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Written Answers to Questions

Wednesday 18 December 1996

DUCHY OF LANCASTER

Workplace (Fire Precautions) Regulations

Sir Donald Thompson: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what representations he has received from the British Retail Consortium concerning the proposed Workplace (Fire Precautions) Regulations; and what estimate he has made of the cost to retailers, particularly small businesses, of the proposed regulations. [9138]

Mr. Freeman: I refer to the reply given on 11 December, Official Report, columns 263-64, by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Sackville), to the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall).

My right hon. and noble Friend Baroness Blatch, Minister of State, Home Office, and I recently also had a meeting with representatives of the British Retail Consortium to discuss the possible implementation costs for the retail trade in complying with the proposed Workplace (Fire Precautions) Regulations. We visited two retail outlets with the British Retail Consortium, a fire service inspector and a fire prevention officer to assess at first hand possible implementation costs. I propose to visit further outlets in due course to gain further information for myself and colleagues. The Home Office will use the results, together with views from other businesses, in preparing a compliance cost assessment, which will accompany the proposed regulations.

NATIONAL HERITAGE

Millennium Projects

Mr. Vaz: To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage (1) what steps she has taken to ensure that submitted millennium projects which meet the Millennium Commission's published criteria are objectively assessed to determine their distinctiveness; and how she defines distinctive in relation to millennium projects; [7422]

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Mrs. Virginia Bottomley: These are matters for the Millennium Commission. I shall write to the hon. Member in my capacity as chairman of the commission, and place copies of my replies in the Libraries of the House.

Millennium Dome

Mr. Gordon Prentice: To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what estimate she has made of the latest date for a start on the millennium dome in order to ensure completion and fitting out before 31 December 1999. [9433]

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley: This is a matter for the Millennium Commission. I shall write to the hon. Member in my capacity as chairman of the commission, and place copies of my reply in the Libraries of the House.

Sports Council

Mr. Bernard Jenkin: To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what progress is being made on the restructuring of the Sports Council. [10425]

Mr. Sproat: Letters patent under the Great Seal granting royal charters of incorporation to the United Kingdom Sports Council and the English Sports Council were made on 19 September 1996. The United Kingdom Sports Council and the English Sports Council will become fully operational form 1 January 1997, subject to the legal transfer to the new bodies of the assets and liabilities of the Great Britain Sports Council. From that date, the United Kingdom Sports Council and the English Sports Council will receive a parliamentary grant from class X, vote I, to provide services and support for the benefit of sport and physical activities.

The English Sports Council will become responsible from 1 January 1997 for the distribution in England of lottery proceeds for expenditure on or connected with sport.

Television Relay Building Programme

Sir James Hill: To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what are the conclusions of her review of the ultra-high frequency television relay building programme; and if she will make a statement. [10295]

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley: The announcement made on 16 April 1991 by the then Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker), Official Report, column 131, explained that the Government had agreed with the BBC and Independent Television Commission that the programme of building 25 ultra-high frequency relay stations a year to extend UHF television coverage would be maintained until 1996 when its further continuation would be reconsidered. I have now undertaken that consideration in close consultation with the Independent Television Commission and the BBC, which have jointly administered the relay building programme to date.

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I have decided, after careful consideration, in the knowledge that UHF television coverage now extends to 99.4 per cent. of the population, and in the light of plans for the introduction of digital terrestrial television that the formal programme of building 25 relay stations a year should cease. The self-help television scheme, established by the Government in 1980 to assist those communities not eligible for assistance under the relay programme, will remain. The BBC and ITC will continue to give free technical advice to those seeking to establish such schemes in the future. In addition, the BBC and Independent Television Commission will continue to promote improvements in the quality and range of television transmission. They will provide free technical advice to the public on television reception and will in exceptional circumstances consider constructing new television relays to extend terrestrial services.

EU Culture Council

Mr. Bernard Jenkin: To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what was the outcome of the Culture Council on 16 December. [10426]

Mr. Sproat: EU Ministers of culture met on 16 December 1996 in Brussels. Ministers agreed a resolution on the integration of cultural aspects into other Community actions. The purpose of this resolution is to give effect to article 128(4) of the treaty on European Union.

Ministers held an exchange of views on the proposal for a directive amending the television without frontiers directive and on the proposal to establish a European guarantee fund to promote cinema and television production. The Council held an exchange of views on the development of new audiovisual services and adopted conclusions welcoming the European Commission's Green Paper on the protection of minors and human dignity in the audiovisual and information services. Ministers held an exchange of views on the issue of violence in the media.

Ministers noted that the conciliation process with the European Parliament on the Ariane and Raphael programmes would now be convened under the Dutch presidency. An exchange of views was held on a number of further issues, including music, book pricing and the European cities of culture. Plovdiv was selected to host the Cultural Month 1999. Ministers also touched on the issues of cultural funding, authors' rights and cross-media ownership.

Television Licence Fee

Mr. Dover: To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage if she will make a statement about the level of the television licence fee. [10478]

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley: The Government have decided that changes in the licence fee for the five years commencing 1 April 1997 should be:







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This equates to a change in the level of the licence fee over the five-year period of retail prices index minus 0.08 per cent. The non-uniform pattern of annual changes reflects the need for expenditure on new digital services in the earlier years. This will be offset in 1997-98 by receipts from the sale of the BBC's transmission system, and in later years by increased efficiency savings and commercial income.

The annual licence fee increase takes effect from each April. It is calculated on the basis of the annual increase in RPI in the 12 months to the preceding September. The RPI figure for September 1996 was 2.1 per cent., and this implies new fees from 1 April 1997 of £91.50 for a colour licence and £30.50 for a black and white licence. The necessary regulations will be laid before the House as part of new consolidated television licence fee regulations.

Changes in the level of the television licence fee have been linked to movements in RPI since April 1988. Changes have been set at RPI for each year since then, except in 1991 when the settlement was held at RPI minus 3 per cent.

On 12 August this year, I announced the appointment of independent consultants, Braxton Associates, to undertake a further review of the BBC's progress in achieving greater efficiency, reducing television licence fee evasion and exploiting additional sources of revenue, and to advise me on the level of the TV licence fee for the five years commencing 1 April 1997.

Braxton Associates reported to me on 16 October, and a management summary of the report is being published tomorrow. A copy will be placed in the Library of the House.

The consultants concluded that, while the BBC had made significant strides in improving efficiency in the last few years, there was nevertheless scope for further efficiency savings in the next five years. Their analysis of various assumptions about future developments suggested a range for the cumulative five-year settlement from RPI minus 1.9 per cent. to RPI plus 1.4 per cent. All their illustrative models showed a profile of real increases in years two and three, and real decreases in years four and five. This profile is reflected in the Government's decision.

The BBC will now be able to pursue its plans for digital broadcasting and enhance its programme services. Television licence fee payers will be able to benefit from the BBC's planned services, but their licence fee increases over the next five years as a whole will be held just below inflation.


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