HC Deb 16 January 1996 vol 269 cc551-98
Madam Speaker

I have selected the amendment standing in the name of the Prime Minister.

4.8 pm

Mr. Robin Cook (Livingston)

I beg to move, That this House congratulates the BBC World Service on its international reputation for objective news and comment and records its appreciation of the valuable contribution it makes to promoting respect and goodwill for Britain; expresses its concern at the effects of cuts imposed on the World Service and its alarm at the likely reduction in the range of foreign language broadcasts; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to ensure that policies on the Private Finance Initiative and public support for the World Service enable it to maintain its present level of services and to build on their success. I am conscious of a novel experience. On Supply days it is normal to move a motion that divides the House. I think that I can say that on this occasion there is much in the motion that unites the House. It is agreed in all corners of the House that the BBC World Service is a great British success. It is by far the largest of any of the external broadcasting services of the western nations. Its audience is still rising. In the past three years, it has risen from 120 million to 133 million. The audience would be larger still if there were not uncounted millions in places such as China and Iraq. We cannot be certain whether they listen to the World Service, because were they to be asked and were they to say yes, they would be liable to be put in prison.

In a now notorious speech, the Secretary of State for Defence assured the Conservative party conference that the letters SAS were feared throughout the world. If there is a British organisation that is known by three letters round the globe, it is surely the BBC. They are letters that inspire not fear for Britain but respect, admiration and good will. It would be difficult for the Foreign Secretary to name any way in which he could spend his money that would give him a better return on a positive environment for good will towards Britain.

I know of one letter that has been sent to the Foreign Secretary by a listener in Africa, which expresses the point well. The letter reads: The BBC World Service is the diplomat who can enter the rural home, the urban business centre, the civil servant's office and the country hospital ward. It is for that reason that Members on both sides of the House support the World Service. It deserves also the support of all parties. The World Service demonstrates in practice our democratic values, including truthful reporting, independent comment and all the other features on which an open society must be based. As a result, the World Service provides a beacon for countries with regimes that suppress truth and independent comment.

When the Burmese opposition leader emerged from years of house arrest to claim her Nobel prize, she said: The BBC World Service really was a lifeline. When Nelson Mandela emerged from prison, he said that what he really wanted in prison was a receiver that would enable him to listen to the World Service. As his name reminds us, the dissident of today is the leader in power tomorrow. It is impossible to exaggerate the influence for Britain of the politicians throughout the world who have come to rely on the BBC for their independent news.

We all recognise the importance of the World Service. Both sides of the House are agreed on its value. Even more unusually, both sides of the Tory party are agreed. It is one of those issues around which Euro-sceptics and one-nationers can find common cause. Even Ministers agree with us. Last week, the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office recognised the great value and high quality"—[Official Report, 10 January 1996; Vol. 269, c. 201.] of the World Service. This morning, the Foreign Secretary described it as "superb value". If superlatives would pay wage cheques, the World Service would be on the verge of major expansion. Instead, its executive met this weekend to consider where it would cut services.

The real crisis that the executive faces will come in 1997–98, when the revenue budget—the one that pays for the services that it provides—will be reduced. The Foreign Secretary has written to the World Service saying that it can expect a cut in 1997–98 of £2.5 million. That will be on top of a cut of £2 million in the same year's budget, which was imposed in November 1994.

Those cuts cannot be replaced by the private finance initiative because they are cuts in the operating budget. It may be that the Foreign Secretary is right and that cuts in the capital budget can be replaced by the private finance initiative.

Perhaps somebody will come forward and build a new transmitter in Oman and lease it back to the BBC World Service. I would, in passing, express a worry about the commercial relationship that that would create. I am concerned that it might compromise the most prized and respected quality of the BBC World Service—the independence of its editorial comment and its freedom from external pressures, whether political or commercial.

This month, we were reminded of the risks of such a commercial relationship when BBC World Service Television bulletins covering the expulsion of Muhammad al-Masari, which were broadcast to the middle east, were disrupted at the transmitter in Italy, which, of course, is funded from the middle east. That example shows the potential conflict between commercial funding—I presume that the Foreign Secretary does not exclude foreign funding—and the freedom of the BBC World Service to broadcast without interference.

For the purposes of the debate, I offer a deal to the Foreign Secretary. I shall not object to the private finance initiative as a source of capital funding for the World Service if he stops pretending that the PFI will solve the financial pressures on it, because if the World Service is successful and manages to get the PFI money, that will not solve the pressures on its operating budget. Indeed, it will increase the pressures because the BBC World Service will have to find extra cash to pay the bills for leasing the transmitter.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Mid-Staffordshire)

The hon. Gentleman will know that I agree with much of what he has said, as I worked many years ago for the BBC World Service and I still have some connections with the BBC. In total, the cut amounts to around 1 per cent. of the BBC World Service's operating budget. Will he now give a firm commitment to restore that 1 per cent. and say how much would be allocated to the BBC World Service in grant in aid if there were a Labour Government?

