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Gambling Bill

5. Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): What measures the Gambling Bill includes to prevent the proliferation of category A gaming machines. [201761]

The Minister for Sport and Tourism (Mr. Richard Caborn): We propose that category A machines should be allowed only in regional casinos, and that there should be only eight regional casinos in the first phase.

Mr. Carmichael: I thank the Minister for that answer. As I understand the Bill, clause 56 reserves to the Government powers to deal with problems that might
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be caused by the use of category D machines, which would include machines such as penny slides. However, there is no equivalent provision for category A machines. If the Government are concerned about dealing with problems arising from the use of penny slides, why are they not concerned about problems arising from the use of machines that would have large stakes and unlimited payouts?

Mr. Caborn: We will take those powers. Indeed, we have limited the number of regional casinos to eight, and they will be used to see what the effects of their introduction will be over a period of time. The situation will be reviewed by the gambling commission, and we have made it clear that it will be up to the House whether to proceed with establishing any further casinos. In the real world, the category A machines will be limited to about 10 or 20 per cent. of the total number of machines in the casinos. That is what happens internationally. In this country, the highest paying machines are category B1 machines. There are about 1,000 of those, of which only a third pay out the maximum sum of £2,000. The operators clearly keep those machines at well below the maximum payouts, both internationally and in this country, and we believe that, with those safeguards in place, the experiment can take place. We will then evaluate it and bring the matter back to the House.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): Is the Minister aware of the grave disquiet about these machines, and the extension of gambling in this manner? The proposals disturb not only those who must deal with the enormous problems that gamblers can create, but those who feel that the general protection of the public is being relaxed far too readily.

Mr. Caborn: I do not accept that. The Gaming Act 1968 was probably one of the most draconian examples of gambling legislation, especially in respect of casinos, but if my hon. Friend looks at the remit of the new Gambling Commission, she will find that we have put a large amount of the 1968 Act into it. We have tried to make integrity, transparency and fairness to punters a major part of the Bill.

I remind my hon. Friend that during pre-legislative scrutiny it was recommended that category A machines should go into large casinos as well, but we rejected that proposal. We have limited those machines to regional casinos, of which there will be eight. We did that in response to a feeling in the House that we wanted too many of them, just as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that we would. We expect the eight regional casinos to be properly evaluated, and we will report to the House before any steps are taken towards expansion.

Creative Partnerships

6. Ms Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op): If she will make a statement on the progress made by creative partnerships and the Government's plans to offer a universal cultural entitlement to all children and young people. [201762]

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The Minister for the Arts (Estelle Morris): Twenty-five creative partnerships have been established, with a further 11 due to start in September 2005. By November 2004, there had been over 217,000 attendances by children and young people at more than 2,500 projects.

Ms Munn: My neighbours in Doncaster, Rotherham and Barnsley have a creative partnership that provides excellent events for children at such places as the Yorkshire sculpture park and Magna. I should like one in Sheffield, but failing that, what is my right hon. Friend doing to encourage others to ensure that children and young people take advantage of existing cultural events?

Estelle Morris: I am pleased that my hon. Friend is seeing good work being done by creative partnerships. It is an excellent initiative at ground level, with each partnership finding its own way of spending money while also ensuring that artists are introduced to children in schools. I am happy to say that by September 2005 there will be a creative partnership in Sheffield. I understand that a director has already been appointed, and is putting together a partnership board. I am sure that he would be more than willing to have a conversation with my hon. Friend.

We never envisaged every local authority becoming a creative partnership, but we are keen to learn from this experience so that in time we may be able to announce a universal cultural entitlement.

Theatre (North-west)

7. Helen Jones (Warrington, North) (Lab): What steps she is taking to sustain and develop theatre in the north-west. [201763]

The Minister for the Arts (Estelle Morris): Along with theatres across England, theatres in the north-west have benefited from the sustained extra investment that followed the 2001 theatre review. In the first tranche of the funding, theatres in the north-west received £8,084,150, which will rise to £8,352,139 this year.

Helen Jones: I am grateful for that answer, but what is my right hon. Friend doing to encourage theatre performances in towns such as Warrington that have no theatres of their own? Will she do more to encourage national companies to visit such towns, and put on more successful productions like the one by the Royal Shakespeare Company that we saw last year in Birchwood, in my constituency? What is she doing to support the Pyramid arts centre in Warrington, so that we can see more performances there?

