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House of Commons

Monday 31 October 1994

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[ Madam Speaker-- in the Chair ]

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Blackpool, South): On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker: I shall take points of order after questions.

Oral Answers to Questions


Television Company Mergers

1. Mr. Rooker: To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage when he will next meet the chairman of the Independent Television Commission to discuss television company mergers.

The Secretary of State for National Heritage (Mr. Stephen Dorrell): I shall meet the chairman of the Independent Television Commission on 2 November. I expect to discuss a number of broadcasting issues, including ownership.

Mr. Rooker: It is clear that, following its purchase of Central Television, Carlton is asset-stripping it, with massive job losses and the abandonment of the commitment to keep two studios for regional programmes and news in Birmingham. When the Secretary of State meets the chairman, will he ask whether it was known when Central Television bid for the franchise that, with only £2,000 a year on offer and no competition, Carlton Television was waiting in the wings to buy it up and strip it?

Mr. Dorrell: With respect, the hon. Gentleman is concentrating on the wrong issue. What matters to residents of the midlands region is the quality of television output that is available to them. The ITC is there to monitor the standards set out in the Broadcasting Act 1990 and in the licence, and that is what it will do.

Mr. McLoughlin: When my hon. Friend meets the chairman, will he bear in mind the fact that BBC1 and BBC2 can both provide nationwide services, as can Channel 4? Is it not about time that we had a radical review of the ownership of television companies, which are prevented from undertaking mergers at present?

Mr. Dorrell: As my hon. Friend will be aware, a review of the ownership provisions for Channel 3 television companies is being undertaken. When we have had an opportunity to assess our views, and the responses that we have received from others in the industry, we shall publish our conclusions.

Mr. Grocott: Cannot the Secretary of State appreciate that, six short years ago, there were four

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thriving studios at Central Television in Birmingham--three large ones and a news one--and a whole range of specialisms and professional groups covering the film industry? We now face the prospect of there being one small news studio, and there has been a haemorrhage of jobs. Surely it is common sense to review the decision that was made last year to allow the takeover of Central by Carlton. It is viewers and, indeed, people who work in the industry who matter, not those who seem to have been the only concern of the Government so far--the owners of the industry and a few people who have made a huge amount of money out of it.

Mr. Dorrell: The hon. Gentleman was right in at least one respect when he said that it is viewers who matter. The ITC is there to police standards set out in the Act and the licence, and to ensure that all Channel 3 licensees observe those standards. That is precisely what it is doing. Of course, companies are much better placed to be able to deliver those commitments if their finances are strong and they are looking forward to a secure commercial future.

Mr. Allen: I welcome the Secretary of State to his new duties. As I have been in my present position for all of four days, I shall ask what is perhaps a naive question--it may not happen again. When the right hon. Gentleman meets the chair of the ITC, will he discuss what seems to be an obvious trend towards coalitions of regional companies, perhaps resulting in one company only for independent television in this country? Is that something that the Secretary of State would facilitate, is it something that he would discourage or is it something that he feels should be left entirely to the free market?

Mr. Dorrell: As I said in my original answer, we shall certainly discuss a range of broadcasting issues, including ownership. As the hon. Gentleman will know, even after the changes that took place earlier this year, there are still substantial restrictions on a trend, which he may fear, towards a single Channel 3 broadcasting combine. That is certainly not the direction in which the Government expect broadcasting to go.

National Lottery

2. Ms Eagle: To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what assessment he has made of the progress of the national lottery.

Mr. Dorrell: Everything is well on course for the launch of the national lottery on 14 November. The press advertising campaign began yesterday, and ticket sales are due to start on 14 November for the first live jackpot draw on 19 November. Money for the good causes that the national lottery has been established to support will flow through just a few days later.

