HC Deb 16 February 1967 vol 741 cc778-85
13. Mr. Bryan

asked the Postmaster-General if he will estimate the capital expenditure and running costs of the nine stations which are to be formed for the 12-month experiment in local sound radio.

14. Captain Orr

asked the Postmaster-General what proportion of the population in those areas to be covered by the proposed experimental local radio stations he estimates will be able to receive their programmes.

16. Mr. Stratton Mills

asked the Postmaster-General what representations he has received from universities, chambers of trade and commerce, local councils of churches, art associations and other representative bodies active in the social and cultural life of the community as to their willingness to make a financial contribution to the local sound radio experiment; and how much he estimates that these bodies are willing to pay.

21. Mr. Mawby

asked the Postmaster-General what discussions he has had with the Council of Churches, the universities and art associations regarding his proposal that they should contribute towards an experiment in local sound radio.

24 and 25. Mr. Ian Gilmour

asked the Postmaster-General (1) what he estimates will be the additional annual cost to the British Broadcasting Corporation of the proposals contained in the White Paper on Broadcasting;

(2) if he will ensure that the nine stations taking part in the local radio experiment will cover a reasonable variety of environments, including rural areas.

31. Mr. Berry

asked the Postmaster-General what representations he has received from universities, chambers of trade and commerce, local councils of churches, arts associations, and other representative bodies active in the social and cultural life of the community as to their willingness to make a financial contribution to the local sound radio experiment.

36 and 37. Mr. Eyre

asked the Postmaster-General (1) if he will invite commercial undertakings to take part in his proposed experiment in local sound radio;

(2) from what source he expects local authorities to raise money with which to support his proposed experiment in local sound radio.

50. Mr. Crawshaw

asked the Postmaster-General when he expects to give authority for the setting up of local broadcasting stations; and whether he will bear in mind the claim for Liverpool to be included in those first chosen for this experiment.

53. Dr. John Dunwoody

asked the Postmaster-General if each of the nine local radio stations will be sited in those areas at present deprived of B.B.C.2 television, the live theatre and the arts.

Mr. Edward Short

The capital expenditure on the sound radio proposals in the White Paper is estimated at £300,000. Annual running costs will be about £700,000 by 1968–69, about £500,000 of which will be incurred on the local radio experiment. Part of this will be met by local contributions. Discussions are going on between the B.B.C. and local authorities which are taking soundings of other local bodies and organisations. These inquiries are additional to those I made before the White Paper. Local authorities may contribute in respect of services for which they have responsibilities, and in the provision and conduct of which the local radio station would be of value. These contributions would form part of the expenditure on their services, but there would be no specific subvention for the station as such.

The places for the experiment will be chosen as quickly as possible. I expect the B.B.C.'s proposals within a period of weeks and I shall lose no time in considering them. The prime consideration will be to obtain, through selecting a cross section of localities, the widest range of information and experience from the experiment.

The Government are determined to maintain the public service principle, but I think there would be general agreement that it would not be sensible to set up a new broadcasting authority for the experiment.

Mr. Bryan

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that no one in this House has ever heard of 10 Questions on such a wide variety of subjects being taken together? One can only assume that it is defensive tactics after yesterday's humiliation——

Mr. Speaker

Order. Question, please.

Mr. Bryan

The White Paper states that the money will not be raised from rates. Does that mean that the money will be raised from rates, but that that will not be revealed in the rate demand?

Mr. Short

What the rate demand reveals is a matter for the local authority. But I imagine that, if the local radio station puts on, for example, an educational programme, part of the education rate will cover the cost of it.

Mr. Stratton Mills

May I refer the right hon. Gentleman to the bodies mentioned in Question No. 16? Would he say how much these bodies have promised to contribute to the scheme? Would he say specifically how many of these bodies were represented at the conference on 27th January held by the B.B.C. to discuss the whole prospects of local sound radio?

Mr. Short

I had nothing to do with the conference on 27th January. It was entirely a B.B.C. initiative. I do not know who was there, although I know that the Post Office was represented. As for contributions, I myself had discussions with a wide variety of organisations. I spent some weeks doing little else than interview people. Certainly half the House will be pleased to know that we have had a great many applications—far more than we need—all of whom are prepared to foot the bill and, in many cases, provide premises as well.

Mr. Mawby

As according to the Notice Paper today I appear to represent two constituencies, I assume that under the Prices and Incomes Act I should be justified in asking for a higher salary.

Is the right hon. Gentleman now saying that all the formal discussions have been with local authorities, as opposed to the suggestion in the White Paper that various bodies such as those referred to in my Question would be asked to contribute? Is he aware, further, that, while it may be a good idea to go round with the hat to raise money to pay for the village church bells, it is not an ideal way of paying for a local broadcasting system?

Mr. Short

That is a matter of opinion. I know that hon. Gentleman opposite do not want this to succeed but it will succeed and it will be a great success. As I told the House in reply to a previous supplementary question, I interviewed a great many bodies of all kinds, and I saw, among others, the Archbishop of Canterbury. We have really talked to almost everyone concerned in the life of our communities.