Estelle Morris: I agree with my hon. Friend that impressive statistics showing that theatres have received more money do not mean much if constituents cannot go to them. Sadly, not every town has its own theatre. As my hon. Friend says, innovative ideas—such as making more money available for touring theatres—would help people in Warrington, and in other constituencies. Theatres in Liverpool, Manchester and Chester have already benefited from extra money for touring over the past few years. I understand that Warrington has also benefited, and has enjoyed performances that might not have been possible without that increased funding.
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The Pyramid arts centre receives a £21,000 grant—not as much as some projects, but enough, I hope, to sustain it and enable it to serve the people of the town.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend recognise that Burnley council, given its small non-unitary authority budget, finds it very difficult to maintain the Mechanics theatre and arts centre? Is my right hon. Friend aware that councils such as Burnley that are committed to arts funding find it extremely difficult to meet that commitment with a small budget?

Estelle Morris: I acknowledge my hon. Friend's point: local authorities are huge investors in the arts, second only to central Government—I believe that they contribute more than £200 million. Local authorities of different sizes face budget pressures and have to make important decisions. Sometimes, the levers are there to spend the money on certain services, which may not include the arts, theatres or culture. That is something that, over time, the Government will address because it is clear that creativity, culture and theatres are central to local communities. Without that provision, we end up with the sort of estates that we built in the 1960s, when we built houses for people to live in but no culture for them to enjoy. The irony is that we are now knocking down those estates, as we knocked down estates at the start of the 20th century.

Television Licence

8. Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): Whether it is her intention to discount the BBC licence fee for licence holders who cannot receive BBC digital services. [201764]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell): It is not my intention to discount the BBC licence fee for licence holders who cannot get BBC digital services. Rather, my intention is to accelerate the process and preparation for digital switchover, so that all can receive that service.

Mr. Prentice: Well, that is a bit disappointing because 27 per cent. of the population cannot get digital terrestrial services but they pay 100 per cent. of the licence fee. If that state of affairs were to continue for a year or two, that would perhaps be acceptable, but, with digital analogue switchover to be completed by 2012, that is asking an awful lot of people who cannot get digital services.

Tessa Jowell: I accept the sentiment behind my hon. Friend's comments. It is precisely because of the limited range of digital terrestrial television at the moment—only 73 per cent. of the population can access DTT—that we maintain as a principle the policy of platform choice, so that his constituents who are unable to get DTT may opt for another platform, either cable or satellite. However, I entirely accept his impatience. The public want more digital television. The process of digital switchover has real momentum, but we will proceed on the basis of the broadcasters' judgment on when it will be technically right to undertake switchover region by region. They are currently charged with providing that advice to us.
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Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham) (Con): The Secretary of State will realise that there is considerable resentment felt by those who cannot receive digital terrestrial television and will not be able to receive it except by satellite. Will she do her best to ensure that there is a new free-to-view satellite service, so that people in rural areas in my constituency who will not be able to receive digital television until the switchover can at least be offered the satellite option at no cost?

Tessa Jowell: The short answer is yes. We have already had discussions with the BBC about that, and I know that Sky is also looking at that option. As the hon. Gentleman says, for a small number of people in isolated communities, satellite will be the only option but two principles drive this policy for Government. The first is ensuring universal access, and DTT is the most effective way of doing that, and the second is ensuring affordability. With the reduction in the price of the set-top box, DTT is set to make a free-to-air offering of up to 29 or 30 channels for people, without any additional subscription cost.

Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): The Secretary of State is on record as saying that she regards it as inconceivable that the licence fee might be replaced as a source of funding for the BBC. How, then, does she react to the preliminary report of her adviser, Lord Burns, who said that the growth of digital channels and multi-channel television will make the licence fee unsustainable and that it should be reviewed in five years?

Tessa Jowell: With great respect, I do not think that I have ever described the likelihood of the licence fee being replaced as "inconceivable". I have certainly said that I think it unlikely, improbable and so forth. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I am glad to hear the chorus of approval welcoming that fact.

Lord Burns's report, which is published on the website, as all charter review material is published in the spirit of openness and transparency, describes the licence fee as the least worst option, alongside an evaluation of alternatives. The hon. Gentleman will no doubt also look at what the public said about the licence fee. When faced with the alternatives, they decided that they liked the licence fee best of all.

The critical question, however, is what funding will give the BBC the greatest certainty and the best capacity, first, to maintain the high-quality wide-ranging programme content that people want and, secondly, to equip it best financially to deliver its leadership role in digital switchover. For those reason, paths lead back to the licence fee, at least for the next charter.

Mr. Speaker: Order. May I appeal to the Secretary of State to give shorter replies at the next Question Time because we are now going into injury time?

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