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Millennium Stadium

5. Paul Flynn (Newport, West): What proposals she has to encourage the use of the Millennium stadium for major UK events. [10023]

The Minister for Sport (Mr. Richard Caborn): The hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) should withdraw the remark about air miles made to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. That statement was quite disgraceful.

The millennium stadium in Cardiff is an outstanding sporting arena and a fitting home for Welsh rugby union and football. Decisions about the events that are held there lie with the stadium operators and event-holders. Given the popularity of the stadium among fans and event- holders alike, there is no need for anyone, least of all the Government, to become involved in attracting events to it.

Paul Flynn: I am grateful for that reply, but following the great success of events held in the millennium stadium, should not it now be regarded as the natural home of international and national events for England and Wales and as the premier stadium in the British Isles? When my right hon. Friend searches for an alternative to Wembley and Picketts Lock, will he examine the claims of Birmingham, Coventry and every other town in the midlands and in the rest of the United Kingdom? I hope that the process will not be rushed. It should be measured and leisurely because the millennium stable—[Interruption.]—the millennium stadium will be available for decades to come to host such events.

Mr. Caborn: I have heard of a multi-purpose stadium, but never one that was a stable as well. I am sure that my hon. Friend knows that we have asked the International Amateur Athletics Federation to consider Sheffield for an

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international athletics stadium. I have been taking advice on some of the activities at Cardiff and my hon. Friend—who, as everyone knows, is an expert on rugby union—tells me that if the Welsh team aspired to the performance that the stadium demands, Wales could be even more successful than it is now.

Mr. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk): Does the Minister believe that Britain needs a national stadium, and, if so, where should it be?

Mr. Caborn: That decision will be made by the Football Association and it is with the FA now. Let me update the hon. Gentleman. I think that he knows that just before the election the FA, which had already received £120 million of lottery money, asked for another£300 million of lottery money. We brought in Patrick Carter to carry out a review; he has been responsible for the Commonwealth games financing, which he reviewed for us, and for Picketts Lock. He has done as we asked and discussions on the Carter review with the FA and Sport England are continuing. I repeat, it is an FA project and the FA takes the lead. The FA and Sport England are currently discussing Patrick Carter's report.

Mr. Yeo: The House will know that although Patrick Carter's report has been paid for by the public, it has not yet been seen by the public: it remains a secret document. Is it not now clear that the Picketts Lock fiasco has so damaged Britain's reputation that any chance we had of hosting either the Olympic games or the world cup has gone for the foreseeable future? Despite squandering millions of pounds of public money, the Government's incompetence and their failure to honour undertakings given by Ministers from the Prime Minister downwards will deny British fans the chance to see the world's top athletes perform on British soil. Does the Minister agree that the last-ditch attempt to replace London with his home city as the venue for the world athletics championships was merely a shabby attempt to conceal the damage that the Government have done to our reputation in sporting circles?

Mr. Caborn: I remind the House that the issue of Wembley stadium started in 1996 under the Conservative Administration, and it was not resolved under that Administration. As for Picketts Lock, as soon as Sheffield became a potential contender, under the ministerial code I was removed from any decision making. I hope that the hon. Gentleman was not implying that I was involved in that decision. Furthermore, contrary to the hon. Gentleman's comments, Patrick Carter's report was put into the public domain at 5 o'clock on the Thursday that the decision was made. Everyone has been able to read it and arrive at their own judgment, and a considerable number of people have told my Department that the right decision was made. It is not in the interests of British sport or the British sports industry for the hon. Gentleman to continue to talk down our very good facilities. Our country probably runs more international sporting events than any other European country.

Digital Television

6. Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda): What plans she has to ensure equality of access to digital television. [10024]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (

Dr. Kim Howells): In the White paper "A New Future for Communications", the Government have set out tests that must be met before the analogue signal is fully switched to digital. Those conditions will ensure that everyone who currently receives analogue television will have access to digital television. To facilitate the switch to digital, the Government have just published a draft digital action plan.

