This was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley East in Committee. BBC Alba, the Gaelic language television service provided by MG Alba and the BBC, is a huge asset, providing a wide range of high quality programming for Gaelic speakers to enjoy and sustaining around 340 jobs, half of which are in economically fragile areas. However, despite apparent cross-party support for the service, Gaelic language broadcasting is still not recognised in legislation across the board in the same way as other minority language services are. That is not to say that Gaelic language broadcasting can be directly compared to Welsh broadcasting, for example, but it is an acknowledgment of the importance of language to our cultural life. Language is a daily expression of our history, and Gaelic language broadcasting is an important forum for that expression. It should therefore be considered for recognition in law.

Jamie Stone Portrait Jamie Stone
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I really hate to say this, but it is worth pointing out, in the context of Gaelic and Welsh, that the situation for Gaelic is very precarious indeed. It is strong enough in some of the Western Isles, but we need to remember that it needs to be nurtured big time now.

Thangam Debbonaire Portrait Thangam Debbonaire
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The hon. Gentleman makes a valid and valuable contribution. My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley East, the shadow Minister with responsibility for media, has met those bodies recently. We understand the points that he is making and take them fully on board. This new clause, tabled in my name and that of my hon. Friend, is not prescriptive as to how we break the cycle; it leaves multiple options open to the Secretary of State.

I turn to clause 50 and the amendment tabled in the name of the right hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), who made his points earlier. The phone hacking scandal led to section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013. That scandal involved egregious acts, and the treatment of victims of crime or tragedy by some sections of the media was a disgusting abuse of power. We all say that that should never be repeated. The majority of British journalists are decent and honourable, but there are some who even now continue to drag the good name of that profession into disrepute. That profession is a cornerstone of our democracy and it is important that the public are able to trust it, but at the moment we are at risk of the public losing faith in the profession of journalism, as was certainly also the case before section 40 was created and before that scandal was exposed.

We on the Labour Benches want a press that is regulated in a way that makes it accountable for its reporting and that meets the highest ethical and journalistic standards. We want to see a financially sustainable free press in the UK that can carry on holding power to account. Clause 50 repeals section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act, but if the right hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth pushes his amendment 2 to a Division this evening, we will support it, because it offers a way through by keeping some of what he refers to as the carrots. Indeed, by removing some of the sticks, his amendment would incentivise more publishers to join up with an approved regulator, for the reasons that he has outlined much more coherently and clearly than I can now. We thank him for working co-operatively with us.

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Douglas Ross Portrait Douglas Ross (Moray) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to speak in the debate about this important legislation, and to hear cross-party support for the Bill and the work done in Committee, on Second Reading, in which I took part, and now on Report. I warmly welcome the Bill and the work done by the Minister for Media, Tourism and Creative Industries and her team, as well as by the interim Minister, the right hon. Member for Maldon (Sir John Whittingdale), in the early stages.

I will focus on new clause 8, which I tabled. The new clause looks at what is not in the Bill and what has been omitted, which I hope the Minister will consider during her summing up and in the Bill’s remaining stages. Protection for digital terrestrial television and radio broadcast services that people receive via an aerial needs to be written into the Bill. New clause 8 would put in law for the first time a legal protection for these crucial life-line services. It would put a duty on the Government to keep issuing multiplex licences and on Ofcom to make available sufficient radio spectrum.

Currently, these services are guaranteed only until 2034, with the risk that they could be switched in 2030 —in just six years. Ministers hinted at Second Reading that these services will have a longer shelf life than 2034, which is welcome. However, I will focus my remarks on the Scottish Affairs Committee, of which I am a member, and our report, which I will come to, because at the Committee, the Minister said:

“What happens after 2034 is a live question.”

I agree that it a “live question”, which is why we need a live answer to the issue.

I welcome the Minister’s positive comments in Committee and those of the Secretary of State on Second Reading—indeed, I quoted a speech by the Secretary of State. There is a lot of positivity about what I am hearing from the Government and I hope they will go a step further by taking on the conclusions I have come to in new clause 8.

No one is pushing against the tide on the growth in streaming, but terrestrial television, often referred to as Freeview, and broadcast radio still account for the bulk of viewing and listening across the United Kingdom. I come to the issue from a Scottish angle, as I represent a Scottish constituency and am a member of the Scottish Affairs Committee, where we discussed this at length, but the issue affects people across the United Kingdom. Research from Ipsos in 2022 showed that most adults had watched digital terrestrial television in the last year and 43% of adults watched digital terrestrial television every week. Some 76% listened to broadcast radio weekly.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) was right to highlight the very good Scottish Affairs Committee report on the subject and she mentioned the issues. As the report says on page 13:

“Almost a third (31%) of households in Scotland only used Digital Terrestrial Television services…to watch television in the first quarter of 2022.”

