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Digital Television

6. Mr. Adrian Sanders (Torbay) (LD): If she will make a statement on the date for the switch-off of analogue television transmission. [194571]

8. Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): If she will make a statement on digital switchover. [194573]

The Minister for the Arts (Estelle Morris): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State issued a statement in July 2004 on the progress being made towards digital switchover. She noted that although broadcasters had not reached a full consensus, some had suggested that 2012 might be the most appropriate date for the completion of switchover. However, a final decision on the timetable has not yet been taken.

Mr. Sanders: What is the Government's response to pensioners in my constituency who get a free TV licence but who will not be able to receive any television pictures when the digital switchover takes place? Will they get a bit extra in their pensions to compensate?

Estelle Morris: I apologise if I have not quite understood the hon. Gentleman's question, but one of the requirements for switchover is that anybody who receives terrestrial television now will be able to receive digital television. On helping vulnerable groups, he referred to elderly pensioners in his constituency, but as he knows, we have asked that a committee be set up to advise us on that. Consideration of the help that vulnerable groups may need will be one of the factors influencing our decision about when switchover will take place.

Mr. Carmichael: The Minister may be aware that, in many parts of my constituency, we do not have an adequate analogue service and few people believe that that situation will improve come the digital switchover. There is serious concern in the northern isles that, come the digital switchover, we will again be left behind. Will she and her colleagues therefore give some consideration to the proposals from the independent consumer expert group that at least 99.5 per cent. of the population in each region, and not just in the UK as a whole, should be able to receive a digital signal at the point of switchover?

Estelle Morris: I shall certainly consider the recommendations of any group that is looking into this matter, because I accept that it is important. The hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Sanders) both have constituencies in which reception of the analogue signal is not great and digital reception is even worse. That situation will remain until switchover. The dilemma of the hon. Gentleman's constituents is that, unless we can get more spectrum, we will not be able to aid them. This is an important switchover to make, but it is absolutely right that we do not make it until we are in receipt of all the information, and that we do it in an orderly and proper way.
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David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde) (Lab): As a Member from a constituency that also has large areas without an analogue signal, I hope that we do not delay the matter indefinitely, as no resources are being spent on upgrading the analogue signal in advance of digital switchover. As well as the geographical criteria, there is an affordability criterion, which the Government recognise in providing free television licences for over-75s. I appreciate that my right hon. Friend will not want to blight the market at this stage, but will she at least acknowledge that the Government understand that some older and poorer people may need assistance in respect of the set-top box, or whatever the technology is by 2012, to help them to make the digital switchover?

Estelle Morris: Of course I accept that there is an issue, otherwise the Government would not have acted as they have done to introduce free television licences for vulnerable groups. That is exactly why we have set up Ofcom's independent consumer panel to look at how the whole of digital switchover may affect vulnerable groups. I am not in a position to say more than that, merely because we are awaiting the report of that panel, but my hon. Friend can rest assured that the matter is on our mind—although that is not a commitment as to exactly what we will do.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): The Minister will be aware that ITV3 launches tonight on digital terrestrial television—that is, freeview—but is she aware that the launch of that new channel will cause problems because of the lack of bandwidth on freeview? Is she aware that, even at present, the system used for compressing technology and television on freeview is already out of date? She said that 2012 might be the time for digital switchover. Will she consider before the next election whether we will use the current system of digital terrestrial television or a system that can increase the number of channels threefold or fourfold?

Estelle Morris: The hon. Gentleman's question is incredibly technical, and I would not claim to match his knowledge on that point. The key issue is that we need more spectrum. Unless we get more spectrum, nothing will change, and we will neither help the constituents of the hon. Members for Torbay and for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) to receive the analogue signal nor enable the 25 per cent. who cannot currently receive digital switchover to do so. That is exactly why the Government have set up bodies, organisations, panels and consumer and broadcast interest groups to make recommendations and advise us on the technicalities. The hon. Gentleman can rest assured that we will take all those matters into account before finally announcing the date of switchover.

National Lottery

7. Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con): If she will review the criteria for the allocation of lottery funds to good causes. [194572]

The Minister for the Arts (Estelle Morris): The criteria for the allocation of lottery funds depend on the distributing body and the individual funding
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programme concerned. We have set the framework in policy and financial directions for the distributors and they have drawn up strategic plans and funding policies.

