§ 3.33 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Merlyn Rees)
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about broadcasting.
The White Paper on broadcasting, published today, sets out the Government's proposals for the future constitution, structure and organisation of broadcasting in the United Kingdom. It has been prepared in the light of the report of the committee on the "Future of Broadcasting" under the chairmanship of Lord Annan, and of the many comments received on the committee's recommendations.
I first pay tribute to the performance of the British Broadcasting Corporation, the Independent Broadcasting Authority and the independent television and radio companies. The Government's proposals are designed to ensure that the quality and range of broadcasting services are maintained and, wherever possible, improved. We also want to ensure that 1560 our broadcasting system will be able to respond to the technological developments which will take place over the next decade or so.
Our principal conclusion is that our broadcasting services should continue to be provided as public services and the responsibility of public authorities. But our proposals are also designed to encourage diversity in the range and variety of material available to the public and to enhance the accountability of the broadcasting authorities.
The BBC will continue to be responsible for all the broadcasting services it now provides, but changes will be made in its internal structure to enable the board of governors to concentrate on its supervisory role as trustees of the public interest. In particular, three new service management boards, responsible to the board of governors, will be set up to take responsibility for supervising the programme strategy and management of each of the BBC's main services—television, radio and the external services. Half of the members of each board will be independent persons, appointed by the Home Secretary from outside the BBC's staff—persons who are qualified to make a positive and distinctive contribution to the work of the boards. The changes will also encourage diversity among the BBC's various services as regards programme-making and the approach to news and current affairs.
Independent television and radio will continue to be provided by companies under contract to the IBA. The IBA will also supervise other local broadcasting services, such as cable and pilot schemes of pay-television.
A unique opportunity will be missed if the capacity to provide a new television service on the fourth television channel is not used to widen the choice available to viewers. An Open Broadcasting Authority will be established to supervise the new service on this channel. The OBA will not itself make programmes but will act as a publisher, free to commission programmes from any source. The independent television companies will be regular suppliers of programmes and, particularly in the early years, the source of a significant part of the output of the fourth channel. The OBA will also be able to commission or buy programmes from the BBC and independent producers. The 1561 fourth television channel will be engineered by the IBA, which will also be responsible for transmitting the fourth channel service. The OBA will, therefore, need only a relatively small organisation to carry out its functions.
The OBA will have a special obligation to seek a variety of material, including programmes for tastes and interests which cannot be covered on the present services. It will include educational programmes and also be able to develop its own news service in due course. As regards programme standards, the OBA will be bound by the same obligations as the BBC and the IBA, with one exception. Although it must ensure impartiality—that is, treat controversial matters fairly—it will be relieved of the duty to preserve a proper balance of programmes and wide range of subject matter on the service as a whole, because to do so would be inconsistent with its primary duty of promoting diversity.
The Government accept that a service of this kind is bound to need a measure of Government assistance, particularly in the early years. But the Government will expect the new authority to look to advertising of various kinds—spot-advertising, block advertising and sponsorship—to provide an important and increasing source of finance for its operations.
Local radio will be further developed. The existing services of the BBC and the IBA have proved deservedly popular, and both authorities will be permitted to expand them. The Government are not persuaded that there is need for a new authority to supervise local radio, such as the Annan committee recommended. The ultimate intention will be for as many areas of the country as possible to have two local radio services. A working party is to be set up at once to plan the immediate and long-term development of local radio.
The Government have been mindful of their acceptance of the commitment in principle to the provision of more television programmes in the Welsh language. The Government propose, therefore, that in Wales the fourth television channel should accommodate an expanded Welsh language programme service, which it is hoped to start in the autumn of 1982. The detailed arrangements are discussed in the Home Office working party report, which I am also 1562 publishing today. The supervision of the service will be shared by the three broadcasting authorities—OBA, BBC and IBA—through their representation on a new Welsh Language Television Council.
In future, it is proposed that the responsibility for our broadcasting services will therefore rest with three authorities —the BBC, the IBA and the OBA. Their independence must be preserved. But they must also be fully accountable to the public. To this end, they will be required to hold public hearings from time to time in different parts of the country to ascertain the views of the public on their respective services. Public hearings will also be an integral part of the IBA's future procedures for awarding franchises.
In addition, an independent Broadcasting Complaints Commission will be set up to consider complaints of misrepresentation, or of unjust or unfair treatment, or of invasion of privacy in programmes broadcast by any of the authorities. The Commission will also be able to comment on other complaints about any failure by the broadcasting authorities to observe acceptable standards, for example, in relation to the portrayal of violence or as regards due impartiality.
There is considerable public concern about the portrayal of violence on television. The Government believe that the only safe course at present is for the broadcasting authorities to assume undesirable effects from the portrayal of violence. The authorities should review their present codes and guidance and monitor the amount of violence in their programmes.
The White Paper deals with a great many other detailed points, but these are the main proposals. Discussions with the broadcasting organisations about the proposals will take place in the near future. The Government will also wish to consider the views of any other individuals and organisations who may wish to comment on the proposals.
