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House of Commons

Monday 27 March 1995

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[ Madam Speaker-- in the Chair ]

Oral Answers to Questions


National Opera Studio

1. Mr. Gunnell: To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Education regarding the funding of those students accepted for training at the National Opera Studio.     [14177]

The Secretary of State for National Heritage (Mr. Stephen Dorrell): I have had no such discussions.

Mr. Gunnell: Is it not time that the Secretary of State got together with his right hon. Friend to discuss education funding for opera, dance and a number of other art forms? Does not he recognise that the high reputation that has been built up by the National Opera Studio is based upon the performance of those who have passed through it? It takes just 12 students a year, and many of those graduates are earning big reputations for Britain as well as considerable sums of money abroad. Surely those 12 selected students should be funded. Can the right hon. Gentleman provide the means to ensure that those 12 top students in that art form get the education and training that they deserve?

Mr. Dorrell: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to pay tribute to the work of the National Opera Studio, which is an important, unique resource. That is why 40 per cent. of its bills are met by the Arts Council. As I have said, I have not met my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education to talk specifically about the funding of students from the National Opera Studio, but we are working closely to deal with the wider issue of funding for dance and drama students.

Public Libraries

2. Mr. Hoon: To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage when he last met the Library Association to discuss the funding of public libraries.     [14178]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for National Heritage (Mr. Iain Sproat): My right hon. Friend met members of the Library Association on 3 October last year. Discussions were wide ranging, around an agenda of topics provided by the Library Association. I met members of the association on 10 October, at the launch of London Libraries Week.

Mr. Hoon: I thank the Minister for that reply. Does the Minister happen to know when the Secretary of State last

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borrowed a book from a public library and its title? Is he not ashamed that the Government's policy has resulted in a £350,000 cut in this year's grants to libraries in Nottinghamshire?

Mr. Sproat: I do not know when my right hon. Friend last borrowed a book, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that I borrowed a book last Friday entitled "Nelson", by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley).

Local authorities have been subject to a tight settlement, but the hon. Gentleman should remember that in the past 10 years the amount of money spent on public libraries has gone up by 9.3 per cent. Today, we have more libraries, more books borrowed and more books in our libraries than we had five years ago.

Mr. Fisher: The Minister is too complacent about this. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon) has already drawn his attention to the problems in Nottinghamshire, but library authorities all over the country are cutting their budgets as a direct result of the Government's policies. Has he not been told that Somerset, for the second time in recent years, is not buying any adult fiction this year? Does he not understand the cultural damage that that is doing to literacy, reading and education and the economic damage that it is doing to the publishing industry, the book selling industry and companies that exist in every hon. Member's constituency that rely on information from the public library service?

When will the Minister understand that his Secretary of State has a statutory responsibility under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 to provide a comprehensive public library service? He is failing to meet that responsibility in Somerset and many other library authorities around the country.

Mr. Sproat: I am acutely aware that it has been a tight settlement for local authorities. I am also aware that under the 1964 Act all library authorities have a duty to provide a comprehensive and efficient service.

The hon. Gentleman referred particularly to Somerset. My chief library adviser plans to go down there later this week or next week to see why it is proposing to make a cut in its allocation to its library service.

Mr. Waterson: Is my hon. Friend aware that, in my area of East Sussex, the Lib-Lab pact that currently runs the county council has deemed it appropriate to spend money on buying so-called gay and lesbian literature to place in our public libraries?

Mr. Sproat: I did not know that item of information, but I shall be grateful if my hon. Friend will send me further details on the subject.

Holiday Statistics

3. Mr. Simon Coombs: To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what percentage of holidays by British people are taken (a) in Britain and (b) abroad; and what were the figures for 1970.     [14179]

Mr. Dorrell: In 1994, 54 per cent. of holidays of four nights or more by British people were taken in Britain and 46 per cent. abroad. In 1970, 86 per cent. of such holidays were taken in Britain and 14 per cent. abroad.