Mr. Gilmour

It appears from the B.B.C.'s pamphlet that it shares the general scepticism about the right hon. Gentleman's local sources of revenue. Can the right hon. Gentleman say why the B.B.C. is so ill-informed about this?

Mr. Short

There is no scepticism on the part of the B.B.C. Yesterday, it showed me the applications that it has had. Let me repeat that a great many towns up and down the country have applied—far more than we need at this stage. In those cases, the whole cost will be forthcoming from the local community. I know that the hon. Gentleman does not want to see this, but that is the truth.

Mr. Berry

Would the Postmaster-General tell us which local chambers of trade and commerce have signified their willingness to make a financial contribution? If the list is too long, could he circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Short

No, I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman this because I do not know yet which towns will be selected.

Mr. Crawshaw

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Liverpool and other Merseyside towns are prepared to go ahead with this scheme on the financial lines he has indicated and that this would bring the service to 1½ million people? Would my right hon. Friend bear in mind that, if Liverpool and that area were chosen, it would be but a fitting reward for the fact that over a number of years it has produced more stars for radio, screen, television, and what-have-you, than any other part of the country?

Dr. John Dunwoody

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that his announcement will be welcomed on this side of the House? Would he also not agree that there is a strong case for siting at least some of these experimental stations in areas which do not at present get full B.B.C. sound and television services, more especially as in those areas people pay the same licence fees?

Mr. Short

I do not think that my hon. Friend was present at yesterday's debate, but I said then that I hoped that one of these areas would include a district with a rural element in it.

Dr. Winstanley

To assist hon. Members to make up their minds on this very important issue, would the Postmaster-General arrange for hon. Members to hear the excellent experimental local radio programmes which have already been produced and recorded by the B.B.C.?

Mr. Short

These are available. I am sure that the B.B.C. would be pleased to allow hon. Members who have not heard them to hear them. We have advanced a good deal since then. I hope that the local radio stations will be a great deal in advance of that.

Mr. O'Malley

Do the capital costs which the Postmaster-General mentioned include provisions for studios from which there could be live musical performances? What proportion of running costs, in the Postmaster-General's estimate, would be for the cost of employing musicians in such live performances?

Mr. Short

I cannot say what proportion, but the White Paper says that we hope that there will be something in this for local musicians.

Mr. Speaker

Sir Ian Orr-Ewing.

Sir Ian Orr-Ewing

No. 18, Sir.

Mr. Speaker

I called the hon. Gentleman to ask a supplementary question.

Sir Ian Orr-Ewing

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I thought that if I tried for a supplementary you would then say, "Question No. 18", and that that would close the discussion on a very important issue. That is why I did not rise at that time.

Could the Postmaster-General tell the House why he felt that he could not allow even his choice of experimental stations to operate on the medium waves during daylight hours so that these would be available to existing listeners on ordinary medium-wave sets and also on car radios?

Mr. Short

I will not deal with car radios, because I dealt with these in an intervention last night. I am sure that the right answer for the car radio is Radio 247.

The biggest thing against operating from medium waves would be that the system would have to be duplicated—on medium waves during daytime and on V.H.F. during night time. This would have been extremely wasteful. Apart from that, there would have been very great difficulties about finding medium wavelengths to do this.

Mr. John Lee

Is my right hon. Friend aware that even some of us who voted for the Bill last night, somewhat reluctantly in my own case, would take it ill if, after this experiment had been concluded, Auntie B.B.C. were to be continued in a monopoly position?

Mr. Short

Without agreeing with anything my hon. Friend said about the B.B.C., I must tell him that the White Paper makes it quite clear that we reserve our position at the end of the experiment. We are not in any way committed to the B.B.C.

23. Sir Harmar Nicholls

asked the Postmaster-General what proportion of the programmes to be broadcast by local radio stations will be locally produced material.

Mr. Edward Short

The B.B.C. expects that out of about 18 hours broadcasting time at least 4 to 5 hours will consist of locally produced material. There will also be additional hours devoted to locally produced educational and specialist programmes.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

The right hon. Gentleman says that the B.B.C. "expects". Will the Corporation lay down that at least this proportion of local affairs will be put over? Otherwise, it will not be a local broadcasting station.

Mr. Short

I think that the station manager and the local radio council will be expected to put out material from local sources for about one-third of their time.

Mr. O'Malley

Will my right hon. Friend define more closely what he means by locally produced material? Does it mean talk or music, or how would he split it up?

Mr. Short

I think that "locally produced material" is fairly explicit. It is material which is produced locally.

Mr. Bryan

Who will decide this sort of question? Will the Postmaster-General give guidance to the B.B.C. on it, or will the B.B.C. decide? Will there be a book of rules, as there is for the I.T.A., for instance, on codes of conduct and that sort of thing, and from where will such rules emanate?

Mr. Short

The station manager will have the final editorial decision, but he will have a working partnership with the local radio council.

43. Mr. Crouch

asked the Postmaster-General what he expects to learn from his proposed experiment in local sound radio.

Mr. Edward Short

I would refer the hon. Member to the White Paper; and, in particular, to paragraphs 36 and 41.