Legislation will be introduced as soon as possible to give effect to these proposals, and a new Royal charter will be sought for the BBC. Above all, the Government believe that these proposals will provide a structure for the next decade which, in the public interest, will accommodate technological change and 1563 encourage all that is best in our present system.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
Is the Home Secretary aware that there are several proposals in his long-awaited White Paper with which we agree? For example, we agree with the arrangements for local radio and the rejection of a new authority there. We also accept the Government's views on the need to maintain standards, particularly in relation to the portrayal of violence on television.
Will the Secretary of State appreciate that there is one recommendation with which we entirely disagree and another about which we have grave misgivings? On the allocation of the fourth channel, we agree with the basic aim both of the Annan committee and the Government that a fourth channel should provide different kinds of programmes from those on the existing channels. But just as I rejected the Annan concept of the OBA in the debates on 23rd May last year, so now we dissent from the Government's proposal on financial grounds. We believe that the plan as outlined would place a totally unnecessary burden on the taxpayers through a deliberate increase in public expenditure with a new bureaucracy and a direct financial contribution from the Government.
We remain of the view that the alternative of the fourth channel being administered by the IBA, with a separate programme planning board on which the main ITV companies would not have a majority, could meet the Government's objectives and our own, without extra cost to the taxpayers. It would also do so far more quickly and far more effectively. We also believe that such a plan could deal with the special problems of Wales which the Home Secretary has outlined.
Secondly, we are very dubious about the proposal for the restructuring of the BBC. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will reassure us on this point. We accept that some of the Annan committee's criticisms of bureaucracy and lack of control in the BBC may have been justified, but surely these could be best solved by the BBC governors and management themselves, as they are already seeking to do. How can it make sense to overcome bureaucracy by increasing it through the proposed special management boards? 1564 Are not these just a prolification of quangos? Does it not threaten the basic independence of the BBC, which is so important in this country and throughout the world, if about half the members of these new bodies are to be appointed by the Home Secretary of the day instead of by Order in Council, as is the position with the governors at present? Is it not very dangerous to increase the bureaucracy and, at the same time, appear to threaten the independence of the BBC?
§ Mr. Rees
The right hon. Gentleman said that there was concern about bureaucracy in the BBC. He then went on to say that the BBC was doing something about this anyway. If we now seek to do something about it I cannot see why it suddenly becomes bureaucratic. Why is it bureaucratic if a Government do it and non-bureaucratic if the BBC does it? On this point about bureaucracy, I have had one thing in mind throughout consideration of this matter—that I must not make the same mistake as the previous Administration made on local government and on the National Health Service. The Opposition have every reason to be concerned about bureaucracy because they always spawn it, as they did when they were last in power.
The OBA will not be a large organisation. The right hon. Gentleman says that he wants to have an OBA inside the IBA. In that case where does the bureaucracy arise? There will be no bureaucracy. What is required, in my view, is a third authority. There are two authorities in this country at present. With the decline in the number of newspapers and, as some people would say, with the decline in the quality of the newspapers, and with the increase in the different methods of broadcasting in years to come, it is important that we should have more than two authorities providing programmes and news in this country. The main claim for the OBA in this form is that there will be a third authority. I hope that through local broadcasting we shall get even more views, because a country that has only two is losing what it used to have when it had many more newspapers.
In regard to Wales—and I say this as a Welshman [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—there is no point in hon. Members sneering, because the Welsh count. We want 1565 to see that the Welsh channel offers not just something out of the IBA—for example, "Crossroads" in Welsh—but that it promotes and developes on television the culture we have in Wales. We want to see that culture develop in a way that it has not had the chance to do in recent years.
§ Mr. David Steel
Do the Government intend that there should be a debate on the White Paper before legislation is laid before us? This would be advisable. I am not placing any time on the matter, I just want to establish the principle.
On three matters we certainly support the recommendations of the White Paper. We support the emphasis on increased controls on the portrayal of violence. That is widely regarded as long overdue. Also, the proposals for the Welsh service are commendable, as are the proposals for local radio.
Does the Home Secretary note that I now estimate that the total of ministerial appointments which we shall have in broadcasting alone will be more than 100 if these proposals are implemented? The House is increasingly wary of ministerial statements—from either party in Government—which extend the role of ministerial patronage. Has the right hon. Gentleman considered this matter? Has he estimated the number of quangos embodied in the new White Paper which he is seeking to create?
Does he accept that the three new management boards proposed for the BBC will be bound to add to the bureaucracy—and here I agree with the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw)—a matter which came in for criticism by the Annan committee? Surely such an arrangement will not reduce the amount of bureaucracy. Is there not a danger of extending ministerial patronage to the external services of the BBC when Governments in the past have had difficulty in making it clear to the world that the BBC is independent of Government?
Lastly, in respect of the limited role of the OBA, although I agree that that role is right, could it not be embodied within the IBA? To say that there are only two news channels is to ignore the wide variety of news produced by the regional companies on both sides of the network.