Mr. Coombs: Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Department's report on tourism, "Competing with the

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Best", has been warmly welcomed throughout the industry and almost everywhere? Does he agree that that is evidence that the Department of National Heritage takes the tourism industry very seriously, and is now in a good position to ensure that English and British tourism are made attractive to British people so as to persuade them to take more of their long and short-term holidays in this country?

Mr. Dorrell: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He is absolutely right to draw attention to the importance of the tourist sector. It is only right that the DNH should accord substantial importance to the sector. It accounts for 5 per cent. of national income; it employs 1.5 million people in Britain. It is part of the answer to the question, "Where do the jobs of the future come from?" A 25 per cent. increase in employment in tourism in the past 10 years is reason enough for us to take real interest in the future success of that sector.

Sir Peter Emery: Does my right hon. Friend realise that the south- west provides the greatest stimulus to the increase in the encouraging figures that he gives? Will he therefore bear in mind the fact that some of us are fed up with the fact that Wales and Scotland receive very much larger amounts of money to spend on their tourist boards than we do in England? We would like him to rectify that.

Mr. Dorrell: My right hon. Friend will know what I mean when I say that I am not responsible for the budgets of the Welsh and Scottish boards. I am responsible for the success of the industry in England and for the promotion overseas of the British industry as a whole. That is why we have increased the budget for promoting Britain as a tourist destination overseas, and it is why we attach real importance to improving the quality of the tourist product in England. I do not believe that public funding is the key to improving the English tourist product. It is a huge wealth- creating sector, and the key is to ensure that the structure within which it works allows it to continue to expand and, indeed, allows the rate of expansion to increase.

School Sports Facilities

4. Mr. Booth: To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage if he will make a statement about the progress which he has made with the Secretary of State for Education about the greater use of school sports facilities by the wider public.     [14180]

Mr. Sproat: The community use of school sports facilities will be a key element in the sports White Paper, which my right hon. Friend announced on 23 March 1995.

Mr. Booth: I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware of the cross- Government importance of sport and of the importance of using school sports facilities, not least in inner-city regeneration, in health and in law and order policy. Will he assure the House that cross-party or cross-Government talks are going on between those relevant Departments, including the Department for Education, which he has just mentioned, and will he come to the House with a policy that assures us that there will

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be a presumption--indeed, that there will always be permission for schools to use their facilities for the benefit of the local community?

Mr. Sproat: Yes. My hon. Friend makes an extremely important argument. We do want more school facilities to be used by the local community. I hope that, if plans are submitted seeking national lottery funding that include a large community as well as schools element, they will have a good chance of being accepted.

As far as other Departments are concerned, I am currently having talks with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education on that very subject, to discover whether we cannot reach a happier solution than has sometimes obtained in recent years.

Mr. Barnes: Ten per cent. of the people referred to in the original question are disabled and many disabled people wish to make considerable use of sports facilities. Is anything being done in connection with the Department for Education to ensure that they are able to do that? Is it not unfortunate that the Disability Discrimination Bill excludes most educational institutions from its provisions?

Mr. Sproat: The provision of sports facilities for persons with disabilities is extremely important. When the Sports Council awards grants to governing bodies for sporting provision, it takes directly into account the question of provision for persons with disabilities.

Dr. Spink: I know that my hon. Friend is aware of the great sporting tradition of Canvey island, and particularly that of Furtherwick Park school. Will he consider very carefully with his colleagues in Education any developments regarding the CTC sporting initiative?

Mr. Sproat: Yes, I certainly will. My hon. Friend has, with his usual persistence, brought that important matter to my attention privately and I will certainly do everything that I can to help him.

Public Libraries

6. Mr. Janner: To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage if he will make a statement on the provision of public libraries.     [14182]

Mr. Sproat: Responsibility for providing public library services rests with local library authorities. My Department's task is to monitor developments and to ensure the provision of a comprehensive and efficient service.