Mr. Cook

I have already answered the thrust of the hon. Gentleman's question several times today. [Interruption.] If Ministers will be quiet, I shall repeat what I said before: that I give an undertaking that, under the next Labour Government, which, I hope, will be with us in 1997, we shall maintain the present level of language broadcasts by the BBC World Service. The hon. Gentleman's figure is wrong. The total cut in the operating budget of the World Service is about 8 per cent. Yet that is less than 1 per cent. of the budget of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which is spending £77 million this year on management consultants—almost half the total budget of the BBC World Service. Is that really better value for money than putting money into the BBC World Service?

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind)

The hon. Gentleman has repeated to the House what he said on the radio this morning: that he was prepared on behalf of a future Labour Government to commit them not to cut the language services of the BBC World Service. He has, however, declined to give an assurance that he would replace any reduction in resources that might have been implemented. The only way in which one can reconcile those statements is on the basis that the hon. Gentleman accepts that, through better value for money, the BBC should be able to maintain its existing language services without the restoration of the cuts, otherwise he would be committing himself to such a restoration, and he is not prepared to do that.

Mr. Cook

The Secretary of State followed me on the radio this morning and said that it was not his wish to cut the language services. I do not understand, then, the problem that he is putting before us. If I was confronted by BBC World Service executives saying that they could not provide those language services on the present budget, I would go back and look at the £77 million that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office was spending on management consultants and ask how much of that could be put into the World Service.

We have a Government who can always find the money that they want for their political priorities. They are currently spending £1 billion on privatising the rail service. They are spending £1 billion more a year on extra bureaucracy in the NHS to make the reforms work. One per cent. of either of those sums would fully fund the BBC World Service and do much more good for Britain than either objective.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

Before my hon. Friend moves on, is not it the case that the Labour party has a long tradition of supporting the BBC World Service, whereas the Government have a patchy record? I remember, when I was first in the House, when the Government wanted to cut the language service to Latin America—to Argentina in particular—because it was not necessary any more, just before the Falklands conflict. That is the sort of long-term view that the Conservative Government have of the BBC World Service. Every time that they are in a bit of a squeeze, they want to cut the BBC World Service.

Mr. Cook

I press home my hon. Friend's point by turning to the point that the Secretary of State was leading us on to about value for money.

We are not dealing with an overweight organisation in which the savings can be found by a crash course in slimming. The BBC World Service has already been through three lean years. Its operating budget has already been slimmed by 8 per cent. during those past three years. In that time, it has implemented many of the recommendations of the National Audit Office. In the same month in which the Government revealed the cuts, the National Audit Office published a second report in which it praised the World Service for an "improvement in management performance" and significant strides forward.

I hope that, against that background of an efficient organisation that has already made major savings, the Foreign Secretary, when he comes to speak, will treat hon. Members as adults and not continue with the pretence that the cuts in grant aid do not matter because no service will be affected.

I heard also this morning the managing director of the BBC World Service tell the nation that the cuts will mean cuts in services—cuts so significant that it would be wrong to try to meet them by salami slicing, but which would have to be met by dropping whole discrete services. That is why, on Sunday, the executive of the World Service met to consider which languages could be dropped from its portfolio if those cuts went ahead in 1997.

I repeat the question that the Secretary of State failed to answer last week. If Ministers were at that conference, which languages would they drop to save the £10 million? This, after all, is the moment in history when the European Union is opening its doors to central and eastern Europe. The Governments of those countries will take part in joint decisions that will affect the lives of our citizens. This is not the time when we should be reviewing broadcasting in Czech, Polish or Hungarian.

I shall be frank with the House. The House needs to pay attention to the very real possibility that enlargement of the European Union may strengthen the hand of Germany, which already has substantial influence in that region of Europe. One of the strongest cards that Britain has in its hand is that the BBC World Service is listened to by 10 times the audience of its German rival. That gives us tremendous access to influence and good will. We should be guaranteeing, not threatening, the future of those programmes.

If central Europe is not the place for cuts, where else in the world might they be made? During the past few months, both sides of the House have joined in an enjoyable debate on the lessons that the tiger economies hold for Britain. We differ on what those lessons might be, but I think that we are agreed on the exciting growth of those economies as markets for British trade. Is this the time to be reviewing whether we should supply the Mandarin service that goes to Taiwan or the services to the younger tiger economies of Indonesia, Burma and Thailand? If we drop any of those, at what cost to British trade do we make the saving in public spending?

