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The Minister for Sport (Mr. Richard Caborn): UK Athletics is working with Sport England, UK Sport and my Department to create a development plan for the sport, to ensure that resources are provided to get more people involved, to improve the identification and development of talented athletes and to provide better support for our top performers.
Mr. Blunt: What is the Minister's estimate of the forgone economic benefits of the cancelled bid for the 2005 athletics championships? What was the cost of the Sheffield diversion, which the International Amateur Athletics Federation regarded as laughable?
Mr. Caborn: If the hon. Member looks at the Carter report on Picketts Lock, and at the reports produced by the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, he will get a good estimate of the cost involved. If one takes into account the cost of the infrastructure and of the stadium, it was about £230 million. Even with that investment, we could not guarantee the type of facilities that had been requested by the IAAF. It is unfortunate that the IAAF did not come and visit the Sheffield site which was offered instead. At the moment, UK Sport and Sport England are investing about £40 million there, as part of the English institute for sport, which will probably give athletics one of the best centres in Europe. Unfortunately, the IAAF turned down the proposal regarding the Sheffield site without even going to look at it.
Regarding the economic benefit, the answer is clear. We did not believe that a £250 million investment from the sports portfolio would have been right, and that is why we made our decision. This is all laid out in Patrick Carter's report.
Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West): While acknowledging the importance of putting money into grass-roots athletics, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is important, in the long term, to think about having a venue in which to hold major international athletics events? Will he and the Secretary of State reconsider the option of having a multi-use stadium with retractable seating, along the lines of the Stade de France?
Mr. Caborn: So far as the national stadium is concerned, my hon. Friend will know that the Football Association is dealing with that matter, and will be reporting back to the Government and Sport England. In terms of having another national stadium for athletics, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has asked for a performance and innovation unit report, which we believe will be started in the not-too-distant future, to look at the question of sports facilities in the round. My hon. Friend
Nick Harvey (North Devon): When Picketts Lock was cancelled, the Secretary of State said that she would want the money not being spent on it to be diverted to grass-roots athletics. What help can be given to that vital body of volunteers who go to athletics matches around the country as marshals, stewards and judges, usually at their own expense, which runs to uniforms and even starting pistols? What influence can the Minister bring to bear on Sport England to divert some of that money to those vital volunteers?
Mr. Caborn: We are discussing the legacy for athletics with UK Athletics and the hon. Gentleman is right: we hope that that plan will ensure that there is investment at the grass roots. Only yesterday, I had discussions with officials at the north of England Amateur Athletic Association indoor athletics. They are excited about the extra investment in athletics and no doubt they will discuss with UK Athletics a proper investment package that will benefit the grass roots and the officials to whom the hon. Gentleman refers as well as the elite athletes. There is a buzz in British athletics, because this Government are prepared to invest in the whole structure.
Mr. Caborn: Unfortunately, that could not be, as the agreement is between Manchester City football club and Manchester city council. If we could turn the clock back a number of years, we would probably approach those matters differently. That applies to all parties because mistakes have been made across the board, which is why the performance and innovation unit study is important. If we are to bid confidently for major international events, we must ensure that all parties are signed up before going ahead.
Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale): Will Ministers make clear to the new members whom they approve for appointment to the Wembley National Stadium board Sport England's recommendation that the revised Wembley plans are for a stadium capable of hosting athletics? Does he agree with that advice? Given the revelation that unspent lottery funds still exceed £3.5 billion and in the light of what he has said this afternoon, can he assure all our leading athletes of the continued funding of the world-class performance programme?
Mr. Caborn: On the first point, we have no responsibility for the Wembley company. That is a matter for the Football Association, as has been made clear from the Dispatch Box on a number of occasions. We will not have blurring at the edges and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made it clear in her statement that it is for the FA to decide who is put on the board. On the
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Dr. Kim Howells): My hon. Friend deserves a big pat on the back for asking that question. [Laughter.] I shall meet the organisers of CowParade at the earliest opportunity. CowParade will give artists of all ages and abilities the chance to submit designs for decorating life-sized fibreglass cows, the best of which, I am told, will be displayed around London streets.
Mr. Pond: As long as the Minister does not accuse me of cows for questions. He is aware that more than 800 artists have already submitted their designs for those full-sized fibreglass works of art, which will soon decorate the streets of London and Gravesend. Is he also aware that the project has won the enthusiastic support of the British Tourist Authority and organisations such as London Underground, the national gallery and Marks and Spencer and that they realise that similar events in Chicago and New York were a major boost to the tourism economy? Is he further aware that, as the project could raise several hundred thousand pounds for the charity Childline, I shall continue to lobby for his support until the cows come home?
