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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 482: debated on Monday 10 November 2008

Culture, Media and Sport

The Secretary of State was asked—

Horse Racing Levy

1. What recent discussions he has had with representatives of horse racing on modernising the levy system; and if he will make a statement. (233988)

I have met representatives of the horse racing and bookmaking industries on a number of occasions and discussed the horserace betting levy. I would like to pay tribute to both industries for their flexibility in agreeing the 48th levy scheme without the need for Government determination, and for their commitment to continue the work on modernising the levy.

I thank the Minister for that response. We welcome the fact that an agreement was reached on the levy, but it happened at the eleventh hour, in the 59th minute. Each year, wrangling over the levy holds up the modernisation process. Is there nothing that the Minister can do to push that process along, and to concentrate the minds of the industry to make progress so that the Government are no longer a part of it? Will he consider setting up a forum for those of us who want to contribute to the debate that will allow us to do so, and which will prevent others in the industry from running away from the problems or from stifling debate?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his work on the all-party group on racing, which helped us to deal with these complex issues. He was right to say that the deal took place at the eleventh hour, in the 59th minute, but that was better than last year when the Secretary of State had to determine it. It is important that those in the industry recognise that they have to work together, and I was pleased to see the issues raised by Sir Philip Otton’s report, which was commissioned by the levy board. The hon. Gentleman may be right, and I am due to receive a report on modernisation from the levy board on the 30 April next year, but in the mean time, all of us who have the interests of racing and betting at heart may want to consider the issues at stake. I will get back to him on the setting up of such a working group.

I welcome the agreement between both organisations, and look forward to a sustainable future for both of them. Will the Minister remind them that horse racing is a community sport, with many families going to race courses to enjoy a day out? I hope that they will keep that at the back of their mind—or at the front—when having discussions in the near future.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his work with local race courses. He is right to say that racing is a universal sport that everyone can enjoy, but it is a commercial entity. Complex issues affect the sport, and sports betting, and we need the industries to work together. It should not be left to the Government at the eleventh or twelfth hour to resolve the issues. The industries should consider those issues in a commercial and practical way, while remembering that the sport is there to serve the people. My hon. Friend’s points will be well noted by both sectors.

Did the Minister see the article in the Racing Post last week that suggested hundreds of betting shops are likely to close in the near future if things do not change in the industry? Would he agree that there was little for bookmakers in the last-minute agreement? If the bookmaking industry is going to survive and thrive in this country, any future levy settlement will have to be much more in their favour.

I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his work on the all-party group on racing. He hits the nail on the head: this is a complex, commercial issue involving two sectors that rely on each other. I do not want to comment on who won or lost. It is important that both thrive, and that they recognise the issues that they face. On the back of the successful discussions, they can deal with those complex issues, while recognising that they are inter-dependent.

Can the Minister confirm that the levy will produce about £100 million in the present year? The British Horseracing Authority is seeking a sum adjacent to £150 million, while the bookmakers’ representatives believe that they should pay only £40 million because of the costs of Turf TV, to which they contribute. Racing is socially, culturally and economically important. Will the Minister say whether betting exchanges are likely to pay their due share towards those costs?

I pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend does for his local race course. There are many issues facing betting, as I said earlier, and he tempts me down a course of saying what I think about the negotiations. I am not prepared to do that, other than to say that I am glad that they were successful. I have asked for further work to be done on the matter of betting exchanges. It is clearly an issue when people can bet from abroad and pay no contribution towards the levy.

I do not know whether you are a betting man, Mr. Speaker—[Laughter.] You are smiling. I do not know how I should read that, but I suggest that you take no advice from this Government, who have not had a lot of luck with the horses recently. We have just heard that there is still a problem with the levy, and we know that the on-course bookmakers dispute rumbles on. I think that we were promised in 1999 that the Tote would be sold off, but that option has been kicked into the long grass. When will the Minister’s Department take these matters seriously, and ensure that racing stays on the back pages, not on the front pages because of unresolved problems?

We might not have been lucky on the horses, but we were certainly lucky with by-election last Thursday, given the win that we had.

It is important to do the right thing by the industry and the sectors. As I understand it—the hon. Gentleman will tell me if I am wrong—the Opposition supported our decisions on the sale of the Tote, the levy and on-course bookmakers. I do not know why he feels that he should chide us when he supports our actions.

