Harriet Harman

Labour Member of Parliament for Camberwell & Peckham

THE NINTH ANNUAL PARLIAMENT AND INTERNET CONFERENCE - 30/10/14

THE NINTH ANNUAL PARLIAMENT AND INTERNET CONFERENCE

 

30 October 2014

 

Harriet Harman MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

 

Check against delivery

 

INTRODUCTION

 Technological change is a major driver for economic development and the internet has the potential to enable every citizen to get involved in every aspect of life.  In fact it’s not just a nice to have....both for the economy and the individual - it’s a necessity.

 

LABOURS RECORD

There are four reasons why we regard this as a high priority

 

  1. the economic case.....the OECD and the World Bank have concluded that for us, every  10% increase in broadband penetration brings a 1% increase in national economic performance.  So by completing UK broadband roll out the UK economy has the potential to be £30bn bigger every year.  It’s the most efficient investment of any economic infrastructure.

 

  1. the public services case...getting public services online will improve them and enable them to be delivered in new and better ways - whether it's joint medical consultations between doctors in different parts of the the world or checking that an old lady who lives on her own is ok.   And it will save public money - estimates go up to £10bn, but it could be a great deal more.

 

  1. the social case....we want to ensure that we have growing equality not growing inequality.  We need to make sure that digitalisation is a force for growing equality not growing inequality.

 

But this means that people have to have both the physical connection and the ability to use it. 

 Digital inclusion is not just about being nice to people.  It's fundamental to the achievement of the economic case and the public services and the social case

 

  1. the democratic case – voters want it.  And if they want it and you can do it, then do it if you can.  People know it’s a necessity in people’s lives.  They want it like they used to want landlines.

 

And we recognised this right from when we were first in Government.

 I can remember in 1998 when Peter Mandelson who was a minister in the Cabinet Office first used the words “e-commerce”. A lot of people didn’t knew what he was talking about then.  We all know now!

 And, over the years when we were in Government

 

  • We supported the promotion of competitive markets - setting up Ofcom to do that.  And that has been important for consumers....prices are lower here than in other EU countries
  • To promote competition we made space for new entrants to the market. And that meant an additional entrant to the mobile market (“Three”)
  • To help everyone get the benefit of the internet we set up the People’s Network and rolled out IT equipment into 4,000 public libraries. 
  • To narrow the digital divide, we gave over 250,000 deprived families with young children laptops.
  • Overall, we invested £300m in digital inclusion
  • We established a Minister of State for e-commerce - Stephen Timms
  • And commissioned Lord Stephen Carter to write the Digital Britain Report

 This is the most rapidly changing area so we have to be looking to where we are now and looking ahead all the time.

 

GOVERNMENT COMPLACENT ON BROADBAND ROLLOUT

 But I don't feel that this Government has got the right level of ambition in relation to their role and the contribution government needs to make in driving forward connectivity.

 And two key issues right now are completing connectivity and ensuring digital inclusion.

 By the time we left Government 74 percent of people had 5.2 MBPS and we were working towards our target of basic broadband for every household and every business by 2012.  This target, which was regarded as realistic and achievable, would have meant that by now every household and business would have broadband access with decent speed.

 But, when they came in, in 2010, the new Government scrapped the 2012 target, promising instead to roll out superfast broadband to 90% of the population by 2015.

 But that is not going to happen. 

 Having scrapped our target of 2012, they've had to move their own target back from 2015 to 2017. 

 Currently only 75% have superfast broadband. 

 So, though they've ploughed in £1.2 billion in public money, a quarter of the population still don't have superfast broadband and many will have to wait till - or beyond – 2017.

 We estimate them missing their own target has lost the UK economy £7bn of foregone GDP.  And it’s particularly a problem in rural areas.

 The point is that government ought to be not just alongside but ahead of people, not dragging behind them.  And there are massive complaints about this.  With vociferous complaints to MPs – including on the Government's side.

 Oral Questions to the DCMS Secretary of State in the House of Commons only happens once every 5 weeks or so and covers the arts, tourism and sport as well as telecom issues. But now at every DCMS questions there's a huge row about it.  And the frustration is shared from all sides of the House.

 Last DCMS Oral Question-time the Government had complaints from MPs from Scotland to the Isle of Wight – from Wales to East Anglia.

  But the Minister just sweeps these complaints aside and tells everyone they're wrong and it's all marvelous.  This is what he said at last DCMS questions.... 

 “may I say that we have a fantastic rural broadband roll-out programme? [It] is a fantastic achievement and I look forward to subsequent contributions from my hon. Friends to highlight the amazing success of this programme.”

  When it comes to cities, £130 million of the £150 million set aside for the Super-Connected Cities Programme had not been spent, hindering businesses up and down the country.

 And on this too the Minister is in denial.  Again, at the last Oral Questions in response to concern expressed by Helen Goodman he said that he is “pleased to see that the super-connected voucher scheme is well under way” when instead he should be recognising it's failing.

 Our approach remains that the priority must be to get on with the extension of access and not sacrifice it to getting ever faster speeds for a few.

 

GOVERNMENT COMPLACENT ON MOBILE COVERAGE

 And there's still a problem, too with mobile “not spots” – areas of poor or no coverage - and this is in both rural and urban areas.

 This causes huge frustration as people are using their phones for internet access as well as using their mobiles for texts and most of their calls.

 Ed Vaizey recently admitted that after three years in government only two of the 135 sites involved in the Mobile Infrastructure Project have gone live.

 So, yet again, the targets are not going to be met. Yet again, the Minister is complacent, asserting that the Project it's “pioneering” rather than acknowledging its “failing”.

 The Secretary of State, Sajid Javid, now asserts that 2G roaming will provide the answer – as yet, it’s far from clear that will be the case. 

