HC Deb 08 May 1990 vol 172 cc77-80

`(1) The Secretary of State shall, for the financial year beginning with 1st April 1992 and each subsequent financial year, pay to the Commission such amounts as he and the Commission, with the approval of the Treasury, determine to be appropriate for the purposes of this section.

(2) Any amount received by the Commission under subsection (1) above shall be credited by them to a fund established by them under this section, to be known as the Television Education Fund.

(3) The fund shall be under the management of a committee appointed by the Commission for the purposes of this section and section 31 and shall be applied by the Committee in the making of grants to finance the making of educational programmes intended for schools, for continuing education for adults and for connected purposes.

(4) When making any grant out of the fund pursuant to subsection (3) the Committee may impose such conditions as they think fit.

(5) The persons appointed to be members of the Committee shall be such as the Commission may determine; but the Commission shall, when making any such appointments ensure that a majority of the members are persons with a knowledge of children's and adult education.

(6) The terms of the appointment of the members of the Committee shall be such as the Commission may determine; and in the case of any members of the Committee who are neither members or employees of the Commission, the Commission may:

  1. (a) pay to them such remuneration and allowances, and
  2. (b) pay or make provision for paying to or in respect of them such sums by way of allowances, pensions or gratuities, as the Commission may determine.

(7) Any expenses incurred by the Commission either under subsection 6 or for salaries of Commission employees whose services have been furnished to the Committee, shall be defrayed out of the fund.

(8) As soon as possible after the end of each financial year to which subsection (1) applies, the Committee shall prepare a general report of their proceedings for that year and transmit it to the Commission.

(9) Any sums required by the Secretary of State under subsection (1) shall be paid out of money provided by Parliament.

(10) In this section "the Commission" means the Independent Television Commission.'.—[Mr. Maclennan.] Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Maclennan

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

With this we may take Government amendment No. 655.

Mr. Maclennan

There was a valuable debate in Committee, when all sides agreed on the importance of educational programmes. The new clause is designed to strengthen the provisions that have already been made to ensure that education forms an important part of the programming of the Channel 3 companies.

Educational programmes act not only as a stimulus for children, but as an important teaching aid for teachers. It is a medium that children can understand and appreciate. Most schools now have television, even if they are short of books or staff. A poll has shown that 12 per cent. of primary school teachers and 8.5 per cent. of secondary school teachers consider television central to education.

The Government have already acknowledged the importance of educational programmes by their amend-ments, which are a welcome strengthening of the Bill. However, we must recognise that educational programmes are costly to make, because they have a limited appeal to advertisers. I think that it would be appropriate to establish a fund to provide additional support for the programme makers, to ensure that provision for them is not skimped. That could be done along the lines already provided for in the Bill, such as for the promotion of Gaelic.

My new clause follows the structure of the provisions for Gaelic in some detail. Its purpose is to prime the pump for the production of educational programmes. As with Gaelic, the money would be expected to be in addition to the money made available by the companies. The new clause is, I think, self-explanatory, and I hope that it will commend itself to the Minister.

Mr. Mellor

I commend Government amendment No. 655, which is attached to new clause 8. It is the Government's response to the concern that "outreach" materials should be made available to schools by the television channels providing schools programmes. The amendment would have that effect, and I commend it to the House.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) for the manner in which he put the case for his new clause, and for the brevity of his remarks. He knows that I attach importance to both aspects of education on television: first, schools programming, which clause 31 specifically requires, and, secondly, continuing educational programmes that are an established part of the television scene. They will, in particular, be part of the remit of BBC2 and Channel 4, but will continue to have a place on Channel 3, because the ITC, in the strong guidance that it will give to franchise applicants, will be able to say that it expects to see reflected the broad range of programmes presently available on the ITV system. I was heartened by the fact that the ITC has specifically said that, as we have added religious and children's programmes to the specific requirements of Channel 3, it sees no need for additional programme types to be specified.

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I am also sure that the ITC will want to consult with others outside to make sure that the programmes broadcast are as helpful and relevant as possible and take account of up-to-date policies and techniques. My disagreement with new clause 8 is that the structure of the arrangements should be a matter for the ITC and the licensees, not one that we should particularise in the Bill.