Digital Television

2. What assessment he has made of levels of access to digital television services in the north of England; and if he will make a statement. (233989)

At present, 83 per cent. of households can receive digital terrestrial television in the Yorkshire ITV region; 94 per cent. in the Granada region; 91 per cent. in the Tyne Tees region, and 51 per cent. in the Border region. After switchover, it is expected that the figure will rise to 99 per cent. for the Yorkshire, Granada and Tyne Tees regions, and 98 per cent. for the Border region. We do not have regional figures for digital satellite or cable coverage, but 98 per cent. of UK households can receive satellite services, and approximately 49 per cent. have access to cable.

I am grateful for that answer, but is it right that those who live in the Yorkshire and Humber region pay their full television licence fee but do not receive the same status as many other regions? What advice is the Minister giving those who live in the Vale of York and may be about to change their television sets about what equipment to purchase?

I do not know the answer to the hon. Lady’s first question, but I will write to her. People in the Vale of York should buy the latest 8k television sets because they are the up-to-date models.

Visually impaired people, including those in the north of England and in my constituency, will benefit from the digital switchover help scheme, which enables them to receive audio described programming. Does my hon. Friend agree that 20 per cent. of programmes broadcast should provide that service, rather than the current 10 per cent. target?

I agree with my right hon. Friend that there is a case for what he suggests, and we will examine it.

The north of my constituency is rural and semi-rural, and many of my constituents can get only four terrestrial channels and cannot receive Freeview, yet are expected to pay the full licence fee. They are even more upset because they feel that they are not being sufficiently prioritised in the digital switchover, when their needs are clearly greater than those in other areas. What does the Minister plan to do about that?

The digital signal will improve for everyone, wherever they are, when analogue is switched off. People do not realise the advantages of that. I stress that most households in the country currently have at least one digital television.

In February, the Department for Communities and Local Government recommended robust exploration of options to include a return path in digital TV set-top boxes. Why are people in the north of England and elsewhere losing out on options such as smart metering, support with independent living and electronic access to local government services simply because the Minister has failed to follow the advice of her colleagues in that Department? If, as she told me in a letter, more research is needed, has she commissioned it?

The research is being done. I hoped that I had made that clear to the hon. Gentleman in my letter and I am sorry that I did not. I agree that the more versatility we can supply, the better, but it does not seem currently to be a cost-effective option.

BBC (Public Service Broadcasting)

3. What recent discussions he has had about the BBC’s performance of its public service broadcasting responsibilities. (233990)

Commercial pressures are forcing ITV to reduce its commitment to regional programming. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the BBC should not slavishly play the ratings game and ape ITV, with fat-cat salaries for top presenters and executives, but put public money, which comes from licence fee payers, into regional television and high-quality local radio programmes?

On ITV, as we move towards a full digital television world, the basis on which we have regulated ITV hitherto changes. It is important to understand that the financial case changes for the regional programming that we have received for many years. However, I agree with my hon. Friend that we want public service broadcasting to build on the best of what we have got—strong programming, with a regional identity and regional news, which people value greatly, provided by not only the BBC.

Quite apart from the behaviour of Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand, does the Secretary of State share the concern expressed by viewers of the BBC and other public service channels about the torrent of gratuitous bad language that is now found on programmes ranging from comedy to cookery after 9 pm? Does he think that the time has come when broadcasters may need to reconsider what is publicly acceptable in mainstream entertainment shows?

May I welcome what the Chair of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport has just said? I do not expect him to read all my speeches, but if he reads some of them, he will see that since I took on this job, I have spoken many times about the importance of maintaining standards, particularly in a changing world. People can look online for all kinds of information, gossip and so on, but TV needs to uphold standards in this changing world. That is incredibly important. I welcomed very much what the chairman of ITV said last week about the importance of the watershed. I note that one newspaper—The Sunday Telegraph, I think—did a survey that found a spike in programmes containing heavy use of swearing immediately after the watershed. I do not think that that is acceptable. The watershed is there as a guide to broadcasters. The public clearly understand that programmes can reflect the language that is used, but that there should not be gratuitous use of bad language on television.

Certainly I recognise that the BBC is still a great national institution and I am usually a great supporter of it. However, if we have a public sector broadcaster that is funded by the licence fee, should it not be more independent in its news gathering? Personally, I am sickened by the number of times we have to hear what the papers say and by how the lead from all that Conservative press outside is slavishly followed on the BBC. Why can it not get its own news?

