5G - Health Effects
I believe it is vital that the UK has the digital infrastructure it needs to compete and grow in the modern economy. The Government wants the UK to be a world leader in 5G and to ensure that the majority of the population have access to a 5G signal by 2027. 5G is still in its development stages and is likely to be rolled out as part of a patchwork of technologies, including those already in use, such as 4G, Wi-Fi, as well as 5G new radio.
There has been a degree of speculation, some of it quite wild, on what might be the potential health risks of a 5G network. Considerable research has been carried out on radio waves and the Government does not anticipate any negative effects on public health, nor do any of the Governments currently pressing ahead with similar projects. I understand that existing technical standards, which take into account international guidelines and research on non-ionizing radiation, are expected to be followed throughout the development of 5G products and networks, and I have been assured that, as 5G continues to develop, the Government will work with Public Health England to monitor available evidence and take any necessary action.
5G - Huawei
When balancing the need for inward investment and access to cutting-edge technology, our national security must not be compromised. Under the advice of the National Cyber Security Centre, the Government has a mitigation strategy in place for our dealings with Huawei. This strategy is kept under constant review and allows us to benefit from new technology supplied by overseas countries with confidence.
I entirely understand your desire to ensure that our cyber security is not compromised, and I am encouraged that, where shortcomings have been identified in Huawei's engineering processes, the Government will continue to press the company to meet its commitments to address these issues and improve their risk management systems.
You may be interested to know that the Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review sets out the Government's long-term plans to provide world class digital connectivity through full fibre connectivity and 5G mobile coverage. As part of this, I know my colleagues in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport are conducting a review of the supply chain underpinning those ambitions to ensure a healthy, diverse and secure supply base, now and into the future. This is a thorough review and will report with its conclusions in due course.
BBC TV licence for over-75s
As you will be aware, people over the age of 75 are currently eligible for a free TV licence, which also covers anyone they are living with. This concession was introduced in November 2000 under the then Chancellor Gordon Brown. In 2015, the Office for Budget Responsibility estimated the cost of continuing the free TV licences to be £200 million in 2018/19, rising to £445 million in 2019/20 and £745 million in 2020/21. At the moment, the Government reimburses the BBC for the free TV licences, but funding of the free TV licence will transfer to the BBC from June 2020. It then becomes the BBC's decision whether to continue the concession in its current form.
The Government has made it clear that it expects the BBC to continue the concession. It must be borne in mind that the BBC evidently understood the level of commitment required when it agreed in 2015 to the funding settlement (which at the time they described as a good deal that provided financial stability to the organisation), which included taking over responsibility for the concession. I recently co-signed a joint letter with my colleagues to the BBC, in which it was made clear that when the current BBC charter was negotiated in 2015 the agreement for the BBC to take on the funding for over-75 households was based on the their receiving several concessions in return, including linking the annual licence fee to inflation; introducing legislation to modernise the licence fee and aid revenue-gathering by closing a loophole covering catch-up TV; and an end to the BBC’s commitment to fund super-fast broadband around the country by 2020, which would have cost the BBC £80m in 2018 alone. I recently met with representatives from the BBC to discuss the concession and a way forward, including a request to consider cost-cutting and the salaries of top stars and executives.
In 2015, I understand the BBC commissioned Frontier Economics to explore the long-term options for funding the over-75s concession. Following the publication of its report in 2017, the BBC consulted last year on possible options for the future. This was an important step in order to ensure the BBC is aware of the public's views on the subject. Over 190,000 people responded to that consultation, of which 52 per cent chose some form of change - 37 per cent ranking reform first and 15 per cent calling for the concession to be abolished to restore a universal licence fee. Frequently cited concerns were the issues of pensioner poverty and the importance of TV as a companion for the elderly, concerns with which I entirely agree. Following the consultation, the BBC came to the decision that the fairest option was to establish a new scheme that focuses on the poorest older pensioners. As a result, any household with someone aged over 75 who receives Pension Credit will be eligible for a free TV licence funded by the BBC, which will be effective from June 2020. This should hopefully ensure that those who cannot afford to pay for a licence will remain exempt from any requirement to do so.
Problem gambling can devastate individuals' lives, families and communities, so I welcome the action being taken to ensure a responsible gambling industry protects players appropriately. Reducing the maximum stakes on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals from £100 to £2 will help stop extreme losses by those who can least afford it, although I did criticise the Government at the time for not introducing this more swiftly.
Of course, there are other factors which influence the extent of harm to the player. That is why this change is not being made in isolation. Other actions that are being taken in this area include: protection measures on other gaming machines; increasing player protections around online gambling; doing more on research, education and treatment of problem gambling; and enhancing protections around gambling advertising. The Government has also launched a consultation on increasing the age limit for some or all National Lottery games and products from 16 to 18. I would encourage anyone with a view on this to respond here.
I hope these measures will help ensure a healthy gambling industry that contributes to the economy, but that also does all it can to protect vulnerable players. This is an opportunity for the industry to redouble its efforts to promote responsible gambling. It is important that the Government continues to work with the industry and with the Gambling Commission to monitor betting products and promotions, and ensure that gambling is a safe and enjoyable pastime for everyone who chooses it, without unintended impacts on society.