Paragraph 33 highlights correspondence to the Committee from Laurie Patten, director of strategy and regulation at Arqiva, who argued that

“Scotland’s greater rurality than the UK average, its island communities, and its comparatively older population”

make terrestrial TV services especially important in Scotland. That is why we made that issue so prominent in the report. I have continued to raise the matter with Ministers, and proposed new clause 8.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen North was right to say the issue is important not only to people in rural communities and older populations, and that it has an impact on some of the most vulnerable in society. The campaign group Broadcast 2040+ has assembled a coalition of groups representing those who rely on broadcast services the most. They include older people, who rely disproportionately on terrestrial television. Some 80% of those aged 75 and above only watch their media, news and programmes through that means, and they often struggle to access IP content.

Age UK is a member of the coalition. Their charity director, Caroline Abrahams, said:

“While broadcast TV and radio is enjoyed by many across the UK, it is especially important for older audiences particularly those on low incomes living alone. Many older people value the current universal services and would struggle to afford alternatives such as subscriptions services.”

Because they are free to air, they are also a lifeline to people on lower incomes or living in digital poverty, who often struggle to afford the additional cost of subscription streaming services and the cost of superfast broadband connections that are required to access them. Elizabeth Anderson, chief executive office of the Digital Poverty Alliance said:

“For the millions living in digital poverty in the UK, TV and radio broadcast services are vital sources of news, public education and entertainment. The universality of access to broadcast services must be paramount. Whilst many services have seen a rush to digital only delivery, applying this to TV and radio when so many lack the devices, skills and connectivity packages to access internet based media would simply push millions of people deeper into financial and social exclusion.”

Jamie Stone Portrait Jamie Stone
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The hon. Gentleman’s words strike a chord with me because he highlights exactly the issues in my vast, far-flung constituency. In the straths and glens of Sutherland, Caithness, Ross and Cromarty, there are many folk who cannot afford such services, precisely as he is saying. I am glad he is saying what he is saying, and I am listening with very great interest. It is important that this issue is aired.

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Gavin Newlands Portrait Gavin Newlands
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All I have sought to add to the list is the Six Nations competition and any and all qualification matches for all home nations’ national football teams. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, I am indeed a fan of cricket, which is probably not a majority position in Scotland. It is obviously not one of the main sports in Scotland at this time, although the SNP will be backing amendment 88, tabled by the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone), despite the fact that its proposed new clause 25(4)(a) would cover only the English cricket team, given that Scotland does not yet have test status—it is only a matter of time, I am sure.

Jamie Stone Portrait Jamie Stone
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Will the hon. Member give way?

Gavin Newlands Portrait Gavin Newlands
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I was going to go back to football, but I feel that we are staying on cricket, so I will.

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Jamie Stone Portrait Jamie Stone
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I thank the hon. Member for his generous remarks. Whether it is cricket, football or whatever, getting people to watch sport in the way that is being advocated so strongly means that they might become more inclined to take part in that sport themselves, which could ultimately improve the health of Scotland and the health of the nation.

Gavin Newlands Portrait Gavin Newlands
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The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point: the power of sport is simply huge. Participating is obviously the best thing for the health of the nation, but viewing a sport—whatever sport it is—is likely to drive up participation rates. We have seen the opposite with the England and Wales Cricket Board and the Sky contract.

If I can cycle back to football for a second, the problem for Scottish football fans is that sometimes the goals of those involved—again, I am talking about UEFA, the BBC, Viaplay and all the stakeholders—do not coincide with maximising access. What is needed is a change to the system that would change those goals for the better for our fans. The system is currently short-changing fans in Scotland, while elsewhere on these isles, it is a very different story. Football fans in England enjoy free-to-air coverage of their national team via the current deal with Channel 4 and the forthcoming deal with ITV. Viewers in Wales enjoy free-to-air coverage of their national team thanks to S4C’s sub-licensed Welsh language coverage, and viewers in Northern Ireland get free coverage of the Republic of Ireland via RTÉ broadcasts—while many in Northern Ireland welcome that, I appreciate that, for others, it is akin to having England games broadcast in Scotland on Channel 4 and STV. Scottish fans, though, are left with the prospect of paying subscription providers to see their team in action. That is very unlikely to change without amending legislation to level the playing field for Scottish supporters.

Similarly, these days, we are used to murmurings about the Six Nations being moved from its current home on the BBC and STV/ITV to behind a paywall. The airtime available to rugby union fans on free-to-air TV is already incredibly low: last year’s world cup was a four-yearly aberration. As we all know, the Six Nations is a ratings winner and rugby’s big annual shop window to the wider public and the players of the future. Even old relics like me can be convinced to play again—although, having tried to do so last year, it would have been very much for the better if I had not.

Telegraph Media Group: Proposed Sale to RedBird IMI

Jamie Stone Excerpts
Tuesday 30th January 2024

(3 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
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My right hon. and learned Friend is right to say that the Secretary of State will be under specific obligations to consider this matter without politics. Both the CMA and Ofcom will look at this carefully from a regulatory point of view. We as politicians should also have a right to some broad views about media ownership as we consider those questions. The Secretary of State is the departmental owner of culture, media and sport, and will have some considerations about how to ensure a dynamic media landscape. I am sure that she will carefully apply her legal brain to the application of those principles.

