HC Deb 04 July 1985 vol 82 cc514-5
9. Mr. Freud

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether the Peacock committee intends to publish an interim report on the progress of its inquiry into the financing of the BBC.

Mr. Giles Shaw

Such questions are for the committee to decide, but my right hon. and learned Friend has not asked for an interim report; nor, I understand, does the committee at present anticipate producing one.

Mr. Freud

Is the Minister of State aware of the damage that is done both to the BBC and to ITV by uncertainty about their future funding and markets? What makes him believe that Peacock will be able to reach a decision so very much more quickly than Annan on the same sort of problem? Will he assure the House that the committee has sufficient finance to allow it to look at the effects on public service broadcasting when it has to compete for commercial revenue?

Mr. Shaw

I remind the hon. Gentleman that the committee has not been asked to make a decision. It is being asked to provide a range of options for my right hon. and learned Friend in relation to possible alternative sources of finance. In that respect the committee is quite unlike the Annan committee, which was required to take a broad view of broadcasting issues. The committee is on schedule to report by the beginning of next year. I take note of the hon. Gentleman's view that there is uncertainty, but I remind him that my right hon. and learned Friend recommended, and the the House accepted, a licence settlement which could have a three-year reign.

Mr. Brinton

Does my hon. Friend agree with me that, rather than contemplate interim reports from the Peacock committee, we should look ahead to the report that is to come to Parliament, with Parliament and the Government then evolving for the first time a complete policy for public service broadcasting?

Mr. Shaw

I understand my hon. Friend's view. He can rest assured that the options which are to be provided by the Peacock committee will undoubtedly lead to discussions. I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend will wish to involve the House at the appropriate stage.

Mr. Faulds

Does the Minister of State understand that many hon. Members will have little regard for whatever may be the findings of the Peacock committee, in view of the poor quality and subtle loading of its membership, in contradistinction to the excellent membership of the Annan committee?

Mr. Shaw

I take note of the hon. Gentleman's pre-emption of the quality of both the committee and its findings.

Mr. Stokes

In considering the financing of the BBC, will the committee take into account the enormous libel damages which the BBC is able to stand, which in the end fall on the taxpayer, and which mean that the BBC can libel anyone it wants to its heart's content?

Mr. Shaw

The point that my hon. Friend raises does not come within the terms of the committee's inquiry, which is confined to looking at options for financing, rather than at what the corporation might do with the money with which it is financed.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Why do the Government persist with this farce, when all the evidence shows clearly and convincingly that the introduction of even a small amount of advertising on the BBC would have serious financial consequences for the independent companies, could be potentially calamitous to independent local radio and regional newspapers and would lower programme standards both of the BBC and the independent companies? What is the ideological motivation for this vendetta on the part of the Government against the BBC?

Mr. Shaw

It stems from a not unnatural reluctance to accept the word of the hon. Gentleman as really being the fact in this issue. We have appointed a distinguished body of people to examine the actuality of the case and to offer different opinions on the options provided. In that way we shall arrive at a considered judgment, which, I am sure, is not the way in which the hon. Gentleman would like to see things happen.