If my hon. Friend looks at research into how the public value news, particularly that provided by the BBC, he will see that they find it to be trustworthy, impartial, accurate and of high quality. They depend on it very much and as far as I am concerned, the BBC continues to provide an excellent news service.

The BBC should be providing programmes that the whole family can watch together. Does the Secretary of State agree that it would be nice to see “The Generation Game” return to our screens on Saturday nights, albeit not presented by Mr. Ross or Mr. Brand?

All of us, or most of us, are television viewers and it always tempting to pass comment on editorial matters in the House and amplify our views to the nation about the kind of programmes that we should be seeing. We should mainly resist the temptation to comment on editorial matters, although the temptation is great in my case, having seen the wonderful and talented Laura White harshly voted off “The X Factor” on Saturday. She happens also to be my constituent, so I should probably say no more on that topic. However, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that this is not a good place for politicians to comment on every editorial decision that the BBC or other broadcasters take.

The millions of people who live in the counties in the M25 ring around London are much more numerous than all the people in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland put together, yet they are badly served by BBC news gathering and provision. It really is time that the Secretary of State told the BBC to get a move on and provide proper news reporting facilities and proper news programmes for places such as my area of Essex, on both radio and television, and to recognise that there are boundaries such as the Thames Gateway that need to be embraced. We are being badly served, yet we are millions of people more than those in the other countries, which, very important though they are, each have almost their own BBC Scotland service. Discuss.

My hon. Friend may not have noticed, but the BBC Trust is at present in a mode where it is receiving constructive criticism on the services that it provides. I would encourage him to make his views known to the BBC Trust, which I am sure will take the strength of feeling that he has just displayed on board.

Does the Secretary of State agree that one of the things that has emerged over the past few weeks from the Russell Brand-Jonathan Ross incident is that it is difficult for viewers to know exactly to whom they should complain if they are unhappy with BBC programmes that are funded by their licence fee? Should they complain to the BBC management, the BBC Trust or Ofcom? In view of that, does he agree that it is absolutely essential that viewers should be represented by an independent body that champions the needs of licence fee payers, and not by an organisation that defends the BBC as an institution?

Let me say quite clearly that the episode to which the hon. Gentleman refers was a serious lapse of broadcasting standards, and, indeed, of the editorial controls designed to uphold those standards. Furthermore, the BBC management was too slow to recognise the seriousness of the situation. However, I would refer the hon. Gentleman to the statement issued by the BBC Trust on 30 October, which set in train a whole range of actions to ensure that there would be no repeat of that episode. One example of those actions is the review of the BBC’s editorial guidelines.

On the hon. Gentleman’s wider point, I think that it is clear to the public that the BBC Trust can and will take the issues that are referred to it and challenge the BBC on them. It already has a record of doing that on behalf of the licence fee payer. It is also true to say that Ofcom has a role to play in taking a wider view of broadcasting and ensuring that standards across the board are upheld. Those two roles are complementary, and they are working well. Indeed, in this case, the regulators have set action in train and done their job.

If the system works so well, will Secretary of State explain why it is so difficult for licence fee payers, even after freedom of information requests, to find out the salaries paid to BBC management or BBC stars? Should not the first lesson be that, if the BBC is to restore confidence in what it does, it needs to be totally transparent? This is our money, not the BBC’s, and we are entitled to know how it is being spent.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the BBC Trust has a job to do in representing the licence fee payers to the BBC management and the BBC executive. I also agree that, if it is to do that job effectively, it is important for there to be proper transparency and disclosure of information that can have a bearing on public opinion in relation to the BBC. However, I would refer him to some of the strong actions that the BBC Trust has already taken since it came into existence. An example is the King report, which looked into news reporting across the four home nations. There should always be disclosure of information, where that is in the public interest, and if the hon. Gentleman would like to write to me to suggest further areas in which that could be improved, I shall give the matter my consideration.

Public Service Broadcasting

4. What recent discussions he has had with Ofcom on the public service obligations of the broadcast media. (233991)

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.

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?

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. 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?

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.

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.

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?

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.

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?

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. What recent representations he has received on the potential transfer to the Scottish Executive of his powers in respect of broadcasting in Scotland. (233992)

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?