The Foreign Secretary will know that British companies and British business leaders, from Standard Chartered to Unilever, have written to him opposing the cuts because the BBC World Service opens doors to business by creating a favourable image of British standards.

In my current portfolio, I am obliged to accept Governor Patten as above party politics. Therefore, I shall seize this opportunity of agreeing with him. When he was here last October and gave his lecture on the tiger economies, Governor Patten, speaking of the BBC World Service, said: It is worth every penny of public money it receives. That is true—true not just in that it backs the influence of British diplomacy, but true also in that every penny put into the BBC World Service produces pounds in British trade and probably also pounds in inward investment into Britain. I do not therefore rest my case on altruism. The case for the House backing the BBC World Service rests on British self-interest, because it gives us a source of political leadership and diplomatic influence, and it is the basis of the trade expansion on which our economy thrives or fails.

The BBC World Service also, however, provides valuable support for humanitarian relief and for economic development. In Rwanda and Serbia, it provided a missing person link line, which has brought together parents and children separated in different refugee camps. In eastern Europe, the World Service has provided programmes as part of the Marshall plan of the mind, which has helped the populations of the former communist countries come to terms with modern technologies and market economies. If the debate is to be, as the Foreign Secretary seems to suggest, about value for money, I should like to hear what better value he could get in helping the people of those regions than by investing through those services.

Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)

I have listened closely to the hon. Gentleman's argument and criticisms. Will he clearly tell the House how much extra he and the Labour party believe should be given to the World Service to fulfil the tasks that he has outlined?

Mr. Cook

The irony of the right hon. Gentleman's question is that the BBC World Service is asking not for extra money, but for its budget not to be cut. It could live even within a stable budget after the 8 per cent. cuts of the past three years. If we want the BBC World Service to build on its success, surely the least that we can offer it is the stability and security of the assurance that that budget will continue.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Cook

I will, but this must be the last occasion, as many hon. Members wish to speak.

Mr. Arnold

Bearing it in mind that the real increase in spending on the BBC World Service since 1979, during the years of the Conservative Government, is 50 per cent., what was the real increase in spending, if any, by the Labour Government on the service?

Mr. Cook

I understand that it is now permissible for Opposition Members to put in a good word for Lady Thatcher, and I would concede that she carried through a major expansion of World Service resources because she had a proper grasp of its importance in world affairs. That has not been the story in this Parliament, when BBC World Service resources have gone down by 8 per cent. It is now faced with another 8 per cent. cut in the next two years. I do not wish to take sides on Lady Thatcher's general observation that the Government are letting down the Thatcherite legacy, but on this point, they are certainly letting down the record that she left behind.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

Answer the question.

Mr. Cook

I have answered the question of the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) in that, in this Parliament, the Government are cutting the World Service's budget.

Mr. Arnold


Mr. Cook

If the hon. Gentleman wishes to press me again on a point on which, I believe, central office has briefed him, I shall tell him—because I was here at the time and he, I think, was not—that, despite difficult economic circumstances, and the fact that we had not a penny in oil revenues and did not sell off any of the nation's industrial assets, the previous Labour Government managed to maintain the services of the World Service and the resources going into it.

I shall give this advice to the hon. Gentleman, and judging by his majority, he needs it. He may want the Government to escape from the trap in which they now lie in the opinion polls, where they are perceived as being out of touch by 85 per cent. of the population, but he will only confirm that perception, if every time people ask him how we solve a problem in 1997, he wants to talk only about 1977. If he wants to go to his constituency and talk from now until polling day about the 1970s, I warn him that that will suit us perfectly because it will restore neither his electoral fortunes nor the funding of the BBC World Service.

Mr. Arnold


Mr. Cook

I will not give way.

I shall now return to the problems. I was describing the services provided to countries where we provide humanitarian relief. The people of those countries have no doubt about the value to them of those services. For that matter, other countries that maintain external broadcasts have no doubt about the value to them of such services. The Government of France will be increasing the budget of RFI, the French international broadcasting service, by an eighth in the same year that we shall cut the BBC World Service budget by 8 per cent.

The Foreign Secretary has said that he does not wish any language service to be closed. If he really does not, I cannot understand why he does not accept the motion, because that is its central demand. We could set a new precedent in parliamentary procedure: this could be the first occasion on which the Government accepted an Opposition Supply day motion.

If the Foreign Secretary is serious—if he really wishes to keep the present language service—he must answer one question. What will he say if the BBC World Service tells him, "We are sorry, but we cannot make the savings for which you have asked without cutting services"? Will he be willing to look again at the funding for 1997 to ensure that language services can be continued?

Mr. Peter Temple-Morris (Leominster)

He has already said that.