Jamie Stone Portrait Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD)
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I think the House sees me for what I am, which is a shy and retiring Member. For years I have been teased in The Telegraph at the hands of Mr Alan Cochrane, and more recently in The Spectator. But that is democracy; it is the nature of the beast, and it is free speech. I agree with the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns) that there is a national security implication. I think that the mood of the House is that this is simply not on—we all agree on that. The message should be passed back to the Secretary of State and to the Government that we will not wear this.

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
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I hope the hon. Gentleman does not mind me saying so, but I believe that when I last saw him, he was on his way to a Spectator Burns night party, so I hope the relationship is warm and cordial now, with no unkindness towards him from that magazine. As I said at the outset, this is a useful exercise in making the views of this House known on this matter. It is an important opportunity for Members to have their say, and I hope that they will be heard.

Shared Rural Network Implementation

Jamie Stone Excerpts
Wednesday 24th January 2024

(4 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Jamie Stone Portrait Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dame Maria. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Helen Morgan) on securing this excellent debate.

There is a common theme here, as we have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Sarah Dyke) and the hon. Member for Buckingham (Greg Smith). I want to take everyone to a community called Borgie, which is on the north coast of Sutherland facing the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael). In Borgie, an elderly gentleman fell over in his garden. Exactly as we have heard already, he did not have a mobile signal and had to crawl some distance to a landline to call for help.

In the same community, I also have a constituent named Jean, who had a mast installed on her ground in 2019. I give credit where it is due; Openreach and EE, the companies involved, did what they needed to do. You would think that this was a good news story, Dame Maria, but it is not. SSE needs to connect the mast to the electrical grid for it to do its work. It has promised again and again that the work will be done—to absolutely no effect. We are now in 2024, almost five years since the mast was put up, and it is no good to man or beast, as we say in the highlands. On a slightly more humorous note, her neighbours in Borgie call the mast “Jean’s folly”. Alas, it is a folly indeed.

A lot of public money has been spent on the mast, so in this incredibly brief contribution I make an appeal to the Minister. Could she, in the goodness of her heart, representing the United Kingdom Government, have a quiet and meaningful word with the Scottish Government and tell them to get their act together with SSE to get that mast connected? In the meantime, we have no mobile connectivity whatsoever.

Finally, as others have said, we have power cuts all over the UK. My wife was cut off this very morning in the highlands; luckily, we got the electricity back on again. My final plea is therefore that the masts need to have some sort of solar power attached to them. I would be extraordinarily grateful to the Minister if she used her charms to sort out this extremely annoying problem, which is quite dangerous for a remote community in the highlands.

Copper Wire Telecoms

Jamie Stone Excerpts
Wednesday 13th December 2023

(5 months, 1 week ago)

Westminster Hall
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Alistair Carmichael Portrait Mr Carmichael
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I absolutely do. By way of illustration, I received an email from a constituent in Walls, in the west side of Shetland, describing what life was like for him, his family and his neighbours during the six-day power outage last year. He said:

“Power was down…Internet was down…Heating was down (Our house has a gas cooker thank goodness)...The roads were impassable to cars for most of that period. 4x4 pick-ups could get through latterly into the week…The local shop was closed because it needed power to price items…Advice from the emergency services was that in the event of an emergency we were to wave down a passing police car. (This rather desperate advice was pretty hopeless, but more hopeless given road condition)…I need to emphasise that during this week an analogue phone with self-powered phone line was THE critical means of external contact with the outside world other than listening to the news on a battery-powered transistor radio.”

Jamie Stone Portrait Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD)
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I am interested in my right hon. Friend’s point about the passing police car; we have precisely six police officers in the entire vast county of Sutherland. Does he agree that in a constituency such as mine, the distances are so vast and the time it takes for the emergency services—an ambulance, a doctor or whatever—to get to where they need to be is so long that any delay in getting the call through because of what he describes is unacceptable?

Alistair Carmichael Portrait Mr Carmichael
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It is absolutely unacceptable, because it would be unacceptable to people living in a town or a city, and if it is unacceptable to them, surely it must be unacceptable to those of us who live outside the major conurbations.

Alongside my Scottish Parliament colleagues, I run regular digital forums. They started originally to raise issues relating to the transfer from analogue to digital television—we have been going that long—and they have morphed over the years to deal with concerns about broadband, superfast broadband and mobile connectivity. We held two such sessions in Kirkwall and Lerwick just last month, which representatives from EE, BT, the Scottish Government’s digital team and other mobile companies attended either in person or online, and their inability to answer questions was remarkable. The people in the audience asked fairly basic questions about how the switchover would work and what it would mean for them, but the people on the panel just looked at each other blankly and shrugged. The companies have no proper understanding of the scale of the problem.