Dr. Howells: I welcome the good news that charities will benefit from this event. There is no question about that. I certainly welcome my hon. Friend's promise of lobbying until the cows come home. I assure him that I shall keep the matter udder review.
The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell): The provision of new BBC services is governed by the BBC charter and agreement. Any such services require the approval of the Secretary of State. That arrangement will continue under the proposed new regulatory regime, but the Secretary of State, in considering public service applications from the BBC, will seek formal advice on the market impact from the Office of Communications.
Mr. Bacon: Given the potential impact of the BBC's new digital services on the rest of the broadcasting industry, would not it make more sense for approval for BBC applications to rest with Ofcom, as it is for others
Tessa Jowell: No, I am not minded to introduce such a change when the main Bill is published. New BBC services are important in giving licence payers value for money, and they act as an incentive to drive the take-up of digital television. In making judgments about those new services, it is important to ensure that proposals are distinctive and do not gratuitously undermine the competition and the growth in the commercial market that we want.
Towards the end of last year, the BBC submitted an application for a range of new services. I approved the new BBC4, the mixed genre arts channel, and two new children's channels because they were evidently distinctive and different from what was available in the commercial market. I rejected its application to establish a young people's channel, because I was not persuaded that it was sufficiently distinctive. It is important to maintain competition and to secure value for the licence payer. In order to oversee value for the licence payer, the Secretary of State should approve new services with advice on the competition effect.
Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South): I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware that most people who get digital television receive it through a platform where they pay for other services. One of the strengths of the BBC's digital output is that it is free to view, and it is important that it remains so. Reception via satellite platforms or cable is good, but the main platform for people who want free-to-view digital television is the aerial, and reception via the aerial is still poor and the picture crackles quite a bit. What plans have the Government or the industry to ensure that when people want to access digital television, they do not have to sign up to a package and pay for a load of other channels, and that they can get the BBC free-to-view channels on their own?
Tessa Jowell: The issues that my hon. Friend raises are taken very seriously by the industry, the Department and the broadcasters. It is important that the attractiveness of DTV is improved by securing greater consistency of signal and better quality of picture. As part of the digital action plan, which brings together the Government, broadcasters and the industry, we are testing the limit to which the signal can be increased to improve reception. My hon. Friend makes the important point that people will decide to switch to digital if they can improve their choice of viewing and if the picture quality and services that they can receive are improved. There is still a long way to go, but we have set out a clear framework of Government policy, in partnership with industry.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): Has not the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) raised an important point of principle? The BBC is making a substantial investment in digital servicesup to £84 million in the first year. That money comes from each and every licence payer in the country. Is it not incumbent on both the Government and the BBC to ensure that all
Tessa Jowell: Yes, that is important. Government policyI do not think there is any great controversy about thisis described as "platform-neutral", because we think that people should be able to choose the platforms from which they obtain their digital signals. The BBC's investment in new digital services is important in encouraging people to go digital, and giving them a reason to do so.
Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda): I thank my right hon. Friend for mentioning the importance of ensuring that digital services from the BBC, and from other broadcasters for that matter, are available to all; but how can we ensure in the regulation that free, open, non-discriminatory access to audiences is guaranteed for broadcasters? If that is not done, a powerful gateway will be created through which it will be difficult for broadcasters and audiences to make their way.
Tessa Jowell: As I have said, it is important to promote take-up of digital services, and to maximise choice of free-to-air channels. [Interruption.] Perhaps the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Bacon) could maintain his interest in the question that he asked.
It is important for free-to-air channels to have non-discriminatory access to platforms. As two of my hon. Friends have said, that will ensure that viewers are given maximum choice of free services, and need not subscribe to pay-TV services that they do not want.
Mr. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk): Now that an affordable set-top box enabling analogue televisions to receive digital services should soon be available, will the Secretary of State stop dithering and announce that the switchover to digital will take place on a single date, 1 January 2006?
Tessa Jowell: I welcomed the announcement at the end of last week of new technology that will deal with one of the obstacles to the switchover. We have made it absolutely clear, however, that the process needs to be possible in terms of technology, desirable in terms of programme choice, and what people actually want. So far, one in three households has access to digital services. A job of persuasion and conversion must be done, but it is not something that Government can do; people must decide that they want this for their own and their families' viewing entertainment. That is why our policy remains that, subject to three rather than five tests, the switchover should take place between 2006 and 2010. That is still our intention.