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.

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?

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

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.

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?

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.

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?

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)

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Sport England

9. 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)

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.

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?

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

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.

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 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?

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. 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? (234009)

T3. 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? (234010)

I do not recall the comments to which the hon. Gentleman referred. If he wants to send them to me, I will read them carefully. I refer him to the points I made earlier about the review of the BBC’s editorial guidelines. It is crucial that those guidelines reflect majority opinion in the country about what it is and is not acceptable to broadcast. I share his concerns about the excessive use of bad language on television. It is important that broadcasters listen to public concern about those issues and ensure that what they broadcast on our screens is acceptable, high-quality entertainment without resorting to cheap headlines or ways of generating cheap publicity.

T5. In spring last year, Sporting Equals was directed by the Government to produce—as a priority—policy guidance on the issue of racial abuse in sport. That guidance is 14 months overdue, with two missed deadlines, and now no production date has been set at all. Why is the publication of that guidance so lamentably delayed? Is racial abuse in sport sadly no longer a priority for the Government? (234012)

Clearly, any form of racism in sport is unacceptable. I apologise to my hon. Friend for the time that it has taken for Sport England and Sporting Equals to come up with those guidelines. I will ensure that they respond more quickly than the deadline that he has set, because I believe that it is important that this House ensures that we do not accept racism of any form in sport.

Will the Secretary of State confirm rumours that the heritage protection Bill has been dropped from the Queen’s Speech? If that is the case, is that not the final nail in the coffin for the Government’s heritage policies? We have seen lottery money plundered, the Government telling churches to turn themselves into cafés and gyms and now the denial of the vital parliamentary time that would allow the heritage sector better to look after the heritage that belongs to us all. When can we have a positive vision for our heritage sector? Is it condemned to yet more years of neglect and decline?

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s criticism. In the recent spending round, English Heritage received an increase in funding. We have worked with all parties in the heritage sector to introduce the first heritage protection Bill for 30 years. That is clear evidence of the Government’s commitment to the sector. The hon. Gentleman knows that I cannot comment on the Queen’s Speech in advance of its publication. However, he will know that the Planning Bill will require us to bring forward a new planning policy statement on the built heritage, replacing planning policy guidance 15 and 16. We will do so shortly, and we will issue that statement for consultation. We recognise the importance of the built heritage and we are taking active steps to protect it.

T6. What talks has my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had with Treasury colleagues about the “Subs for Clubs” campaign to extend gift aid to cover junior member subscription fees? That would greatly help clubs such as Llangennech rugby football club in my constituency, which does outstanding work with young people. (234013)

We continue to talk with the Treasury and others to ensure that we try to maximise the advantage to clubs of the CASC—Community Amateur Sports Clubs—scheme. It is an important scheme that delivers on the ground and we want to encourage more clubs to take part. We are continually discussing ways of trying to support local clubs. Llanelli is a well-known club in Wales, and it was sad to see the team leave its old ground after the game on Friday. We will work hard to make sure we support amateur clubs.

Some time ago, the former Secretary of State gave a commitment that the Lilleshall national sports academy, in my constituency, would become a regional training facility for the 2012 Olympics. Will the Minister confirm that that is the case? What is the timetable for bringing that facility on stream?

There are a number of training facilities across the country and we have supported their bids to be training camps for 2012. It is now up to the countries that want to come to those training camps to put bids in, and we will support Lilleshall in the same way as anywhere else.

T7. Do Ministers see merit in changing the taxation system for the national lottery and introducing a gross profit tax, such as that used in other gambling sectors, in order to increase turnover and the amount of money that is available for good causes? (234014)

There is merit in that argument, but there are also potential downsides. It is important that the public have confidence in the tax arrangements relating to the national lottery and we keep these matters under active consideration.

Does the Minister accept that swimming is an important skill, especially in an island, or a seaside community such as Castle Point, so will he give us a progress report on the free swimming initiative?

I am happy to report that more than 80 per cent. of local authorities support the free swimming initiative for the over-60s and the aspirations for the under-16s. I am concerned, however, that a number of local authorities are playing politics with the issue by not investing their own money in supporting free swimming. It is important that people see the issue for what it is: it came from local government, and many local authorities funded it from their own resources. The Government supported the scheme and have put money on the table, but we are being thwarted by a number of authorities that would rather play politics than deliver free swimming for their constituents.