Ahead of this debate, we have received a number of briefings. I draw the attention of the House to the one from BT Group, which runs to two sides of A4—that is quite instructive in itself. It is, if I may say so, fairly heavy on assertion and light on evidence to back up the assertions. It explains that the change is inevitable, and we know that the copper network will have to be replaced eventually, but BT says that it

“will provide a better quality, more resilient service for the future.”

Well, it is that question of “more resilient” that I would query; and, again, I see nothing in the briefing that gives me particular comfort.

The briefing does deal with resilience. It says:

“In the event of a power outage, a back-up, resilient solution for Digital Voice will be required to remain connected.”

There’s a blinding statement of the obvious if ever I saw one. It goes on to say:

“We advise customers to use their mobile phone where possible, as the simplest way to remain connected.”

Well, a number of my constituents would love to use a mobile phone to stay connected, but for obvious reasons—which BT has been telling me for the past 20 years are too difficult to solve—they are unable to do so. Very often, getting a mobile signal requires them to go out of their house and down to the bottom of the garden because they will not get a signal inside the house. Doing that in the middle of winter, in the dark in a howling gale—I can tell you because I have done it—is not much fun. The briefing goes on to say:

“They typically have a longer battery life and calls to the emergency services can be made over any mobile network, including over 2G. Our battery back-up unit provides up to four hours of standby time and up to two hours of talk time to keep customers connected during a power outage. This is available free of charge to vulnerable customers and others may purchase one if they wish.”

Four hours of back-up time in a six-day power outage such as we had in Shetland really is not what we need. It concludes:

“For the very small proportion of customers (less than 1%), with insufficient mobile or broadband connectivity to make a call to the emergency services, we will continue to meet our commitments under the Telephony Universal Service Obligation (USO) to ensure they remain connected.”

That is a pretty good idea, but I suspect that many of those 1% of customers live some distance away from the person who wrote that briefing. It is remarkable that, despite the assertion, there is absolutely no indication of how that laudable aim will be met.

I had a much better briefing from Alice Mathewson, the development manager for North Yell Development Council. With Members’ indulgence, I will take a bit of extra time to read this into the record. Alice was at the digital forum in Lerwick, and she wrote:

“As you are aware I asked a direct question about this to all panel members at your digital forum in Lerwick last month, and no one could give any viable response to this. In addition, the lack of awareness from everyone on your panel was both quite telling and very frightening.

Our community is well used to power outages and disruptions caused by storms. However, the storms seen on our island in December 2022, which resulted in some areas being without electricity for four days, have reminded us of our vulnerability and the need to improve our resilience.

Coupled with electricity outage was severe snow and high winds. All communications on and to the island failed, including mobile and landline services, and travel to and within Yell came to a standstill. Whilst luckily there were no fatalities locally, there were a number of near misses particularly among the more vulnerable in our community, and a complete communications black out on the island, including landlines, resulted in difficulties undertaking welfare checks and an inability to put out any form of emergency response request.”

North Yell Development Council is taking this properly seriously. It is setting up a network of community hubs so that there will be places people can go where there will be warmth, food and whatever other support they need, and they will have connectivity through very high frequency radios. The briefing says:

“We intend to put VHF radios in these hubs in order to try and have some form of emergency communication for our communities. This will be limited in its scope and is a step back to a predigital age. However, it is at least some form of solution, which is more than was offered by anyone on your panel. It also will not help communities outwith our island.”

That, I suggest, gives a proper understanding of the scale of the challenge. It is light years away from what we have seen from the telecommunications companies.

There are particular concerns about availability for older people in these communities who rely on telecare services—for instance, pendants that they can press when they are in difficulty. My father, who is now living on his own at 92, has a little box that sits in the corner of the room, and just when it is least expected—at about 6 o’clock at night—a rather bossy voice booms around the room, saying, “Have you taken your pills yet?” These are examples of the ways in which we are able to help people who want to remain in their own home to do so, in communities like the one I represent. Without the availability of these services, we know what will happen. The families who live closer or elsewhere in the country will quietly, one by one, say, “Come on, you can’t continue to live here. You need to move into the town or come and live with us.” In that way, choices expected to be available to people in other communities are taken away from ours, which becomes denuded of people who want to remain there.

Finally, I get a steady trickle of complaints about one particular issue. I cannot yet say that this is a business practice, though it appears it may be, and we need to get to the truth: people tell me that they have had their analogue line switched to a digital line by BT, without being told what was happening and without proper consent being obtained. The undertakings we get from BT are in relation to vulnerable people and all people over 75. As I said, I cannot yet say that this practice is widespread, but I do see a trickle of these complaints coming in; my caseworkers deal with them and it causes me concern.

