HC Deb 11 July 1994 vol 246 cc653-4
8. Mrs. Angela Knight

To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what representations he has received during his review of the BBC charter regarding maintaining Radio 4 on the long-wave network.

Mr. Brooke

More than 1,700 since October 1992, but most of them were not linked to the BBC's future after 1996.

Mrs. Knight

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the variability of the Radio 4 FM frequency and how easily it can be interrupted? If I open my fridge door at home, reception ceases altogether. With that in mind, does he agree that more listeners would be better served if the usual Radio 4 programmes were broadcast on long wave and extended sports programmes on the FM frequency?

Mr. Brooke

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me outline notice of the subject that she wished to raise and I am sorry that she has difficulties receiving Radio 4 on FM, not least because of her fridge door. FM reception depends largely on having a line of sight from the receiving aerial to the transmitter. Rooftop antennae are recommended wherever possible, but I recognise that many listeners prefer to use portable receivers, even though reception is generally poorer on such equipment.

The BBC continues to build new FM transmitters to improve reception of its services. The building programme is subject to available resources and competing engineering priorities. However, the shortage of frequencies and the geography of the local terrain do not make it easy to read all areas easily. Although my hon. Friend criticises the BBC for scheduling extended sports coverage and, in particular, "Test Match Special" on Radio 4 long wave, it is for the BBC to decide what to broadcast on the frequencies available to it.

Mr. Grocott

Will the Secretary of State confirm that he quite enjoys answering questions of that kind about the regulatory framework for the BBC because it is a proper, democratic regulation about which we can ask questions in Parliament? Does he look forward, as I do, to the day when the quality and variety of programming on satellite and cable will be similarly subject to a sensible, if arm's-length, regulatory framework by the democratic process to ensure proper quality of programmes?

Mr. Brooke

The simplest answer is that I always enjoy answering questions from the hon. Gentleman. As he knows, the subject that he raises is currently under review.

Mr. Cormack

Is it not a fair bet that the contents of the fridge belonging to my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Mrs. Knight) would frequently be better than the contents of radio programmes?

Mr. Brooke

I am diffident about saying this, but I am not wholly familiar with the contents of my hon. Friend's fridge.

Mr. Corbett

Is the Secretary of State aware that the seemingly random tinkering with programmes between Radio 4 FM and long wave and Radio 5 Live confuses listeners and has lessened live coverage of what goes on in this place? Will the right hon. Gentleman remind the chairman and governors of the BBC of the corporation's duty to broadcast a day-by-day impartial account of events here? Does he agree that the fact that newspaper reporting of Parliament has drastically lessened makes as-it-happens coverage all the more important?

Mr. Brooke

As we indicated in the White Paper last week, we believe that the BBC should provide published objectives for each of its radio services and that the character of its services should not be changed without giving audiences an opportunity to comment on the proposals. I understand what the hon. Gentleman says about the potential confusion that can arise.