T10. My hon. Friend the Minister will be aware that Insight radio, in Partick in Glasgow, for partially sighted and blind people, is doing a great job and is about to roll out across the country. Will she consider having that excellent radio station put on Freeview, which is after all paid for by licence holders, so that blind and partially sighted people throughout the country have better access to the radio station? (234017)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is hard to imagine circumstances in which it would be appropriate or acceptable for a child to find out who their father is by means of a DNA test result revealed on daytime TV? Is he aware of my forthcoming ten-minute Bill, which aims to encourage broadcasters to act more responsibly in that and other matters involving children?

I did not see the programme, although I am aware of the concerns that my hon. Friend has raised. In principle, it is completely unacceptable for that to happen. In the live debate we are having about broadcasting standards, my hon. Friend is right to raise her concerns and as I said about other issues we have discussed, there should be no repeat of those circumstances and processes should be strengthened to ensure that is the case.

Olympics

The Minister for the Olympics was asked—

Expenditure

1. What her most recent estimate is of the cost to the public purse of hosting the London 2012 Olympic games; and if she will make a statement. (233980)

2. What her most recent estimate is of the cost to the public purse of hosting the London 2012 Olympic Games; and if she will make a statement. (233981)

The estimate of public expenditure on the London 2012 Olympic games remains within the £9.325 billion package that I announced in March 2007. I provided further details of the budget in my statement of December 2007 and in my six-month progress updates of January and July 2008. The next progress report, setting out the budgetary changes in detail, will be in January 2009. After that, as part of my commitment to transparency—making the details of the budget as widely available as possible—I shall move from providing financial updates on a six-monthly to a three-monthly basis.

That £9.3 billion estimate is an increase from the figure of £4 billion originally given to the House, which is an appalling overspend even by the lax standards of this Government. Will the Minister assure the House that the present economic recession will not add further to the public cost, either to the taxpayer, the council tax payer or indeed the national lottery, which has already been raided for the Olympics? Will she give an undertaking that the £9.3 billion estimate will be a full and final figure within which the Olympics must live?

Given that the figure of £9.325 billion includes a contingency of £2.7 billion not included in the original figure, I have made it absolutely clear to all the many stakeholders in the Olympics that £9.325 billion is the absolute limit of public money, whether it comes from the lottery, the London council tax payer or the Exchequer.

Given the extraordinarily large salaries being paid to the organisers of the Olympic games for what is, after all, meant to be an amateur contest, does the Minister agree that it might concentrate their minds a little if they were told that any further increase that impacts on the taxpayer at all—whether directly or indirectly—should be matched by the same percentage decrease in the salaries that they receive?

First, I should like to make it absolutely clear that people of world-class experience and stature are working on the project. That is why all the major projects in the construction programme are already on budget and on time. The hon. Gentleman proposes his various flamboyant—[Interruption] imaginative—ideas on how costs will be controlled. The fact that we have such high-calibre people running the construction of the Olympic park means that we have made very good progress.

What recent discussions has my right hon. Friend had with local authorities, such as mine in Enfield, to ensure that they are doing all that they can to use the Olympics to encourage sport at grass-roots level? She will know that my local authority has a very poor record on sports and leisure provision and was recently dumping rubbish in our athletics stadium, so I am very concerned to know that we are putting pressure on them to ensure that our young people in Enfield get the benefit of the Olympic games.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I pay tribute to the work that she has done with constituents to ensure that they derive full benefit from the London 2012 games. She is absolutely right to point to the variation in the initiative and imagination shown by local authorities, not just in London but across the country. There are many incentives: the opportunity to host training camps and to maximise the number of local volunteers. The opportunity is part of the economic development strategy to bid for contracts. Of course, there is the opportunity to win the right to show the Inspire mark, which is a symbol of excellence in achievement by organisations, clubs and individuals around the country. Yes, local authorities have got an absolutely key role to play in ensuring that these are the UK’s games in London and that every community has the opportunity to become involved and to show the kind of leadership that she has shown in making that happen.

