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Public Service Broadcasting

4. Mr. Adam Holloway (Gravesham) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with Ofcom on the public service obligations of the broadcast media. [233991]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Andy Burnham): I have regular meetings with the chief executive of Ofcom to discuss broadcasting issues. These meetings often include discussion of public service obligations, which are central to Ofcom’s current review of public service broadcasting.

Mr. Holloway: But apart from that, is there anything that the Minister can actually do to stop the slide into tabloid television at the BBC? For example, what could be done to reinforce the excellent and totally unbiased coverage by my sometime employer, BBC news and current affairs?

Andy Burnham: As I have said before, hon. Members will have their own views on the services provided by the BBC. However, it is important in this instance not to let the failings of one part of the BBC lead to a situation in which the whole organisation is tainted. There are many professionals within the BBC who provide an excellent standard of service, and we would do well to remember that. Clearly, there were serious failings in this particular case, but I urge the hon. Gentleman not to think that that damns all the BBC’s coverage; it does not.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): Mr. Speaker, if I used that English vernacular word that begins with f and ends in k, you would chop me off at the knees—if not higher—before I had even got up. Yet all the broadcasters now use it regularly, and it is really offensive. This is not a watershed matter. There are plenty of children watching TV programmes on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights after 9 o'clock. I have watched Jamie Oliver reporting from Rotherham, and I have watched quiz shows, and I hear f, f, f, f. Please tell the BBC and Ofcom that we do not hear that in France, Germany or America, so why, with our great language, does British broadcasting have to be in the linguistic sewer?

Andy Burnham: My right hon. Friend has expressed himself very clearly and trenchantly. The report that I mentioned a moment ago revealed an increase, indeed a spike, of bad language immediately after the watershed, which suggests that it needs to be said that it is not obligatory to use bad language after the watershed.

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I believe that my right hon. Friend speaks for many people in the country in saying that while people accept that the language used on television programmes ought to reflect the language used in the country as a whole, there are occasions on which the line has clearly been crossed, and I know that others share the discomfort that he has so eloquently expressed.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): While I welcome the Secretary of State’s desire for transparency in the BBC, may I tempt him to go a little further and say that, as BBC staff are public servants like Members of Parliament, its senior executives’ salaries should be published, as should their expenses?

Andy Burnham: I do not consider it right for me, or any other Minister, to provide a running commentary on the levels of individual salaries in the BBC, just as it is not right for me to provide a running commentary on the salaries of footballers, although I am often asked to do that. However— [Interruption.] There is a “however” coming. However, there is significant public interest in these issues, and they do affect public confidence in the BBC. It is therefore important for the BBC management and trust to show sensitivity to them, particularly when market conditions are changing and the rest of the country is facing real pressure in an economic downturn.

I agree that a judgment needs to be made about these issues, and—as I told the hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Mr. Hunt) a moment ago—I believe that information needs to be released into the public domain to allow people to make that judgment.

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow) (Lab): I am sure my right hon. Friend is aware that two of the three models for the future of public service broadcasting currently being considered by Ofcom would probably result in a narrowing of its provision. When he examines Ofcom’s recommendations, will he please bear in mind that we do not want a watering down of broadcasters’ obligations, or a restriction of provision to just one or two public service broadcasters?

Andy Burnham: I understand my hon. Friend’s point. The issues that he has raised are very much up for discussion at the moment. The nature of our regulation of broadcasting, particularly commercial public service broadcasting, is changing. We need a debate to establish the best way in which to sustain the aspects that the public like and on which they depend, which will mean devising a new way of sustaining public service content beyond the BBC in the future.

I agree that it is important to have public service broadcasting that is more than the BBC, but precisely how that can be achieved is a matter for debate. As my hon. Friend will know, Lord Carter has been appointed to take a detailed look at the issues, and to report and make recommendations early in the new year.

Broadcasting (Scotland)

5. Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): What recent representations he has received on the potential transfer to the Scottish Executive of his powers in respect of broadcasting in Scotland. [233992]

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The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Andy Burnham): None, other than from Ministers in the Scottish Government and Scottish National party Members of Parliament.

Jo Swinson: Although the Scottish Broadcasting Commission recently found that legislative powers over broadcasting should be retained at Westminster, it also concluded that broadcasting should be more accountable to the Scottish Parliament. That is in line with concerns across the whole United Kingdom about broadcasting. Does the Secretary of State not think that we need to find a better way for the voices of the nations and regions to be heard on this issue?

Andy Burnham: I welcome the final report of the Scottish Broadcasting Commission, entitled “Platform for Success”. It has come up with balanced and measured conclusions. Indeed, it has drawn the only conclusions that could possibly be drawn by a review of broadcasting.

