HC Deb 03 July 1969 vol 786 cc618-22
16. Mr. Ashley

asked the Postmaster-General what steps he proposes to take to enable the British Broadcasting Corporation to combine solvency with high standards of public service broadcasting.

20. Mr. Kenneth Baker

asked the Postmaster-General what proposals he has now received from the British Broadcasting Corporation about the future of the British Broadcasting Corporation's radio services; and whether he will make a statement.

28. Mr. Stratton Mills

asked the Postmaster-General what discussions he has had with the British Broadcasting Corporation concerning the future financing of the corporation.

30. Mr. Boston

asked the Postmaster-General what further consideration he has been giving to methods of financing the British Broadcasting Corporation.

31. Mr. Boston

asked the Postmaster-General whether he has now received the British Broadcasting Corporation's proposals on the reorganisation of sound broadcasting.

32. Mr. Leadbitter

asked the Postmaster-General whether he has now received from the British Broadcasting Corporation its proposals for the reorganisation of sound broadcasting; and if he will make a statement.

42. Mr. Henig

asked the Postmaster-General what discussions he has now held with the British Broadcasting Corporation about the future of sound broadcasting.

46. Mr. Dempsey

asked the Postmaster-General if he has now completed his consideration as to the provision of a 24-hour radio service; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Stonehouse

The B.B.C. will publish its proposals for the future of radio services next week. I prefer to await the reactions of the public before making any statement.

Mr. Ashley

Is my right bon Friend aware that the finances of the B.B.C. are grossly inadequate? Would he consider an annual review, which would ensure that inflation would be met automatically?

Mr. Stonehouse

This is a helpful suggestion. I cannot give a commitment upon it, but I will consider it very seriously in the reviews now being conducted.

Mr. Baker

Before the statement next week, would the Postmaster-General be prepared to comment on the rumours circulating that the B.B.C., to maintain its music programme and regional orchestras, is prepared, in order to deal with the financing of local radio, to take local commercial advertisements?

Mr. Stonehouse

I am not prepared to anticipate a statement. I am not proposing to make a statement next week. What I said was that I would make a statement after the B.B.C. had announced its proposals so that I could judge public reaction to them. I would want to give a week or so to get that reaction.

Mr. Stratton Mills

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the great public dissatisfaction surrounding the secrecy of these talks, which have led to considerable rumour and counter-rumour? Is he aware of the great importance of maintaining B.B.C. standards so that the music programme and others are not sacrificed to enable the B.B.C. to engage in local radio?

Mr. Stonehouse

I am aware that this subject has attracted a great deal of public interest. The House will be aware that the B.B.C. has a number of advisory councils which it has to consult. It would be wrong for it to have announced, its proposals to the public before these councils were consulted. I am very anxious that the B.B.C. standards, which are second to none in the world, shall be maintained.

Mr. Boston

Would my right hon. Friend accept that the continuing and widespread concern for the future of B.B.C. Radio Three cannot be over-emphasised, and the proposal which has been widely forecast in the Press, to stop transmitting this service on the medium wave and to confine it solely to v.h.f. would be a thoroughly retrograde step, tantamount to curtailing the service, and a step which would be quite unacceptable to music lovers inside and outside this House? Will he urge the B.B.C. not to take this step?

Mr. Stonehouse

I am aware of the concern about some of these proposals. I would ask my hon. Friend and the House to await the B.B.C. statement. I am sure that the B.B.C. would not want its music programme to be less effective than it is today.

Mr. Leadbitter

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Director General, Mr. Charles Curran, is to appear on the Third Programme to answer questions on 15th July? Is he aware that this will hardly satisfy a number of people who are discontented about the manner in which the advisory councils were brought before the corporation, on the strictest confidentiality, in this matter? Does he not realise that a meeting of this kind is highly important in the public interest, and that information about the changes that are discussed should be made available?

Mr. Stonehouse

The information is being made available. The B.B.C. is consulting its advisory councils and all others concerned. It proposes to make a statement about its proposals next week. There would have been many complaints if the B.B.C. had rushed its proposals before the public before such consultations.

Mr. Henig

Is my right hon. Friend aware that if the B.B.C. dropped the public service concept which has guided it for so long there would, unfortunately, be no real case against commercial radio? Would he not agree that if the B.B.C. is over-stretched in relation to its present resources, the better course would be for it to abolish Radio One and for this House to re-legalise chains of islands with pirate pop outside our coasts?

Mr. Stonehouse

I am sure that the B.B.C. is very well aware of its public service responsibility. A week or so ago I had the opportunity to meet the members of the full board, and I was very impressed with their approach to their responsibilities. I am not attracted by the later extravagant idea put forward in the supplementary question.

Mr. Dempsey

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, as has been mentioned frequently in the House, the most dreaded companion of the old, the sick and the feeble in the early hours of the morning is loneliness, and will this view be conveyed to the B.B.C. before it makes an announcement next week?

Mr. Stonehouse

I am sure that the B.B.C. is taking into account the need to satisfy the interests of all sections of the community.

Mr. Bryan

Will the Postmaster-General undertake to make his statement to the House before he makes a statement to the country on television or by other means? Has he brought to the attention of the B.B.C. Motion 337, which has been signed by more than a hundred Members of Parliament on both sides of the House, and which expresses the concern of the House at any loss in quality or quantity of the music programme?

Mr. Stonehouse

It would be better if the House were to await the statement of the B.B.C.'s proposals. In reply to the second part of that question, I am aware of the great amount of interest which has been expressed in the retention of the music programme.

Dr. Winstanley

Is not this subject of too great public significance to be dealt with either privately by the B.B.C. or sporadically in the House by means of the exchange of questions and answers? Will the Postmaster-General approach his right hon. Friend to arrange a full debate on the whole subject to ventilate public anxieties?

Mr. Stonehouse

I welcome that suggestion. There will be an opportunity for debate in the House when the B.B.C. agreement comes up for discussion, and I have no doubt that an early debate can be arranged. I will consult my right hon. Friend about that.

Mr. Whitaker

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the cost of concessionary licences should be borne by the welfare authorities and not by the B.B.C.? Is he also aware that many hon. Members on both sides of the House wish such facilities to be extended to the deaf and the severely disabled?

Mr. Stonehouse

This is a very complex question. Concessionary rebates of this character can be subject to evasion. Although such concessions superficially appear to be attractive, I must warn the House that there are some grave objections to them, and I do not think that we should rush down this road without due consideration.