Mr. Luff: The general taxpayer has often paid for many good causes through his or her taxes, particularly health and education. The purpose of the lottery is to provide money for other things that general taxation did not pay for—in particular, arts, the Community Fund, heritage and sport. So why is arts funding down £160 million a year under this Government, the Community Fund down £140 million, heritage lottery funding down £120 million and sports down £140 million, while the New Opportunities Fund, all of which should be paid from general taxation, is up £450 million?

Estelle Morris: Part of the reason why the revenues to the original funding streams have changed is that, not this year, but previously, sale of tickets had decreased. There is a direct correlation: if not as many people buy tickets, not as much money is sent to the good causes. I accept the thrust of the hon. Gentleman's question, which I think was additionality. Of course, education, health and the environment have statutory funding, but let me take, for example, two of the things that have been funded from the New Opportunities Fund—after-school homework clubs and the fruit initiative in schools. Those have never been funded out of general taxation for citizens. That expenditure has gone on at exactly the same time as there has been a massive increase in the amount of taxpayers' money—public funding—going to the education and health services and environment. It cannot have replaced direct funding from the Government because Government funding for each of those key services has increased far more than ever it did under the Government whom the hon. Gentleman supported.

Jim Sheridan (West Renfrewshire) (Lab): During the review, will my right hon. Friend ensure that all hon. Members are made aware of applications, whether successful or unsuccessful, in their constituencies, so that a proper assessment can be made of where the money is being spent? Could she also reinforce the principle that lottery funding should go to community-based projects that affect people's lives?

Estelle Morris: I will do that. It is important that feedback is given to Members of Parliament. Many right hon. and hon. Members have been helpful in working with the lottery distributors to make sure that their constituents get what might be termed a fair share of the resources. I agree that money doing direct to community use is of great benefit. As my hon. Friend will know, more than half the awards go to the 100 most deprived local authorities. I am sure he shares my pleasure at that.

Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): Will the Minister acknowledge, first, that the national lottery is a Conservative success story? Is it not the case, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) pointed out, that under the Government more and more money is siphoned off to pay for Government projects—I regard both those that she mentioned as Government
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projects—with the result that the money given to the original good causes last year was less than half the amount it was when the last Conservative Government left office? The Government's own report estimates that the increase in other gambling as a result of the Gambling Bill may lead to a further loss of up to £70 million from the lottery. Is it not sad that on the lottery's 10th anniversary, the Government seem intent on inflicting still further damage to the good causes?

Estelle Morris: I can well understand the hon. Gentleman, seven years later, trying to find something to claim credit for under the previous Conservative Administration. I give credit to him. I seem to remember, but I may be wrong, that the introduction of the lottery received support from all parties in the House. Never mind; it was a good initiative and it has brought a great deal of much-needed funding to good causes and to other services as well. All I have to say in addition to the answer I gave to the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) is that if my memory serves me right, we made it clear in our 1997 election manifesto that we would look at what were defined as "good causes". I would bet—given that it is a day for gambling talk—that people who buy lottery tickets think it is a good thing to spend lottery funding on many of the causes that we have added to the legislation, such as education, health and environment.

10. Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): What the latest figure is for the number of national lottery tickets sold weekly; and what the figure was (a) 12 and (b) 24 months ago. [194575]

The Minister for the Arts (Estelle Morris): Average weekly sales for the first half of this financial year were £90.5 million. The average weekly sales for 2003–04 were £88.7 million and the average weekly sales for 2002–03 were £87.9 million.

Sir Teddy Taylor: If there is such a huge unmet demand for gambling, as the Government seem to argue in the Bill coming before us, why does the Minister think sales of lottery tickets have not been soaring, in view of the prizes of several million pounds? Does she accept that over the past few years, sales have decreased rather than increased?

Estelle Morris: Whereas last year the question could have been asked why lottery sales had decreased, I am sure the hon. Gentleman will be pleased that they have increased in the past year—a 4.7 per cent. increase on the figure for the same time last year. That is a result of the fact—not my own opinion—that Camelot has diversified the games on offer. It is cautious, and I am not being over-optimistic that it has turned the corner or that more funding will come in for distribution to good causes, but it does not become any of us not to acknowledge that after a period of declining sales, we have seen an increase in sales. I for one am pleased about that, because it will mean more money going to good causes.
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Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham) (Lab): May I suggest to my right hon. Friend that one of the ways that perhaps she could do something about the declining revenue from lottery ticket sales and the declining amount of money that has gone to good causes would be to ask my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to give up his share of the lottery? The Chancellor wins every week. When the original proposal was brought forward, people did not anticipate that we would be giving so much money to the Treasury.

Estelle Morris: My hon. Friend can suggest that to me but I would merely say that that is a matter for the Treasury.

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