§ Mr. Rees
Dealing with the last point mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman, I have personal experience, having heard broadcasting in Yorkshire, of the variety of news services put out, but I do not think that is the point. It is a point of concern to the House as a whole—or it should be a point of concern—that if somebody switches on the radio at a certain time and tunes into a news bulletin and then later switches on yet again and hears the self-same broadcast, it is the same news, although perhaps cut down a little, that that person will hear the whole time. I beg the House to consider the technical developments that will have such an effect on the future of broadcasting. Whatever may be the disagreements about the structure of broadcasting, I feel strongly that we should examine alternative news sources.
Let me seek to deal with the subject of bureaucracy and the point made about external services. We all know that the governors of the BBC exist and that the external services work under them. If people abroad imagine that those services are not under the control of the governors, they are wrong. The alternative to having three parts within the organisation, as it were, is to have no outside interests in the organisation at all. In the two years I have been Home Secretary, my contacts with the BBC and IBA have been minimal. I have not been aware that anybody on the IBA or BBC is the creature of any political party, and that need not happen. The question is whether the three boards are to be composed only of those working in the organisation. I believe that there should be governors on the main governing board.
On the subject of a future debate on broadcasting, that will be an excellent subject for November or December this year. I look forward to that occasion.
§ Mr. Whitehead
Does my right lion. Friend accept that there is a certain amount of humbug in the fact that the spokesman for the Conservative Party—the party of competition and free enterprise—has objected to a new outlet in broadcasting because it threatens vested interests with which the Conservatives are allied? Will he also accept that the Annan committee is following the principle of regulated diversity, because the more outlets we have the more informed, 1567 educated and entertained a democracy we shall have?
May I put two points of clarification to my right hon. Friend? In regard to the link between the OBA and IBA, is it envisaged that this will mainly relate to advertising matters or that it will also be concerned with scheduling? Is he aware that scheduling could lead to an ITV2 by the backdoor?
Finally, is the local radio working party to take as its first consideration the setting up of genuine small community stations—a move which up to now has not been particularly obvious in local radio?
§ Mr. Rees
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks and also for the work he put into the Annan committee.
The matter put to me by my hon. Friend about the OBA needs to be discussed. When there is talk of working papers, I always have in mind the fact that we shall need to discuss the technical aspects. I hope to start discussions soon. There will certainly have to be discussion about advertising.
On the problem of scheduling, I would inform the House that given the nature of channel 4, again there will have to be discussion. I have not a closed mind on the matter. There will certainly have to be discussions between the channels. We saw one bad example of scheduling this summer when football was broadcast on both channels. That may be an extreme example, but I emphasise that there must be discussions.
On the subject of local radio, I want to see BBC and IBA extend the number of stations very shortly. We shall soon begin discussions on that matter.
As for satellite stations and the like, I wish to point out that there may be some developments as a result of the report. There are some interesting developments in Wales in this sphere which are being conducted by the BBC.
§ Mr. Gwynfor Evans
Does the Home Secretary agree that in view of the calamitous effect of English television on the Welsh language, especially among children and young people, the additional hours of Welsh broadcasting proposed for BBC 2 should start within six months? Should not the 21 hours per week pro- 1568 posed for the fourth channel begin in October 1981 rather than in 1982? Does he not appreciate that there have already been years of delay since the Government accepted this idea in principle?
§ Mr. Rees
The question of when one can begin transmission is now a matter for talks with the IBA. The transmission arrangements will take time to work out. Talks have already started on this subject. No amount of words can take us away from the reality of the position. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales and I have been considering whether with existing facilities there could be an immediate extension of Welsh language programmes. I think the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) knows that that is the position. It may cause a certain amount of laughter that I spend all my life in England these days, and proudly so, but I believe that the Welsh language is a proud language and should be given a chance, particularly with young people, to flower again in the future.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The House can see that a large number of hon. Members wish to be called. I intend to give this matter a good run, but it will help if hon. Members do not advance arguments but ask questions.
§ Mr. Wrigglesworth
Is my right hon. Friend aware that there will be a wide welcome on the Labour Benches for the proposal to set up the OBA? However, is he also aware that there will be grave disappointment at the fact that the Government have not thought again about the system of financing the BBC? Does he appreciate that many of us want to do away with this regressive poll tax and replace it with a system involving the financing of the BBC out of general taxation in order to retain the BBC's independence? Would this not have taken care of the anomaly that besets pensioners, an arrangement which has upset very many people, and would it not be a more efficient system of providing funds to finance the BBC's operations?
§ Mr. Rees
My hon. Friend obviously has read the provisions on licensing. There is a long-term problem involving licensing. There is a certain buoyancy in the BBC licence fees which amounts to 1569 60 per cent. in regard to colour television. I suppose that eventually that buoyancy will come to an end. We agree that there is a problem, but we also agree with the Annan committee—and we have discussed this matter with the BBC—that the position cannot be shrugged aside. It has been made clear in other parts of the world that if money is paid direct to a broadcasting authority it is felt, with some justice, that that authority is controlled by the Government of the day. That factor must be considered. In the longer run, ideas on the subject will have to be considered, and we shall certainly examine them. The Government's view is set out in the White Paper.
§ Mr. Reid
Do we not need better quality broadcasting rather than more broadcasting? Will the right hon. Gentleman take steps to ensure that before the fourth channel is set up, priority spending will take place in the "white spots"? I refer to remote parts of the country, particularly in Scotland, where people do not have three channels or adequate radio at the present time but nevertheless pay the same fees as everybody else?