Mr. Janner: In monitoring developments and particularly in imposing what the Minister referred to as a "tight settlement", does he appreciate that libraries all over the country have had to cut their facilities? In Leicestershire, for the sake of £50,000, the Information in Business partnership between De Montfort university and Leicestershire county council has been ended. Will the Minister re-examine the situation and see whether he can suggest some way of restoring that previously invaluable service to business and to employers in Leicestershire?

Mr. Sproat: As the hon. Gentleman will know, such management details are matters for the local authority.

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However, if he will send me the details of the incident to which he refers I will gladly pass them to the proper authorities.

Mr. Garnier: Is my hon. Friend aware of the disquiet in the whole county of Leicestershire about the consequences for public library services of any reorganisation of local government? Will he ensure--I am sure that my right hon. Friend will--that no matter what happens to local government services in Leicestershire, there is always a good, across-the-county provision of public library services?

Mr. Sproat: Yes, is the short answer. My Department has established an expert working group to ensure that the results of the Local Government Commission's inquiry and the Government's decisions about the commission's report on unitary authorities are carried out in such a way as to ensure an improvement in library services.

Mr. Corbyn: In monitoring the performance of library authorities around the country, what information can the Minister give to the House about libraries which have been saved from closure by local campaigns to defend them but which, as a consequence, are seldom open, usually understaffed and unable to purchase any new books? Does he not think it a disgrace that in Britain in 1995 library opening hours are declining constantly, the number of new books purchased is declining and the number of children able to use those libraries is also declining?

Mr. Sproat: The hon. Gentleman is not accurate in some of the things that he has said. It is certainly true that, in certain areas, the number of hours that libraries are open has been cut. That is often due to demographic changes. It is up to the local authorities and to the libraries themselves to work out which libraries should be open at what hours.

Notwithstanding the fact that some library opening hours have been cut, there are now more libraries than there were 10 years ago. More books are being borrowed from those libraries, with the average person borrowing about nine and a half books per year.

Pools Promoters

7. Lady Olga Maitland: To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what representations he has received from pools promoters regarding equality of treatment with the national lottery.     [14183]

Mr. Dorrell: I have received a number of representations from pools promoters about the national lottery.

Lady Olga Maitland: I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. Is he aware that the pools promoters are now in very serious difficulties-- indeed, they face a crisis--because of the phenomenal success of the national lottery which is taking away their natural custom? As a result, hundreds of people have lost their jobs and, more importantly, many of the charities which benefited from the pools are being deprived of their incomes. What steps will my right hon. Friend take to equalise the situation

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and create a level playing field over and above the steps that he has taken already in terms of advertising and opening further retail outlets?

Mr. Dorrell: I certainly acknowledge that the introduction of the national lottery has had an effect on pools companies' operations. Before we introduce more changes to the regime applying to such companies, it is important to see the effect of those already agreed--particularly the change that allows pools companies access to television advertising, which was announced by the Government in the last six weeks. We want to see the effect of that work through before we decide what happens next.

Mr. Orme: Many people want to know what effect the introduction of scratch cards is having, not only on football pools but on small lotteries- -many of which will face extinction unless something is done. Will the Secretary of State present a review of that situation in the not-too- distant future?

Mr. Dorrell: I have repeatedly given assurances that we will monitor the effect of the national lottery on a range of institutions that feel that their operations may be affected. However, the House must also keep an eye on the national lottery's achievements. It has already mobilised about £300 million for good causes since it started last November, which is a huge increase in the resources available. While the national lottery has had an effect on others operating close to it, we should not lose sight of its achievements in mobilising resources not previously available to good causes.

Competitive Sports

8. Mr. John Marshall: To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage when he expects to produce proposals to encourage the development of competitive sports amongst young people.     [14184]

10. Mr. Jacques Arnold: To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage if he will make a statement on his support for the development of competitive sports by young people.     [14186]

Mr. Sproat: The development of competitive sports among young people will be a key element in the sports White Paper that my right hon. Friend announced on 23 March. The White Paper will be published in the early summer.

