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Digital Television

3. Mr. David Amess (Southend, West): What discussions she has had with Carlton and Granada since 26 April on digital television. [53964]

The Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting (Dr. Kim Howells): Since 26 April, Ministers and officials in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport have continued our regular contacts with Carlton and Granada, which are members of the ITV network and digital television stakeholders through ITV's interest in the Digital 3 and 4 licence.

Mr. Amess: Is the Minister aware that a hard pressed club such as Southend United stands to face a shortfall of £238,000 over the next two years as a result of the collapse of digital television? Is he further aware that clubs such as Southend United feel that Carlton and Granada have some responsibility in the matter? Will he please clarify the situation and do everything that he can to help Southend United football club even if it means playing for it?

Dr. Howells: Did the hon. Gentleman say, "Even if it is painful"?

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My right hon. Friend the Minister for Sport has been very active in trying to broker new arrangements and new talks to ensure that football clubs do not suffer overly as a result of the contracts that they signed with ITV Digital.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley): Does my hon. Friend recognise that even a club such as Burnley now faces a £3 million gap in its funding and has had to put all its policies for progress on hold until the position is clarified? Will he not accept that the House should clearly condemn Carlton and Granada? Even if they do not have a legal responsibility, they have a moral responsibility and they should get on and sort out the problems for the sake of football in this country.

Dr. Howells: Whatever I may think about the morality or otherwise of the contract that was entered into, it was a commercial contract between two sets of companies. We must treat it as such.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): Will the Minister confirm that, under the terms of the draft Communications Bill, Carlton and Granada would be able to combine and form, in effect, one ITV company? Why then is the Minister happy to see a situation whereby another pornographer, Silvio Berlusconi, could be allowed to take over ITV whereas Rupert Murdoch would not be allowed to? Will the Minister not accept that the large penetration of digital television in the United Kingdom has occurred as a direct result of News Corporation and Sky and not of companies such as ITV Digital?

Dr. Howells: I do not accept that the situation is vastly different after the publication of the Bill. Silvio Berlusconi could, of course, have made a bid before now. However, the hon. Gentleman has highlighted a basic anomaly in the existing rules, and it is quite proper to remove the rules that preclude someone who is not from the European Union from owning a television station here.

Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe): I am sure that many in football would like to thank my right hon. Friends for the considerable efforts that they have made to sort out the mess of ITV Digital, but ITV Digital has now collapsed, putting at risk the future of many Football League clubs. Does my hon. Friend agree that there must be something wrong when Carlton and Granada—companies that are, on the one hand, joint owners of ITV Digital and, on the other, making millions of pounds from the so-called digital dividend—can walk away from their obligations to 72 Football League clubs and try to pretend that they have nothing at all to do with the matter? Must we not keep the pressure on those companies and tell them that they have a moral obligation and that football generally expects something to be done?

Dr. Howells: I understand that both parties have hired expensive lawyers. No doubt the matter will become a question for the courts, and in the end the only people who will make money out of it will be very expensive QCs.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): Will the Minister take the opportunity today to assure the House that there will continue to be a viable future for all forms of digital television—terrestrial, cable and satellite—bearing in mind the precarious position in which some of

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the cable companies find themselves? Will he also clarify precisely the regime that will operate under the new Ofcom, and whether the Office of Fair Trading or Ofcom will be the competition authority? Although the Secretary of State said that the regime will be proprietor-neutral, there will be a reference to the competition authority if a newspaper proprietor expresses interest in owning a share of ITV.

Dr. Howells: Sophisticated and well-tested arrangements already exist between sectoral regulators and the Director General of Fair Trading and the OFT. I hope that they can be replicated and improved under Ofcom—indeed, I have every confidence that they will be. The regulator, Ofcom, will judge competition cases in the first instance, but it will operate alongside and in conjunction with the Director General of Fair Trading, who has responsibility for implementing the terms of the Competition Act 1998.


4. Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne): If she will make a statement on the prospects for the tourism industry. [53965]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell): Some 2.6 million domestic tourism trips were taken in England over Easter, and visitors spent £400 million. That marks a return to pre-foot and mouth disease levels and is no doubt a cause for celebration on both sides of the House.

To support that recovery and to advance my programme of modernisation, radical change to the English Tourism Council will be necessary. A new public-private coalition focusing on domestic marketing and e-tourism is now the basis for discussion with the industry. Regional development agencies will in future play a stronger part in the strategic leadership of tourism, and regional tourist boards are the natural delivery partners for the RDAs.

That is an announcement to the House of progress so far. Further and final findings will be announced in the summer.

Mr. Waterson: Is the Secretary of State aware of the thousands of jobs in towns such as Eastbourne that depend on tourism? Will she explain why it has taken the Government so long to recognise that the English Tourism Council should have a marketing role? When will it get that marketing role? Why is England always the poor relation compared with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?

