§ 2. Mr. Gerald Howarth
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he last met the chairman of the Independent Broadcasting Authority and the chairman of the British Broadcasting Corporation; and what matters were discussed.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hurd)
I am in regular touch with both chairmen on a wide range of broadcasting matters.
§ Mr. Howarth
Next time my right hon. Friend meets the two gentlemen concerned, will he remind them that those who broadcast to the nation are part of the nation, not an elitist super race apart? Will he further remind them that it is they who act as censors and that the new Broadcasting Standards Council will serve as a vital test of accountability towards the viewer, which is badly needed? Does my right hon. Friend consider that one best suited to serve that accountability purpose may be Mrs. Mary Whitehouse?
§ Mr. Hurd
Mrs. Whitehouse's role in this matter has been well recognised. The truth is that it has been difficult to portray Sir William Rees-Mogg convincingly either as a gauleiter or as a vandal. I hope that as the waves subside on this matter he can get on with the broadcasting authorities and work out how the new council will operate in practice. We can judge a little later what the statutory definition and power should be.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I remind hon. Members that there is a further question about the Broadcasting Standards Council.
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell
When the Secretary of State next meets the chairmen of the IBA and BBC, will he congratulate them on the continuing high standard of broadcasting in the United Kingdom and assure them of his support to ensure that their independence is not compromised?
§ Mr. Hurd
Indeed, Sir. When we publish a White Paper on television, which will probably not be until the autumn, the hon. and learned Gentleman will see the huge change that will come over television in the form of greatly expanded choice for viewers, going well beyond the present scope of the BBC and IBA. We must deregulate to make that wider choice available, while keeping a grip on standards.
§ Mr. Stanbrook
In the light of the decision by the two authorities to allow a television broadcast giving a one-sided account of the Gibraltar incident, is my right hon. Friend satisfied that those two authorities serve the public interest? Should there not be a review of who is to determine public interest, rather than leave it to a group of nominated people and programme makers who are not elected to that capacity?
§ Mr. Hurd
My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary made it clear to both chairmen, in his letters about showing the programmes on Gibraltar, that he was appealing to them on grounds of responsibility rather than law. My view is that it is for the broadcasting authorities to discharge their duties in this area and that they are helped rather than hindered by a robust give-and-take between broadcasters and politicians.
§ Mr. Winnick
Leaving aside the obvious and continuous vendetta by many Tories against the broadcasting authorities, in his talks with the chairmen of those authorities did the Home Secretary mention that he would make it far more difficult for retired people to get a concessionary television licence? Does the Secretary of State realise that his statement in his written answer that appears in yesterday's Hansard will be greeted with disgust by many retired people who will now find it more difficult to obtain a concessionary television licence fee? Why should not all pensioners be able to claim a concessionary television licence fee on the lines that I proposed in my Bill that was defeated?
§ Mr. Hurd
If we did what the hon. Gentleman suggests, the cost to other licence holders, many of whom are worse off than pensioners, would he substantial. The hon. Gentleman has not thought the matter through. We had to deal with the unsatisfactory 5p concessionary licence. We could not abolish it without substantial grievance and hardship. The solution that I outlined yesterday is sensible and fair in the circumstances.