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House of Commons

Monday 6 December 2004

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Music (Young People)

1. John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland) (Lab): If she will make a statement on the Government's strategy for promoting music among young people. [201757]

The Minister for the Arts (Estelle Morris): On 6 July this year, along with my hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards, I launched the music manifesto, which sets out our shared aims for music education for the next three to five years.

Over 150 music organisations have become signatories to the manifesto, including Youth Music, a national charity set up in 1999 with £10 million per year of national lottery funding, and the Sage, the landmark music centre in Gateshead, which is due to open before Christmas.

John Robertson: I know that my right hon. Friend is aware that various other organisations try to help with the music manifesto—for example, the "Respect the Value of Music" campaign recently launched by British Music Rights. Does she agree that we should be educating young people about the value of the creativity involved in making music? What steps will the Department take to support campaigns such as "Respect the Value of Music", which are so important for ensuring that the creators of music can make a living in the years to come?

Estelle Morris: I congratulate British Music Rights on the part that it played in the music manifesto, and my hon. Friend on the contribution that the all-party music group has made in both Houses of Parliament to heighten the importance of music and give everybody some fairly good nights out into the bargain. Music in the United Kingdom is strong. There are many music venues and a feeling that music has never been as good as it is now, but there is one threat on the horizon. We must make sure that everybody uses and accesses music in a way that protects the copyright of those who write it. Especially now, with young people having access to music online at no charge if they choose to take it, it is important that we run an education programme. I join
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my hon. Friend in congratulating British Music Rights on its music education programme. From what I have seen of it, it is very good and I wish it well as it is introduced.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet) (Con): Does the Minister agree that in order to turn that verbal aspiration into reality, it is necessary to provide a time scale for achieving it? She mentioned three to five years. Even five years would be a good aim. Will she take on board a further point? Quite often, all it needs to encourage more primary school children to take up a musical instrument is for schools to copy the practice of the best schools. If they can do that, they are well on their way to achieving a commendable objective.

Estelle Morris: I have no problem with what the hon. Gentleman says. We hope to make real progress in three to five years. It is important that we monitor what works. His comment about learning which school is doing something well and spreading it to other schools is well made. He will know that there are a number of initiatives spread throughout the country, none of which are universal in themselves, but all of which are trying different ways of engaging young people with music—for example, through the activities of the Music Standards fund, the Arts Council music fund, Youth Music and organisations such as Creative Partnerships. In three to five years we should know which of those initiatives have been most successful at engaging young people with music, and making sure that they are properly funded at that point so that they can be rolled out nationally.

Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South) (Lab): In my constituency, I have many young people who excel at classical music, pop and jazz, both vocal and instrumental. How is the Department encouraging businesses to financially support the development of those young people? What is the Department doing to make sure that those businesses feel included in such partnerships?

Estelle Morris: The role of business is important. We will never get to a situation, nor should we, where the arts receive funding only from the Government, centrally and locally. It is important that all sections of society contribute to something so central to our lives. With my hon. Friend, I recognise the contribution that business has made in constituencies outside London and in London. As regards the Department's involvement, through the Arts Council, we fund Arts and Business, which has the express task of making sure that businesses offer as much to arts and music as they can. If my hon. Friend wants to know more about that, she should look at the details of what Arts and Business has achieved, and she will see that it is a steadily growing amount. I take the opportunity to thank Arts and Business for its business sponsorship, and all businesses for the money that they put into the arts.

Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con): This summer, the Minister launched the music manifesto and announced the appointment of a music champion. One of the manifesto's aims was to

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That is a laudable aim, though a rather vague one. Just over 6 per cent. of pupils take up an instrument at key stage 2. The manifesto commits no extra resources to addressing that fundamental problem. Surely the best place to promote music among young people is in schools, where it should have dedicated timetabling and be properly funded by the Department for Education and Skills, rather than being left to a music champion who works only part time and the odd headline-grabbing initiative from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

Estelle Morris: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his appointment to the Front Bench. I hope that he stays there longer than his predecessor.

I am not sure why the aim of ensuring that every child has the opportunity to play a musical instrument is vague. I should have thought that it was among the most concrete of the Government's objectives and that we knew exactly what it means. Much progress has been made. Over the past three years, in conjunction with the Department for Education and Skills, we have put extra money into schools enabling us to run pilots. If the hon. Gentleman is interested, the results of the pilots, which were run by Youth Music, were published earlier this year. My colleagues in the Department for Education and Skills have now announced that local authorities will have dedicated money to ensure that they can carry through the best results of the music partnerships.

