Margot James has web giants in her sights after new ministerial role in reshuffle
Margot James has revealed she plans to push for greater accountability for the world’s major internet companies as part of her new ministerial brief.
The Stourbridge MP was appointed as the Minister of State at the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in Theresa May’s reshuffle this week.
In an exclusive interview with the Express & Star, Ms James said she was looking forward to the many challenges of her new ‘cutting edge’ role, which will see her thrust into the complex world of digital technologies and data protection.
She also expressed sadness at departing from her previous brief as Small Business Minister, where she had responsibility for issues including the Royal Mail and product safety.
Ms James insisted she had ‘a great interest’ in seeing that the work she started in her last job continues – but she admitted she was happy to leave behind the row over Brexit stamps.
“It is a big challenge but I am ready to take this on,” Ms James told the Express & Star in the hours after she had been summoned to Number 10 to see the Prime Minister.
“It will be a steep learning curve. Next month I will be taking new digital legislation through Parliament [currently with the Lords].
"I will be taking that through with the Home Office Minister. It is just one of a number of big issues that I now have on my plate.”
Ms James said her principal concern will be the digital area and data protection, while the Government’s ambitious plans for wider broadband and mobile coverage are likely to be at the top of her ‘to do’ list.
Her predecessor in the role, new Culture Secretary Matt Hancock, has already brought forward plans for the design of the Government’s 10Mbps Universal Service Obligation (USO) for broadband.
Ms James will also be working closely with the Home Office on cyber security.
“It is very much at the cutting edge, so in that respect it is a very exciting portfolio,” she added.
Despite being new to the role, Ms James already has some strong views on the powers of internet big guns such as Google.
“The internet is a great liberator, but I think a lot of what has been enabled [by it] has been retrograde, and that needs to change,” she said.
“We can’t do that alone. We need to take steps and work with the rest of Europe and the United States to bring more accountability to the major internet companies.”
Ms James’ – who describes herself as ‘a passionate believer in press freedom’ – will also see her oversee media issues, at a time when Ministers are attempting to avoid a fresh vote on holding the second part of the Leveson inquiry.
Reflecting on her time at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Ms James said: “I am keen to meet my successor to go through some of the things that were in progress.
“I am sorry to be leaving as I felt a real sense of responsibility in that role.
“Some of the issues, product safety for example, which I knew nothing about when I started, was extremely important.
“Fortunately [Business Secretary] Greg Clark is continuing at that department, and I have no doubt that he will make it a priority.”
She won’t miss everything about her last job, though, namely the controversy sparked by a Boris Johnson-backed campaign calling on Royal Mail to mark Britain’s departure from the EU with a set of stamps.
“I certainly am not sad to be leaving behind the Brexit stamps issue,” Ms James said.