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to do so. A BBC funded by subscription or advertising would be an entirely different BBC. The interests of audiences would need to be balanced against the interests of advertisers, or against the need to drive subscription revenues.
The BBC is an important public serviceone of our most important. Its programmes are designed to deliver real social, cultural and educational value. Even after digital switchover, the market alone will continue to under-supply programmes with merit, good qualities and positive externalities. Advertising funding would creative conflicting incentives for the BBC. It would have to balance the requirement to deliver on its public purposes with the need to generate revenue in the marketplace. Over time, it would broadcast a less rich range and balance of programmes than it does today.
Mr. Chope: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I understand that the Minister, notwithstanding my intervention, is continuing to speak because there is a problem on the Government Benches, in that the Minister who is to reply to the debate on the next Bill is not yet here. Mr. Deputy Speaker, is there any way in which you might indicate your willingness to allow the next debate to commence without the Minister being present? It would be unusual, but not perhaps without precedent.
Moving to subscription funding would result in the permanent loss of one of the main sources of the BBCs public value: its universality. Research, again commissioned by the BBC, showed that as a subscription service, the BBC would need to charge £13 a month to maximise revenue, which was 30 per cent. higher than the licence fee in 2004. As a consequence, it is estimated that a significant number of people, including some low-income viewers and listeners, would be priced out of the market for the BBC content that they value. Over and above that, the UK population would lose £300 million-worth of consumer welfare every year. In conclusion, the Government and the BBC, having considered the numerous alternatives, cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman that the television licence fee as currently constructed should be abolished.
First, may I congratulate the Minister on being a great team player? I am sure that that will do her no harm in her future ambitions. Her response could be summed up in that throw-away line, Its a necessary evil. That seems to be the Government linethat the
BBC television licence fee, which 37 per cent. of people are against, is just a necessary evil. I may be the only radical present, and the only person fighting against the outbreak of conservatism with a small c in the Chamber, but I know that I have the support of other radicals in promoting the ideas in the Bill. Earlier, I quoted Greg Dyke and Anthony Jay; an increasing number of forward-looking opinion-formers will not let the matter rest. They think that we have to find an alternative to the despised licence fee.
Mr. Chope: No. The Minister seemed to be saying that the BBC is an island and that what else is going on in the economy does not really matter, but I suggest to her that the BBC is not an island. That was made very clear by Michael Grade in his speech to the Royal Television Society. I quoted part of it before, and I shall now quote a different bit:
The critical point is that the costs and benefits of being a PSB
have to be brought back into a stable equilibriumand before it is too late.
Since the system is broken, it must either be radically reformed, or replaced completely. There is simply no point in trying to prolong the life of mechanisms whose economic foundations have been washed away.
The Minister will be familiar with the arguments that Michael Grade put forward in that speech. They are all related to what has been happening in the real marketplace, to the threats to the future of competition in the provision of television news services in this country, and to the possible demise of independent television news services.
The Minister referred to the report that the penetration of BBC 1 and 2 into peoples homes has gone down to 30 per cent. and is still falling. She explained that that is happening because there is a greater diversity of alternatives. Of course there is, but what organisation would be able to put up its charges at the same time as experiencing a fall-off in demand for its serviceswhat organisation other than one that was protected by a monopoly funded by a captive audience of taxpayers who, if they do not pay the tax, are brought before the magistrates court, with the ultimate sanction of imprisonment?
One of the best contributions in a long debate was that from the hon. Member for Bristol, East (Kerry McCarthy), who expressed her concern about extra funding going into website services at the expense of the natural history unit, and explained that the regionalisation of services involves the transfer of Casualty from Bristol to Cardiff. All that is being carried out without consultation with her or with her constituents. That is
one of the problems with the present structure. There is no such sense of accountability.
The Minister praised the BBC internet services. If Google can raise £50 million a year in advertising from its services, I see no reason why the BBC could not get some advertising revenue from its internet services. Even more important, it is wrong that on its internet services the BBC does not allow a relationship to be developed with other non-BBC services. That is an abuse of a monopoly position, which I hope the Minister will address, even if not the other points that have been raised during the debate.
The hon. Member for Teignbridge (Richard Younger-Ross) made a number of points, going back to all those years when the BBC was a monopoly funded by a licence fee. But things have moved on. He argued that the BBC should be free to compete for the best people. I have no argument with that. My argument is that the managers in the BBC are in a bubble of immunity and seem to be getting much larger salaries than the marketplace would suggest they are worth. I hope the BBC will look into that. As was pointed out by Polly Toynbee, the very high salaries being paid are, in a sense, a poisoned chalice for the BBC.