Mr. Cook

No, he has not. That, however, is the key question that the Foreign Secretary must answer in the House—and I warn him that he must not evade it by saying that he agrees that the British World Service is a great success. The more the Government tell us that it is a great success, the more incomprehensible it becomes that they are not prepared to build on that success by backing it.

The BBC World Service is a great national asset, and those who work in it provide a quality of service that does Britain credit. They are entitled to know that they have the confidence of the House. I urge all hon. Members to use today's debate and tonight's vote to express their support for the work of the BBC World Service and their recognition of its immense value, and to demand that the Government give a commitment tonight that the present level of services will be maintained and will not be cut.

4.31 pm
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind)

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: congratulates the BBC World Service on its international reputation for objective news and comment and records its appreciation of the valuable contribution it makes to promoting respect and good will for Britain; expresses its welcome for the 50 per cent. growth in real terms of its resources since 1979 as well as the significant increase in foreign language broadcasts over the same period; and shares Her Majesty's Government's determination to ensure that the World Service will continue to enjoy unrivalled success.". I know that many Back Benchers on both sides of the House are long-standing devotees of the World Service, who have given it unstinting support for many years. I intend to concentrate on responding to any worries that they may have, and assuring them that the World Service will have a future as glorious as its current excellent position.

I hope that I was forgiven a wry smile as I observed the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) trying to don the mantle of a champion of the World Service. Like his hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), he implied that the Labour party—as opposed to individual Labour Members—had given good service to the BBC over the years. I must remind him and also the House that he, too, will be judged not by his words but by his deeds.

Like me, the hon. Gentleman was in the House in the 1970s; like me, he remembers clearly what happened under the Labour Government of 1974–79. He recalls the stagnation that affected the World Service throughout that period, and the 7.7 per cent. cut in its resources that was made in the final year of that Government.

We also remember the capital allocations that were available. I shall not detain the House long as I wish to deal with the present position, but we need to put the facts on the record. In 1977, the central policy review study concluded: Because of public expenditure constraints in the UK, the BBC has not been able to modernise its transmitters sufficiently fast to keep up with its international competitors. As a consequence, there has been a decline in the audibility of its programmes, and an extensive capital programme is now needed to restore that audibility". That was the position when the present Government came to office. Now let us consider what has been achieved under the Conservative Government. First, let us compare the stagnation during Labour's term of office, when there was zero growth, with the growth—50 per cent. in real terms—that the present Government have secured for the World Service. In contrast with the failure to fund the BBC's capital requirements glaringly identified by the central policy review staff two years before the end of the Labour Government, we have presided over a capital programme of no less than £166 million, which was completed in 1991. That is why the BBC has expanded in the dramatic way that it has. Since then, we have continued the work on a new relay station in Thailand as part of a future programme of work.

Mr. Fabricant

Does my right hon. and learned Friend realise that whereas a BBC internal estimate in the 1970s suggested that more than half the land mass of the world could not receive any BBC transmissions, now more than 90 per cent. of the world can receive BBC on short wave? Most of the world is also covered in stereo by satellite transmission. That has happened since the Government have been in power.

Mr. Rifldnd

My hon. Friend is entirely correct. The figures reflect that fact graphically. When the Labour Government left office, the number of people who listened to the BBC World Service was 75 million. The hon. Member for Livingston paid tribute in his speech to the fact that the number now listening has increased from 75 million to 133 million. He should reflect on the fact that the BBC World Service—thanks to the investment programme funded by the Government—now has more listeners than any of its competitors; indeed, it has more than double the number of listeners of its nearest competitor.

If the hon. Member for Livingston wished to be as objective as his rhetoric implied, he should have paid tribute to the achievements of the BBC World Service under the Conservative Government. Those achievements have continued during this Parliament. The hon. Gentleman implied that the period of expansion somehow ceased in 1992, but that was incorrect. In the past four years, no fewer than four new language services have been introduced. In 1992, Ukrainian was introduced for the first time. In 1993, Albanian was re-introduced, having been withdrawn in 1967 under a Labour Government. In 1994, we introduced a language service for Rwanda, because of the tragedy in that country. In December 1995, we introduced Macedonian.

I heard the hon. Member for Livingston muttering about the French for Europe service. He knows perfectly well that that service was withdrawn by the BBC World Service, not for public expenditure survey reasons, but because the target for people listening to the programme had not been met. The BBC therefore decided, for its own understandable reasons, that the service was not good value for money.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

The Secretary of State claimed "we introduced" a new service for Rwanda, implying that the Government had done so. Is he aware that funding for the Rwanda service does not come from grant aid but is provided by a number of non-governmental organisations?

Mr. Rifkind

I am informed that it is funded through the BBC World Service, which is funded by the Government. We could have a splendid discussion on that subject, but the fundamental point is that a significant number of additional languages have been introduced by the BBC World Service during this Parliament. That should be warmly applauded.