That is real progress that has been properly funded; it is doing something that was not funded before and making a real difference to children's lives. I remind the hon. Gentleman why it might take longer than he wants to make universal provision. In 18 long years of Tory government, music services in schools in all counties were run down. We started from scratch, and we have a record to be proud of.

ITV Regional Companies

2. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): If she will make a statement on the provision by independent television companies of regional news. [201758]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell): I recognise the level of interest in this issue from all parts of the House.

The Government are committed to strong regional public service broadcasting, including regional news. The Communications Act 2003 requires Ofcom, the regulator, to determine appropriate levels of regional programming, including news, for ITV1. I note that the second phase of Ofcom's public service broadcasting television review, on which it has just consulted, proposes to maintain the level of ITV regional news obligations at five and a half hours a week.

Miss McIntosh: I thank the right hon. Lady for that answer, but may I ask what guarantee there is beyond the election that there will be that level of local and regional coverage from excellent companies such as Yorkshire Television and Tyne Tees Television? What role will the new body, the public service publisher, have in the digital age? Could it lead to job losses in such companies within ITV?
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Tessa Jowell: The answer to the hon. Lady's first question is that the requirements on news will be written into ITV licences. It will be an obligation that they will have to meet. On her second question about the public service publisher, Ofcom has raised the proposal in its    second public service television review. The Government think that the proposal is interesting, and it makes a strong case for maintaining the current value of public service broadcasting, but we have not yet determined a decision on it. There will obviously be a further period of consultation once Ofcom's proposals become clearer.

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby) (Lab): While I welcome the slight withdrawal by Ofcom of its original proposals, does my right hon. Friend accept that the principal concern for those of us who represent the civilised part of the country, which is mostly outside London and basically in the north, is that there should be no reduction in either local service or local news? To reduce those services would be damaging to the regional roots of the companies that produce them and also allow the cut-down of regional newsrooms and regional staff at a time when they need to be expanded to face the enhanced competition that the BBC is giving in regional coverage.

Tessa Jowell: I thank my hon. Friend for that question. He is absolutely right about the importance of maintaining support for local and regional news. That is why I welcome very warmly the Ofcom recommendation in this area. It is also worth noting that the Ofcom report was based on extensive consultation with the public. It was the public—the people who were interviewed—who gave regional television news a ringing endorsement.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath) (LD): I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State is properly linking regional programming with regional news and recognising the importance of both, but when the Leader of the House said 10 days ago that the proposed regional programming cuts by ITV Wales were unacceptable, was he speaking personally or on behalf of the Government?

Tessa Jowell: I suspect that the Leader of the House was, like many hon. Members, reflecting constituency concern about that issue. It is important to make the position absolutely clear: Ofcom has no proposals that ITV should cut regional news; there are proposals to cut the current requirement for three hours a week of non-peak, non-news programming to one and a half hours in order to meet the licence conditions. That is not a requirement, but it would lessen the regulatory burden on ITV.

In reaching a conclusion on the matter, I say to hon. Members that ITV faces increasing competition with the increased take-up of digital television. It is losing audience share, and with that it is losing the advertising revenue that a high level of audience share brings. It is an inescapable fact that ITV cannot continue to broadcast at its current level of operation. The Ofcom analysis is important because it rests on the views of
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viewers—the people who watch television—rather than on any other interest. That context has shaped the conclusions, which are currently out for consultation.

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): When the digital replacement licences were granted to ITV companies, the ITV companies were required to provide regional news and current affairs until 2014, but Ofcom now states that that will be required only until 2007. Will the Secretary of State make it clear to the regulator that we expect it to do its job in maintaining the commitments of the licence until at least 2014?

Tessa Jowell: My hon. Friend will recognise that the negotiation of the licences with ITV continues. However, the message to both Ofcom and ITV is that hon. Members on both sides of the House on behalf of their constituents recognise and insist on the importance of high-quality regional news and current affairs and factual programming.

Mr. David Watts (St. Helens, North) (Lab): Is it not the case that Ofcom has already failed and that the quality of news broadcasting in the regions has diminished over the past few years? Will my right hon. Friend make sure that Ofcom fulfils its responsibilities and makes sure that both the hours of news and the quality of news are maintained?

Tessa Jowell: I agree that that is an extremely important part of Ofcom doing its job properly.

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