As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) a moment ago, this is very much a live debate, and obviously the commission’s regulations need to be fed into that process and given due consideration. I hope, however, that the hon. Lady will join me in welcoming the commission’s explicit rejection of the break-up of broadcasting in this country and the balkanisation of the BBC.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): I am glad that the commission’s report has overwhelming and enthusiastic support from all parties in the Scottish Parliament. Can the Secretary of State assure me that he will work hand in glove with the Scottish Government to ensure that all its recommendations are implemented in full, particularly those that are within his gift down in this House?

Andy Burnham: I am interested to hear that the hon. Gentleman welcomes the report, as it was my understanding that his party’s stated policy was to examine the case for devolution within broadcasting, whereas, rather embarrassingly for him and his colleagues, the commission has explicitly rejected the central argument it was set up to test. We will give the recommendations due consideration because they are important and they deserve to be given careful thought. [Interruption.] We will— [Interruption.] If anybody were to do that in the Select Committee that the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) chairs, I am sure they would receive a stern rebuke from the Chair. We will consider the recommendations, but I am glad that the main plank of the Scottish National party’s argument on broadcasting has been broken by its own commission.

Licence Fee

6. Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with the BBC Trust on the licence fee. [233993]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Andy Burnham): I have had no discussions on the current licence fee settlement, which was set two years ago by my right hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Tessa Jowell). I have had discussions with the trust on future funding options for public service broadcasting as part of my regular dialogue with it and other broadcasters.

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Mr. Gray: Despite the many good things they do, we have been giving the BBC and the BBC Trust a well deserved kicking this afternoon, but is the Secretary of State the slightest bit surprised that in this post-Brand, post-Ross era—and also in this post-digital era, where we can pick up hundreds of channels free of charge or at low cost—a recent MORI poll should discover that 47 per cent. of people asked concluded that £140 a year for the licence fee is very poor value for money?

Andy Burnham: I am disappointed at the tone of the hon. Gentleman’s question. If he were to cast his mind back a little further than just the past two weeks, he would recall that many people in this House and beyond were deservedly congratulating the BBC on its superb coverage of the Beijing Olympics. I think that, on the whole, people get excellent value for their licence fee. The issues the hon. Gentleman identified were looked at when the charter renewal process was taken through by my right hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood, and there was found to be majority support for the continuation of the licence fee. There will always be a debate about whether it is set at the right level, but, as I have said, on the whole the BBC provides very good value for money, and British public service broadcasting, of which it is the bedrock, is admired around the world.

Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central) (Lab): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said a few moments ago that it was not down to him to keep a running tally of salaries within the BBC, but does he think it is right for a senior BBC executive to be awarded a pay rise this year of £100,000, when other workers in public sector-funded organisations are required to accept pay rises at and around 2 per cent? Does he think that is a good use of licence fee payers’ money?

Andy Burnham: What the BBC pays its staff is a matter for the BBC, but it is a matter for the BBC Trust to ensure that maximum value for money is achieved by the BBC management and executive. It is important that the BBC shows sensitivity on these matters and understands the wider climate in which we are all operating. If it does so, that is the right way to maintain high public confidence in the BBC in the long term.

ITV (Regional News)

7. Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): What recent discussions he has had with Ofcom on the provision of regional news on ITV. [233994]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Andy Burnham): Regional news provision on ITV forms a key part of Ofcom’s current public sector broadcasting review and is therefore one of a wide range of broadcasting issues discussed at my regular meetings with Ofcom’s chief executive.

Norman Baker: I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, and I hope that he will agree that, over the past 50 years, ITV’s regional news output has been one of the great successes of that channel. However, will he also accept that we are now seeing a series of highly regrettable cuts in excellent areas such as Meridian? What steps does he feel he can take to ensure that either ITV or a different public service broadcaster provides regional news as an alternative to the BBC?

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Andy Burnham: As I said earlier, it is important to understand that the ITV licences are changing. A phrase was used some time ago—that they were a licence to print money. That is changing as we move to a world where the ITV franchise is not very different from others in a multi-channel world. However, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that regional news and production is one of the successes of ITV over many generations—the company’s regional roots are what many people like about ITV. It has put forward revised proposals on regional news, and Ofcom is conducting a consultation on them until early December. I am sure that Ofcom will bear in mind the views that the hon. Gentleman has just expressed, but I also urge him to make further representations before the closure of that deadline.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): Is the Secretary of State aware that there is real concern among local newspapers about the competitiveness of the local media market? They believe that the BBC’s most recent attempt to spend £68 million on an online video service will interfere with their ability to make a profit out of their local internet-based services.

Andy Burnham: I recognise the concern in the newspaper and publishing industries about the proposals, and the BBC Trust will consider this issue later this month. Regarding the job that the trust does, in addition to the issues I mentioned earlier, it is now required to conduct a wider public value test on any new services that the BBC intends to introduce, which includes a market impact assessment. The trust is therefore required to consider these issues in the round, and not just to look at the BBC. As my hon. Friend said, there are widespread concerns. They have been expressed to the trust, and I am sure that it will take them into account.

Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): Further to the question from the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), local newspapers are among the most vibrant and dynamic locally based institutions in this country, ensuring that our democracy is delivered locally, as well as nationally. As we have seen with the impact on regional news, the BBC’s going in further and driving local newspapers out of business will have a major impact on the variety and diversity of our media. This creeping monopoly cannot be allowed to proceed, and we cannot leave this issue to the chairman of the BBC Trust, when it is the Secretary of State who should defend the right of the people to have the news provided locally.

Andy Burnham: I agree with the hon. Gentleman that local newspapers are a much-valued part of the media industry. My constituents, I am sure, are very similar to his, and they depend on the local press in the Leigh area as a trusted source of news. I also appreciate the urgency of these issues. Two respected national newspaper editors are writing about them in today’s Media Guardian, presenting a well-argued and persuasive case for ensuring that we appreciate the pressures on the newspaper industry. All these issues will be considered in the round, and that is why I say to the hon. Gentleman that that is the job of the BBC Trust. It is able to take a broader view, and it is important that we let it do its job.

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Sport England

9. Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab): What discussions he has had with Sport England on its contribution to the development of community sporting facilities as part of regeneration initiatives; and if he will make a statement. [233997]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe): I have had no recent discussions with Sport England on this matter. However, we do recognise the key role that sports facilities can play in shaping and invigorating communities. Sport England is helping local authorities to plan strategically, so that we have the right facilities in the right places to benefit the whole community.

Mr. Allen: My hon. Friend the Minister knows that I will continue to press him gently but persistently on the point that, although we are all very proud that the Olympic games are coming to the UK, sport has a fantastic role to play in regenerating our local communities. I hope that he has had a chance to read the document that I sent him from Sport Nottingham—part of the One Nottingham partnership’s effort—which is designed to get young people actively involved in our communities through all the things that sport can teach them about leadership, teamwork and so on. Yes, we all applaud the Olympics, but, equally, will he ensure that our efforts on community regeneration through sport continue unabated?

Mr. Sutcliffe: I congratulate my hon. Friend, who chairs One Nottingham, on the way in which it has examined the strategic position of sport in its community—that is what we want to see. Sport can provide benefits, be it in health and education, or in reducing offending. It is important that everyone benefits from the London 2012 Olympics. We need to work with Sport England and local communities to ensure that sport and world-class facilities are available to everyone, in all our communities.

Topical Questions

T1. [234008] Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Andy Burnham): Last week, the four-year digital switchover process began smoothly in the Border region. A range of organisations have worked well together to make that possible, particularly the local organisations, including the Scottish Borders council and The Bridge community organisation, and the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Moore). I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in passing on our thanks to them. Tomorrow, VisitBritain will publish Deloitte’s report on the contribution of tourism to the economy.

Simon Hughes: I thank the Secretary of State for his response. He will be aware that one of the big concerns the length of the country is the pocket money pricing of alcohol in respect of off-sales from supermarkets and other such places. Given that today’s Select Committee on Home Affairs report on policing contained a specific recommendation to his Department and that the “Tackling
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Booze Britain” report by my Liberal colleagues asks that there be a minimum price for alcohol sales, and negotiation with the EU, if necessary, can he give an undertaking that this issue will be addressed by his Department, so that we can stop vodka, other spirits and beers being bought for cheaper than almost everything else that is available in many of our supermarkets?

Andy Burnham: I certainly recognise the importance of the issues that the hon. Gentleman has raised. He will know that the Government have in hand a review of alcohol price, promotion and harm. I have not yet had a chance to study all the Committee’s report, but I have had a look at the sections that relate to my Department. I believe that the Committee’s Chair was on the radio this morning saying that he did not see evidence that the Licensing Act 2003 had contributed to fuelling alcohol-related violence, although the Committee did say that it did not believe that the full powers of the Act were being used properly to target and clamp down on problem areas. We recognise that conclusion; indeed, we have said a similar thing ourselves. We will study the Committee’s report carefully, but I can say that I agree with that central recommendation.

T2. [234009] Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): York’s designation as an area of archaeological importance protects the unique and irreplaceable archaeological remains below the city’s streets from being dug up by public utility companies. The York-based Council for British Archaeology and the York Archaeological Trust are worried that the designation could be changed in the new heritage Bill. Will the Minister be willing to meet me, and archaeologists from York, to discuss our concerns?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Barbara Follett): I would be extremely happy to meet my hon. Friend; in fact, I have a date in my diary for 15 December.

T3. [234010] Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): Are we all invited?Before I go back to reading the Secretary of State’s excellent speeches, may I ask him whether he heard a senior BBC executive say that younger people felt that the swearing, foul language and appalling behaviour of Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross was acceptable? Is this not the point: younger people have heard a lot of swearing and seen appalling behaviour on the TV—and heard it on the radio—so believe that such things are acceptable? They reflect the language and whatever they see on the BBC and on other things. Is this not another example of the rarefied behaviour of BBC executives, which leads them to paying Jonathan Ross £6 million a year of the money that comes from every member of the public walking the streets?

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