I have today issued directions to the distributing bodies for which I am responsible to ensure the proper financial management and control of national lottery proceeds. I can also announce that the Arts Council, sports councils, the national heritage memorial fund and the Millennium Commission have now established firm dates for the publication of their application forms and detailed guidance to applicants for national lottery

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funds. The first applications for funds will be invited on 4 January, and the first national lottery grants will be announced in early 1995.

The National Lottery Charities Board is conducting widespread consultations to ensure that the procedures that it puts in place best serve the interests of the voluntary sector. The board will issue detailed guidance when that process is complete.

The financial directions that I have issued today to the distributing bodies that fall within my departmental responsibility are also being issued by the Secretaries of State for Scotland, for Wales and for Northern Ireland.

Madam Speaker: That was not an answer to a question but a statement.

Ms Eagle: It was the first time I had ever listened to such a long reply from a Minister to such a simple question.

Will the Secretary of State explain why, amid all this frantic activity, Mr. Nicholas Hinton, the chief executive of the Millennium Commission, was sacked? Who took that decision, and why?

Mr. Dorrell: I apologise to you, Madam Speaker, if my answer took the form of a statement. I was asked what assessment I had made of the progress of the national lottery and I was anxious that the House should have a full impression of that assessment.

Madam Speaker: I, too, am anxious that the House should have a full impression, but I am also anxious that questions and answers should be brisk and to the point.

Mr. Dorrell: The hon. Lady asked who decided that Mr. Hinton's employment should be terminated. The answer is the Millennium Commission. She also asked why. The Millennium Commission believed that differences of opinion had arisen between itself and Mr. Hinton that would not allow his employment to be a success.

Mr. Key: Will my right hon. Friend join me in sending good wishes to the thousands of lottery ticket sellers and operators throughout the country? Will he join me in congratulating the football pools on responding to the competition so magnificently, as a result of which we have better pools and a new national lottery? Will he join me in saying how pleased we are that at last we are beginning to take the guilt out of gambling?

Mr. Dorrell: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The launch of the national lottery is a great success story. In the months since the lottery licence was awarded, almost 11,500 outlets have been prepared for the launch of the national lottery and almost 33,000 employees have been trained to ensure that it is a success when it is launched.

Mr. Maclennan: Did the Secretary of State participate in the dismissal of Mr. Hinton from his position? Will he give us a clear understanding of whether he intends to maintain an arm's-length relationship from all the bodies that will be funded and the distribution of their funds?

Mr. Dorrell: I am not in a good position to maintain an arm's-length relationship with the Millennium

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Commission, as I am its chairman. The answer to the question whether I was there when the decision was taken is yes.

National Lottery

3. Mr. John Marshall: To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what recent representations he has received about potential uses of receipts from the national lottery.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for National Heritage (Mr. Iain Sproat): I have received many representations from a widerange of individuals and organisations.

Mr. Marshall: May I have an assurance from my hon. Friend that any advertisement placed by the national lottery in The Guardian will be neither a forgery nor placed on stolen newspaper?

Mr. Sproat: That is a matter for Camelot and The Guardian .

Mr. Skinner: What provisions have been made for those who make losses on the national lottery? I ask that question because I read in the paper today that, for that posh gambling den, Lloyd's, taxpayers in Britain will have to find £1.3 billion, including for 51 Tory Members of Parliament who made losses in that--

Madam Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is going wide of the question. I am sure that the Minister can deal with it.

Mr. Skinner: If it is all right for the toffs--

Madam Speaker: Order. I am sure that the Minister is capable of dealing with the first part of that question.

Mr. Sproat: None.

National Lottery

4. Mr. Simon Coombs: To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage if he will make a statement on the issue of guidelines for applications for funds from the proceeds of the national lottery.

Mr. Dorrell: As I have already said, I understand that most of the distributing bodies intend to publish their guidelines for applicants in November.