Let us not forget that my Bill would not prevent people who wished to continue supporting the BBC voluntarily from doing so. Instead of public service broadcasting in the present format, it might, at some time in the future, become a charitable objective. The BBC could obtain charitable status and donations from its supportive public could benefit from Gift Aid and tax relief.
I am not keen on prescription. For that reason, the Bill does not set out in detail the alternative forms of funding, but what is common to all those who criticised the various forms of alternative funding is that they put each one in a silo and suggested that that would be the only alternative form of funding. What I suggest is that the best way forward would be a basket of several different alternative forms of funding, depending on the nature of the service being funded. That argument has not been addressed in the debate.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr. Vaizey) for his comments. As he said, at present the Conservative party is committed to the licence fee. However, reading between the lines of what he said, I am sure that those Conservative and Labour Members who believe that the licence fee is an unsustainable form of BBC funding in the medium and longer term will, in the end, be vindicated.
It is a great pleasure to open this debate. Hon. Members always say that their Bills or debates are timely, and I am no different. My Bill is particularly timely, not least because next week attention will focus on stem cell research and regenerative medicine because of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. At that stage, the focus will predominantly be on embryonic research, but my Bill gives us an opportunity to focus on the increasingly significant issue of umbilical cord blood.
There is a concern that Britain is lagging behind other countries. When we debate the remaining stages of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill next week, we will no doubt hear the Minister saying that the aim is for the United Kingdom to be at the forefront of stem cell research. The concern is that this country is lagging behind when it comes to umbilical cord bloodin respect of availability, transplantation and, significantly, research.
Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): The hon. Gentleman is right to say that we are lagging behind in those respects. Does he agree that that is a tragic irony, as in this field we have some of the best minds in the world? He will know that I am very involved with the Motor Neurone Disease Association. Does he agree that the innovations that he proposes make sense, because we can make a world-class contribution to curing motor neurone disease and other diseases if we have the courage to make the investment?
We are world leaders, to an extent. The issue is timely because at Newcastle university Professor Colin McGuckin and his assistant Dr. Nico Forraz have been leading the way in making the point that umbilical cord blood is not only an alternative to bone marrow stem cells. Professor McGuckin has demonstrated the existence of pluripotent cells in cord blood and that cord blood-derived cells have the capacity to form differentiated tissue types. Like embryonic stem cells, they can be differentiated into other types such as liver, renal, pancreatic, vascular and corneal cells.
It is important that we recognise the potential in the neurone area as well. It is such a shame that Professor McGuckin and Dr. Forraz have resigned from the research unit at Newcastle. They are going to Lyons in France, where they will have the benefit of being able to carry out research into regenerative medicine. They want to set up a regenerative medicine institute dedicated to umbilical cord blood and adult stem cells. Their departure is a significant loss. We should recognise the need to be world leaders on this issue because it has such potential to save lives.
Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab):
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I am one of the sponsors of the Bill and support it. What he is doing is important. I recall that when I visited the blood service in my constituency a little while ago, people there particularly emphasised
the importance of collecting umbilical cord blood from the minority communities, among whom collection is lower than among the population as a whole. Does he agree about the importance of that? I see that the Bill refers to the issue. Does he agree that we need to do much more to encourage mothers from minority communities to donate their cord blood, to help deal with the diseases that particularly affect, and are prevalent among, those communities?
Mr. Burrowes: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention and for his support for the Bill. A significant service is provided by the cord blood bank at Edgware and, not far from his constituency, at the Royal Free hospital, with the work that the Anthony Nolan Trust does on cord blood at its headquarters there. A key aim of the Bill must be to ensure the promotion of the collection of cord blood for minority groups and mixed-race families, who are often at the bottom of the scale in terms of finding bone marrow matches. Cord blood offers great hope for people in the hon. Gentlemans constituency and mine. Families in the Cypriot community often experience great difficulties when children who are suffering from leukaemia are unable, because of their particular blood type, to obtain a bone marrow match. They too recognise the importance of umbilical cord blood.
