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Mr. Adrian Sanders (Torbay): This is a sorry state of affairs not only for the subscribers, but for professional football and the technology industry, especially digital platforms. It is also a sorry state of affairs for those communities that have lost jobs, most notably Plymouth, . That will have an impact on the south-west economy.
In advance of this statement, several news reports in the last 24 hours have mentioned the contribution that BSkyB has made to the difficulties that ITV Digital has experienced. I should like to ask the Secretary of State when she expects the Office of Fair Trading to make a decision on the alleged behaviour of BSkyB in relation to competition law.
We have been very fortunate in some respects in having more than one digital platform in this country. I wonder whether the right hon. Lady can point to any other country in the world with two commercially viable digital platforms. I also wonder whether our expectationsor at least the time scales of those expectationshave been too optimistic thus far. Does not this episode demonstrate that the only likely success of digital television in the future is as a free-to-air platform? Will she encourage the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 to get together perhaps to consider the viability of providing such a platform? In the light of this latest information, what is her advice to anyone perhaps considering buying a digital television this weekend?
The Government have placed enormous importance on football as an engine for economic regeneration in many communities, some of which are particularly disadvantaged. For many years, many professional football teams have run at a deficit. It is often a hand-to-mouth exercise depending on one benefactor, which is not ideal. I applaud the Government's work on helping supporters' trusts to get off the ground, but they are on a small scale and money is limited. Football clubs in many communities fear that they may not appear on the fixture list next season.
The Government have a role to play, if not in funding, in acting as a broker between football clubs and television companies, and between the Nationwide Football League clubs and the Premiership. For too long, far too many of the resources available to football have been sucked up by the premier division, and now the Nationwide League clubs are in dire straits. Perhaps some of the resources in the Premiership should be directed towards the Nationwide League. The Government should have a role in trying to ensure that the money in football is more equitably distributed.
On the DTT platform, it is the Government's clear intention to maintain the policy of encouraging three platforms with competition between themtherefore, platform neutralityto promote the range of choice for consumers. The circumstances facing ITV Digital are a good justification for that policy, which gives my constituent or the hon. Gentleman's constituent who wants to buy a digital television set this weekend the choice of two other platforms if they do not want to take a short-term risk with DTT.
On football, we will work closely with the FA-led group that is considering football's position following the collapse of ITV Digital. I welcome the leadership that football is showing, because the hon. Gentleman is right that the financial base of many clubs is unsustainabletheir commitment to their players' wages bills is not matched by their income. Football recognises that problem, and must address it and the other problems that he identifies.
We shall provide support through the efforts of Supporters Direct, which was introduced by the Government and is supported by my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury, and by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Sport. It is doing excellent work to link fans more directly with the financial security and future of their clubs.
Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury): On football, I strongly endorse my right hon. Friend's comments about the work of Supporters Direct. In this crisis that faces Nationwide League clubs, will she ensure that modest additional resources are made available to Supporters Direct to enable it to assist fans in clubs around the country that may be affected?
On the future of digital broadcasting, does she agree that the most important objective is to ensure that the digital terrestrial platform survives and thrives into the future? Without that, the overall change from analogue to digital that we hope will occur within the next few years will have no chance of success.
To assist in that, will she encourage a consortium of public service broadcasters and subscription broadcasters to come together to consider the possibilities as regards bidding for a re-advertised franchise for the multiplexes? Will she particularly encourage them not to contest head to head with satellite broadcasting, but to put forward a more modest programme of channels and programmes that are available to viewers at a more modest cost? That might become a serious financially viable proposition.
On my right hon. Friend's final point, it is highly likely that the shape of the offering on the DTT platform will become more distinctive than it has been to date. Competition and other factors make the case for that argument. However, I am sure that he understands that it is not my role to act as a broker for potential bidders. If and when the licences are advertised and re-tendered, it is the role of the ITC, as regulator, to consider those bids within the clear regulatory framework that has been established. That healthy environment was created partly as a result of the efforts of my right hon. Friend, whose vision and commitment when he was Secretary of State established the framework for our country's digital policy.
Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury): It is ironic that this statement takes place in the middle of a debate about local communities. As the Secretary of State rightly says, football clubs throughout the land are vital to communities, and this is a sad situation.
The Secretary of State touched on the future of football but, perhaps understandably, concentrated on the overall impact on the digital service. Will she return to football and give a few more details of how exactly she is working with the FA to try to rescue the clubs? Will that involve the renegotiation of contracts with players or trying to get commercial support for football clubs?
Tessa Jowell: The discussions with the FA, the Premier League and the Nationwide League are just beginning, so it would be premature for me to set out in detail the contribution that the Government intend to make. As I said, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Sport had a meeting this week to discuss the future of programmes for young people, and I have already explained the important role of Supporters Direct. We shall keep in close contact with the football authorities in the coming weeks.
It is important never to forget that football is very resilient because of the love and support of the fans of clubs all over the country. Football has faced severe financial difficulties on previous occasionsfor example, following the Taylor report and the Bosman rulingand we should have confidence that with the leadership that has been offered it will negotiate this difficulty.
Kate Hoey (Vauxhall): Has my right hon. Friend had any formal or informal discussions with the chairman of Carlton or the chairman of Granada who, ultimately, no matter what they say, are ultimately responsible for this break of contract and lack of faith? In particular, does she find it a little bit difficult that the chairman of Granada, Charles Allen, is the chairman of the Commonwealth games, and is going round asking people to give money to promote those games while he heads a company that has reneged on its contract and done football down? I accept, of course, as many hon. Members have said, that football itself must bear some of that responsibility.
Tessa Jowell: I thank my hon. Friend for that question. Yes, I have met the chairmen and chief executives of Carlton and Granada as part of the series of meetings that I have had over the past weeks. Obviously, all the commercial aspects of the consequences of the decision to sell ITV Digital are now a matter between them and the administrator and, in relation to regulatory issues, the ITC.