HC Deb 02 April 1973 vol 854 cc1-3
3. Mr. Whitehead

asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications if he will announce the criteria which will determine his allocation of the fourth national television channel.

The Minister of Posts and Telecommunications (Sir John Eden)

The prior question is whether the fourth channel should be allocated at all at the present time. The criterion is what is in the best interest of the public as a whole.

Mr. Whitehead

Will the Minister accept that I agree entirely with that answer? In the regrettable event of his deciding to allocate the fourth channel, Will he undertake to publish a Green Paper setting out the Government's view of the various alternatives before any final decision is taken?

Sir J. Eden

As the hon. Gentleman knows, no final decision has been taken. That is the purpose of the reference in the White Paper to the fact that the whole question is the subject of a separate study. I cannot be specific at present about the exact form in which conclusions will be presented to Parliament.

Mr. Wyn Roberts

Will my right hon. Friend assure me that when the Commission which is dealing with this subject considers matters in relation to Wales it will hear the views not only of the vociferous minority but also of the ordinary public, as well as of the broadcasting organisations, which have their own axes to grind?

Sir J. Eden

There is a later Question on the subject of the terms of reference of the study group which will look into matters in relation to Wales. In so far as its study will take it into considering possible applications of the fourth channel, that is one thing. The position about the future of the fourth channel is a separate matter, which is reserved and is outwith the broad terms of the study group.

Mr. John

Does not the Minister accept that, although it is important that all sections of Welsh opinion be heard as to the allocation and the arrangement for the fourth channel in Wales, some arrangement is nevertheless needed, perhaps more urgently than in England, to ensure that both English- and Welsh-speaking Welshmen have justice in their own land?

Sir J. Eden

Having made a decision to set up a study group to consider specifically the broadcasting needs and the existing plans for areas such as the Principality, it is right to allow that study to proceed. It will be taking into account all sections of opinion and not those related exclusively to one interest.

Mr. Golding

If the right hon. Gentleman believes in open government at all there should be no hesitation on his part in declaring that there will be a Green Paper. Will he go further and state that he will hold a public inquiry into the possible allocation of the fourth channel? Will he at least confirm today that he will be prepared to publish any evidence that is presented to him to assist him to arrive at his conclusion?

Sir J. Eden

There is nothing to prevent anybody who wishes to bring views to my attention about the fourth channel from making those views public. I hope that such a person will do so. I see no difficulty about that. However, that must be a matter for the organisation or the individual presenting views to me for this purpose. I have made it clear that Parliament will be given an opportunity to consider a number of matters which were specifically reserved for this purpose in the terms of the White Paper before Parliament was invited to take a decision about extending the franchises for the future of the BBC and the IBA for five years. I cannot be specific about the exact form that that will take until my own studies of all these matters are further advanced.

Mr. John Grant

The Minister has had a good deal of time to reflect on this matter, even since the publication of his White Paper. Why is he still being so dogmatic? He is being as dogmatic about the question of the Green Paper as he was about the public inquiry. What is his contribution going to be towards open government?

Sir J. Eden

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman waits and sees.

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