Mr. Marshall: Did my hon. Friend read the editorial in today's Daily Telegraph ? Does he agree that there is a risk of producing a generation of overweight kids due to over-indulgent diet and inadequate exercise? What does my hon. Friend mean by "in the early summer"? Will that coincide with the start of the cricket season or of the shooting season?

Mr. Sproat: Yes, I did read the Daily Telegraph leader, which I thought was overwhelming correct. I hope that the White Paper will direct itself to positive solutions, to put right the problems that my hon. Friend mentioned. The White Paper will certainly be published before England beat the West Indies in a test match.

Mr. Arnold: Is my hon. Friend aware of the Gravesham cup competition, which is organised by teachers of grant-maintained and county schools in my

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constituency? It involves leagues of various age groups in football, rugby, cricket, hockey, basketball and tennis. Does my hon. Friend agree with the headmaster of Northfleet school in my constituency, who states:

"Competition is good--it drives up standards and fosters links between schools"?

Is it not the case that if there were more such competition, Army recruiters would not have expressed the opinion that our young people are unfit?

Mr. Sproat: My hon. Friend makes a fair point. I was interested to hear about the schools in his constituency and would be glad to receive more details. I hope that the spur of competition within schools and between schools, and traditional competitive team games, will follow the White Paper.

Ms Hoey: Can the Minister give an assurance that the White Paper will not take as long to appear as that on the Sports Council, which took two years? Schools cannot be persuaded to compete among themselves unless local authorities have the resources to fund travel by pupils. Will that aspect be covered by the White Paper?

Mr. Sproat: On the hon. Lady's first point, I hope that the White Paper will be out in a matter of months, which will be rather quicker than the paper to which she referred. Her point about travel was a good one. School teams often want to travel to play other schools but cannot, because they cannot get the transport to do so. I hope that the White Paper will direct itself to that issue.

Mr. Pendry: Does the Minister recognise that there is no popular support for concentrating solely on competitive games in our schools? About three quarters of those who responded to the recent consultation on the national curriculum were opposed to compelling our 14 to 16-year-olds to play competitive sport. Is that just one more example of the Government not listening to those at the sharp end?

While we are on the subject of listening, what did the Minister make of last week's finding by the Secondary Heads Association that these same 14 to 16-year-olds are playing sport of all kinds for only about 60 minutes a week, when, only six months ago, the Prime Minister backed Labour's claim for a minimum two hours a week?

Mr. Sproat: On the hon. Gentleman's first point, I did not say--I certainly would not say--that schools should play only traditional team sports. But it is in those sports that the decline has been greatest. We must therefore ensure that they are played as well as individual sports. We want a proper mix.

I too read the Secondary Heads Association's paper and found it extremely interesting. It made some forceful points--in particular, the central point that physical education in schools has declined by 35 per cent. in the past four years. All of us find that worrying. It is exactly that sort of problem that we want to help to remedy by means of the White Paper.

Mr. Tracey: In his deliberations, will my hon. Friend recognise that young people, especially teenagers, want to play individual sports far more than they want to play team games? The Minister may personally regret that but

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it is a fact. Is he aware of a pilot study going on in four London secondary schools, led by Mr. Mark Barker and others, which deals precisely with that point?

Mr. Sproat: Of course pupils at schools must have the opportunity to play individual, as well as traditional team sports. But because there has been too much decline in traditional team sports in recent years, I must emphasise the great advantages that pupils can derive from them. We are talking not just about generating champions but about lessons of discipline, commitment, courage, winning modestly, and losing gracefully. All those are well learned from traditional team sports, which is why we want to revive them beside individual sports.


9. Mr. Austin Mitchell: To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what proposals he has for encouraging the production of television programmes in the United Kingdom.     [14185]

Mr. Dorrell: There are provisions in the Broadcasting Act 1990, and there will be provisions in the new BBC agreement, which encourage programme making in the UK, both nationally and in the regions.