I see no reason for thinking that good quality programmes cannot be funded in the way that they presently are. The danger of agreeing to an education fund is that we might then find an unanswerable case for a television drama fund or a television children's programmes fund. If I really believed that we would not have educational programmes without making some changes in the fianancial arrangements, I could well imagine wanting to think about an education fund, but because I have no evidence that would suggest that there was likely to be any difficulty in handing the baton on from one group of licencees to the other with, if anything, a rather firmer statutory framework than we propose, the case for the fund has not been made out. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will feel able to withdraw the new clause.

Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

This brief debate has replicated one in Committee. Once again, the Minister has been enormously sympathetic to the good points made by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) but has missed the essential thrust by confusing education with schooling. Government amendment No. 655 and the way in which the Minister answered the hon. Gentleman's case show that he believes that this is a matter of whether schools programmes can be properly balanced and resourced. In doing so, the Minister misunderstands the new clause and our arguments in Committee.

The Opposition believe that education is more than just schools programmes. There is also continuing and further education. When Lord Reith identified education, along with information and entertainment, as one of the three main purposes of broadcasting, he was not just referring to its contribution to school education; he was talking about the way in which broadcasting can widen all our minds throughout our lives. That is the responsibility that broadcasters should bear in mind, and the Government should be helping them to do so in the Bill.

Amendment No. 655 is fine as far as it goes and I am glad that it mentions the use of materials and resources, but I hope that the Minister will understand that more is needed in that respect. Education officers employed by the ITV companies do far more than just provide programmes and publish back-up material. They work with local education authorities and put on conferences. They have a menu of work and initiatives and liaise with education authorities. Their work is invaluable and backs up and informs the materials and programmes referred to in the amendment. I hope that the Minister understands that.

As we said in Committee, every ITV company has an education officer and many big ones employ two, but after the next round of franchises I fear that there will be an enormous reduction. I shall be amazed if all ITV companies have that range of senior, well-paid officials. I hope that they will have them, and I would encourage them to have them, but I fear that they will not.

We are not just talking about schools. Broadcasting can contribute to the quality of life in the 1990s and help us to close the gap that many people perceive is already widening between ourselves, West Germany and France in the quality of our education, not just in schools and colleges but throughout our population, if we are to become an intelligent and educated democracy in the 1990s in a way that we are not now. We cannot leave that to schools and colleges. Broadcasting has a central role to play in improving education and the attitude towards education in our society. The fund is an interesting and imaginative idea, and the Minister's response is not fully in tune with the proposal or the challenge of education. He is still confusing that with the narrow but important area of school education.

There is time for the Government to reconsider the matter and I hope that they will take up the debate in another place. When the Bill comes back to this place, I hope that the Government will have accepted the fairly non-contentious—in party-political terms—case that we are making. The education responsibilities that broad-casters must have placed upon them go far beyond the school room. That is the burden that they should be carrying in the 1990s. That is a positive remit for education and for broadcasting in the 1990s. I hope that the Government will think again and will accept the proposal at a later stage.

Mr. Maclennan

I thank the Minister for his reply, and I am glad to welcome his amendment, but I regret that he has not seen fit to commend my new clause. He is unduly sanguine in believing that the quality of educational programmes can be assured by the regulatory requirement that education shall figure in the programme mix advanced by the would-be franchise holders.

I have no doubt that the ITC will look for educational components in the programmes, but the Minister has failed to recognise—it was implicit in earlier debates—that operating in the new, more competitive market means that programme makers and companies will have to look much more carefully, and will look much more carefully, at programmes which do not attract audiences in which advertisers are interested.

This is not just a matter of carrying forward good standards of educational broadcasting. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) is right in saying that we are talking not just about schools but about further education throughout life. It is a bit overoptimistic to assume such good standards in the new world of broadcasting into which we are moving unless specific assistance of a non-commercial kind is made available.

I acknowledge that there is some danger in setting up funds for this and that aspect, but education is probably the area where there would be the most complete agreement on the importance of maintaining standards.

I acknowledge that the debate is not new, but it is a pity that the Minister has not felt able, on reconsideration, to accept the new clause in principle. I hope that he is right that the mere regulatory requirement for educational programmes will achieve what he hopes to achieve, but I must express considerable doubt that it will.

I was not proposing necessarily large sums of money. The fund would have entirely open-ended. A number of different sources could have contributed to it. I think that such a fund would have commended itself to those who care about education. I have heard what the Minister said and I can say no more.

Question put and negatived.

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