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The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell): I have said that I intend to review all listed sporting events, including cricket, around 200809. At that time, which will be 10 years after the last review, we will be in a position to take account of changes in the broadcasting of sport and of broadcasting in general, in the run-up to digital switchover.
Mr. Grogan: Did the England and Wales Cricket Board ask the Government to be released from the informal agreement reached by the then Secretary of State in 1998that although cricket was to be delisted, the majority of home test matches would continue to be available live on free-to-air TV? In the interests of the many rather than the few and in the interests of all who cannot afford £400 for Sky sports, should not the main test match series in the summer be restored to the A list forthwith?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. No, the ECB did not ask to be released and I must also say that the status of the reported gentleman's agreement is somewhat unclear. Lord MacLaurin has taken steps to clarify it and to explain that the ECB had no choice. The point at which cricket was delisted was also the point at which the Government ceased to have a direct role in the decision. From then on, the decision became a matter between the ECB and the broadcaster. Clearly, the ECB sought to maximise the income from broadcasting revenues, which accounts for 80 per cent. of its income available to spend on the
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English team and grassroots cricket. In view of the very high level of interest in the matterreflected in the early-day motionI have undertaken to review the listed events at the appropriate time.
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): When the right hon. Lady comes to review the matterhopefully before 2008will she consider the position of the supporters of these national sports who are faced with a monopoly from one subscription provider? Will she examine the idea that I put forward in a ten-minute Bill in 1998that A or B-listed events, if not available for a free-to-air broadcaster, must be sold to more than one subscriber?
Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Lab): I wonder whether the Secretary of State would consider separating broadcast rights from broadband rights? One way to settle the problem quite quickly would be to allow the current Sky system to continue with the Ashes, but for broadband rights to be reallocated to provide another way of seeing these events live.
Tessa Jowell: My hon. Friend makes an important point, and by 2008 there will be considerably more material, with an increased take-up of broadband. As I confirmed to the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt), I will certainly ensure that the terms of reference of the review take account of all the relevant broadcasting issues at the time.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (James Purnell): The BBC, as television licensing authority, has responsibility for the collection and enforcement of the licence fee and TV Licensing operates as agent for the corporation. It is for the BBC, initially, and, ultimately, the governors, to satisfy themselves that TV Licensing's methods are appropriate. However, as indicated in the BBC Charter Review Green Paper published earlier this year, the Government are considering what improvements might be made to the collection arrangements.
I thank the Minister for that somewhat bland answer, but what does he make of TV Licensing harassing a pensioner couple in my constituencythreatening them with court action, fines and enforcements visits in December, January, February, March, June and August, with each letter becoming even more threatening? All that is despite the fact that they do not actually have a television and have told the company so. Is that no longer a valid excuse, or does the BBC need every penny it can get?
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James Purnell: I have looked at the hon. Gentleman's correspondence and I have sympathy with him and his constituents. He may not be happy with the bland constitutional settlement that we have reached on this issue, but it is for him to address the governors about it. We will look further into the matter in the context of the White Paper and I am sure that the governors should look carefully into the problem that the hon. Gentleman has described.
Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): There are areas where licence evasion rates are much higher than the national average, especially in parts of Northern Ireland. If TV Licensing is aware of every dwelling where there is a television set, as its advertising says, and if it is also aware of the location of every valid licence, will the Minister announce a severe crackdown on those areas where evasion rates are higher than the national average and publicise them so that people know that there will be a crackdown in areas where evasion is highest?
James Purnell: The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the evasion rate is higher in Northern Ireland, and we could all speculate on the reasons for that. In the end, it is for TV Licensing to make those decisions; it is not for me to decide on its prosecution policy, but it has managed to decrease the evasion rate from nearly 13 per cent. in 1991 to 5 per cent. in 2005.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): Will the Minister tell the BBC that if it goes ahead with its proposal to increase the licence fee 2.3 per cent. above inflation for several years in succession, the chances of more people taking part in that evasion will rise astronomically? It is time that somebody put their foot down and told the BBC it had better keep in line with inflation.
James Purnell: My hon. Friend makes a good point. We shall be scrutinising the BBC's proposals in detail and have hired consultants to look at them. My hon. Friend can be reassured that we shall not be soft on the BBC's costs.
Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): What assessment has the Minister made of the service in Welsh provided by TV Licensing in Bristol? Last week, after complaints from constituents, I telephoned TV Licensing five times. I was put on hold five times, listened to the abysmal music played on such occasions five times and, thankfully, was eventually cut off. Does the Minister agree that to all intents and purposes the Welsh language service does not exist?
I cannot promise that I have made a detailed assessment of that service, but I am happy to look into it. I am very happy if Members want to suggest better music to the BBC or indeed make any other representations.
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The Minister for Sport and Tourism (Mr. Richard Caborn): No, because we believe that a well run third licence competition is the best way to ensure that we maximise returns for good causes, including the Olympic draw. That is what is happening. The National Lottery Commission is busily preparing a statement of main principles which will be published early in November.
Mr. Hollobone: Given that of the £2.3 billion that the Olympic games will cost, £1.5 billion is to be raised from the lottery, what assessment has the Minister made of the risks of that £1.5 billion not being raised; and can he tell the House when he intends to publish the funding plan agreed between Her Majesty's Government, the regulator and the operator?
Mr. Caborn: This has been subject to wide-ranging debate in the House. We have carried out financial modelling, which was scrutinised by the International Olympic Committee. The committee and the House were satisfied with the modelling, so we have no reason to depart from it. To date, the lottery has been highly successful in terms of the Olympics. The response has been fantastic and we have already banked the first £3 million for the Olympics. Camelot was surprised at the take-up and had to reprint earlier than anticipated. Everything shows that the Olympic draw is successful; people are buying the scratchcards, so we do not believe that we need to depart from the statements made to the House a few weeks ago.
Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op): As the Minister knows, I supported the establishment of a lottery specifically for the Olympics, but with the proviso that there should be some assessment of its impact on sports funding as a whole. Given the possibility of an extension of the franchise, will my hon. Friend keep a close eye not just on what the lottery is doing for the Olympics but also on the lottery funding available for sport overall? It would be a great shame if we made enormous strides for the Olympics and the developments for sport, but lost out on grassroots and club sport.
Mr. Caborn: That is true and we shall continue to review the situation, not just for sport but for all good causes. It is important that we keep a balance. We told the House what we anticipated that the displacement would be, on advice from several parties including Camelot, and we have no reason to depart from that. The figures presented to the House some months ago still stand and there is no evidence to show that we should depart from them.
Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent)
(Con): Given the point just made by the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Reed), given that the Olympics is a national one-off event, and given that the Government
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specifically excluded the Live Aid concerts, is there now not an overriding case for going back to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and reclaiming the £320 million that the Government propose to take in tax from the Olympic lottery games and ploughing it back into sport for legacy issues?
Mr. Caborn: I will always go back to the Treasury and see whether we can get more money into good causes and particularly into sport, but I want to make it perfectly clear to the House that all our financial modelling, which we presented to the House and in the candidate file to the IOC, was modelled on the fact that that tax would be paid. That does not detract from the soundness of the financial case that we put. If we can get another £300 million from the Chancellor, I would be delighted, as always, to bring more money to sport. We have asked that question, and the answer has been no. We will continue to make representationsnot just on that tax, but on many other issues.
May I just put it on the record that the Government have invested more in sport than any Government have done for many years? I am extremely proud of that, and nit-picking, such as that in which the hon. Gentleman is engaged, does not fit a Government who have put more into sport than any other Government.
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