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Television Licence

4. Mr. Evans: What representations he has received concerning the television licence. [13430]

Mr. Chris Smith: We have received nearly 500 letters from hon. Members and members of the public about the television licence. In addition, there have been 12 questions on the subject from hon. Members. The majority of those representations have been about television licence fees and licensing requirements for specific individuals or groups.

Mr. Evans: I am grateful for that reply. Since pensioners are still reeling from the news that they will get no support with their energy bills as regards the wind chill factor, does the Secretary of State agree with the early-day motion tabled by some of his colleagues just three years ago--some of whom are now Ministers--urging the Government to take urgent action to facilitate free television licences for pensioners? Is it not the case that Labour Members support pensioners when in opposition but betray their trust when in government?

Mr. Smith: It is a bit rich for Conservative Members to talk about doing down pensioners. I received a letter from the hon. Gentleman on 6 July about the BBC licence fee, in the course of which he mis-spelt the word "licence" not once but four times. That, I suppose, is the result of 18 years of Tory education policy. [Hon. Members: "Answer."] The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is that, if we made free licences available to all pensioner-only households, it would cost £465 million,

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which would mean an increase in the licence fee for everyone else of £30 a year. We are not prepared to do that.

Mr. Rowlands: Despite some useful changes in the regulations governing television licence fees for elderly people, I must tell my right hon. Friend that there are a huge number of anomalies in the scheme. If nothing else, will he look at those anomalies, which need to be addressed because they are causing great resentment and irritation?

Mr. Smith: My hon. Friend makes a much better point than the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans). There are indeed serious anomalies in the system at the moment. We shall certainly wish to look at that, in conjunction with the general review of the licence fee in a few years' time, to which we are committed. We were committed to that review by the previous Government and we shall be following it through.

Mr. Gale: Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm the information that was given to me by his Minister for Arts to the effect that his party has no plans whatever to consider concessionary television licences--having given the impression in opposition that they would--until at least 2002? Is he not letting pensioners down flat?

Mr. Smith: No, because we made no commitment whatever on concessionary licences before the election.

Athletics

5. Mr. Ennis: What plans he has to help improve the quality of training for British athletes. [13431]

The Minister for Sport (Mr. Tony Banks): We are committed to improving the quality of training both through the development of a British academy of sport, which will provide our athletes with the best training facilities possible, and the English Sports Council's world-class performance programme, which provides lottery support to our elite athletes.

Mr. Ennis: I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. There is a great deal of anticipation about the establishment of a British academy of sport. When can we expect an announcement from him about the location and establishment of that facility?

Mr. Banks: There will be an announcement on Friday.

Mr. Maude: Bearing in mind recent U-turns on the sporting front, will the Minister confirm the report in yesterday's papers that cricket, rugby and football will be included in the British academy of sport? In the light of recent events, can he tell the House whether the leading lights of those sporting organisations were financial contributors to the Labour party?

Mr. Banks: Those sports were never going to be excluded. There has been considerable misunderstanding over the question. [Interruption.] I shall tell the House why. The concept was very good; unfortunately, the design brief did not get very many points. Ministers previously said: "Yes, we are going to have an academy

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of sport. Now tell us what sort of an academy we are going to have." Since the election, we have been ensuring that we know exactly what sort of academy we will have. It will mainly be directed at the Olympic sports and at those for which there are national and world championships.

There has never been any question of the team sports, such as football, rugby and cricket, being excluded, but their needs are so particular that they should have separate academies. We are working actively to achieve that. The academy for sport and its skills in sports medicine and science will be available to all sports, including the team sports. If the right hon. Gentleman can contain himself a little longer--I know the process has been drawn out, but the wait is worth it because the decision is undoubtedly the most important that we face in British sport--the announcement will be made on Friday.

Mr. Bercow: Labour party funding?

Mr. Banks: As far as I am aware, there is no question of Labour party funding--more's the pity.

Children's Radio

6. Mr. Woolas: What representations he has received on proposals for a children's radio channel; and if he will make a statement. [13432]

Mr. Fisher: We have received representations from nine organisations and individuals in support of the award of an independent national radio licence for the provision of a children's radio service.

Mr. Woolas: I thank the Minister for that answer and for the reply that I received earlier by letter. Do the Government recognise the many benefits, both educational and in general, that children receive from radio broadcasting for them?

Mr. Fisher: Having been brought up on "Children's Hour", Uncle Mac and "Dick Barton, Special Agent", I agree absolutely with my hon. Friend that high-quality broadcasting, both radio and television, is important for children. It plays a major part in education, widens a child's horizons and sparks a child's imagination. Above all, it is fun.

Mr. Tredinnick: Is the Minister aware that the BBC's children's television programme budget has been cut by £5 million since last year? Does he worry about the increased number of cartoons shown on television? Has not the time come for him to examine that issue as well as the question of a children's radio station?

Mr. Fisher: The BBC charter requires the BBC to produce a large amount of high-quality, original programming and last year it produced 1,500 hours of children's programming of very high quality. I presume that the hon. Gentleman is referring to the Broadcasting Standards Council's report. Both he and I need to study that report in some detail, because some of the original headlines were not borne out by the detail of the report. Indeed, in the Evening Standard today, the BBC puts

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a robust case and points out that only one cartoon show is on at prime time each day this week, with none at all on Wednesday.

Sport (Disabled People)

7. Mr. Robathan: What assistance his Department is giving to sport for disabled people. [13433]

Mr. Banks: I hope that the hon. Gentleman is aware that I take a close personal interest in that subject. We are determined to promote sport for people with disabilities. It is our aim to maximise opportunity for all people, no matter what their ability.

For the year 1997-98, the English Sports Council is providing disabled sports organisations with just under £590,000. That includes £40,000 to the British Deaf Sports Council, £195,000 to Disability Sport England and £111,500 to the English Sports Association for People with Learning Disabilities. Some £1.3 million also goes to our elite athletes with disabilities.

Mr. Robathan: I am sure that the whole House supports that work. However, should not the Minister listen to what disabled people say themselves? Perhaps he should read the letter from the chairman of the British Paraplegic Shooting Association, backed up by the chief executive of the British Olympic Association, which pleaded with the Home Secretary to allow disabled sportsmen and sportswomen in wheelchairs to continue with their sport of firing pistols. The Minister should listen to those people and not dictate what they should do.

Mr. Banks: I do, indeed, listen, and since I became Minister for Sport, I have opened the special Olympic games at Portsmouth, the world blind sailing championships at Weymouth and the British disabled water-skiing facility at Heron lake. I have attended disabled rugby, volleyball, cricket, football, skiing and archery. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is making the point that I should listen to sportsmen and sportswomen with disabilities, and I have been listening to a particularly large number of them.

The Government's policy on shooting is absolutely clear. When we come to the Olympic and Commonwealth games, some arrangements will have to be made for those sports to be included, but I am afraid that Government policy cannot be overwhelmed by the interests of sportsmen and women.


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