Mr. Grogan: When considering representations from the England and Wales Cricket Board, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that grass-roots cricket receives as much money from the lottery and the Sports Council as it does from broadcasting, that the principal sponsor of English cricket says that it is far more likely to renew its sponsorship if there is some free-to-air exposure, and that the proposal to relist the Ashes effectively means simulcasting one series from 2017 on free-to-air and subscription television?
Mr. Bradshaw: As my hon. Friend is absolutely right to say, grass-roots sports benefit not only from the revenue raised by the selling of television rights but from significant central Government funds, through our sporting bodies and the lottery. I am well aware of the strong support in the House and the country for the return of test cricket to free-to-view television. We will consider all representations very carefully before making a decision that we think will be in the interests of the public.
Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con):
Notwithstanding that, does the Secretary of State accept that our success in a number of sports in recent years, particularly cricket and golf, has been largely due to the huge amount of money that has gone into those games as a result of the sale of broadcasting rights? The ECB has estimated that listing the Ashes tests will cost it £100 million. Will the Secretary of State think about that very carefully when he considers the
Davies report? If he proceeds with the listing, huge damage will be done to grass-roots sports throughout the country.
Mr. Bradshaw: We will consider all representations very carefully. The hon. Gentleman has made an important point about the potential impact on some of the sporting organisations, although some of the figures that are being bandied about may be open to challenge. There is a balance to be struck between the understandable desire of sporting organisations to make a lot of money by selling television rights and the right of the public to have access to some of the big sporting occasions that the nation enjoys.
Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): Whatever the final decision, it will have different impacts on different parts of the country. I am thinking particularly of the impact on grass-roots football. Before the final decision is made, will my right hon. Friend receive a representation from Scottish football fans and members of the Scottish Football Association to ensure that there is very little impact on grass-roots football in Scotland?
Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent) (Con): A considerable number of county cricket chairmen, including one whom I believe has been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale), are writing to Members in all parts of the House about the listed events review, and they have been joined today by the International Cricket Council. Given that Sport England grants cricket-I think-£37.8 million, and given that, as my hon. Friend said, the county cricket chairmen claim that the hit to cricket will be £100 million, will the Secretary of State confirm that, having extended the review to the middle of March, the Government intend to conduct an independent economic assessment? Without such an assessment, it will be almost impossible to reconcile the two conflicting claims.
Mr. Bradshaw: I can confirm that, but I urge the hon. Gentleman, who regularly raises sporting bodies' concerns about this matter in the House, to recognise that there are two sides to the debate. I was surprised to read last week that he thought it would be foolish to list test cricket, and that listing events was
"an artificial interference in the freedom of a sport's governing body."
That is the complete opposite of what was said by the hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Mr. Hunt), the shadow Secretary of State, who, only last November, welcomed the Davies report and the principle of listing. That further U-turn from the Conservatives demonstrates their complete confusion over their policy.
The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Margaret Hodge): We expect continuing positive growth in domestic tourism following a 7 per cent. increase in the number of overnight trips and a 4 per cent. increase in visitor expenditure in the first 10 months of 2009. VisitBritain has forecast that the number of visitors from overseas could increase by 0.8 per cent. in 2010, with a corresponding rise of 3.8 per cent. in visitor spend.
Mr. Sanders: Is the Minister aware of a study of lower VAT rates by the British Association of Leisure Parks, Piers and Attractions, which concluded that were we to adopt a VAT rate for accommodation and restaurants similar to the rates charged by our competitors in Europe, we would not only boost domestic tourism but increase Treasury revenues in the long run?
I have received representations on the issue of VAT. That issue is obviously a matter for the Chancellor, but we provide visitors with benefits that other countries do not provide. For example, free access to our museums is a very important attraction that encourages people to visit the United Kingdom.
Margaret Hodge: Again, I have had representations on that issue, and, again, I have to say that it is a matter for the Chancellor. The fact that we have been able to encourage both domestic tourism and increasing numbers of people from Europe to visit Britain ought, of course, to benefit the tourism industry, and all the figures and statistics suggest that we are moving in the right direction.