Mr. Coombs: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree that the success of the national lottery is dependent on the widest possible spread of applications being made and, indeed, on many of them being successful? Does he agree that

user-friendliness should be the key to the applications? When he reviews and gives his view on them, will he ensure that people are encouraged to opt in, rather than in any way to opt out, by making the guidelines on who may apply and be successful as wide as possible?

Mr. Dorrell: It is obviously important that the guidelines communicate the purpose for which the lottery was established and the rules that the distributing bodies will apply in making their decisions. With that proviso, I agree with my hon. Friend that the lottery's success will be determined, in part, by the quality and range of the applications received by the distributor bodies. I would encourage any organisation that feels

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that it has a project that could benefit from lottery funding to get in touch with its distributor body and ensure that its project meets the criteria laid down.

Mr. Maxton: When issuing guidelines to the various sports councils about how the money will be distributed, will the Secretary of State make it clear that they should not give money or grants to any sport that discriminates against women's participation?

Mr. Dorrell: I am sure that it is the sports councils' policy not to distribute resources from the lottery or any other source to sporting bodies that engage in such discrimination.

Mr. Jessel: Does my right hon. Friend think that more funds will be raised than was thought in the original, and apparently rather cautious, estimates?

Mr. Dorrell: I have very good news for my hon. Friend. Our original estimates were quite cautious when set against those offered by Camelot in its offer for the licence. It estimates that, at its peak, the lottery will raise £1.6 billion a year for the five good causes--an increase in resources for those activities in our national life on a scale that could not have been envisaged from any other source.

Ms Hoey: Does the Secretary of State agree that the success of the national lottery will depend very much on whether the public feel totally confident that the maximum amount of money is going to good causes? Will he assure us that he will keep a careful watch on Camelot's profits, as other bidders wanted to run the lottery without making a profit? How will he monitor that?

Mr. Dorrell: Opposition Members have a unique capacity to focus on the wrong thing. In an earlier question, we discussed television ownership, and concern was expressed not about the rights of the viewer but about profits and shareholders. In the lottery, the key is not the profits earned by Camelot but the scale of the resources raised for good causes as a result of the lottery. The director general of Oflot is bound to apply that criterion when selecting licensees, and it is precisely the criterion that he applied when reaching the conclusion that Camelot offered the best deal to the distributor bodies of the various applicants for the lottery.

National Lottery

5. Mr. Carrington: To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what proportion of the proceeds from the national lottery is to be used to retain in Britain more of the artistic heritage.

Mr. Sproat: The allocation of lottery proceeds is a matter for the distributing bodies. The distribution of lottery funds to the heritage will be the responsibility of the national heritage memorial fund and it will be for it to decide which grants to make. It will receive 20 per cent. of the proceeds going to good causes, which could amount to more than £300 million a year when the lottery reaches its peak.

Mr. Carrington: In view of the failure to retain many works of art that met the Waverley criteria, will my hon. Friend make it clear to the national heritage

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memorial fund that the retention of Waverley standard works of art in this country should be a priority use of lottery proceeds?

Mr. Sproat: I know that my hon. Friend has a long and distinguished history of interest in and grip of the subject, and he is right to say that artefacts that the Waverley committee deemed should have a deferral whacked on them should be eligible for lottery funds. I will ensure that the fund understands that.

Mrs. Anne Campbell: Does the Secretary of State share his predecessor's view that a substantial proportion of lottery funds should be used to support scientific projects and those that promote public understanding of science?

Mr. Sproat: Yes, that will be taken into full consideration.

Sir Anthony Grant: I appreciate the importance of purely artistic heritage, but will the guidelines be wide enough to include such excellent projects as museums--for instance, the imperial war museum at Duxford in my constituency? Will the Minister accept an invitation to come and see the good work that goes on there?

Mr. Sproat: I certainly will accept such an invitation, but I gather that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has done so for tomorrow. The answer to the main part of my hon. Friend's question is yes.

National Lottery

6. Ms Hodge: To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage to what extent the lottery distributors bodies have been required to consult his Department when setting up their operations.