§ Mr. Ashton
Is not the White Paper perpetuating a system in which an old-age pensioner has to pay nearly a week's income to obtain a television licence? Would it not be simpler to put a third of 1 per cent. on VAT and pay the BBC the money—in the same way as we pay the Queen or allocate money to the Civil List, and in the same way as the universities obtain grants, with no interference from Parliament at all?
§ Mr. Rees
I return to the point that it is strongly felt that direct payments by the Government to broadcasting authorities create problems. That aspect cannot be brushed aside. We have in mind what happens in this respect in other countries. If my hon. Friend is suggesting that one-third of 1 per cent. of value-added tax should automatically go to broadcasting I would point out that whatever arrangement is adopted, a payment by the Treasury, by the nature of the 1570 Treasury's role, or even if the money were channelled through the Home Office, would raise problems. I understand the view advanced by my hon. Friend. I believe that there will come a time when the buoyancy of the revenue will raise problems, and it is a subject to which we should give careful thought.
§ Mr. Warren
In view of the proliferation of private broadcasting networks for commercial reasons, will the Home Secretary consider the need for the working party on local radio to examine the introduction of citizens' band radio at an early date?
§ Mr. Rees
That is a different matter on citizens' band radio that is not dealt with here. I know of the hon. Gentleman's interest and I know what is done in other countries. I have talked to the police about it and the problems that arise for them. There is not the abundance of channels that would enable this to be done in the way in which it is done in other countries. It is not of the same ilk as this report, but we have given the Government's view on that matter recently.
§ Mr. Ifor Davies
Is my right hon. Friend aware that his welcome statement will be studied with great interest in the whole of the Principality? I should like to take this opportunity of thanking him for the courteous way that he has received delegations in connection with this matter.
In view of the important contribution that the fourth television channel can make towards sustaining the Welsh language—indeed, as is recognised in paragraph 66 of the White Paper—will he give urgent attention to programmes in Welsh for young people, because they are vital for the future of the language?
§ Mr. Rees
My hon. Friend has been to see me with delegations about this matter. I have met delegations from all parts of Wales. There is something that we can do in the short run. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales and I are talking about this matter with the companies to see what can be done. We shall continue to do that.
§ Mr. Aitken
Is it not rather disturbing that the Home Secretary is going to 1571 encourage this new quango of his to abandon the traditional broadcasting principle of maintaining a proper balance? Will he and the Labour Party be quite so happy about this matter if the OBA, in order to demonstrate its improper lack of balance, transmits on its opening night a repeat of "Yesterday's Men"?
§ Mr. Rees
The hon. Member for Thanes, East (Mr. Aitken) has got it wrong with regard to balance. Impartiality is one thing. But, by the nature of the fourth channel, the balance argument is no longer valid.
If the hon. Gentleman believes that there is anything wrong with the people who are now appointed to the BBC and to the IBA and that in some way they do not do their jobs properly, I hope that he and all those who are talking about quangos will let me know. I believe that the governors of the BBC and those on the board of the IBA have done an excellent job. I regret that there should be sneers at these people, who do their jobs for a very low sum of money.
§ Mr. English
Good luck to Wales. But while we are on about the regions, does the Home Secretary have any views on the one—and only one—region of England that has no television service of its own?
On the question of patronage, instead of extending the power of the Executive, with a suitably organised electoral system could not the Members of this House elect the independent members to these boards?
§ Mr. Rees
That last point on how it should be done is interesting. Again, if my hon. Friend has any views about the lack of quality of those who are already on the boards and do good jobs for a remarkably low sum of money, perhaps he will let me know The new franchises will be not for me, but, certainly with regard to channel 2, for the IBA.
§ Mr. Rathbone
Does the Home Secretary accept that many people share my right hon. Friend's concern about Government funding of the fourth channel? Many will also be concerned about the door which is ajar towards sponsorship within the fourth channel, which can adversely affect programme content and quality, as is readily visible in the United States. In addition, does he accept that many people are concerned about the degree of funding already available to Independent Television News and therefore do not accept the need for additional news services until the funding for the present news service is increased so that it can do an ever better job than it is doing now?
With regard to local radio, many people do not accept the Home Secretary's contention that there are too few frequencies for real community radio. Therefore, will he investigate the precision with which the Home Office over and over again contends that there is a shortage of frequencies for local radio and for citizens' bands?
§ Mr. Rees
I have not put forward any argument about the lack of frequencies for local radio. The point is that for the short distance that they transmit the problem does not arise. I believe that we can extend local radio to all parts of the country.
Sponsorship for the fourth channel, which arose out of Annan, is one of the things that we put in the White Paper. There are some excellent examples of sponsorship in the United States. We should need to look at that matter carefully. That is the funuction of the White Paper. Let us see what gets into the Bill.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
I congratulate the Home Secretary once again on confirming the various leaks that have been given on this White Paper, the official secrets White Paper, the pay White Paper and every other White Paper. Instead of handing this White Paper to the press and a few selected individuals, why could he not give it to Members of Parliament generally and thus prevent just two going on the radio this morning and giving full details of it?