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): As the Minister will know, we have a very good network of farms with second homes that are let out as holiday lets, particularly in the Ribble Valley. In the last Budget, however, a tax change made it less advantageous for the owners of these second homes to let them out as holiday lets. Will the Minister make representations to the Chancellor, asking him to right the wrong that has been done so that we do not lose this network, particularly as it has proved to be a great income supplement on farms that do not make a lot of money?
Margaret Hodge: I am very aware of that problem, and I have taken members of the industry who are already particularly affected to a meeting with the Chancellor. The position is, however, that we are being driven by European regulations, not by any desire to increase income to the Treasury. [Hon. Members: "Ah."] Yes, this is, indeed, to do with European regulations, and if Opposition Members do not like that, I am not quite sure what they propose to do about it. I shall, however, repeat to the hon. Gentleman what I have already said to the industry, which is that if it comes forward with a proposition that is workable for it and that complies with the EU regulations, both myself and Treasury Ministers will look at that very seriously. We do not want to do anything that has a negative impact on that part of the industry.
3. Mr. William Bain (Glasgow, North-East) (Lab): What assessment has been made of the likely effect on employment in Scotland of reclassification of Scottish Television as an independent producer. 
The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): We are currently assessing the responses to our consultation on this proposal, and, as my hon. Friend will be aware, there are differing views in Scotland about the benefits in terms of jobs and production. We will take all these responses and views into consideration before proceeding further.
Mr. Bain: I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. In conducting a further assessment of the responses to the consultation, will he accept that, although there is a very strong argument for the share of commissions from Scotland increasing from the current 2 per cent., any reclassification should be made only after consideration has been given to the effect on independent television producers in Scotland as well?
Mr. Bradshaw: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend on that. On a recent visit to Glasgow, I had an opportunity to discuss these issues with representatives of STV, the BBC, which has an indirect interest in this, and smaller producers, and we certainly would not want to do anything that had a negative impact on any of them. Our common objective is to increase the amount of domestic production in Scotland and in the UK as a whole.
Adam Price (Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr) (PC): May I raise with the Secretary of State another matter of considerable import to Scottish television-and it would be remiss of me on St. David's day not to mention that it is also of considerable interest to us in Wales-which is the prospects for the independently funded news consortiums? Is there any realistic chance that the contracts will be signed before the general election, and if they are not, will not the entire process simply be placed in abeyance until the outcome of the election is known?
Mr. Bradshaw: I am grateful for your assent that that question is in order, Mr. Speaker. I cannot promise the hon. Gentleman that the contracts will be signed before the general election, but it is certainly our intention to announce the preferred bidders, both in Wales and Scotland and in the sole English pilot region of Tyne Tees and Border. Whether we manage to secure quality regional news in Wales, Scotland and the English regions in the future will depend on the outcome of the next general election, because the Labour party is committed to achieving that, while the Conservatives have absolutely no proposal whatever to do so.
The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): The Government are taking a number of steps to encourage more investment in original UK content, including through the Digital Economy Bill that is going through Parliament. I also welcome the fact that the BBC has said its current review will include steps to boost investment in domestic content.
Paul Rowen: As I am sure the Secretary of State is aware, investment in original content has declined by £340 million in the last five years. In the light of that, will the Secretary of State consider using the Digital Economy Bill as an opportunity to repeal the contract rights renewal regulations, which penalise, in particular, ITV's investment in original content?
Mr. Bradshaw: I do not think it is practicable to do that in the Bill going through the House, because that Bill contains a lot. We have carefully examined the possibility of doing what the hon. Gentleman suggests, and I am sympathetic to the point that he makes and to the complaints that have been made about this by ITV. As he will be aware, the Competition Commission has not yet made its final ruling and we should await the outcome of that. ITV would, of course, be perfectly able to appeal against that decision, and this Government would be very supportive of such an appeal.
Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we are to get more original content, we need more original talent? Is it not time that the BBC stopped looking as though it is a closed shop for the Yentobs and the Dimblebys, and enabled young people who come from ordinary backgrounds but who have talent to make programmes?
