HC Deb 13 July 1989 vol 156 cc1115-6
1. Mr. Macdonald

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what further discussions he has had with broadcasters in Scotland on future options for Gaelic television.

3. Mrs. Ray Michie

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he last met Comunn Na Gaidhlig to discuss Gaelic television.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Tim Renton)

I have had a number of discussions with broadcasters in Scotland during the course of this year, and with Comunn Na Gaidhlig in September of last year, about the provision of television and radio programmes in the Gaelic language. More recently, officials have met Comunn Na Gaidhlig and other interested parties to discuss this subject.

Mr. Macdonald

Has the Minister had time to read the System 3 poll in today's issue of The Scotsman, which shows support from two thirds of the people of Scotland for increased Gaelic broadcasting? Does he recognise the support that there is from Scottish Members on both sides of the House for the principle of a Gaelic broadcasting council, as suggested by Comunn Na Gaidhlig, and modelled on the Peacock recommendations that so influenced the Government's own plans? Will the Government take up Comunn Na Gaidhlig's imaginative idea and establish a Gaelic broadcasting council that will put Gaelic broadcasting on a new footing for the future?

Mr. Renton

Yes, I read the result of that poll in today's issue of The Scotsman, and I am well aware of the many comments made by Scottish Members in the broadcasting debate in the Scottish Grand Committee two days ago. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will consider carefully current views about increased Gaelic broadcasting, be it television or radio.

Mrs. Michie

I am delighted that the Minister met Comunn Na Gaidhlig. When he next visits Tiree, will he discuss with the people their support for the provision of Gaelic television broadcasting? Does he accept that 10 hours a week is the absolute minimum for a basic Gaelic television service? Will he take a bold initiative to secure the future of the Gaelic language?

Mr. Renton

I expect that the next time that I am, with permission, in the hon. Lady's constituency and on the isle of Tiree, I shall hear representations about the provision of Gaelic broadcasting. When I was last on Tiree I received particular representations about the use of Gaelic in Schools, and I am delighted that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State is making available £850,000 this year for that purpose. I point out to the hon. Lady, who is very interested in the subject, that the 1988 report of Scottish Television—the largest independent television company in Scotland—comments: One in 100 of our viewers is a Gaelic speaker, and we maximised our service to them by showing programmes made by both Grampian and ourselves. If Scottish broadcasters are really convinced of the need for more Gaelic programmes, one would have thought that they would go out of their way to produce them.

Mr. Holt

Will my hon. Friend say exactly how many Scottish Members can speak Gaelic?

Mr. Renton

I can say to my hon. Friend "ceud mille failte", which means a hundred thousand greetings. That is about the limit of my Gaelic. Opposition Members must tell the House how many of them speak Gaelic. Only 82,000 of the Scottish population of 5.2 million speak Gaelic, which is about 1.5 per cent.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing

Does the Minister accept that this is not merely a matter of who does or does not speak Gaelic? The Scottish community is united in wishing to see the regeneration of that part of our culture. Does he also accept that as £13 million has left Scotland to fund the Welsh channel and as our Welsh counterparts would not wish their advantage to be our disadvantage, a similar level of investment in Gaelic broadcasting in Scotland would ensure that we could regenerate our language?

Mr. Renton

I understand what the hon. Lady says and I should be the last to belittle Scottish interest in regenerating the Gaelic language. There were some 1,400 hours of radio broadcasts in Gaelic last year, although the number of television hours fell from about 114 to 77. The broadcasters must have their fingers on the pulse—that goes for the BBC as well as the independent companies —of Scottish requirements. If they thought that there was a strong need, particularly for more television in Gaelic, they would go out of their way to satisfy that demand.

Mr. Harry Greenway

Am I right in estimating mathematically, from what my hon. Friend has said, that there are about 150,000 Gaelic speakers? That compares with several million cockney speakers. What will he do to arrange a separate television channel for cockneys?

Mr. Renton

That is an extremely dangerous question for a Member like myself who lives in Sussex to answer. Many ethnic minorities in Scotland would be interested in programmes in their languages, particularly with the development of community radio. The hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) did not say that we are looking into the arrangements for S4C in Welsh.

Mr. Darling

Does the Minister realise that over the past few years great strides have been made in promoting the speaking of Gaelic, not as some special obscure subject but as part of day-to-day life? Does he accept that television is one of the greatest influences on culture and that there is a need for a structured Gaelic broadcasting council, as proposed by Comunn Na Gaidhlig, to promote Gaelic? Or, is his attitude that Gaelic broadcasting should be shuffled off into the night hours as a result of the pressures of the market place and that if it cannot be made to pay, it does not matter?

Mr. Renton

I have in front of me the Labour policy document on broadcasting, "Broadcasting in a free society", which has just been produced. I see nothing in it about broadcasting in Gaelic. Doubtless the hon. Gentleman played a considerable part in writing it.