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Sunday, 19 November, 2000, 13:25 GMT
Rt Hon Chris Smith MP
CHRIS SMITH MP, CULTURE SECRETARY NOVEMBER 19th, 2000 Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used DAVID FROST
We're delighted to be joined now by the man who's in charge of, once called the ministry of fun, Chris Smith. Welcome Chris. There was a rather unwelcome headline in the, I thought probably for you, in the Express, what did you think of that, Smith faces sack over the Dome debacle. Culture Secretary Chris Smith will be made official scapegoat, that's not an appointment you want, it is? CHRIS SMITH
Well, I think this is a case of a Sunday newspaper making things up once again. The Dome obviously has been one of the major issues that as Chairman of the Millennium Commission I've had to deal with during the course of this year. But I take heart from the fact the people who have gone, in very large numbers, now four and a half million paying visitors, five and a half million visitors overall, who have gone to the Dome have come away overwhelmingly saying they'd really enjoyed their day there. They've had a good time, they'd recommend it to their friends. And there's a disjunction here between some of the press coverage of what's going on and the actual experience of ordinary people who go. DAVID FROST
Yes, those figures are impressive in terms of their appreciation. Do you think if the press had been less dismissive, less constantly dismissive, things might have gone better? CHRIS SMITH
I think if there hadn't been a major campaign from the press right from the word go, denigration of the Dome, then probably more people would have gone. I suspect though not the numbers that were originally expected because we did get quite a number of things about the Dome wrong. And one of the major things that I think everyone got wrong, both parties, all parts of government got wrong, was expecting too many people to come. Those visitor number expectations of 12 million visitors, with hindsight we know that those were over-optimistic, too ambitious and we perhaps should have made some different decisions early on. I think everyone accepts that now. DAVID FROST
And where are the negotiations exactly at the moment with Legacy? After the Nomura Group withdrew, are Legacy yet the preferred bidders or can you consider the other bids? CHRIS SMITH
Well of course after Nomura withdrew negotiations did recommence with Legacy. I haven't been part of those negotiations so all I know is what is reported broadly to the public generally. What I believe though is that there is going to be an announcement shortly about whether Legacy is going to be a preferred bidder. If it is then that will be the focus of all the negotiation. If however they haven't succeeded in becoming the preferred bidder then I imagine that other proposals will then be looked at. DAVID FROST
Will be considered, like the Experience Group and others? And what about people who are saying tear it down, tear it down, we want to tear it down and put up something else? Now would, Michael Heseltine was horrified by that. Are you horrified by that? Would you veto that? CHRIS SMITH
I think it would be a shame if it came down. It's a fine building. And whatever anyone says about the nature of the experience inside, I think everyone would accept that it's a stunning building, it's a beautiful bit of architecture, it looks particular wonderful at night. It's become something of a London landmark. It would be, in my view, a shame to lose that. But of course that's not the only consideration that the ministerial team looking at the bids for taking over the Dome needs to consider. They need to consider also the best possible return to the taxpayer and the lottery player from whatever bids are on the table. So you need to balance these considerations but I hope that we will see that building remain because it's a good building, I think it enhances that part of south-east London. DAVID FROST
And talking of the lottery, that's our next topic indeed. A final decision based on what, the chairmanship of Lord Burns, Terry Burns, and so on, due by December 15th? Do you think you'll hit that target? CHRIS SMITH
I have every indication that they will hit that target. Lord Burns has taken a real grip of the commission, he's done a fantastic job in his few weeks in the chair. What we now know from the announcement that they made a week or so ago, is that both of the two bids, the Camelot bid and the People's Lottery, Branson bid, both are fit and proper bids, they have due propriety, they fit all the criteria. Now what the commission needs to do is look very seriously at which of these two bids will raise the most for the good causes. That's the key criteria that they now have to judge on. And I expect that they will be doing a very professional job on that and will come forward with a conclusion within a few weeks. DAVID FROST
And in terms of good causes, Chris, when, when it started out John Major and so on said that the whole of the figure that it seemed as though it was going to be reached for this period, ten billion and maybe 15 billion for next time, was all going to be for good causes, not government expenditure. How much so far, what's the percentage of government expenditure so far? And what will it be in the next seven years? How much will the government appropriate from the people's lottery? CHRIS SMITH