I have made those points because the Government have been responsible for the largest ever expansion in the capital programme and in the number of listeners to the BBC World Service. It is unlikely, therefore, that we would now be contemplating reversing those achievements or preventing the BBC World Service from maintaining the high standards that it has achieved. What we are doing—and I make no apology whatever for it—is expecting the BBC, like any other international organisation, with regard to both capital and current expenditure, to seek efficiency through use of the private sector and other means so as to reduce the burdens on the taxpayer, but without reducing the successful language services that have been expanded under the Government.

That is the framework of our policy. I notice that the hon. Member for Livingston, in the words of the motion, in his interview this morning and in his speech, did not dare to disassociate himself from value for money as a desirable objective, or from the private finance initiative as a desirable way to achieve value for money. If the hon. Gentleman accepts that that is a legitimate objective, he is using weasel words when he condemns the Government for proposing such a reform.

Mr. Robin Cook

This morning the Foreign Secretary heard the managing director of the BBC World Service say that he cannot meet these cuts by value for money or efficiency savings. If the managing director is still taking that view after he has completed his review of the funding for 1997–98, will the Foreign Secretary be prepared to provide the resources necessary to preserve the current 42 language services?

Mr. Rifkind

I shall come to that, but first I wish to quote for the record the formal position of the BBC. The chairman of the BBC acknowledges that the World Service cannot be seen in isolation from the totality of the budget". The managing director, Mr. Younger, has said that the World Service will be taking a fresh look at the scope for further efficiency savings in our operations. I welcome the fact that he added in respect of the capital programme: We are already looking positively at how the Private Finance Initiative can be applied to our capital plans and I am hopeful that we can make significant progress. The formal statement that the BBC issued did not say that cuts were inevitable or even likely. I have the document before me and I have looked at it rather carefully. The BBC said: if we are not successful, there will inevitably be a reduction in our range of programme services. The chairman of the BBC said: I am worried lest these proposed cuts will have a greater effect on our service than is immediately apparent". The deputy director general said: I am deeply anxious at any cuts which might threaten damage to programme services". So the BBC is not saying at this moment that cuts are inevitable; it is expressing its understandable concern. Time will tell. Certain of my remarks today will reassure the BBC that the damage will not happen.

Mr. Cook

The Foreign Secretary has paraded a range of quotations expressing grave concern on the part of BBC executives. I repeat my question to him: if they are not successful, and if they return to the Foreign Secretary saying that they have been unable to meet the cuts by efficiency savings, will he consider again the funding necessary to maintain the 42 language services?

Mr. Rifkind

I shall come to that in my own time. The hon. Gentleman says that the BBC has expressed concern at the reduction in resources given to it. He knows perfectly well that there is no organisation known to man—in the public or private sectors, the Labour party or the Conservative party—which does not express concern when its resources are reduced. That is the human condition. No one welcomes a reduction in resources. If the stewardship of the nation's financial resources is ever entrusted to the Labour party, and if it responds to every expression of concern by assuming that that concern is justified and therefore more resources have to be provided, God help the taxpayer.

We have a duty not to accept automatically all expressions of concern, but to look at them sympathetically and sensitively. We need to discuss them with the BBC to determine whether the concerns are justified and to see whether there are ways of making do with slightly reduced resources. Then we must come to a final decision on the implications.

The BBC has made it clear—on the radio this morning, for instance—that it is not particularly worried about next year. It is concerned about 1997–98 and beyond—on the basis of current planning figures. As the BBC has rightly said, what happens then depends partly on how many efficiency savings it can achieve and on the rate of inflation. None of us can be certain about either factor in future years. Thus there is clearly a great deal of hypothetical discussion, although it is only right and proper that such debate should take place.

Like the hon. Member for Livingston, I would say that we have no intention of removing successful language services. Indeed, I can go further and tell the hon. Gentleman that the evidence that we have suggests that life will be considerably easier for the World Service than is feared. The reasons for that flow from Government policies.

The major changes that we have asked the BBC to consider are on the capital side. We have asked it to identify alternative methods of funding, via private finance, totalling £22 million over three years. I am pleased to tell the hon. Member for Livingston that on the basis of accumulating evidence it appears that there is scope for about £30 million of private finance funding for the World Service's capital programme. That means that the service will probably not just meet the target that we have set it without damaging its capital programme but will more than meet it.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)


Mr. Rifkind

If the hon. Gentleman will just restrain himself, I will give way to him later.

I come next to the specific question that the hon. Member for Livingston asked me and in which I know that my hon. Friends are interested. It arises out of what may prove to be the greater than anticipated success of the Government's private finance initiative. Both the Chief Secretary and I would look sympathetically at providing the flexibility to allow resources to be moved into programmes, assuming that the PFI is successful. In other words, there will be flexibility because the Government's policy looks like being even more successful than the target that we gave the BBC. That is exactly what we would have hoped for, and it should reassure the House.

