HC Deb 29 November 1972 vol 847 cc407-9
17. Mr. John Hannam

asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications if, in view of the representations made to him concerning the loss of medium-wave regional broadcasts to the West Country, he will take steps to provide the necessary wavelength facilities at least until 1975.

25. Mr. Hicks

asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications if he will make a statement relating to the loss of medium-wave regional broadcasts to listeners in the West Country and the need for more wavelength facilities.

Sir J. Eden

Following the BBC's proposals in "Broadcasting in the Seventies" and our decisions in "An Alternative Service of Radio Broadcasting" the medium frequencies have been reallocated.

Mr. Hannam

My right hon. Friend has given an unsatisfactory answer. Does he not agree that, bearing in mind the fact that over 70 per cent. of listeners in Devon and Cornwall and the South West do not possess vhf sets, and the Government, in adopting "Broadcasting in the Seventies" and abandoning the BBC medium wave local broadcasting so early in the decade, have achieved a crisis in regional broadcasting? Will he investigate the matter and ask the BBC to use one or two hours daily on Scottish or Northern Ireland regional wavelengths to provide these valuable local broadcasts on medium wave to the West country region?

Sir J. Eden

I am aware of the strength of feeling on this subject in the West Country and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his suggestion, which I shall examine. However, I am sure that he will understand that once it was decided to create a new pattern of local stations, as well as to improve the opportunities for external broadcasting from this country and to give medium wave back-up for BBC as well as commercial radio stations, there was bound to be a considerable change from the pattern that existed previously.

Mr. Hicks

Is my right hon. Friend not aware that the South West is a very low-income area, with an above average number of people living on retirement and fixed incomes? Is he not even more aware of the fact that this decision has caused real disappointment throughout the region, and is regarded as a further reduction of public services in our area? Surely the Government have an obligation to try to influence the BBC on this topic.

Sir J. Eden

It is not a case of trying to influence the BBC; it is a case of having to reallocate the medium frequency. We have comparatively limited frequency availability in this country, and once we start to make changes I am afraid that it is extremely difficult to keep to the pattern to which people have become used. I am very much aware of my hon. Friend's point about the circumstances of people who are losing the particular benefits of regional broadcasting from the BBC, but I am afraid that this is the direction in which radio broadcasting is clearly moving.

Mr. Pardoe

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that these medium wavelengths have been removed from people in the rural areas to confer the inestimable advantage of commercial radio on the conurbations, some of which eminently deserve it. If he does not accept that, will he warn my constituents when they will be able to hear commercial radio?

Sir J. Eden

It is caused by the fact that first of all there was a very wide ranging regional opt-out, which went all the way from Bexhill to Bodmin—not an identifiable area. Secondly, there was the need to give medium wave frequency back-up both for BBC local radio and commercial local radio stations; and, thirdly, there was the need to improve our external broadcasting. In due course the commercial radio stations will increasingly come forward, and Plymouth is one area that is identified for this operation.

Mr. Loughlin

Will the Minister bear in mind that the transference of regional programmes to vhf will mean that an enormous number of people in my region will have to buy a new radio if they want to receive the local programmes? Does he appreciate that this will bear particularly hard on old-age pensioners and low-paid workers? Is this not all being carried out for the simple expedient of giving commercial radio a channel?

Sir J. Eden

No, Sir. The future of local radio clearly lies with vhf. We must also face the fact that in 1974 the whole question of frequency allocation to this country comes up for renegotiation at international level. This is a factor which we must contemplate from this point of time.