Mr. Sproat: The distributing bodies have kept my Department and other Departments with lottery responsibilities closely informed about the development of their systems. The bodies will be required to have their systems certified by the National Audit Office before they will be allowed to draw down lottery money to make grants.

Ms Hodge: Does the Minister agree that publishing the financial regulations today--two weeks before the lottery begins--was too late? Will the financial regulations be made available to us, and not just to the lottery bodies? Does he further agree that publishing the regulations just two weeks before the lottery begins is mismanagement and incompetence on a par with the payment of bills at the Ritz hotel in Paris?

Mr. Sproat: The answers to the hon. Lady's questions are no, yes and no.

Mr. Chris Smith: Returning to the question of the millennium fund, is it not astonishing that the commissioners saw fit to sack Mr. Nicholas Hinton--who had an absolutely outstanding reputation at organisations where he had previously served--before he had even taken up his formal post? Surely that must suggest that something is seriously wrong with the way in which the commission is going about its work. Does

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not that bode ill for a process that, so far, has no ground rules, no application criteria, no proper guidelines and now, it would seem, no one in charge?

Mr. Sproat: I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new


My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has explained the circumstances of Mr. Hinton's dismissal. The hon. Gentleman will know that an appointee of the Labour party sits as a commissioner. That appointee was involved not only in the decision to appoint Mr. Hinton but in the decision to terminate his contract. The fact that the position of chief executive is now being readvertised will not delay what the millennium fund will do.

Mr. Barry Porter: Has my hon. Friend received any representations from the Opposition that would help us to understand why they are whingeing and griping about something that is clearly going to be a great success?

Mr. Sproat: It will be a great success, and I welcome my hon. Friend's support.

Central Television

7. Mr. Mike O'Brien: To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage when he is next due to meet the chairman of the Independent Television Commission to discuss the future of Central Television.

Mr. Dorrell: I shall meet the chairman of the Independent Television Commission on 2 November and expect to discuss a number of broadcasting issues. The future of Central Television is a matter for the company itself.

Mr. O'Brien: Given the inadequacy of the Secretary of State's answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), does the Minister understand that there is deep concern in the west midlands, not only about the 180 redundancies but about the breach of the licensing application promises to build a new studio? Does regional television now mean nothing? Is Birmingham to be just an outpost of the lucrative empire that Carlton runs from London?

Mr. Dorrell: No, it will not be simply an outpost of the Carlton franchise in London. It will be a separate and free-standing franchise, which the ITC will police. The key issue for viewers in the west midlands-- and, indeed, for my constituents in the east midlands--is the quality of the output that is broadcast by Central Television. That must determine the future of the Channel 3 licence in the midlands.

Mr. Anthony Coombs: I agree with my right hon. Friend that the quality of the output of regional television is extremely important, but is it not also important that production takes place within the regions and within the biggest city of a region? Is it not at least regrettable, therefore, that Central Television is now reconsidering its decision to site production at Birmingham rather than at Nottingham?

Mr. Dorrell: My hon. Friend will be aware that the Broadcasting Act and the licence granted to Central require the production of regional material, and that that material is produced within the region of the franchise.

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That is laid down in principle in the Act and in detail in each Channel 3 company's licence. That licence will be enforced.

Mr. Fisher: It is breaking the franchise agreement.

Mr. Dorrell: The hon. Gentleman says that Central is breaking the licence agreement. If that is true, the hon. Gentleman should report the matter to the ITC, which is responsible for enforcing the licence. If he can substantiate his charge, I have no doubt that the ITC will take appropriate action.

Tourism (North-West)

8. Mr. Hawkins: To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what plans he has to encourage inward tourism to Britain, with particular reference to north-west England.

Mr. Dorrell: My Department is providing a grant in aid to the British Tourist Authority of £33.2 million in the current financial year to promote the United Kingdom overseas as a tourist destination. It is an objective of the British Tourist Authority to encourage the distribution of tourists throughout the United Kingdom.