Media Bill

Jamie Stone Excerpts
2nd reading
Tuesday 21st November 2023

(6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Damian Green Portrait Damian Green (Ashford) (Con)
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I echo the sentiment of others. It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire). In continuing with the spirit of non-partisanship that she expressed, I, too, hope that the Bill will get through the House quickly and think that we should congratulate the Secretary of State on getting this far. As she said, it is 20 years since we last had a significant media Bill of this size. Most of the big names that we think of in the media now, apart from the public service broadcasters, would not have meant anything or, indeed, did not exist at the time. I suspect that when the 2003 Act was being prepared, the biggest disruptor around was Blockbuster Video—[Interruption.] I can see a few memories being sparked across the House. That was the case then; companies come and go, but the importance of the sector continues.

This Bill is so important and timely for two reasons. The first is the economic importance of the creative sector; the creative industries are one of the Chancellor’s five important growth sectors—and rightly so, as they contribute something like £108 billion to the economy and support something like 2 million jobs. They are an extremely important part of the British economy and also help to spread British soft power around the world. Those institutions that provide great creative content are some of the things that people around the world most admire about this country.

Jamie Stone Portrait Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD)
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When I was last in the United States, before the pandemic, I was astounded by how many people asked me if I had heard of “The Crown” or “Downton Abbey”. If that was not an example of the soft power that our creative industries give this country, then I know of no better.

Damian Green Portrait Damian Green
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The hon. Gentleman is of course quite right, with the slight caveat that of course “The Crown” is made by Netflix—one of the global disruptors that produce great work that we watch, but also give rise to the necessity to protect our own British public service broadcasters.

Arguably even more important than the economic importance of our public service broadcasters is their cultural importance; in a global world—where, indeed, people can take British stories but produce them in a global context—we need a British voice or a collection of voices. At a time when our society is riven with divisions, we need activities and means of expression that remind us all of what we share, so the media, which both create and carry those illustrations of our shared experiences, are more important than ever. The protections in the Bill are important not just for our economy, but for the flourishing of our culture, and I can think of few more important things that a Government can address.

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Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman (Aberdeen North) (SNP)
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I appreciate having the opportunity to lead for the SNP on Second Reading. My hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (John Nicolson), who usually leads on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, has been unable to come along, so I have stepped into the breach, as it were, and agreed to manage the Media Bill for the SNP.

Although the Bill is welcome and takes a number of positive steps forward, I am concerned about how over-complicated some of it is. The Bill amends the Communications Act 2003, the Broadcasting Act 1996 and the Broadcasting Act 1990. Apart from amendments to corporation Acts and tax Acts, I have not seen anything quite this complicated. If I were a broadcaster or worked in this area, I would find it difficult to find all the information I needed even to comply with the legislation because of its complicated nature. The Media Bill mostly amends those three pieces of legislation, as well as a few others in smaller technical ways—smaller technical amendments are absolutely standard—but it has been done in a complicated way that will make it difficult to find some of the definitions.

I was looking, for example, for the definition of “programme”. I was directed to the Communications Act 2003, which directed me to the Broadcasting Act 1990, which then told me what the definition was. I have yet to find out the definition of “person”. Perhaps the Minister could furnish me with information on where I could find that definition in those three pieces of legislation. I did, however, find out that when it comes to choosing programmes and organising programming, an algorithm can be counted as a “person” if someone is assisted by an algorithm. I would find it very helpful if the Minister pointed me in the direction of the definition of “person”, which is used a significant number of times in the Bill when it talks about a person who is in charge of programming. Does the word “person” also relate to an entity or a group of people if they are in charge of programming? It would be helpful to have more information on that.

I am slightly concerned about other definitions and uses of words. The requirement for Ofcom to work out that there is a sufficiency of something without there being any clarity on what “sufficiency” means is slightly concerning, because something that I see as sufficient may not be seen as sufficient by somebody else. If there were more information on what “sufficient” meant, there would be more clarity on the changes to Channel 4 as a proportion of expenditure, for example, as opposed to a proportion of programming. “Sufficiency” is not sufficiently defined in the Bill.

The shadow Secretary of State mentioned the word “appropriate” in respect of the availability of public sector broadcasters through internet services, and raised concerns about whether it should be re-termed as “significant”. That would probably give those broadcasters the level of prominence that we expect and want them to have, so that people can access their services in the way that they want and expect. I agree that there could be a different way of doing that.

I will come to a number of different issues, but let me touch on the requirement on the prominence of services. That is important, and I am glad that the Government have chosen to tackle the prominence of services. The order in which public service broadcasters appear—particularly for those who use Amazon Fire Sticks, for example—is important. As those broadcasters have responsibilities that other broadcasters do not, it is important that they are given a level of primacy.

However, I am concerned that the App Store and the Google Play Store are not included in the measures, given the way in which such organisations—particularly the App Store—have behaved. They have said, “We can carry things such as the BBC iPlayer or the STV player only if you give us a significant slice of your revenue.” That is not acceptable. If people look up the BBC iPlayer on the App Store, it should be the top result, rather than being placed further down because Apple has had an argument with the BBC about it. It is inappropriate for Apple to charge the BBC significant amounts of money for a level of prominence that the BBC should have by right as a public service broadcaster. That is important not just in relation to the software in the Fire Stick, for example—or however we choose to view our video-on-demand services—but in the prominence that public service broadcaster apps, such as Channel 4 on demand and BBC iPlayer, are given. The same applies to BBC Sounds in radio access. Those broadcasters should not be charged significant amounts for that prominence.

