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BBC Licence Fee

7. Mr. David Gauke (South-West Hertfordshire) (Con): What recent discussions she has had regarding BBC licence fee proposals. [38071]
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The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport    (Tessa Jowell): The Government are currently conducting a funding review to determine the level of the new licence fee settlement that will apply from April 2007. We will announce the outcome in due course.

Mr. Gauke: Given that the licence fee is set to increase by nearly 20 per cent. over the next seven years—

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): No, it is not.

Mr. Gauke: It is, potentially. Given that fact, and given that the main purpose is to help to cover the cost that the BBC will incur in facilitating the switch from analogue to digital broadcasting, will not the licence fee be used as yet another stealth tax that will hit the poorest hardest?

Tessa Jowell: No, that is not the case. With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, he is jumping ahead of the conclusions that the Government will reach as we consider both the BBC's proposals and the results of the independent assessment that we have commissioned. That will ensure that we reach a licence fee settlement under which the viewing public get what they want—continued high-quality and diverse programming and a BBC that is strong and independent of the Government.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney) (Lab): May I thank the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (James Purnell), for coming along to a recent meeting of the all-party commercial radio group to answer questions on this topic? One question put to him was about market impact assessments for new BBC services, so may I ask my right hon. Friend whether she has decided whether they would cover major changes to existing services and how much weight will be given to market impact assessments when the public value test is carried out for new BBC services?

Tessa Jowell: I thank my hon. Friend for that question. He has identified one set of important considerations that we are looking into in connection with the White Paper proposals. We know how strong public support is for a well-funded BBC, but we also know that the BBC can have a serious impact on the competitiveness and performance of commercial broadcasters, so we must get the balance right. My hon. Friend is right to identify two forms of market impact assessment: those that apply to completely new services, which will certainly have such assessments, and those that apply where a substantial change is made to an existing service. What will help greatly is the BBC's proposal that every channel should operate a service licence, which will create more clarity than we have ever had before. Tougher discipline and greater transparency will play an important role for the BBC trust under the new arrangements.

Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): Given that the BBC's total licence fee income has grown by 50 per cent. over the last 70 years—I mean seven years—

Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): It seems like 70.
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Mr. Whittingdale: Yes. Given that the BBC's income now exceeds the combined total advertising income of ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, GMTV, S4C and all the digital channels put together, does the Secretary of State agree that it is difficult to justify a licence fee increase above inflation at all, let alone 2.3 per cent. above the increase in the retail prices index that the BBC has asked for?

Tessa Jowell: With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, who chairs the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, I will not be drawn further on the outcome of deliberations on the level of licence fee. Voices from all around the Chamber will want to contribute to the conclusions, which will be announced in due course.

Mr. Brian Jenkins (Tamworth) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will know that many people in this country, including me, believe that the BBC licence fee provides good value for money. In the multi-producer and multi-provider industry that has now developed, however, should not the BBC charter include an obligation continually to assess value for money and to make the public aware of that work? The public could then believe that they do indeed receive value for money from the rather peculiar monopoly position that the BBC enjoys.

Tessa Jowell: I thank my hon. Friend for that question. He will know that public consultation on the BBC charter—conducted for the first time ever—has reflected the public view that, by and large, the BBC licence fee represents value money. The new BBC trust that will oversee the management of the organisation and be responsible for its governance will also have precisely the responsibility that my hon. Friend has identified—to ensure that the licence fee payer, to whom the trust will be responsible, gets value for money.

Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP): Does the Secretary of State share the concern expressed by many of my constituents at reports of swingeing increases in the BBC licence fee? Does she not think that the concept of a flat-rate, regressive tax on households throughout the country is something of an anachronism?

Tessa Jowell: No, I do not accept that, and the Government have already announced in the BBC Green Paper that the licence fee will continue to fund the BBC for the next 10 years. The hon. Gentleman says that it is a regressive form of taxation but, interestingly, when asked about it, the public, while recognising that it is a flat-rate charge, generally said that they believe that it is good value for money and fair. We will continue with it for the next 10 years.

Mr. John Grogan (Selby) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should continue to celebrate the BBC's role as the great world public service broadcaster, producing everything from "Doctor Who" to Radio 4, from "Strictly Come Dancing"—won at the weekend by a Yorkshireman—to Radio 3? Should we not consider very carefully the BBC's proposal for an average £3 a year real-terms increase in the licence fee over the
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coming years, in order to provide more money for factual programming, high-definition TV and local and regional programming?

Tessa Jowell: I thank my hon. Friend for that and I   am sure that we will want to agree with everything that he said about the importance of the BBC's contribution to our national life, and to take this opportunity to thank Darren Gough for the example that he gave to   potential "Strictly Come Dancing" contestants throughout the country.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale), the current Chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, is   going down the well-trod path of his predecessor, the   right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir   Gerald Kaufman), but I wonder whether I might disagree, in that I believe that the BBC offers good value for money. However, I challenge the Secretary of State on this point: is she aware that the BBC is having to make provision for a spectrum stealth tax in 2013 of £200 million? Will that not put pressure on the licence fee?

Tessa Jowell: In its initial bid for the licence fee, the BBC included all the costs that it might incur. The Government have set out their intention, in the light of the Cave report, to apply administratively efficient pricing in respect of the costs of spectrum. This issue will be visited post-switchover, in approximately 2010. It is true that broadcasters may incur this additional cost, and that will be taken into account in considering the licence fee settlement.