The figure for the government taking tax has been the same right the way through, from John Major right the way through to But in terms of the good causes the rule remains very firmly in place, that lottery funds must not be used to replace exchequer expenditure. It's always been the case that it can add to exchequer expenditure, it can be used in the arts or sport, for example, to enhance things which the exchequer is also doing but what we've done is to broaden the range of things, because there's so much money coming into the lottery, broaden the range of things it can be used on. So that we can use it on projects related to health, the environment and education, and these are things like after school clubs, they are things like helping charitable fundraising for cancer equipment in hospitals, these are things which help what the health service and the education service are doing, but they don't replace what the government itself should be doing. DAVID FROST
Yes, not replacing, but nevertheless expanding the amount of money that can be taken away from the direct good causes. Do you think December 15th, do you think it's going to be like the US Presidential election? Would you bet there won't be a lawsuit whoever wins? CHRIS SMITH
I believe that the very careful process which the commission are now engaged on does mean that it will be a sound decision and I hope it will be one that will be accepted as being sound and fair by both the bidding parties. DAVID FROST
We will see. Tell me, in terms of broadcasting, Chris, are you still very much in favour of the idea of this sort of super regulator who will cover BBC and ITV and telecoms and the governors and Oftel, one regulator for all of this because it would be more efficient, you would say, or cheaper? CHRIS SMITH
What we're doing at the moment, as you know, is looking seriously at the whole spread of regulation across the whole broadcasting environment, BBC and commercial broadcasting. We will be publishing a white paper in about three weeks' time. What we have determined to do though is two things. One is to try and simplify and rationalise the spread of regulatory bodies because there are a huge number of them across the picture of broadcasting and telecommunications. The other thing we want to do is very much to protect the public interest in broadcasting. As one of the absolutely certain things that we know is that we don't want this new expanded media world to be effectively be more meaning worse. We want to protect that quality which public service broadcasting can bring, like the BBC, like the public service responsibilities of ITV, like Channel 4. There are major benefits that we get as a country from having high quality broadcasting. We want to preserve that. DAVID FROST
Talking of high quality broadcasting and high quality news, we have a situation where we have the 10 O'Clock News on the BBC now, and due to come four nights a week from ITN on ITV. Now, Mark Thompson of the BBC has said that they should not go ahead because we shouldn't have two news at ten o'clock in the evening, that's not serving the public, to use the phrase. What do you think should happen? CHRIS SMITH
Well I said right from the outset when the BBC actually made the decision to move to ten, that I was worried by the possible impact of that because what I don't want to see is a diminution in the number of people watching news and the quality of news and one of the most important things that television does in a democracy is to give people their primary source of information about what's happening in the world, their political views and so on. Now what I am absolutely determined is that we don't see the same thing happening, as happened when ITN moved from ten o'clock to 11 o'clock, what we saw was 1.3 million viewers simply dropped out of watching news altogether. I don't want to see that because in a democracy that's bad news. DAVID FROST
Yes, so what do you want to see happen? CHRIS SMITH
What I want to see is very careful monitoring of what happens now the BBC have decided to move, ITV are moving back to ten o'clock as you say, fairly shortly. I want us to watch very carefully what the viewing figures are and what the quality of the news is. Are they doing the serious stories or are they putting the soft news up front? Let's make sure that they are maintaining seriousness and maintaining audience. If they do, fine. If they don't, if we are seeing a diminution in the news, either in quality of audience of news, then I think the governors of the BBC have to think very seriously about what they are going to do. DAVID FROST
And what about the people who run ITV? CHRIS SMITH
Well they too. But of course what they're doing is moving back from 11 o'clock, which is virtually out of peak time viewing, to ten o'clock. Now that's a positive move. I welcome that change because it means that we've got ITN back into the heart of the peak time viewing. What we now need to see is what the head to head competition with the BBC actually reveals. DAVID FROST
But you seem to be implying, Chris, that you think that if there is a diminution of news, it's the BBC who should move, and not ITN? CHRIS SMITH
Well, it's the BBC of course who have made the major shift from nine o'clock to ten o'clock, and they made it without any warning, without any consultation. I very much hope that what we're going to see is the governors looking seriously at the impact of that decision and if that decision shows that they are losing viewers, they're losing quality then they have to rethink. DAVID FROST
I'll tell you why I'm going to stop there we've got to go to the news. END
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