On the question of quangos, my right hon. Friend did not explain the matter in detail. I think that his point was that we could have an open competition so that 1573 those who are able and capable may apply and we can have a vetting system by a Select Committee to stop this obvious patronage of ex-Members of Parliament and those in another place sharing out the spoils on the basis of fair shares for all, provided that it is Lady Howe pairing with Lady Lockwood. I think that most hon. Members would like to stop that system.
§ Mr. Rees
I come back to the last point about the IBA and the BBC. My hon. Friend has views about this matter in general. However, if he looks at the people who have been appointed, he will find that they were not appointed in that way. He considers that appointments can better be made in another way. That is a matter for the Government as a whole. I repeat, those appointed to the BBC and the IBA get very little money and they do an excellent job. They are in no sense the poodles of any political party.
With regard to anyone who spoke on the radio this morning, I issued the White Paper at 2.30 this afternoon. I did not issue copies before that, except to a group of people involved in the industry.
§ Mr. Spence
is the Home Secretary aware that the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries of which I am a member, today tabled its report on the IBA? Is he further aware that the work of that Committee was considerably hampered, to say the least, by the absence of any definite date by which the White Paper was supposed to be published and that it could not get any information on the date of publication? Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to read the Select Committtee's report? I also ask the House to read that report in conjunction with this White Paper.
§ Mr. Rees
Of course I shall read that report. Because of the nature of the discussions that were taking place, I did not decide the date of publication until 1574 last week. If I had known the date, if I had known when it would come to fruition, I should have let the Select Committee know, and I am sure that the Select Committee would have let me know when it was going to publish its report.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins
Is my right hon. Friend aware that, while the fears of the BBC are understandable, they are not valid? Is he further aware that successive Governments have demonstrated that they are perfectly capable of paying the piper without attempting to call the tune, notably in relation to the Arts Council and several other bodies which are financed by Government funds but which are not controlled by them? Therefore, does my right hon. Friend agree that the objections of the BBC, although understandable, are not valid?
Finally, I ask my right hon. Friend to comment on one further point. Is not the threat to the broadcasting authorities greater from the possibility of the Broadcasting Complaints Commission? Will he confirm that that body will have no censorship powers over the existing authorities?
§ Mr. Wyn Roberts
The White Paper talks about the OBA's buying Welsh language programmes from the ITV contractor in Wales. Will the right hon. Gentleman explain the financing of fourth channel Welsh programmes?
§ Mr. Rees
Discussions about the Welsh fourth channel have been going on for some time, since Siberry and Crawford. What is envisaged is that the three companies will provide programmes and that there will be a Welsh television council for co-ordinating arrangements. The financing, in the short run or in the long term, will be a matter for the Council to work out with the three organizations. There may indeed be a need for some Government money, certainly in the short run, but the best way in which this can be dealt with is a matter for discussion. 1575 I know that the company involved is prepared to play a part.
§ Mr. Austin Mitchell
Whilst I welcome the expansion of local radio on the ground that two years late is better than never, does my right hon. Friend accept that when it comes to the fourth channel the best way to provide choice to the viewer is through complementary programming, with the alternation of programmes on two channels, and that this is rendered more difficult by the creation of a third competing body? Will my right hon. Friend also accept that, because the White Paper relegates that third competing body to a minority audience, as a kind of fretwork network, there is likely to be a considerable burden on public funds for the financing of this operation? What studies have been done on the advertising revenue that is likely to be attracted to a channel that is likely to obtain less than 2 per cent. or 3 per cent. of the total audience? How does my right hon. Friend justify providing out of public money the kind of financial support that will be necessary for a minority intellectual ghetto?
§ Mr. Rees
My hon. Friend talks about 2 per cent. or 3 per cent. of the total audience. Perhaps he would give me the papers he has worked out which enable him to come to that figure. My hon Friend also talks about the fretwork people and so on. We are not talking about minorities in that sense. There are large groups, which may add up to over I million people, whose special interests, given the nature of the present system, do not receive a wide showing on the BBC and IBA. So we are not talking about minorities of small groups. Minorities can be very large in this country. I find that with two channels we get the same all the time, because they are working to the mass audience. We should give the facilities for something better to be done.
§ Mr. Fell
What is the Home Secretary saying that the British people will get as new programmes from the Open Broadcasting Authority, set up entirely by him, which will have no requirement to keep a proper balance in terms of range, variety or subject matter, and which it seems will have no limits on its functions? Is it to be entirely concerned with the fourth channel or may it stray to tell other chan- 1576 nels how they may operate? Everything is unknown. We should like to know from the right hon. Gentleman what on earth he means.
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
Is my right hon. Friend aware that he need not worry too much about the programme content of the OBA, because there will be a multiplicity of people trying to get original material on to such a channel? But will he look very carefully at the whole question of the funding of local radio? Many of us would like to see the BBC extend its local radio services much wider, because it is doing a marvellous job. But it cannot do it without cash. Will my right hon. Friend please look at the way in which such services are funded and see whether he can ensure that the BBC receives enough money to provide the services? It is doing the job very well, but only on a shoe-string.