Mr. Hawkins: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree that the most important tourist attraction in the north-west is the world-famous Blackpool illuminations? Will he join me in condemning the irresponsible action of Blackpool's Labour council, which has proposed to cut three quarters of a mile of those illuminations in my constituency? I thank my right hon. Friend for agreeing to meet me and my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr.Elletson) to consider a more constructive way of addressing the problem than that so far suggested by the Labour council.

Mr. Dorrell: My hon. Friend makes his own point extremely effectively. Every Member of the House is fully aware of the importance to Blackpool of the illuminations and of their economic effects during the autumn of each year. I am sure that my hon. Friend will want to pursue that argument vigorously with his local Labour council.

Mr. Pike: Is the Secretary of State aware of the tremendous industrial heritage of Burnley and north-east Lancashire in the north-west, which attracts many people? Will he consider promoting that industrial heritage as part of the campaign to attract tourists to the country?

Mr. Dorrell: I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman that our industrial heritage is a tourist resource that could and should be more effectively exploited than it has been. I look forward to receiving his support in making economic sense of some of those proposals.

Mr. David Nicholson: As someone who was brought up in the north- west, I naturally share the interest the House has shown in Blackpool tower and tourism throughout that region, but does my right hon. Friend recognise that those who are involved in tourism in my constituency in the south-west are extremely anxious

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that the English regions should be able to compete on a level playing field with Scotland and Wales to attract tourists? Will he address that important issue?

Mr. Dorrell: I agree that every region of the country has an important interest in ensuring that its tourist industry is vigorously and successfully expanded. As I have told representatives of the industry, the key responsibility for doing so rests, of course, with the industry itself. It is an enormously successful industry, which accounts for roughly 7 per cent. of our national income, and it does not need a pension-taxpayer subsidy. What it needs is the clear and vigorous support of the Government, and that it will have.

Sports Facilities (Hampshire)

9. Mr. Denham: To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage if he will make a statement on the provision of sports facilities in Hampshire.

Mr. Sproat: Provision of sport facilities in Hampshire is in line with that for other counties in the region.

Mr. Denham: Is the Minister aware that planning permission has now been confirmed for a new community stadium at the northern edge of Southampton, which will not only provide a 25,000-seater stadium for the Saints football club, but an international-class athletics stadium, all- weather pitches and an indoor sports hall? As that project would make Southampton the sports capital of the south of England, does the Minister agree that everyone concerned in the project, especially the county council, should join in the efforts of the Saints football club and Southampton city council to complete it at the earliest opportunity?

Mr. Sproat: I know that the hon. Gentleman has taken a keen interest in this matter for a long time. I was interested to see that the crowd at the Dell on Saturday was more than 15,000, which is jolly near capacity. That makes the point for moving to Stoneham. I hope that that important project will be successful and that all the complexities that have bedevilled it for so long will reach a conclusion so that Southampton football club can move to a new, decent ground with lots of athletics facilities for other sports for the wider community.

Mr. Pendry: On the subject of sports facilities, was it not a bit rich of our supposedly sports-loving Prime Minister at the Tory party conference to deplore those who are selling off playing fields--

Madam Speaker: Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but this question relates specifically to sports facilities in Hampshire. Will he relate his question to Hampshire?

Mr. Pendry: --including playing fields in Hampshire. Why did not the Prime Minister say instead that the Government would scrap the circular that allows councils to do just that?

Mr. Sproat: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about Hampshire and the rest of the country. I am extremely keen to ensure that so many school sports pitches are not sold off in future. We shall look again at

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the 1980 regulation and the planning policy guidance note of September 1991, and see what we can do to improve matters.

Tourism (Deregulation)

10. Mr. Sweeney: To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what steps he plans to take with regard to deregulation in the tourist industry.

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