Mr. Bryant: Is my hon. Friend aware that many of my constituents are deeply resentful of the fact that they get S4C instead of, rather than as well as, Channel 4? They would dearly love to see many of the free to air digital channels that are now available, but partly because they are not aware of the free to air option and partly because they are fearful of taking on extra financial burdens, they are not able to get them. Is it not time that we introduced a strategy to ensure that every household has a digital tuner? Toward that end, will the Government consider giving free, free to air digital tuners to every pensioner and every household that receives a free television licence?

Dr. Howells: I take my hon. Friend's point because, of course, I live just down the road from him and have never been able to get Channel 4—good though S4C is, I might add as Minister with responsibility for broadcasting. We will ensure that everyone who can currently get the main public service channels can receive them in digital form. The switch to digital has to be an affordable option, which is the point that my hon. Friend made. I know that there are a great many people in his constituency of the Rhondda who cannot afford expensive digital equipment. As a target indicator of affordability, 95 per cent. of consumers have access to digital equipment.

There are parts of the country to which, because of their topography, it will be difficult to get terrestrial digital—the Rhondda is certainly one of them. We have 230 analogue relays in Wales. They are expensive pieces of equipment to replace, but we have to look urgently at how we ensure that everyone who lives in Wales has the opportunity to receive, one way or another, a digital signal.

Nick Harvey (North Devon): The Secretary of State recently gave a welcome green light to new BBC digital stations. However, is the Minister uncomfortable with the fact that, while the entire British public are paying for them through the licence fee, only between one quarter and one third will actually be able to receive them? Does he believe that the time scale of 2006–2010 is still realistic for the digital switchover, particularly given ITV Digital's current commercial difficulties?

As the Government stand to make considerable proceeds from selling off the analogue spectrum after switch-off, will they consider using some of that money in advance to sponsor the further spread of digital television? Can they put pressure on retailers to promote the free to air option with the same vigour with which they promote the subscription option? In topographically difficult areas, will they use public money to ensure that areas, not only in Wales but in Lynton, Lynmouth and other deep valleys, get digital television because many of them are not getting analogue pictures at the moment?

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Dr. Howells: There were a few questions there. We will certainly continue to press the regulatory authorities to ensure that, where possible, we can turn up the juice on transmitters so that we get better quality pictures and a much wider footprint. I hope that that will happen sooner rather than later. I share the hon. Gentleman's desire to press on with that timetable. I am as determined now as ever to ensure that the switchover will take place between 2006 and 2010. We have to be a good deal more imaginative and assertive than we have been to ensure that existing broadcasters do much more to publicise the virtues of digital technology.

Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South): I do not know whether my hon. Friend is aware of the collapse just a few weeks ago of the telecommunications company Atlantic Telecom, which delivered cable television to a number of my constituents after taking over Aberdeen Cable Services. My constituents therefore arrived home from work one night to discover that they had no television at all, just a message that their service had been withdrawn.

There is a wider issue. The digital service, including free to view channels, is often provided through platforms for which people pay, whether satellite, Sky or ITV Digital, so there is a danger that consumers may lose access to television for which they have paid. At present, there seems to be no protection in legislation. When the communications Bill is introduced, will my hon. Friend make sure that it provides that kind of protection for the consumer?

Dr. Howells: It is important that there is adequate regulation to ensure that that kind of protection is offered. However, I do not think that we need heavy-handed regulation to do that; it ought to be much simpler. Thatis the purpose of the White Paper and the new communications Bill, which, hopefully, will be published in the new year. We need light-touch regulation, which should be clear and transparent to ensure that both the industry and the consumer get a good, consistent service and do not receive unpleasant surprises.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): The Minister will recall the all-party support for the very effective campaign by the Royal National Institute for Deaf People for subtitling for the deaf and hard of hearing on cable and satellite TV. Before the general election, the Government gave a clear commitment and a promise to introduce that. Nothing has been heard since then. Will the Minister take this opportunity to confirm that that promise still stands, and give us an idea of when that admirable and much desired change will come into effect?

Dr. Howells: I can certainly repeat that promise. I am meeting various RNID officials. There are some difficult problems, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows—problems with the technology, the take-up and the affordability. I want the initiative to be taken forward as quickly as possible. No doubt the hon. Gentleman knows that we have tried to raise the threshold generally to help people with disabilities, especially blind people, to overcome those problems when they watch television or listen to the radio. It is important that we take that agenda forward.

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