§ Mr. Emery
Will the Home Secretary remind himself of what he has written in his second major paragraph:our broadcasting services should continue to be provided as public services"?There are people in Devon, Cornwall and Yorkshire, and particularly Scotland and Wales, who cannot receive the existing public services in radio, in some instances in Radio 4 and in many instances in 1577 Radio 3, and certainly in television in BBC 2. Will the right hon. Gentleman insist that before new money is provided to extend the public service to other people those communities should be provided with the existing services so that they can benefit as compared with the rest of the community?
§ Mr. Ward
While there will be a general welcome for my right hon. Friend's announcement about local radio, is he aware that there is continuing apprehension about the delays inherent in his proposals? Can he say whether the committee set up to designate initially new stations will decide within weeks rather than months and whether the first of the new stations will be opened by 1980?
§ Mr. Rees
The development of local broadcasting was held up while we were waiting for this. It should not take too long for it to be done. For example, in Wales, where the BBC seems not to be too interested in local broadcasting in the true sense of the term but to be interested in community broadcasting, there may be quicker developments. It need not take too long for the extension. Various towns have already been in touch with the BBC asking for developments.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
Does the Home Secretary accept the point made by his hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) about the need for automatic buoyant revenue for the BBC? The present licence system is not automatic, in that licence fee increases have to be approved by the House and the Home Secretary.
Having praised the part-time governors of the BBC and talked about their £1,000 a year, why has the right hon. 1578 Gentleman made no proposal to raise that pay, which has not been raised for some time?
Thirdly, and perhaps most important, where did the idea of a service management board come from? It is not referred to in the appendix as coming from Annan. It has not been discussed widely in the public arena. What do the present governors and the chairman of the BBC think about it?
§ Mr. Rees
They will no doubt give me their views. This is the purpose of the White Paper. When my colleagues and I looked at this matter, we were faced with the fact that on Annan there was a majority in favour of leaving the BBC as it was, as opposed to breaking it up into three separate organisations. I considered the matter and discussed it with my colleagues. We have tried to get inside the organisation the benefits desired by those who wanted to break it up completely.
I understand that the BBC is to discuss the matter, and it might well be doing something of this kind of its own volition. But it sometimes does not require a position paper and large amounts of other paper to have the view that the BBC is monolithic and tends to be bureaucratic. To divide it in this way is a very good idea that should be discussed.
§ Mr. Carmichael
Does my right hon. Friend accept that the ideas he has put forward about local radio, and particularly the low-power local radio, will be appreciated throughout the country? However, may I, like the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Spence), draw his attention to the fact that the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries laid its report on the Table today, largely agreeing with what I have been able to read of the White Paper on local radio? Does my right hon. Friend accept that his Department certainly knew when the White Paper was likely to come out? Whilst I accept that it is an old-established custom that embargoed copies of White Paper go to the press, would not it be reasonable if a Select Committee discussing the problem had advance copies as well?
§ Mr. McCrindle
While I welcome the expansion of BBC and IBA local radio stations, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to note that Essex is the most populous county in the country without at present having an independent radio station of either the BBC or the IBA? Does he think that that sort of consideration might lead to Essex being one of the 12 now proposed?
§ Mr. Rees
Certainly that can be considered. I know that various towns in other parts of the country have been to the BBC and the IBA. I presume that that is true of Essex, too. There is one point that needs to be made. It has to be decided when local radio ceases to be local radio. We are talking about local radio, but there is no doubt that some of the companies have become regional and even larger in their coverage. I am not arguing either way about that point. When we are talking about local radio we ought to be clear what it is that we have in mind.
§ Mr. Spearing
Referring to the publisher analogy for the fourth channel, may I ask the Home Secretary to tell the House why he has suggested that sponsorship be introduced for the first time? He told the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) that it was contained in Annan. Surely he has more positive reasons than that, since the advantage of the publisher concept is that it separates the source of revenue from the choice of programme, whereas if my right hon. Friend adopts the sponsorship idea he is doing the opposite, as in the case of a publisher with a sponsored book.
§ Mr. Rees
It was a value judgment whether to insert sponsorship as a form of advertising. We noted that there had been excellent developments of sponsor- 1580 ship in the United States in recent years. I have put the idea in. It can be discussed. We ought to look more closely at what is being done in the United States as opposed to the form of sponsorship which existed there 10 or 15 years ago.
§ Mr. Gorst
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the proposals for an OBA quango contain very nearly all of the known ills of broadcasting plus many of the untried ones, particularly sponsorship and a lack of balance in programmes, together with back-door financing by the Government which will undoubtedly lead to Government pressure? Secondly, can the right hon. Gentleman say where the BBC will get the necessary funds to finance an extension of local radio?
§ Mr. Rees
What the Opposition are saying is that the organisation should be run directly by the IBA with existing staff. The point I am making is that if there is to be an organisation which will run this OBA concept inside the IBA it will still need people to run it and organise it. They would have to be taken on in the IBA.
§ Mr. Rees
As to whether they are named by the Home Secretary, I invite the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst), with his great knowledge of industry—in the best sense of the term—to see how the appointments are made now and then to tell me whether any are in the pocket of a political party. I shall be very pleased to know the result.