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I appreciate my hon. Friends remarks. A constituent of mine, Mrs. Jeanette Crizzle, who has now very sadly passed away, was of mixed parentage and died of leukaemia because she could not find a suitable bone marrow match. That led to the creation of the Jeanette Crizzle Trust, which is designed to help the Government to promote the Give and Let Live donor programme in secondary schools. That has been taken up by 3 per cent. of schools. The cord blood bank that my hon. Friend would like to set up would give a lot of hope to people of mixed parentage who face these life-threatening diseases with, sadly, little hope of finding a suitable donor.
The collection of umbilical cord blood by NHS hospitals has arisen in an ad hoc way, not in a way that has taken account of particular ethnic groups that are lacking in this regard because they find it difficult to obtain matches. The service is available in four areasLuton and Dunstable, Northwick Park, Watford and Barnet. The midlands, for example, has no NHS hospital collecting cord blood. It is important that we look at how that can be improved, and I know that the Minister will want to indicate that progress is being made. Organisations such as the Anthony Nolan Trust are keen for availability to spread further. I commend its national cord blood bank, which was opened on 11 September in Nottingham. It has the great aim of increasing the collection of cord blood, which currently stands at about 10,000 cord units, to 50,000 units in five years. It wants to ensure that there are collection points that properly reflect the importance of providing people, particularly those from mixed-race families, with the matches that they need.
When I was on my journey of discovery in becoming informed about cord blood, Becki Josiah came to see me, and that brought home to me the importance of this Bill and of the Government responding positively to it. Her daughter, Billie, sadly died of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. She was ill for nearly two years and was due to have a bone marrow transplant but could not get back into remission. Mrs. Josiah tried high and low to find matches for Billie, but sadly, particularly because her daughter was of mixed-race background, it was not possible to find one. She contacted me to say:
Is there anything you can do to help me highlight this frustrating state of affairs, or maybe there is something I can do to help you?
The Bill is timely in the sense that the Government have an ongoing umbilical cord blood review. I hope that the Minister has sufficient time to provide an update on the conclusions of that review and on whether the aims of the Bill can properly be met by its recommendations.
Mr. Burrowes: Sadly, I have not had that indication. As I am sure the Minister will confirm, there is a general indication that there is support for the Bill. Indeed, a recent parliamentary answer said that there is support for umbilical cord research as well as other types of stem cell research, but the Bill wants to put those warm words into reality. We want the Minister today to say, ideally, that there is support for the Bill, despite it not having time to go through all its stages, and to give an assurance that, even through non-legislative means, we can achieve the purposes of the Bill.
The Bill is also timely because this week an all-party parliamentary group was launched on umbilical cord blood and adult stem cells. That has been supported by a number of hon. Members and those in the other place. What is significant about the members of that group and about those who attended the meeting is that they come from all sides of the argument, although they will no doubt draw their battle lines during the human fertilisation and embryology debate. They included many who would traditionally be seen as pro-life, those who would traditionally be termed pro-choice, those who support embryonic research and those who look to what they would consider more ethically sound stem cell research routes. All were there together supporting umbilical cord blood donation and the aims of the Bill. That support shows that we have an important opportunity not just to go down the route of embryonic research but to put cord blood centre stageit seems to be sidelined at the momentand to ensure that it has support, so that it is available at collection points and there is proper transplantation and research.
Why is there a need for the Bill? As I have said, just four NHS hospitals have collection points, but there is also a lack of information. I was fortunate to live near Barnet hospital. Throughout the births of our six children, never were we informed that there was the opportunity and option for us to allow the cord blood from our
children to be donated. That seems madness and a complete waste. It is a waste that over 90 per cent. of cords are simply thrown away and treated as a waste product when they could be a life-saving opportunity for many. To collect 1,000 or so cords a year is not enough. It is far behind other European countries such as Spain, which sees it as the norm and part of the process of giving blood to collect the cord. Fewer than 200 transplants out of a worldwide total of 8,000 is also not enough. About 65,000 litres of cord blood are thrown away. That is not acceptable. Of those cords that are collected, 50 per cent. effectively end up being thrown away. The Anthony Nolan Trust and others say that we could make so much more use of that. We could make some great research use of that.
The way that cord blood is traditionally used is to help in leukaemia and other blood-related disorders. Such disorders have traditionally led people to seek matches through bone marrow, but of the 24,000 cases of leukaemia in the UK, less than 50 per cent. of patients will find a bone marrow match. That has led to the individuals who have already been mentioned today and to others contacting me about their concern that more should be done. The mother of Eva Winston-Hart, Amy, said, when she sought to find a cure for a particularly vicious form of leukaemia:
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