While I am on radio, I appreciate what has been said about ensuring that Alexa and Siri provide the correct radio station. I would really like Alexa or Siri to play Taylor Swift when I ask for her, rather than Rage Against the Machine. It is not that they are trying to provide me with something else; it is that they do not understand my Scottish accent. Improving the listening ability of those services so that they can play the song that I want would be incredibly helpful.

I like the provisions on advertising. In some cases, it is not Alexa or Siri making decisions on advertising; it is TuneIn Radio—or whichever programme Alexa or Siri is playing through—that is making those decisions. As long as that provision applies to how we hear advertising, rather than who deals with the background stuff, I am happy enough with the measures.

I agree with the right hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb), who has just headed out of the Chamber, on the importance of local radio. In my constituency, Station House Media Unit—known as shmu—does local magazines as well as a significant amount of local radio. It feels really rooted in our communities in a way that, as the right hon. Member said, larger stations that have been taken over by other companies do not.

I appreciate the level of children’s content we have had, particularly on the BBC, having watched CBeebies with my children. When I was younger, I went to a fancy dress party dressed as a Tweenie. I cannot remember whether I was Bella, Milo, Fizz or Jake, but I can tell the House that I did not have to look up those names, because I remembered them. They are ingrained in my soul, having watched the show with my little sisters. They are significantly younger than me, which is why I mention such a recent television programme.

Ofcom has had to scale up massively to service the provisions of the Online Safety Act 2023. I am appreciative of that, and I have a lot of time for the growth in capacity and the number of excellent people it has brought in to do the work. Can the Minister give us a level of reassurance that, for the policing of this area, the writing of the regulations and guidance that this Bill will require and the different interactions that Ofcom will be having, in particular with video-on-demand services, it will have the number of individuals and capacity and resource to be able to undertake such additional layers of work? I am aware that Ofcom is doing significant portions of work around broadcasting already, but I do not want it to have to stretch itself when it is already having to grow at pace. I am concerned that there are not even the number of qualified individuals to take on that work, given how specialised and important it is. Can the Minister reassure me that he is having conversations at least with Ofcom about its capacity when this legislation comes in?

A number of my colleagues have mentioned the Gaelic language and the issues around it. Of course, those could all be solved by devolving broadcasting to the Scottish Government, but in lieu of that, I will highlight some of the disparities. The Secretary of State was perhaps getting a little confused between BBC Alba and MG Alba, which are two different organisations. [Interruption.] Alba—my pronunciation is nearly there. I am an east-coaster. The two organisations are different and operate differently. We appreciate the support being given to S4C, which is a good thing, but we have a disparity, as £89 million of licence fee is going to S4C, whereas only £10 million is going to the Gaelic language. There is a requirement for a quota of at least 10 hours a week of Welsh language programming, but no requirement for a similar quota for Gaelic programming. I am concerned by that.

Jamie Stone Portrait Jamie Stone
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The hon. Member is making a very good point about the Gaelic language. I absolutely hate to say this in this place, but my constituency has a few native Gaelic speakers—there are so few of them. I pray that in a few years’ time another generation will have the language. Gaelic is in a vulnerable situation, which reinforces her point.

Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman
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I very much appreciate the hon. Member’s point. I went to visit a Gaelic nursery in Aberdeen a couple of years ago. Staff there were concerned about the reduction in Gaelic programming for children, because outside the nursery the children were not necessarily getting the exposure to Gaelic that they might have had if they had lived in Skye or the Western Isles. They were concerned that, just because they had chosen not to live in those communities, the language embedded in those children and their ability to access TV programmes in their native first language was significantly reduced. I am concerned by the disparity. I hope the Minister appreciates that we are coming from a good place in trying to ensure the protection of Gaelic, some level of parity and that people across Scotland can access it.

I will highlight specifically what the Bill states. It states that there has to be

“a sufficient quantity of audiovisual content that is in, or mainly in, a recognised regional or minority language”.

Later, the Bill states that

“‘recognised regional or minority language’ means Welsh, the Gaelic language as spoken in Scotland, Irish, Scots, Ulster Scots or Cornish.”

The Bill does not define what “a sufficient quantity” is. It does not say whether it will be measured on the basis of the percentage of people who speak that language in each of the countries. That wording is concerning, and given that there is a quota for Welsh programming, it is disappointing that there is not a similarly recognised quota for any of the other languages.