Olympic Games

8. Mr. Sadiq Khan (Tooting) (Lab): What steps her Department is taking to ensure the 2012 Olympic games encourage grass-roots participation in sports across the UK. [38072]

The Minister for Sport (Mr. Richard Caborn): We are committed to driving up grass-roots participation in sport across the whole of the UK. We are working with key partners to maximise the benefits of hosting the games by building on existing programmes to encourage more people to become involved in sport.

Mr. Khan: Is my right hon. Friend aware that building work is well under way at my old school, Ernest Bevin college, in Tooting, to develop a dojo and sports complex, thanks to more than £500,000-worth of Big   Lottery funding? The complex will be open not only to the school's 900 pupils, but to more than 350 pupils from local primary schools and, potentially, to hundreds of local residents outside school hours.

Mr. Caborn: I know that my hon. Friend is very proud of that welcome development, which can be mirrored throughout the country. Such developments will prove very valuable. Starting next year, as we build to 2012, we hope to run an annual national schools' festival of sport throughout the nations and regions—Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the north, the midlands and the
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south—in which all our young people will be able to participate and thereby develop sporting excellence. Importantly, part of the legacy of the games will be a competition structure in our schools that will probably prove second to none in the world. That will put to bed once and for all the idea that competition is not important in sport.

David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): Does the Minister agree that any efforts to increase grass-roots participation in sport will be rendered almost worthless if schools continue to sell off their playing fields at the present rate?

Mr. Caborn: I have heard some old records over and over in this place, but that is the oldest one. It must be a 75 that is still going around—[Interruption.] I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer that I gave some months ago, in which I reminded the House that when in government, the Conservatives were closing 40 playing fields a month. For the first time, we have had a net gain in playing fields, not to mention new sports facilities and synthetic pitches. We have had the biggest investment in sports facilities that this nation has seen for many years. I hope that he puts his 75 record away for Christmas.

Hon. Members : 78!

Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op): I am probably too young to remember 78s. My right hon.   Friend is right to emphasise the success that we have had at school sports and, by 2010 and the lead up to the Olympics, we will have school sports and competition at the level at which we would like to see it. For those areas—Bath, Sheffield and Loughborough—which know what they are doing in terms of elite sports, we recognise the advances that have been made. But the major challenge remains the link between schools and clubs and local participation at a level that we can all see in our local communities. If we are to make the Olympic games a success, the real legacy will be not great stadiums and gold medals, but participation levels that match the best in the world. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that additional funding is made available for that over the next 10 years?

Mr. Caborn: My hon. Friend makes an important point. Some 70 per cent. of those leaving school do not continue in active sport. That is a major fault line in   the structure of sport in this country, and it is why we have now invested some £60 million, through governing bodies, to strengthen the club structure. The   school to club link is very important if we are to have a sustainable—and I mean sustainable—sports infrastructure. The investment that we are putting in through the 400 school sports partnerships, which have been widely welcomed, would be worthless if it did not continue after young people had left school. Therefore, we are working with the national governing bodies to develop the school to club structure.

I am pleased that all the governing bodies have now signed up to the coaching certificate, which will give us—for the first time—a five-level coaching scheme. We are investing heavily in that and we will have some 3,000 community coaches, who will also work on the
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school to club link. That shows that we are taking the issue seriously and investing in a sustainable sports infrastructure for the first time for many years.

Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent) (Con): The Minister will be only too aware of the extreme disappointment among Olympic athletes at the lack of any extra funding in the pre-Budget report. Is he able to tell the House today whether he shares the British Olympic Association's stated aim of moving Great Britain from 10th to fourth in the medal tables by 2012?

Mr. Caborn: It is unfortunate that we have knee-jerk reactions on this subject. Everything I have said today points to our efforts to put sustainable and well-funded structures in place. From 2001 to 2009, we will invest slightly more than a quarter of a billion pounds in elite athletes, irrespective of what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor does in any discussions that we have with him now. Obviously, everybody wants to see the UK do well in 2012, but judgments have to be made against the information available and the investment that we have made. It is unacceptable for people to say that we are going to move from 10th to fourth in the medal table when they do not have responsibility for funding and then, in a knee-jerk reaction, blame a Chancellor who has increased world-class funding since 1997 by just under 25 per cent. We will discuss investment in elite sport with the Treasury.

12. Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Devonport) (Lab): What assessment she has made of the opportunities available to cultural organisations arising from the 2012 London Olympic games. [38077]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. David Lammy): London's successful bid for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games offers a once-in-a-lifetime chance to establish a lasting legacy of participation in and engagement with cultural activities across the British population.

Alison Seabeck: I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. In Plymouth and the south-west we are working hard to meet the challenge of improving our cultural offer as well as our sporting offer as we move towards 2012, working with organisations such as Sport   England and the Big Lottery Fund. A number of key events are already planned; some are sport-related, while others link to national figures such as Darwin or   Brunel or to special events such as the abolition of   slavery. Will my hon. Friend confirm that his Department will continue to encourage and support areas outside London, contrary to recent press reports, as we strive both to celebrate and to benefit from the Olympics?

Mr. Lammy: Absolutely. My hon. Friend will know that we appointed Jude Kelly to champion cultural activities across the country and we are about to appoint a director for Olympic activity across the country. That is key: 2012 gives us the opportunity to showcase what every region in the country can do. Indeed, beyond 2012 all our cultural facilities, such as theatres, and the cultural activity of our young people will receive a boost, and the south-west is key to that.
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