§ Mr. Noble
Will my right hon. Friend accept that his answer to the effect that the licence fee can be considered only in the long term is extremely disappointing, particularly to pensioners? Why cannot 1581 he deal with the greatest anomaly of the lot and at least make a start by abolishing television licence fees for pensioners instead of favouring only those in sheltered accommodation?
§ Mr. Crouch
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I was one of those who looked forward with some enthusiasm to the Open Broadcasting Authority in preference to a second commercial channel? Is he further aware that, having had a cursory look at the White Paper with its suggestions for the financing arrangements, bringing in sponsorship, and the incredible idea of 15 minutes of block advertising, I feel that he is in danger of taking away my enthusiasm and of creating a dog's breakfast of the OBA?
§ Mr. Rees
The Annan report was based completely on advertising. In some countries, instead of having spot advertising and breaking up a programme, they have a quarter-hour period of advertising, rather like a page of a newspaper. I thought that this might be a better approach. The House can discuss this and act accordingly. In my view the White Paper ought to put the facts before the House for decision before legislation is introduced.
Mr. Tom Ellis
Speaking as a member of a minority group in the United Kingdom which is anxious to preserve the cohesion of the United Kingdom, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he is aware that his statement, in so far as it relates to the problems of the Welsh language, will be received with some anxiety in Wales, by Welsh-speaking and non-Welsh-speaking Welshmen? Is he further aware that the autumn of 1982 will be seen to be so far away and the problem to be so finely balanced that people will believe that the destiny of the language might well be decided in the 1582 interregnum? What are the practical problems, given the political will, which prevent the establishment of a fourth channel service in Wales within 12 months?
§ Mr. Blaker
The Home Secretary seems to be proposing the setting-up of a great many new quangos. Has he not forgotten one? Will there not have to be a committee to advise him about the flood of applications which he will no doubt receive from retired Labour politicians, and those about to be retired, asking to serve on the quangos?
§ Mr. Molloy
Is my right hon. Friend aware that notwithstanding paragraph 75 in the White Paper concerning public hearings many ordinary people still do not know how to make an approach to the BBC or ITA other than by way of the telephone, which sometimes leads to telephone lines being overloaded?
Is he aware that what is required is an explanation to ordinary people and voluntary organisations setting out how they can make approaches to these authorities, which often seem remote? This explanation should be in relation to approaches other than by way of the recommendation concerning public hearings set out in paragraph 75. Is he aware that by itself paragraph 75 is not enough?
§ Mr. Mawby
The right hon. Gentleman has properly paid tribute to the membership of the BBC and the IBA. If what he has said about these people is true—and I believe that it is—why 1583 do we need another body such as the OBA, especially since this would appear to be an open-ended demand upon the taxpayer? Is the right hon. Gentleman able to say whether the further extension of local independent radio is to be put off yet again until some other committee makes a decision?
§ Mr. Rees
We have held up the extension of local independent radio in the past two years. The working party considering the subject is to discuss with the BBC and the IBA the question of an immediate extension.
Coming to the role of these organisations, the role of the BBC governors is both supervisory and managerial. We think that there ought to be a distancing of those roles. The role of the OBA is supervisory. The role of the OBA would not be an appropriate role for the IBA as it is at the moment because it would commission programmes direct. That is why I thought that the OBA should be a separate organisation.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. There have been three-quarters of an hour of questions on this subject, apart from the statement. I propose to call two more hon. Members from each side.
§ Mr. Ioan Evans
Does my right hon. Friend realise that his proposals will be generally welcomed, particularly the proposal to give the fourth channel to the OBA? Is he aware that there will be a special welcome in Wales for the proposal to give the channel to Welsh-language programmes? Does he appreciate that this proposal will be well received not only by the 20 per cent. Welsh-speaking part of the population but by the remaining 80 per cent. non-Welsh-speaking members of the population?
Will my right hon. Friend consider again the proposal that has come from some of my hon. Friends to do away with a licence fee for television? We want to maintain the political impartiality of the BBC, and we all recognise the good service that it gives, but there must be a better method of raising finance than taxing a millionaire at the same rate as an old-age pensioner by requiring a licence fee.
§ Mr. Rees
If my hon. Friend reads the relevant section, he will find that we have stated our views. It is felt that there is a problem about control by the Government of the day. We shall have to take the various issues into account when considering the buoyancy of the revenue. Other problems may arise as regards Wales. The OBA that will be in the rest of the United Kingdom will not be available in Wales. That should be taken on board.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Speaker
I should have indicated that I will call the Opposition Front Bench spokesman at the end of the questions on this matter.
§ Mr. Wiggin
The Home Secretary has said that the Welsh count. Is he aware that only 28 per cent. of them count in Welsh and that none of my constituents understands the Welsh language? Therefore, proposals in the White Paper for any extension of Welsh language programmes, especially for children, will be deeply resented on both sides of the Bristol Channel? Is it without the capacity of the Government to put all Welsh language programmes on the fourth channel before four years from now expire?