Mr. Mitchell: The Minister will recognise that the production of high-quality programmes has always been one of the main strengths of British television, but that it was undermined by the Broadcasting Act 1990. Why does he not now seek to revive it by giving television production some of the tax concessions that the film industry needs; and use the opportunity of the relaxation of the rules on cross-media ownership to require those who want to take transmission facilities to produce programmes and invest in production too? That would ensure that the Gadarene, greedy rush--of whatever creatures want to get into television-- makes a commitment and contribution to programme production as well.

Mr. Dorrell: I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman's description of the effect of the Broadcasting Act 1990. It was that Act which introduced the 25 per cent. independent production quota, which has been the chief cause of the flowering of the independent production sector in Britain.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether we have contemplated introducing tax concessions for programme makers. Given the quality of British television compared with that available through most foreign broadcasting sectors, there is precious little evidence that further tax concessions are necessary. British television, as the hon. Gentleman says, is good.

Mr. Fabricant: Will my right hon. Friend positively discourage the increase in programming that seems to be of the factional variety, in which fiction and fact get confused--with special reference to current affairs broadcasting? Will he initiate an inquiry into that issue? The first witness that he might like to call to give evidence might be the Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

Mr. Dorrell: Responsibility for the terms of individual programmes rests with the broadcasters. The distinction between fact and fiction, in which my hon. Friend is interested, is one that any broadcaster must be concerned

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about. Legislation places obligations and requirements on broadcasters clearly to demarcate the difference between opinion and fact.

Mr. Chris Smith: Is not a crucial part of producing television programmes in the United Kingdom making sure that we have an independent- minded BBC? Does not the Minister agree that tough, vigorous and probing questioning of us politicians by BBC journalists is an essential part of the democratic process? Will he tell his right hon. Friends the Chief Secretary and the Secretary of State for the Environment that the BBC is doing its proper questioning job, must continue doing it and must not be allowed to cave in to spurious Tory pressure?

Mr. Dorrell: That is a bit rich, coming from the Opposition. We have heard complaints over 15 years from the Labour party about broadcasters and the media being allegedly biased against it. As practising politicians, we have all had experience of questioners or journalists going beyond, we thought, the bounds of the task that they had been given. My right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary is right to say that it is important that when people transgress they learn by their mistakes and seek better in future to deliver the obligation that is imposed upon them by legislation.

Departmental Report

11. Sir Fergus Montgomery: To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage if he will make a statement on the working of his Department.     [14187]

Mr. Dorrell: My Department published its annual report on 9 March; it includes an overview of its performance and plans, its expenditure details and information on the management of the Department. A copy is available in the Library.

Sir Fergus Montgomery: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the national lottery has been a great success, and because of that a number of good causes will benefit? Does he see some red faces on the Opposition Benches among those who opposed the lottery?

Mr. Dorrell: My hon. Friend is entirely right to draw attention to the achievements of the national lottery. It is certainly one of the great achievements of the early years of the Department of National Heritage, although the principal responsibility for having made it possible rests with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister rather than the new Department. It would be nice to think that there were Opposition Members with red faces at their failure to endorse enthusiastically my right hon. Friend's initiative, which has provided £300 million for good causes since November. That is a new source of money for sport, the arts and the heritage, which no other means of mobilisation could possibly have provided. The hon. Gentleman supported it, but not all his hon. Friends gave their support.

Mr. Maclennan: To correct the balance with reference to the Secretary of State's answer to the question about the BBC, will the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge that he has a prime responsibility to ensure freedom of expression as guaranteed by the European convention on human rights? Although individual Ministers and

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Members may become irritated from time to time, does the right hon. Gentleman accept that that responsibility is one to which he must attach the highest importance?

Mr. Dorrell: Is it really the hon. Gentleman's case that all human kind is fallible except BBC interviewers? Surely we should all aspire to high standards of independence and recognise that occasionally we do not meet them. The important thing is to learn by our mistakes.

