HC Deb 03 July 1980 vol 987 cc1749-51
9. Mr. Chapman

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if, to improve the revenue of the British Broadcasting Corporation, he will bring for- ward proposals to enable Radio 1 to become a national commercial station.

Mr. Whitelaw

I endorse the principle that the BBC should continue to be financed through the revenue from the television licence fees, as was recommended by the Annan committee on the future of broadcasting. The allocation of resources between its different services is a matter for the BBC.

Mr. Chapman

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the significant problem facing the BBC is a lack of buoyancy in its revenue? Does he agree that the character and content of Radio 1 are already attuned to a development such as I propose and that the BBC might also consider drawing out of local radio so that it is left to commercial interests and the national Radio 1 would bring much-needed revenue to the BBC?

Mr. Whitelaw

Those are essentially matters for the BBC to decide. I must return to the fact that the Government gave a 36 per cent. increase in the licence fee over two years and the BBC is expected to live within that.

Mr. Robert Sheldon

Will the right hon. Gentleman recall the words of the Annan committee, which described the BBC as arguably the most important cultural influence in the nation? Will he resist any attempts by his hon. Friends to destroy the important position of the BBC?

Mr. Whitelaw

I note that point, and so will the governors of the BBC.

Mr. Lang

As enforcement and collection costs exceed £25 million per annum, does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a need for greater variety and flexibility in the approach to the collection of licence fees, such as, for example, the introduction of direct debiting?

Mr. Whitelaw

We shall consider all such matters. They are important in relation to the licence fee.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

In view of the increase in inflation which was not taken into account when the licence fee was put up, is the Home Secretary saying that the BBC will have to carry the inflation during the two-year period?

Mr. Whitelaw

I remind the right hon. Gentleman that I had to take over the position that he left, with the BBC in debit. I gave the highest-ever increase in the licence fee. It is only fair to point that out. The BBC, like every other organisation in this country, has to look at its costs at a time of considerable economic stringency.