May I ask the Minister to keep her beady eye on who is getting the jobs from this record public expenditure? Is she aware from the latest figures for new national insurance numbers that, in Newham alone last year, 20,000-plus national insurance numbers were issued to non-British workers? Will she hold discussions with the contractors to ensure that local people get a far better share of the new jobs than they are getting currently?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and hope that he will continue to press this issue, on which a clear commitment has been shown by the Olympic Delivery Authority. Of the people now working on the construction of the Olympic park, 25 per cent. are from the local Olympic boroughs and 10 per cent. were previously unemployed. The ODA has commissioned a tracking study to ensure that the people who have been counted as local really are local, rather than transient. I thank him for his vigilance and very much hope that we can live up to his very high expectations.

I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will welcome the assurances that the Minister has just given to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), but can I tempt her to go a little further? Surely, given the current economic situation, which was not predicted at the time of the March 2007 budget announcement, a number of the costs contained in that budget must have fallen, while others have risen. Does she agree, and when does she anticipate being able to amortise them?

Yes, I agree, and those figures will be published, as soon as they are ready and robust, at the time of the January publication of the quarterly report.

Parts of the costing equation still seem rather vague, not least the £1 billion for the athletes village and the £400 million for the broadcasting and media centre. Will my right hon. Friend tell me whether the formula, under which it was anticipated that £650 million would come from the private sector to underpin running costs, will deliver that sum? Seven tier 1 sponsors have been recruited, which is good news; that is £350 million. However, in this economically pressed time, will we get the other £300 million from smaller firms?

Let me separate out two elements from my hon. Friend’s question. First, as he will know, the private-sector contribution to the construction of both the Olympic village and the press and broadcast centre is subject to renegotiation in the light of the economic downturn and the reduction in the equity and contingent borrowing available. Again, it is important that the House understands the Olympic village’s investment in new homes for the people of east London. Decisions will be taken about the scale on which the press and broadcast centre will be built, depending on the certainty of legacy.

The second part of his question was, I think, essentially about the amount of sponsorship raised by the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games. I can assure him that it is on target to meet its sponsorship goals. It has already raised more money at this stage than any previous Olympic city. However, it would be ridiculous to pretend that the economic climate is as easy and susceptible as it was when we made the bid. In these circumstances, LOCOG is doing an extraordinarily good job of raising money.

Will the Minister confirm that if the cost to the public purse soars to such an extent that Olympic projects are put at risk, Ministers will prioritise critical infrastructure investment projects, such as the £91-million north London line proposals, rather than spending money on a massive media centre, more £40-million contracts for management consultants, or adding to the 1,000 members of staff already working on the Olympics?

I am afraid that that is a rather half-baked Liberal Democrat analysis of the accounts. Expertise was brought in for the Olympics early on. That is why we are on budget and, so far, on time for all aspects of the development. Without going into the rest of the rather cheap and unsubstantiated points that he makes, I can absolutely confirm that legacy is the basis on which long-term investment decisions about the Olympics will be made. Before we make a major commitment of money, we want to be absolutely convinced that there is a legacy to be realised. Those decisions and judgments will shape the conclusions about the nature of the broadcasting centre that is to be constructed; construction is due to begin next spring.

Commonwealth Games

3. If she will ensure that the preparations for the London 2012 Olympics complement preparations for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth games. (233982)

Hosting the Olympic and Paralympic games in London in 2012, and the Commonwealth games in Glasgow in 2014, presents a unique opportunity to realise sporting, business and cultural benefits for the whole of Scotland. Ministers and officials are in regular contact on preparations for both London 2012 and Glasgow 2014. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport would agree, both events are regularly discussed at meetings of the Sports Cabinet. Officials have shared experience of various issues, including Government guarantees, legislation, advertising controls and ticket-touting.

The UK is fortunate to be hosting two great international sporting events within the space of two years, but it is vital that Glasgow in 2014 is not seen as an afterthought. What further steps will the Minister take to improve joint working, and particularly to ensure that companies can benefit from the experience of working on both events? With Scottish companies so far winning only 2 per cent. of the contracts for 2012, despite making up 7 per cent. of UK businesses, the signs are not promising.

. A real drive from the Scottish Executive to maximise the benefits to Scotland of the contracts, for instance, would be one way forward, as would accepting my right hon. and hon. Friends’ invitations to meet Scottish Executive Ministers regularly to provide support and know-how in hosting the 2014 games. Sadly, however, it seems that the Scottish Executive have declined the offers of help that have been extended to them.