HC Deb 18 April 1994 vol 241 cc623-4
4. Mr. Dafis

To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what representations he has received concerning the autonomy of the nations and regions of the United Kingdom within the BBC.

Mr. Brooke

Since the beginning of 1993, I have received 45 letters about the autonomy of the BBC regions. The BBC's regional policies were also mentioned in a small number of the 6,000 responses to the Government's consultation document on the future of the BBC.

Mr. Dafis

Does the Secretary of State share my great concern and the concern of others about the strong centralising tendency currently prevalent in the BBC? That is evidenced, first, in the centralisation of certain functions, which makes it difficult for the BBC in Wales and in other national regions to make discretionary choices on the nature of programmes and, secondly, in the imbalance of funding of network programmes. I believe that 3 per cent. of network programme funding is spent in the national regions, which serve 17 per cent. of the population. Will the Secretary of State give an assurance that when the White Paper appears, there will be measures in it and in legislation, including the charter, to reverse that centralising trend?

Mr. Brooke

I am conscious of the views that have been advanced by the Broadcasting Campaign for Wales, which, to some extent, the hon. Member's comments reflect. The director general made it clear in a speech on 24 March that he was concerned to increase the amount of regional production throughout the country. At the same time, however, he said that he did not believe in quotas, which he thought would be potentially too inflexible.

Mr. Fabricant

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the BBC in Cardiff has a high degree of autonomy? Is he further aware that more money is spent on programmes specifically for the Welsh than on comparable programmes for Scotland and in the three BBC regions? Is he also aware that more money is spent on television in Wales by the BBC than is collected in licence fees paid by the people of Wales?

Mr. Brooke

Being familiar with the Broadcasting Campaign for Wales, I am also familiar with some of the counterpoints. However, as someone who is half Welsh I would not in any way want Wales to be denied its proper share. The director general has said that he is considering the issue on a national basis.

Mr. Maxton

When giving evidence to the Select Committee on National Heritage, both the director general and the chairman of the BBC promised that they would devolve management and programme making to the nations and regions of the United Kingdom. Will the right hon. Gentleman repeat that pledge and ensure that it is written into the charter when he renews it?

Mr. Brooke

Given that the director general and, according to the hon. Gentleman, the chairman of the BBC have made that promise, and as these are management matters under their control, I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would be satisfied with what has already been said. However, as I said in answer to earlier questions, the White Paper will touch on the subject.