§ Mr. Rees
I advise the hon. Gentleman to read the working party document. I accept that there is a problem. I know that people in Weston-super-Mare are not interested in Welsh programmes, and nor should they be. I advise the hon. Gentleman to read the working party document, which is a technical document.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Is the Home Secretary able to help us on paragraph 62? We are told that the Assembly is to get "buckshee" annual reports from the National Broadcasting Council. We are also told that it would be inappropriate to require them to be laid formally before the Assembly. What is the relationship between the Assembly, on the one hand, and the BBC and broadcasting, on the other? If there is no relationship, may we hear about it?
§ Mr. Raison
Has the right hon. Gentleman considered whether in the interests of competition the ITV contribution to the fourth channel might be made by new contractors rather than by the existing companies? Will he take seriously that under the present combination of radio and television some parts of the country, such as Leeds, I suspect, receive a great deal of regional and local coverage whereas other parts, such as Buckinghamshire, receive virtually none?
§ Mr. Rees
I shall bring the hon. Gentleman's second point to the notice of the companies, especially his argument about local broadcasting. He raises an interesting suggestion about the new independent companies being involved in the fourth channel, in whatever fashion it eventually emerges. It is intended—much thought has been given to this—that there shall be room on the fourth channel for independent producers. It may be that the hon. Gentleman and I are not very far apart.
§ Mr. Critchley
Those of us who read the New Statesman, and even those of us who do not, know that the real author of the White Paper is the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead). The Whitehead torpedo that sank the first draft has landed an unfortunate second draft around the right hon. Gentleman's neck. My right hon. and hon. Friends wish to reinforce the authority of the IBA and the BBC, but we are not in favour of the creation of a third authority, the OBA, for broadcasting and as a final resting place for retired trade union leaders.
I ask the following questions on the OBA, were it ever to see the light of day. What authority will the OBA enjoy over its programme makers? Will it enjoy more or less authority than the other two authorities? Will it inform the viewer, as is now the position, or will it be allowed to persuade, as is threatened? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the skills to make exciting and vivid television are not the same as making fair television? Will the OBA ensure that a fair spread of opinions are heard? What stress is there in the White Paper for the need for accuracy on the part of the new fourth channel?
§ Mr. Rees
As for the hon. Gentleman's first point, I only advise him not to believe everything that he reads in the New Statesmen or in anything else. There has been a most interesting discussion but the whole subject has sometimes been lionised and individualised. Usually that is believed by those who have never been in Cabinet.
The OBA will have to maintain impartiality. That is contrary to Annan. It should concern itself with impartiality. The authority will have control over that in the same way as other bodies have control. That will have to be written into legislation.
§ Mr. Rost
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis) is not the only hon. Member to be embarrassed by the obvious and deliberate advance leakage of the White Paper to certain hon. Members and to the media. It is embarrassing when hon. Members are approached by the media early in the day and asked to comment on a White Paper that has apparently been released deliberately to the media by the Home Secretary and made available to other hon. Members when it has not yet been made available to certain hon. Members such as myself. Will something be done to cease that practice so that we may have some conformity of procedure? That will ensure that all hon. Members are properly protected. It will ensure that some hon. Members, such as the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead), do not have the privilege of appearing on the media early in the morning to comment on a White Paper that the rest of us have not had the privilege of seeing.
§ Mr. Rees
They were not made available. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis) can speak for himself. It is no good the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost) shaking his head. I am giving my word that other copies were not made 1587 available. The White Paper was embargoed to the press in the normal fashion.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. We all appreciate, Mr. Speaker, that you are not responsible for whether the Department, a civil servant or someone else did or did not leak the White Paper officially or unofficially. However, we know that for weeks the press has been able to give almost verbatim reports of what will be in the White Papers on the Official Secrets Act, on pay and on broadcasting.
Whether the White Paper is or is not officially leaked and whether it is or is not the case that some civil servant leaked it and, who knows, received payment for it, we have already read of these matters in the press and the Minister has read out something that other hon. Members have had, the Press has had and others have. Is it not wasting the time of the House to spend 30 minutes or 40 minutes on a statement and questions on a White Paper that has already been given to some? Would it not be better for the Minister to hand copies to all hon. Members, or to make copies available immediately to all hon. Members as soon as he makes it available to the press and others?
§ Mr. Whitehead
In view of what has been said, Mr. Speaker, perhaps in part in my brief absence, I should say on behalf of the hon. Member for East Grinstead (Mr. Johnson Smith), who appeared in the radio programme with me this morning, that not only had neither of us seen the White Paper but nor had the BBC at the time that the programme was broadcast.
§ Mr. Whitehead
It is worth saying that the embargo system has its failings. However, to my knowledge no organisation within broadcasting or the press has broken the embargo in this instance.
§ Mr. Fell
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Minister has said that he did not make the White Paper available. That I quite understand. Of course he did not make it available. However, in view of what has been said by several hon. Members, would it be unreasonable to suggest that it would be sensible for the Minister to call a departmental inquiry into whether it was made available?
§ Mr. Ioan Evans
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. We should take note of the fact that whereas normally we cannot get a copy of a White Paper from the Vote Office until the Minister stands at the Dispatch Box, today the White Paper was available at 2.30 p.m. We should appreciate and take note of that fact.