Mr. Banks

I find this intriguing. The right hon. and learned Gentleman suggests that the private finance initiative will somehow produce free money which does not have to be paid for. How is the World Service to pay for it? The money will have to be paid for in terms of interest payments, leasebacks and so on, out of operating costs. We know that the World Service will already be suffering from a significant £8.6 million reduction in operating costs, so how will it afford to pay for the PFI?

Mr. Rifkind

The service will not be suffering a £8 million reduction in operating costs. There will be no such reduction in years one or three. In year two, there will be a £2.5 million consideration on top of the £2 million—a problem that can be resolved by a combination of greater efficiency and moving money from capital to current costs if the capital savings turn out higher than expected. The BBC is also actively pursuing a number of other ways of resolving the problem.

I noted that the hon. Member for Livingston—despite many requests from the radio interviewer this morning and from my hon. Friends today—refused point blank to give any commitment that any future Government in which he might be involved would increase or restore the cash allocated to the World Service. He took refuge in a general statement about not being prepared to see any successful language service removed. That showed that he clearly believes that there is scope, through efficiency and other means, to preserve the services. That is a powerful admission.

Mr. Robin Cook

Judging from what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has told the House today, he himself is not convinced that the savings can be met by efficiency or any other means; otherwise, he would not have outlined the new proposals for the World Service, which I welcome.

This debate will be justified only if the Foreign Secretary agrees that he is now saying that if the BBC World Service exceeds its target for the PFI, it can transfer that capital into revenue. Does he agree that that, in effect, is to concede that the BBC has made the case for more revenue support?

Mr. Rifkind

No, I am saying that there are a number of ways whereby we can ensure that the language services are maintained—one of them being greater efficiency. If, as now seems quite possible, the BBC more than meets its PFI targets, that will provide another means of ensuring the outcome that we all want without increasing public expenditure. The Government have every intention of being flexible; we have presided over the greatest ever expansion of the World Service and we are hardly likely to want to reverse that.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

Do I infer from what my right hon. and learned Friend has said that he is confident that neither the range of language services nor the breadth of those services—including the vital English language services—is in jeopardy? Is he further saying that if there should be a problem, he will be prepared to look at it with great sympathy and do what he can to help?

Mr. Rifkind

Yes, I can give that absolute assurance. I am very relaxed about giving it because it coincides entirely with the priority that I personally and the Government as a whole attach to the importance of the World Service and our determination not to damage the very high standards that it has achieved under our stewardship.

Mr. Temple-Morris

Following on from interventions on this central question, may I welcome what my right hon. and learned Friend has said about the private finance initiative? We all welcome that finance; however, at present it is planned, targeted, hopeful, but not definite. Were it not to be as successful as we all hope, and my right hon. and learned Friend has to address the concern expressed in the Opposition motion—the likely reduction in the range of foreign language broadcasts without expecting hope or help from the PFI—with regard to the next triennium, which is of crucial concern to us all, will my right hon. and learned Friend approach the matter with an absolute determination to preserve those foreign language services?

Mr. Rifkind

That is indeed the Government's position and I am happy to state it. We have provided the figures for next year and the BBC has said that it is generally content with them. This debate is about how much it is reasonable to assume might be available for future years through greater value for money and the private finance initiative. The final figures for future years are not yet determined. The figures determined relate to next year and the BBC has said that they do not present a significant problem; it is very relaxed about them.

The BBC has expressed concern about what might happen from 1997 onwards. The final figures for 1997 will be determined next year in the public expenditure survey round. Much more will be clear then than is possible to determine at the moment about the precise sums that might be available through the PFI and any other achievements from greater efficiency.

Mr. Mike Watson (Glasgow, Central)

The Foreign Secretary seems to have conceded today that the World Service needs additional money. His civil servants conceded that fact five months ago, when they agreed in the joint capital spending review that it should receive an additional £5 million. What has happened since then, other than the Budget and the Government's long-term election prospects, to change that view to require the World Service funding to be financed through the PFI? What is the difference between now and August for the Foreign Secretary?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman will know that the Government have been interested in using private finance for public sector programmes for more than the past five months. The outcome of the previous PES round was a major programme of private finance, which applied to all Departments. What I am saying today does not contemplate an increase in the total resources being provided for the BBC. What I said with regard to the private finance initiative was that it appeared that even more of the programme than had been anticipated looked like being able to be financed other than through the taxpayer, and that that could allow a flexibility between the BBC's capital and current obligations, which would make it even easier for it to carry out its operating tasks.

Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Hillhead)

Before leaving the question of private funding and the very high standards of journalism and editorial integrity for which the BBC has become famous, what can the Foreign Secretary tell us about the Government inquiry—which I presume must be going on—on the compromising through negligence by the BBC of its editorial independence through the commercial relationship with the private company Orbit Communications operating in Rome and broadcasting BBC World Service Television pictures to the middle east? The Foreign Secretary will know that the middle east has been repeatedly blacking out broadcasts from this country which carry news and film about the Government's deportation of the Saudi dissident Al-Masari. It is a critical matter for the Government, for the BBC and for standards of journalism in this country. Will the Foreign Secretary deal with it at this stage?

Mr. Rifkind

I do not know of any evidence which suggests that the BBC has in any way compromised its editorial independence. I do not believe that the BBC would for one moment contemplate doing so. If the hon. Gentleman has any allegations to the contrary, he must provide the hard evidence and not just generalised allegations. Moreover, that is not a matter to put directly to me. He obviously must put that to the appropriate quarter to be properly investigated. I have seen no such evidence.

Mr. Tim Renton (Mid-Sussex)

I remember discussions between my right hon. and learned Friend and myself about the importance of the BBC World Service when we were both Ministers of State at the Foreign Office some years ago. It is clear that all hon. Members have come to the House today to praise the BBC World Service and not to bury it. It would, however, be helpful to the House if my right hon. and learned Friend would explain how he envisages the £30 million from the PFI being used. It is obviously very helpful to know that there could be £30 million available, but what area does he envisage it going into—the building and operating of transmitters, the leasing of them to the BBC World Service, and their eventual repayment many years ahead?

Mr. Rifkind

Two particular projects have already been identified as being likely to be suitable for the PFI. One is the Oman relay station and the other a small project at Bush house here in the United Kingdom. Of course there may be many other projects, but those two alone already amount to some £32 million compared with the £22 million target over three years that we have set the BBC. I accept that those projects are not absolutely guaranteed at the moment. Nevertheless, the signs are extremely encouraging; otherwise, I would not be referring to them in those terms.

Mr. Gary Waller (Keighley)

I entirely agree with my right hon. and learned Friend that the Government have a very fine record of support for the BBC World Service over the years. Does he agree that since there are severe public expenditure constraints, which must apply to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as they do to other Departments, it is all the more important that we should put our support behind the service, which covers the whole world and benefits so many other countries where constraints must inevitably be tight? Is it not important to send the right messages—politically and to our friends overseas?

Mr. Rifkind

I agree with my hon. Friend. His comments allow me to draw my remarks to a conclusion as I know that many hon. Members wish to speak.

The Government took a strategic decision way back in 1979 to reverse the stagnation of the previous five years and to finance spectacular growth in the BBC World Service. Unlike the hon. Member for Livingston, we relied not only on rhetoric and protestations of good will, but on providing hard cash. Unlike the zero growth during the Labour years, the BBC World Service has enjoyed a 50 per cent. growth in real terms, a £166 million capital programme, and an expansion of its listening public around the world from 75 million to 133 million people.

As we are intensely proud to be the Government who have presided over that remarkable achievement, I can without any difficulty at all give the House the assurance that the Government do not intend to do anything that would damage the BBC World Service. On the contrary, we look forward to expanding its activity and continuing to provide the very best World Service that the world knows at the present time.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

Before I call the next Member to speak, I should tell the House that unless Members exercise considerable self-restraint, it will not be possible to call all those who wish to speak in this short debate.

4.57 pm
Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

The Foreign Secretary may have bought off possible opposition from Conservative Members very cheaply as a result of his remarks.

I first came across the quality of the work of the World Service when I was a diplomat in Hungary in 1963–64. I saw the yearning among the Hungarian people for knowledge of the west and the way in which the BBC was able to spread democratic values, especially, of course, to young people, and with the English language. I had the privilege to speak for the Opposition on foreign affairs for nine years, and mostly dealt with the third world. I shall cite two examples of the way in which the World Service impacted on people who were important in their own countries.

I recall meeting a number of nomadic Arabs in a tent in the Sahara desert. Suddenly there was a noise: the alarm on the watch of my Arab host had sounded. He immediately left. I asked his colleagues why, and I was told that it was his practice always to listen at that time to the World Service, because of the purity of the Arabic language on it and because he valued what it told him about the world generally.

Later, I was with the present Lord Healey at a private dinner in State House in Lusaka, with the then President Kenneth Kaunda, who had listened to a debate from this House about Africa on the World Service. He clearly used the World Service as a key source of his knowledge of world events generally. He told me how opinion leaders, statesmen and potential world leaders relied so much on the World Service. That said, I suspect that there is total consensus in the House on the value of the World Service. The question is whether we are prepared to see that endangered, and whether that commitment is translated into cash and resources.