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Jamie Stone Portrait Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD)
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I want to start by expressing my party’s broad support for this Bill, which is timely. What a change we have seen since 2003 when the Communications Act was passed: it is a massive change. The new legislation is crucial for public sector broadcasters, and I therefore believe that time is of the essence. However, I am treating this debate as a bit like a tutorial in which we will have an interesting exchange of ideas. On behalf of my party, I will reserve our opinions—in the light of certain reservations that I will express—and we shall be abstaining on the Bill tonight. That does not in any way indicate that we do not support the thrust of the Bill, and I think that needs to be understood.

The first concern I would air is the removal of some regulations about local broadcasting. We have heard from all around the Chamber the importance of local broadcasting, including what it means in platforming voices and stories from across the nations and regions, not least the highlands, where I come from. I think this is a good point at which to unreservedly add my support to my colleagues—one across the Minch, the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil); another to the south of me, the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford); and the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman)—in saying that it is crucially important that we get it right with regard to Gaelic. As I said in an intervention, it saddens me to say this, but the situation of the language is precarious and we need to do everything possible to secure its future.

Angus Brendan MacNeil Portrait Angus Brendan MacNeil
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I am sure the hon. Gentleman would agree that there should be some sort of legislative underpinning and support for Gaelic broadcasting. Indeed, BBC Alba has asked for that and pointed that out.

Jamie Stone Portrait Jamie Stone
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Yes, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct.

Furthermore, as we know, local radio—and, as was expressed by the right hon. and learned Member for South Swindon (Sir Robert Buckland), who is no longer with us, the same is true of local television—is absolutely fundamental to the proper functioning of local democracy. I know this only too well, and in some ways I regret it. Let me give Members, for their lighter amusement, a cautionary tale. When I was first elected to be a member of Ross and Cromarty District Council a long time ago—I was once upon a time the youngest member of the council—my younger brother was a broadcaster on Moray Firth Radio, our local radio station, which is still alive and well today. He thought it would be kind to me to put me on his chat show on a Saturday morning called “The Chipboard Table” just days after I was first elected. He sat me down—this was live—and he said, “Jamie, last night we had a dram together, and you told me that you felt your fellow councillors were quite creative in the way they completed their expenses.” This led to an indifferent start to a career in local government, but that is one of the scars I bear. Luckily, it was a long time ago. For accountability and throwing a light on local democracy, local radio is absolutely crucial, and notwithstanding my experience, I would not have it any other way.

On the issue of quotas, the removal of Ofcom’s responsibility to monitor the delivery of content in education, science and culture may risk content in these areas declining. That would concern me because, as was eloquently expressed by the right hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green), the soft power this country exerts is about being British, but it also about reflecting the different facets of our nation that English-speaking countries find absolutely fascinating. As the Bill progresses, I will be looking to ensure that Ofcom retains a statutory requirement to measure the output of each of these genres—language, culture or whatever—against, let us say for now, the benchmark of what we have at the moment. I do not wish to see any decline from that whatsoever.

On accessibility, when it comes to linear television, there is a requirement for 90% of programmes to be provided with subtitles, as we know. It is right that there should be greater access to those things. Let me give the House another personal example. On a Sunday evening, a cousin of mine who is a little older than me comes and has a meal with my wife and I, and she watches the television. She is a great friend and much loved. She is also pretty deaf, and for some television programmes we can get the subtitles up, but for others we cannot. Perhaps I am not very intelligent with IT, but by gosh we’ve tried, and it is hugely frustrating that she cannot see the words that are being said. The same applies to people with visual impairment—we are talking about signing and other ways of helping. The Liberal Democrat party will look to require that at least 80% of on-demand TV content be subtitled, with 10% audio described and 5% signed. That is our position at this stage.

While I find it tricky to find the subtitles, another issue is also tricky to find. One of the most important aspects of the Bill is the call for public service broadcaster prominence, ensuring that the likes of BBC, Channel 4 and ITV are not only easy to find on any smart TV, but are also given due prominence. This is the existential issue for our public service broadcasters, and the question of how appropriate prominence will be defined is vital. The Liberal Democrats would like the current call for “appropriate” prominence be strengthened to “significant” prominence, and I believe we will be tabling amendments to see whether we can achieve that.

Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Member is talking about a range of different issues, which highlight the fact that there are a lot of disparate concerns about the Bill. Does he share my concern that the draft programme motion does not include taking oral evidence for the Bill, and does he understand why the Government have done that?

Jamie Stone Portrait Jamie Stone
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I believe that is a wise point, and we would be wise to heed it.

When it comes to Channel 4, I believe I am not alone in having concerns about plans to relax the publisher-broadcaster status, and about the potential risk that that poses to the unique contribution that the channel makes to the diversity and sustainability of the independent production sector across the nations and regions. Again, that takes me back to my earlier point about the sheer diversity of the product being part of our soft power, which is important to this country. However, there is a caveat. With the increased independent production quota and Channel 4’s prediction that any changes will take at least five years to launch, that fundamental change might not lead to any market shock in the short term. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and we shall see.

