HC Deb 26 July 1977 vol 936 cc294-6
11. Mr. John Hunt

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will make a statement on her meeting with the administrators of the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Independent Broadcasting Authority on the subject of the poor language content of children's programmes.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

I have had informal discussions with both broadcasting authorities. These covered a wide range of educational topics including language, and I think that our exchanges of views were while.

Mr. Hunt

While I welcome the Secretary of State's initiative in this matter, will she say whether any mention was made in those discussions of the debasement of the English language by the pop music morons on BBC1 and commercial radio, whose programmes are listened to by many children? If she has any further meetings, will she remind the broadcasting authorities that even disc jockeys should be both literate and intelligent?

Mrs. Williams

The Annan Report found that children's programmes specifically directed to children were both a delight to listen to and to watch and had considerable educational content. I add my tribute to that. It is my view that the problem arises in programmes largely aimed at adults but which are also watched by children. The hon. Gentleman, like myself occasionally, hears these programmes. Of course it is true that in some of them language is used in a very loose, inaccurate and sloppy way. I have drawn this to the attention of the broadcasting authorities, while I recognise that what the authorities do in children's programmes is undoubtedly of great educational help.

Mr. Evelyn King

Does the BBC still argue, as it used to do, that correct language does not matter? Is it not true that sloppy language in the end leads to inaccuracy of meaning, and is not this a grave drawback to the career prospects of children who suffer from that kind of approach?

Mrs. Williams

In my view, radio programmes are on the whole quite good in this respect. The trouble arises, I think, more with television and to some extent with pop music programmes. I think that some of the criticism which is made of children's literacy may take insufficiently into account some of the impact of the mass media on children's literacy.

Mrs. Bain

Given that television in particular is one of the most widely accessible educational instruments, and in view of the doubt about the future of many colleges of education, will the right hon. Lady press for closer liaison between the broadcasting authorities and the colleges of education, especially remedial educa- tion departments, with a view to the language content of programmes being up-graded?

Mrs. Williams

There is already quite close liaison. Indeed, there has been very close liaison over such matters as the adult literacy programme, to which attention has already been drawn, as well as the forthcoming effort to introduce basic English to immigrant mothers for whom English is not their first language. In all this work, close co-operation between the BBC and the education service has brought great benefits to all our people.

Mr. Skinner

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the BBC produces programmes for deaf children which are much appreciated by both the children and their parents? Second, while I am about it, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether she agrees that the facilities for deaf children are not as good as they ought to be and, in particular, that they are very poor for Andrew Walters of 19 Damsbrook Drive, Clowne, about whom I have made representations to her Department? Will my right hon. Friend give a guarantee that this matter will be dealt with urgently so that young Andrew can be taught at school starting next term?

Mrs. Williams

The programme "Vision On", which is for deaf children, is an outstanding programme which has been much praised. With regard to the subject of the latter part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question—I congratulate him on his ingenuity in introducing it—we are doing all we can.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Will the Secretary of State make clear that she does not agree with the view that all pop music programmes are moronic and contribute to illiteracy? Is it not a fact that most of them are entertaining and some of them are even instructive—including the "Jimmy Young Show", on which I appeared this morning?

Mrs. Williams

I am sure the hon. Gentleman appreciates that it was even more instructive when I was on it last month.