Tessa Jowell: That is absolutely typical of the Opposition. An announcement of recovery in tourism, which will benefit many businesses in the hon. Gentleman's constituency and the constituencies of hon. Members on both sides of the House, is a cause for celebration. However, so that the recovery can be sustained, I am convinced that the English Tourism Council needs to be overhauled so that it can assume a marketing function on a par with the marketing functions in respect of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I have announced that decision to the House today, and work will now be started to ensure that the outcome follows.

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Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton): May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the work that she is doing to promote tourism throughout the United Kingdom? However, I ask her seriously to consider the facilities that are available for tourists on inland waterways, where there is much potential. There are many who work voluntarily to sustain our waterways. It would be in everyone's interest if my right hon. Friend would give further consideration to support the waterways in the interests of tourism throughout the United Kingdom.

Tessa Jowell: I thank my hon. Friend for the work that he does to promote the interests and the role in tourism of the waterway authorities. My hon. Friend the Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting has had two meetings with the relevant authorities in the United Kingdom, particularly in Scotland. Lottery investment is bringing some of our more neglected waterways back to life, and back to the standard that will make them the tourism attractions that they deserve to be.

David Burnside (South Antrim): I am sure that the Secretary of State, like me, is an avid reader of The Guardian. She will have been saddened by the newspaper's flawed editorial policy this year, which predicted that the royal family was an out-dated organisation and institution. Events—some of them extremely sad, this year—have proved that the royal family is a popular institution, nationally and internationally.

Is the right hon. Lady able to give the House a progress report from Lord Sterling's Committee? What has been done by the trendy, lefty marketing people in tourism to increase the appeal of the royal family and the jubilee events that are taking place round the United Kingdom? For example, today the Queen is in Northern Ireland. There is great potential for tourism—what is being done about it?

Tessa Jowell: The hon. Gentleman is right to underline the benefits to tourism of the jubilee year. The evidence is that throughout the country, as the Queen said recently, the modest and pragmatic British people will be celebrating the jubilee in their own way.

The target for the number of beacons committed to be lit over the central weekend was about 500. In 1997, in fact, there were slightly more than 100. This year, 1,500 beacons will be lit. That is a measure of the level of enthusiasm that there is throughout the country for celebrating the jubilee. [Interruption.] I hope that the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) is not, uncustomarily, talking down the efforts of all those who are involved in organising the jubilee, or talking down the celebration that will bring the country together. The jubilee will be an opportunity for people, whether republican, monarchist or nothing in particular, to celebrate in their own way.

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley): Will my right hon. Friend's Department consider ways of giving publicity to groups of tourist attractions to promote a particular area, such as Keighley? We have the Brontë parsonage museum, which is wonderful. However, would people travel all the way from London to see only that museum? If they knew that in the same area they would find the Keighley and Worth Valley railway preservation society,

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a bus museum and East Riddlesden hall, which is owned by the National Trust, and trips on the Leeds-Liverpool canal, they might make it a long weekend.

Tessa Jowell: My hon. Friend has provided some real tasters for those who are planning their jubilee holidays. A further attraction this summer will be the Commonwealth games and the advertising part of the million visitor campaign, which is focused especially on reclaiming visitors from America, who have stayed away since 11 September. We wish to encourage them to join the pageantry and celebration throughout the country, including Keighley, during this jubilee year.

Mr. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk): The Opposition welcome the overdue recognition that the Government's removal of the marketing role of the English Tourism Council's predecessor was a complete disaster for the industry, exacerbating the damage done by the Government's gross mismanagement of the foot and mouth epidemic, the enormous burden of red tape and regulation inflicted on the industry, and the latest imposition of extra employers' national insurance contributions on many small businesses that can ill afford them. Will the Secretary of State make sure that when that marketing role is restored to the English Tourism Council, it will reflect the views of the industry itself and that, if those conflict with the Government's obsession with a regional agenda, the industry's views will prevail?

Tessa Jowell: I hope that the hon. Gentleman found his monthly rant therapeutic; he had a good one this month. On the structure of the marketing function taken on by the English Tourism Council, it will build very much on the million visitor campaign and operate as a public-private coalition. However, as hon. Members have made clear, a tremendous amount of tourism development, investment and advocacy is done regionally, so it would be ridiculous to cut the regions out of the important role that they play in marketing their regions and bringing visitors to their part of the country.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the north-east has much to offer tourism, from the beauty and history of Northumberland and Durham and the industrial heritage of Tyne and Wear and Teesside to the cultural renaissance on the banks of the Tyne? Does she agree that prospects for tourism in the north-east would be greatly and deservedly enhanced by the awarding of city of culture 2008 to the Newcastle and Gateshead partnership?

Tessa Jowell: I am greatly looking forward to visiting the north-east and meeting everyone associated with the capital of culture bid. I am assured that it is a strong bid, alongside many other strong bids. The Minister for the Arts and I intend to visit as many of the bidding cities as possible, and certainly all those that are shortlisted. However, my hon. Friend makes an important point about the role of culture in regeneration and the way it builds a sense of regional identity and pride. I pay tribute to the efforts of the north-east in doing just that.

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