 This is a policy which needs very careful consideration and a rigorous impact assessments to understand unintended consequences and it’s not clear how or indeed whether this has been done.

 

THE FORWARD AGENDA - DIGITAL INCLUSION

 At the same time as extending coverage, we need to reduce the number of people who are locked out of all of this because they don't know how to use the internet.  In Government, we were investing £300m in digital inclusion - under this Government that is not just £18m of which £15m is lottery money. 

 As we move towards online information, online bills, online banking, online shopping, online forms, online petitions, online chat, digital inclusion is essential.

 So alongside extending access, if Labour were in government now, we would switch £75 million from the un-used SuperConnnected Cities programme to spend on digital inclusion - it would be a good moment to do some of it through libraries.

 

REGULATORY EFFECTIVENESS AND CERTAINTY TO ENCOURAGE COMPETITION & INNOVATION 

   The UK telecom industry has been a great British Success story - and at the forefront of innovation. It’s been of great benefit to the rest of British business and the country as a whole. That spirit of innovation is precious and needs to be recognised, celebrated and sustained.  And we need to have a competitive industry.  The regulatory framework must support innovation in the sector and not disincentivise new entrants or new investment.

 The regulatory structure needs to the subject of proper consultation and when it is enacted it needs to be stable...but it also needs to be up to date.  That is easy to say.  But it is - in the context of a rapid change and the need for proper engagement and consultation - very difficult to do. 

 Ofcom must be strong and effective in the public interest – able to make decisions and give effect to those decisions so there is regulatory certainty.  Of course Ofcom decisions must be open to legal challenge.  But the system should not allow their decisions to be frustrated by the length and cost of legal process.  Again, this has evidently been a problem for some time and needs to be resolved.

 

ACTING ON COSTS AND ENCOURAGING INVESTMENT

 The competition that is necessary to bring prices down and incentive investment - which is critical for 4G expansion - is not adequately supported by the regulatory framework surrounding local phone masts. 

 The Law Commission found the Electronic Communications Code to be complex and outdated and took the view that it was making the rollout of electronic communications more difficult.  As long ago as February 2013, it recommended amendments to the Code strike a better balance between code operators and landowners.  This needs to be acted on.

 

GOVERNMENT TOO SLOW TO PROTECT CONSUMERS

 It’s fundamental that you should be able to switch provider and to do that we should move to the system which is gaining-provider led. So Ofcom needs the power to get on and make that happen.  But the government has failed to resolve this.

 People don't want to be hassled and intruded upon and their communications impeded by unwanted and unsolicited emails texts and phone calls.

 To add insult to injury, phone companies are now selling “privacy packages” to beleaguered subscribers for around £100 per year.

 We believe phone companies should provide caller identification and 1571 services free of charge - like Talk Talk do.

 Nuisance calls are not simply an annoyance, they affect 80% of the population and can cause serious distress and harm to the elderly and vulnerable. We will ensure that customers have a one stop shop to complain about nuisance communications.

 The Government’s recent announcement of a consultation on this is another example – like capping bills for stolen phones – of too little, too slowly.

 We have been insisting on action on this area for over a year and have laid amendments to the Consumer Rights Bill in the House of Lords to this effect. But still nothing's happened.

 

GOVERNMENT TOO SLOW TO PROTECT CHILDREN

 

And it’s the same story on protecting children from the damage caused by internet exposure to extreme violence, pornography and self-harm sites.

 Whether it’s

  • protecting children from being groomed online.
  • protecting children from cyber bullying.
  • protecting children from being used in child abuse images.

 parents are grappling with this...and with a much lower level of understanding of the technology than their children. 

 They are not clear what protections come as default, what comes as an add-on and what they should be doing for the different ways of accessing the internet.

 Parents don’t know which websites are British-run and how the rules differ.  And children need protection, wherever that threat comes from.

 This week the government announced the introduction of age verification for UK porn websites – that’s important, but it won’t apply to non-UK websites which make up the great majority of the pornography consumed in the UK. 

And we should also have compulsory PSHE so all young people can receive information on sex and relationships, including the respect due to others and themselves in the new digital world.

 

NATIONAL CRIME AGENCY NOT FIT FOR DEALING WITH THE SCALE OF CHILD ABUSE IMAGE CRIMES

 The National Crime Agency has details of tens of thousands of people who have accessed images of child abuse. But the vast majority of people downloading child porn are not investigated and only 600 have been arrested - so children remain at risk.

 Theresa May took the freestanding CEOP and subsumed it within the National Crime Agency.  But there is a concern that the NCA is simply not equipped for dealing with the scale and seriousness of this problem.

 The NCA says it doesn’t have the resources to investigate all cases.

 So, known paedophiles are continuing to pose a threat and those accessing child abuse images are not even made subject to the vetting and barring process.

 Yet the police arrest more than 220,000 people a year for theft and more than 110,000 for drug offences.

 The Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper has repeatedly warned that the Home Secretary is failing to get to grips with the growing crisis in online child abuse, putting children at risk, and is sleepwalking into another national scandal. There's enough evidence and concern out there.  It is her responsibility to act.

 CROSS-DEPARTMENTAL WORKING

 These issues involve not just the DCMS, but many other Government departments, local government and Europe.

 Within government it must be joint working.  A Digital Working Group of the frontbench Labour team, convened by Helen Goodman in the Shadow DCMS team and Iain Wright in the Bis team, has Ministers from CLG, Education, Cabinet Office, Defra and Stephen Timms for DWP.

 So to do all this what we need to do is

 

  • listen to people's concerns
  • listen to what you say
  • work across government

I hope after the next election I'll be doing this from government rather than opposition!

  

ENDS

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