HC Deb 22 February 1990 vol 167 cc1051-3
3. Mr. Alton

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received about the provision for religious broadcasting contained in the Broadcasting Bill.

Mr. Mellor

I recently had meetings with a number of groups. The Broadcasting Bill is an improvement in significant respects on present legislation relating to religious broadcasting. For instance, the present blanket prohibition of religious sponsorship and advertising will be lifted, and the Bill will allow Christian and other religious groups for the first time to own radio stations. I have undertaken to consider further whether there should be a specific guarantee for religious programming on Channel 3 and an exceptional discretion to allow religious groups to own local and non-direct broadcasting by satellite TV services. A further announcement will be made in due course.

Mr. Alton

I am grateful to the Minister for that helpful response. I know from the discussions that he has held that the hon. and learned Gentleman met many of the complaints put to him. Clause 83 of the Broadcasting Bill could radically curtail Christian broadcasting. Will the Minister consider introducing an amendment to clarify formally a matter that is causing much unrest, and about which the hon. and learned Gentleman had received many representations?

Mr. Mellor

I do not accept that there are restrictions on Christian broadcasting beyond those relating to editorialising which have always existed as part of the normal consumer protection arrangements covering British broadcasting. On the contrary, as I said in my original answer, the Broadcasting Bill makes possible an expansion in Christian broadcasting—which may go further, depending on the outcome of current discussions.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks about the discussions that I held. It has pained me that some of the leaflets circulating among religious communities are inaccurate, although, thankfully, a number of leading churchmen are making that clear. Those inaccuracies include the point that the hon. Gentleman made.

Mr. Alison

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware of how gratified Church and Christian groups, many of which have made representations to me and to other right hon. and hon. Members, are about the very positive way in which the Government are considering developing the Bill in the two directions he outlined? I and the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) hope that my hon. and learned Friend will persist with his intended improvements and amendments; he will carry the whole House, the Christian community and the country at large with him as he does so.

Mr. Mellor

I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend, who is playing a leading part in the discussions. I hope that we shall soon bring them to a successful conclusion.

Mr. Corbett

We welcome the Minister's response to the all-party pressure and the pressure from a large variety of church bodies to require the new Channel 3 television station to carry religious programmes. Does he accept that the problem could have been avoided had the Government retained the public service broadcasting requirements for all new licence-holders, the better to ensure quality with quantity?

Mr. Mellor

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman's latter point. However, I derived great assistance from the discussion in Committee on the matter in which the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues played a full part. I hope that all who played a part in considering the Bill will feel that what emerges is useful and worth while. What stands to come out of the Bill is clearer definition and wider opportunities than have ever been available. Whether we choose to talk about a public service umbrella or whatever, there will be an expansion of responsible Christian broadcasting which I think most people would like to see.