Finally, let me turn to what is perhaps a core debating point today. Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 requires new outlets to pay the costs—we know what that is all about. The Liberal Democrats stand firmly against that charge. The 2013 Bill followed the Leveson inquiry and the phone hacking scandal, and the proposed change will put at risk the balance between free speech and public safeguarding, all the while favouring news publishers. One could say that that is a standard political stance in this debate, and perhaps Conservative Members would take a different view. However, let us consider one final point, which is important in terms of the notion of British justice. This change would mean that anyone without substantial financial resources or deep pockets that can match the might of the newspapers would find it impossible to pursue legitimate grievances through the legal system. We need to think about that very deeply. What can the small man possibly do against the publishing giants? That is hugely important and I think there is a warning here. With that I will conclude my remarks. I sincerely hope that my career in this place will not include any more gaffes on live radio, but you can never tell, Madam Deputy Speaker, least of all from a highland Member of Parliament.

Gambling Act Review White Paper

Jamie Stone Excerpts
Thursday 27th April 2023

(1 year ago)

Commons Chamber
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Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer
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Yes; I can confirm that the regulator will be able to block or take down black market operators or, where necessary, suspend the licences of companies that break the rules.

Jamie Stone Portrait Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD)
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About 400 people take their own lives each year owing to gambling harms. It is rather a personal issue for me and my home community, because a much-loved local GP did exactly that in 2007, and is still missed today. We all mourn his passing; there is a very moving memorial to him outside the local health centre. Can I ask the Government to crack on with this as fast as humanly possible? If we had had this legislation some years ago, that gentleman might still be with us.

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer
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My thoughts are with all those who have lost family members. I hope that they will look on today as a moment to which they have contributed. I know it has taken some time, but this is the largest reform of the industry since 2005, and it is game changing. It is of course right that we take the time to get the regulations right when we bring them up to the smartphone age.

Online Safety Bill

Jamie Stone Excerpts
It is right that we put these measures in the Bill for the serious failures to protect children. This is a topical issue. In fact, a number of colleagues met tech companies and techUK yesterday, as did I. We have an opportunity to raise the bar in the United Kingdom so that technology investment still comes forward and the sector continues to grow and flourish in the right way and for the right reasons. We want to see that.
Jamie Stone Portrait Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD)
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The issues of evolving technology and holding people to account are hugely important. May I make the general point that digital education could underpin all those safeguards? The teaching of digital literacy should be conducted in parallel with all the other good efforts made across our schools.

Priti Patel Portrait Priti Patel
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Member is absolutely right, and I do not think anyone in the House would disagree with that. We have to carry on learning in life, and that links to technology and other issues. That applies to all of us across the board, and we need people in positions of authority to ensure that the right kind of information is shared, to protect our young people.

I look forward to hearing from the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully), who has been so good in engaging on this issue, and I thank him for the proactive way in which he has spent time with all of us. Will we see the Government’s amendment prior to the Bill going to the other place for its Second Reading there? It is vital for all colleagues who support new clause 2 to have clear assurances that the provisions we support, which could have passed through this House, will not be diluted in the other place by Ministers. Furthermore—we should discuss this today—what steps are the Government and Ofcom taking to secure the agreement of tech companies to work to ensure that senior managers are committed and proactive in meeting their duties under clause 11?

I recognise that a lot of things will flow through secondary legislation, but on top of that, engagement with tech companies is vital, so that they can prepare, be ready and know what duties will be upon them. We also need to know what further guidance and regulation will come forward to secure the delivery of clause 11 duties and hold tech companies to account.

In the interests of time, I will shorten my remarks. I trust and hope that Ministers will give those details. It is important to give those assurances before the Bill moves to the House of Lords. We need to know that those protections will not be diluted. This is such a sensitive issue. We have come a long way, and that is thanks to colleagues on both sides of the House. It is important that we get the right outcomes, because all of us want to make sure that children are protected from the dreadful harms that we have seen online.

Channel 4

Jamie Stone Excerpts
Monday 9th January 2023

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Each Urgent Question requires a Government Minister to give a response on the debate topic.

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Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
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I came to the same conclusion as my predecessor that the long-term sustainability of Channel 4 was questionable. That is why we put in place a package, which is different from that of my predecessor but has the same goal in mind of ensuring that Channel 4 can survive, thrive and flourish in the future.

Jamie Stone Portrait Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD)
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Happy new year to you, Mr Speaker, and to everybody else. Who can forget the reading of the poem “Stop all the clocks” in “Four Weddings and a Funeral”, one of Channel 4’s greatest triumphs? The point I wish to make is that that film featured Scotland in it and “Derry Girls” features Northern Ireland in it. As a Unionist, I believe that the British Isles is like a diamond: each facet is important. Channel 4 contributes massively to that, so may I ask the Secretary of State what special efforts will be made with the production companies in the provinces—the parts of the United Kingdom other than England?

Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
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We are working with the independent production sector across the UK, because it is vital that we protect job creation in all corners of our United Kingdom. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that this is not just an England-specific issue.