Mr. Jessel: Far from correcting any balances, does my right hon. Friend recognise that the arts in Britain have a high standard of excellence? Britain is one of the arts capitals of the world. We have tremendous talent in the theatre, music and all the other arts as well as in our splendid national heritage. My right hon. Friend's Department is doing an extremely fine job and we should continue to build on that.

Mr. Dorrell: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend. He is entirely right to draw attention to the strength and vigour of our artistic tradition in Britain. He is right also to stress the importance of ensuring that that continues as part of a healthy and vigorous society. It is fair to say, as my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Sir F. Montgomery) did, that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's initiative in introducing the national lottery will, when the project is mature, provide over £300 million a year of new money to reinforce the strength of the arts sector to which my hon. Friend draws attention.

Mr. Grocott: As we all know from reports in the weekend press, all Government Departments are thrashing around trying to find something popular to do in the next Session. In a bipartisan spirit, may I offer the Secretary of State my Television Sport (Public Access) Bill, which had overwhelming support in the Commons when it was presented as a ten-minute Bill a few weeks ago and which would ensure that major sporting events are available on the channels that most of us and all our constituents can see? I suggest that he should adopt it in time for the autumn, when yet another sporting event--the Ryder cup--will be lost to the major television channels. It must be bipartisan for me to want to suggest something helpful to the Government, but I suggest that the Minister should adopt that Bill. It is tremendously popular. Will he break the Government's habit of a lifetime and do something that is popular?

Mr. Dorrell: Even in the days of the European Union, I am cautious of Greeks bearing gifts. I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's approach, because I do not believe that it is in the interests of sport or heritage to reduce the value of the broadcasting contracts on offer. The difficult question that the hon. Gentleman fails to answer is how he would explain to the representatives of English cricket that his policy would leave them many millions of pounds poorer because they would be unable to enter a multipartite discussion for their contract rights. It is the open market which mobilises large extra sums of money into sport and, increasingly, into the heritage and the arts as well.

Mr. Luff: What message will my right hon. Friend send to the group of business men whom I shall be entertaining at the Swan theatre in Worcester on Saturday

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to encourage them to sponsor productions in that theatre and to tell them about the work that the Department does to encourage business sponsorship of the arts?

Mr. Dorrell: I invite my hon. Friend to draw their attention to the fact that one of the growing budgets in my Department is for what we now call the pairing scheme, which offers public support to businesses which engage in sponsorship activity with arts organisations. I would also encourage him to point out to his business men that if they get involved in arts sponsorship they are following the precedent established by many other British businesses over the past 20 years, during which business sponsorship of the arts has grown from virtually nothing to about £70 million a year today. British businesses sponsor the arts because they recognise that associating their businesses with high quality arts products is in the interests of their business as well as of the arts organisation.

Public Libraries

14. Ms Church: To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what information he has on expenditure by public libraries on books.     [14192]

Mr. Sproat: For the past three years, with the help of the library and information statistics unit at Loughborough university, the Department has collected information from local authorities about their expenditure plans for each year. That specifically includes expenditure on books and other library materials. I also have access to the public library statistics produced by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy.

Ms Church: Perhaps the Minister will tell the House when he last went to a public library and borrowed a book. What advice can he give my constituents in Dagenham who are living on income support? Can he tell us what proportion of income support is designated for spending on books? My constituents do not have the money to purchase books, the stocks in school libraries are depleted, and the public libraries are becoming a disgrace.

Mr. Sproat: The answer to the first part of the hon. Lady's question is 2 pm on Friday 24 March 1995. On the second part, as books from public libraries are free, one does not have to pay for them through income support or anything else.

Television Licences

15. Mr. William O'Brien: To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what representations he has received about the operation of the current rules governing eligibility for concessionary television licence schemes; and if he will make a statement.     [14193]

Mr. Dorrell: The Department receives many representations on the subject of the concessionary licence scheme. The Government's White Paper, "The Future of the BBC", published in July 1994, made it clear that we had no intention of undertaking a further review of the scheme. That remains the position.

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