Mr. Bradshaw: My hon. Friend may not like it, but David Dimbleby does a remarkable job. There is also very good young talent on the BBC. One of the BBC's great strengths is that it nurtures and values talent of all ages and in all types of taste. Perhaps that is not to the taste of everybody in this House, but that is exactly what the BBC is there to do.
Mr. Don Foster (Bath) (LD): May I welcome what the Secretary of State said about contract rights renewal and ITV, but does he acknowledge that it is the BBC that is one of the key providers of original UK content and that it needs security of funding to be able to plan for the future? [Interruption.] Does he, therefore, accept that it does not help if a potential Government start talking about top-slicing and cutting the BBC down to size or even, as he has done, about bringing the licence fee to an end in just three years?
The whole House will have heard the chorus of disapproval from Conservative Members at the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that the BBC should have proper secure funding in the future. I agree with him; I think that the BBC is probably the best broadcasting organisation in the world. It is a very valuable part of
our media landscape, and it is hugely important in terms of nurturing talent and investing in UK production. Of course there will be a debate about the future of the BBC, and the future of its funding and the form of it, as that always happens when we have a discussion about the charter and licence fee renewal. That is the time to have that debate, and we should support the BBC and all the good work it does for the country.
Mr. Jeremy Hunt (South-West Surrey) (Con): Digital piracy is one of the biggest concerns for people investing in British TV, so what specific measures has the Secretary of State taken to block access to websites that deliberately promote illegal downloading?
Mr. Bradshaw: The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the position, because of our discussions about this both in private and in the other place about measures in the Digital Economy Bill. I suggest that the most constructive thing he could do to help prevent this serious theft, which is losing our creative economy hundreds of millions of pounds a year, is to support the Government's attempts to get this Bill on to the statute book, and not to try to undermine them.
Mr. Hunt: But the Secretary of State knows that clause 17 cannot be used to block access to illegal downloading websites-he told me so himself. It is possible to rephrase the Digital Economy Bill to do this. The person who would do that would presumably be the Minister responsible for the creative industries, so why has the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Simon) not been replaced since he stepped down? Is it that the Secretary of State is waiting for the country to replace not just one Minister, but all of them?
Mr. Bradshaw: The hon. Gentleman knows very well why we do not think that his solution of site blocking is a sensible way forward. He has received a briefing on it, and if he disagrees with our reasons, he should make his concerns plain to us. However, I should like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to my erstwhile colleague who, as Minister with responsibility for the digital economy, did a great job. As the hon. Gentleman knows, ministerial appointments are a matter for the Prime Minister. In the meantime, my right hon. Friend the Minister of State and I are coping fairly well, thank you very much.
The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): Until the recent fall in advertising revenue, there had been a steady and welcome increase in funding for UK production. We would expect this increase to resume as the economy recovers and as a result of the measures that I was outlining a moment ago.
I must congratulate the Secretary of State on his support for product placement-this is going to make a difference. When will the necessary legislation
be in place and what benefit will it give to Granadaland, which has fine studios for the production of local television?
Mr. Bradshaw: We intend to lay the order in the next few days-either this week or next-and, as I understand it, it will then be on the statute book within three weeks, as long as it is not prayed against.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Has the Secretary of State seen the recent report from the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs? It indicates that Northern Ireland has been shamefully neglected in the funding of television programmes, that Northern Ireland is not adequately portrayed in this country and that talent is not sufficiently encouraged there. When the Minister appeared before the Committee, he was totally ignorant and had not even been to Northern Ireland.
Mr. Bradshaw: I have certainly been to Northern Ireland many times, although not in my current capacity. I shall certainly look at the recommendations made by the hon. Gentleman's Committee and I shall respond to him, if I may, in writing. I would add, however, that we have recently committed ourselves to some considerable funding for Northern Ireland to help preserve the Irish language service when the digital switchover happens. He will also be aware, as he takes a strong interest in these things, that some of the commercial pressures that the rest of the commercial ITV network has come under across the UK have not been so severe in Northern Ireland. UTV has still performed very strongly, because of the strength of its brand.
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