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The Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting (Dr. Kim Howells): Our plans for the modernisation of the alcohol and entertainment licensing regimes were set out clearly in the White Paper "Time for Reform". The proposed new licensing system will remove at a stroke a considerable amount of existing red tape and reduce the licensing costs that currently deter many venues from providing live music and dancing. The reforms will be implemented by means of primary legislation to be introduced as soon as parliamentary time permits.
Lawrie Quinn: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer and for his recent excellent two-day visit to my constituency. [Hon. Members: "Two days?"] It is a big constituency. As he will remember, he had a listening brief on that occasion and, regretfully, turned down my invitation to go into some of the bars in Whitby to add
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): May I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to early-day motion 1182, tabled in my name? It has been signed by nearly 200 right hon. and hon. Members, which underlines the view across the House that it is a ridiculous law that needs to be amended at the first opportunity. May I extend a welcome to him to visit not only Scarborough but, in a spirit of amity across the Bristol channel, the Red Lion, just across the road, at 12 o'clock on Wednesday, where I, other hon. Members and Billy Bragg will be engaged in a little light singing that may or may not contravene the present law, but will serve to show what a ridiculous law it is?
The Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting (Dr. Kim Howells): We set out our policy for the future of radio regulation in the draft Communications Bill, which was published on 7 May. Our general approach to the radio industry and to the communications market in general is deregulatory. Format controls and ownership restrictions will both be relaxed. However, we recognise the importance of maintaining the distinctive local basis of commercial radio. We therefore propose to retain key local ownership rules and to give Ofcom a duty to protect and promote local character.
Mr. Blizzard: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. My area is very well served by local commercial radio stations such as Beach Radio and the local GWR stations. Does he agree that radio with a truly local focus is becoming increasingly popular? Such companies have welcomed many of the proposals in the draft Bill but, on the regulation of ownership, they ask why, if there is to be a requirement for at least three local cross-media owners, further specific ownership rules are needed for radio through the complex points system. Why are two layers of rules required for local radio?
Dr. Howells: I welcome my hon. Friend's support for our proposals in general, and assure him that we recognise the tremendous role that local radio plays in many respects. The three plus one formula to which he refers was adopted as a consequence of the commercial radio stations themselves saying a year ago that it was the best system. Now they are pushing the envelope and believe that it should be two plus one. We are in a consultation period, and if they come back to us with good arguments we will consider them carefully.
Dr. Howells: As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard), we are in a period of consultation and these are precisely the kinds of debates that we should have. I should like to think that we have adopted a wholly deregulatory role on radio, but I can see the sense in some of the hon. Gentleman's points. We will look at all of these arguments during consultation, and I hope that we will be able to come up with a set of regulations that will make the radio sector feel that it has been liberated rather than further constrained. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that I say that in good faith, because I want commercial radio to succeed. It is a great sector, and it has done some marvellous things for this country.
Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey): My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) is lucky to have two commercial stations. My constituency is stuck between two different FMs, so we have neither a commercial nor a decent public sector radio station. What is my hon. Friend the Minister's thinking on community radio, and on how such radio is to be paid for? I suspect that many more people will listen to community radio than currently listen to the BBC's digital radio, yet that is funded through the licence fee. Is there any chance that community radio could also be funded in that way?
Dr. Howells: I agree with my hon. Friend. Community radioor access radio, as it is sometimes calledcan add a great deal to the radio service in this country. How it should be funded is, however, a matter that we have to look at very carefully. In my constituency, for example, it gets funding from lots of different places. The university of Glamorgan puts money into it, as do various community funds, and there is a real sense of ownership of access radio as a consequence. I would hate to see that disappear. This is the kind of radio whose raison d'être is to be part of the community, to grow from it, and to feel that it is serving it. The community should, therefore, have a sense of owning it, and that is rather an important consequence in terms of the way in which it raises its funding.
Mr. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk): Is the Minister completely happy with a system of regulation that allows the chairman of the body that regulates the BBC to share a platform with its director general at the launch of the annual report, and to use that platform to support Mr. Dyke against criticisms from MPs, bearing in mind that, in future, the equivalent procedure would be for the chairman of Ofcom to share a platform with the chief executive of BSkyB and to support Mr. Ball against other criticisms?
The Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting (Dr. Kim Howells): In the policy statement, "The Historic Environment: a Force for our Future", published in December 2001, the Government recognised archaeological remains as an integral part of the historic environment, and affirmed their commitment to the maintenance of an effective framework of statutory protection for all elements of that environment. That includes the continued funding of archaeological excavation and research. In 2001, the Department, via English Heritage, provided more than £11.6 million; that figure is likely to be more than £11.8 million for 2002.
Tim Loughton: The Minister will be aware that the all-party archaeology group has recently held a series of Select Committee hearings in the Lords with a number of people and groups involved in archaeology, from which it has become clear that British archaeology is in a state of crisis. Site and monument records are patchy throughout the country, and there is a real problem with archaeological education. There is also a lack of trained archaeologistswhich is not surprising given that the average wage is just £13,000and many archaeological sites are subject to deep ploughing without proper recording. Furthermore, when the British Museum celebrates its 250th anniversary next year, it will do so with 15 per cent. fewer staff than this year, and 30 per cent. less funding than it had 10 years ago. Will the Minister ensure that British archaeology is given a higher priority in his Department, and that some of the funding from the comprehensive spending review announced last week is used to that end?
Dr. Howells: My Department takes archaeology very seriously. The recently published Government statement entitled "The Historic Environment: a Force for our Future" fully acknowledges that archaeological remains from all periods constitute a key component in the historic environment, and includes a number of proposals to help improve understanding of that key component. The report on the state of the historic environment is also directly relevant to archaeological remains, and the statement does not overlook the importance of marine archaeology.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): Does not the brilliant and innovative, if gruesome and spine-chilling, restoration by the Guildhall of the Roman amphitheatre show what can be done? But what can be done to rescue archaeology when those practising it are not as well endowed as the City of London?
Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): The Minister mentioned marine archaeology. He will know that under the National Heritage Act, which became law recently, responsibility for underwater archaeology is being transferred from his Department to English Heritage. Members on both sides of the House welcome that, but can the Minister assure us that appropriate funds will also be transferred? Indeed, given the backlog of work to be done on the subject, could a little more money be provided?
Dr. Howells: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will have heard what the hon. Gentleman has said. I congratulate him on the work that he himself did to ensure that the transfer was conducted with such speed and style, and assure him that we are well aware of the need to provide appropriate funds for marine archaeology, which is an important part of our heritage.