HC Deb 28 February 1980 vol 979 cc1539-41
1. Mr. Ioan Evans

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received regarding allocating the fourth television channel in Wales to the Welsh language.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Leon Brittan)

We have received some 165 letters about the Government's proposals for Welsh language broadcasting. Most of these were in favour of a concentration of all Welsh language television broadcasting on the fourth channel in Wales.

Mr. Evans

As all the political parties in Wales have said that the fourth channel should be allocated to the Welsh language, as the Conservative Party said that in its manifesto, and as all the letters which the Government have received advocate that being done, will the Government reconsider their attitude and revert to their view which they held before the election?

Mr. Brittan

No. Sir, we will not do that. We have looked at this matter care fully, and we are firmly of the view that the fastest, most efficient and most economical way of increasing the amount of broadcasting in Welsh is the way suggested in the Bill.

Mr. Grist

Does my hon. and learned Friend appreciate that the policy that he is putting forward is by far the best that is possible, that there is no way in which everybody in Wales can be pleased or satisfied on this matter, that what is proposed is generous to the Welsh language, and that any alternative would arouse considerable opposition? Opposition to this policy arises either from those who are opposed to the use of the English language or from opponents of the Welsh language itself.

Mr. Brittan

I am grateful to my hon. friend for his support. I am not surprised that opinion is much further in the direction in which the Government are moving than the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) would have us believe. That is not surprising when one takes into account that under the proposals the IBA will increase the amount of Welsh broadcasting on the channels that it controls, from seven to 12 hours. That is a considerable increase.

Mr. D. E. Thomas

In view of what the hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts) said in reply to a question that I asked during the Second Reading of the Broadcasting Bill, why cannot the hon. and learned Gentleman's Department leave the broadcasting authorities in Wales to decide where it is best to concentrate their programmes?

Mr. Brittan

I believe that the proposal that we have come up with for the distribution of Welsh language programmes, as described during the debate on that Bill, combined with the machinery for consultation to avoid any scheduling difficulties, provide a fair solution to what I concede is not an easy problem.

Mr. Barry Jones

Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware of the desperate struggle for survival which the language faces under modern conditions? Does he not realise that throughout Wales there is a feeling that the Government shortchanged the language after the General Election?

Mr. Brittan

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman's second observation. The difference between us is not whether we should take steps to foster and help the Welsh language, but over how to go about it. I believe that these proposals, which will enable a substantial increase to take place in the Welsh language broadcasting, present an optimistic opportunity for those who wish to further the cause of the Welsh language.

Mr. Alan Williams

Was it not the height of cynicism to fight the election on 3 May on a commitment to provide a Welsh language fourth channel in Wales and then 12 days later, deliberately—as the Home Secretary indicated during the debate on broadcasting—to weasel-word the relevant section of the Queen's Speech to enable the Government to wriggle out of that commitment? What happened in those 12 days to change the Government's mind?

Mr. Brittan

By the words which the right hon. Gentleman has chosen to use he has indicated that he is quite an expert in the use of weasel words. What was said in the Queen's Speech was that we would seek an early start for Welsh language broadcasting on the fourth channel. However, it is right to say that, compared with the manifesto, a decision was taken to approach the matter in a different way. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales, have both made that absolutely clear. I believe that the change is justified.

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