How can one try to assess the real value to Britain of that unique and respected service? What will happen if we opt out, or abandon part of that service, which may well be the result of the Government's policies? I heard the apologia from the Foreign Secretary in the House today and on the "Today" programme this morning. He said that the impact will not be felt this year. That is correct, because the budget for 1997–98 is the key concern of those in the World Service. He said that efficiency savings are possible, without seeking to put a figure on them. He must do so in the context of the favourable National Audit Office report and the reductions that have already been made in the budget for the World Service.

The Foreign Secretary mentioned the private finance initiative. In principle, one cannot be against a contribution from the private sector, but, as colleagues have said, there are political sensitivities in certain areas. The private finance may or may not be available. The Foreign Secretary expressed confidence that it will be available, but there will certainly be knock-on costs of any contribution from the private sector. Those knock-on effects will mean a cost to the budget of the World Service.

The Foreign Secretary said that there will not be any impact on what he called "successful languages". It would be helpful for him to define what he means by that phrase. For example, the Finnish service may now be under threat, yet it is listened to by 25 per cent. of the population in Finland, and half the costs are covered by purchases from local radio in Finland. Is that a successful language? There are broadcasts to Afghanistan in Pushtu. Is that a successful language? Surely it is necessary for the Foreign Secretary to define what he means. What would be his priorities for cutting, when there is likely to be an impact on the range of services?

The Foreign Secretary said that there has been an increase in resources of 50 per cent. in real terms since 1979. That is true. The listening audience of the BBC World Service has increased from roughly 80 million in 1979 to 133 million today. That shows that there is a correlation between audibility and the listening audience. Surely cuts in the capital service will prevent a further and similar expansion of the listening audience.

The Foreign Secretary said that there will be a cost. My hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), in his excellent speech, put that in the context of all the unwanted Government expenditure on areas such as rail privatisation, where estimates are well in excess of £1 billion. That is unwanted and irrelevant, but, for ideological reasons, the Government are pressing ahead with it.

The Government are inclined to use brave words about our world position—phrases such as, "We are punching above our weight." What is clear from the way in which they are seeking to treat the World Service is that they are prepared to countenance a reduction in the effect of one of the key instruments which allows our country to punch above its weight.

We are now approaching a general election, when no doubt the platform rhetoric of the Conservatives will be along the lines of putting the "Great" back into Britain. Given the value of the World Service, the threat of this potentially barbaric policy means that the Government are devaluing much of what makes us "great" abroad in the full meaning of that term.

5.4 pm

Sir Edward Heath (Old Bexley and Sidcup)

Both Front-Bench spokesmen have rightly emphasised their pride in the work of the BBC World Service, and I join them fully in that. Those who listen all over the world will share the same view. Those who listen outside will not be able to understand why, having expressed that view, the debate then deteriorated into a petty little party squabble. They are not interested in what happened in 1977, and neither am I, for that matter—my autobiography will finish before then. They are not interested in what a Labour Government might do, should such a Government ever come about. The Foreign Secretary has quite rightly protected himself by saying that he wants to see the results before he can say what will happen in 1997. Therefore, it is essential to look at the real aspects of the problem.

Of course, when there is a financial review, the World Service and the BBC generally are considered by every Government. When a Government take office, they look at it. I recall that, when we took office in 1970, we looked at the World Service. One argument then was that things had changed so much in the 25 years since all this started. The amount of information available world wide had been limited, but, with modern technology, people could obtain information wherever they were. That was one side of the argument.

However, that was overthrown by the fact that, wherever the issue was discussed, in whatever part of the world, support for the BBC was so strong and so obviously in our interests that we said that it must continue. I am glad that the Government have greatly increased the amount going to the World Service for its performance.

I am worried about several aspects of the future of the World Service. I am not happy about privatising it. The suspicion will grow in other places in the world that the BBC is no longer completely independent. That is a great danger. What we learned in 1970 and ever since is that the greatest possible advantage of the World Service is the trust it inspires everywhere, and the confidence that people have in it. The outside broadcasts of some other countries, particularly the United States of America, do not have that confidence or trust. In fact, a great deal of what is heard is disbelieved, and rightly so.

As a general word, privatisation can go too far, as can Government ownership. I believe that this sphere should remain entirely under BBC control. The discussion about handing over Whitehall to private enterprise is incredible. There has never been an open discussion about it. Like the BBC World Service, Whitehall is renowned for its integrity and administrative ability. Will people say that all that remains the same when enterprise people take it over, and are there to make their own money out of it?

It is a horrifying thought, and cannot do the country, the House or our party any good. One knows of the low morale of so much of the civil service today, and that can only get worse with such discussions. So I am not at all happy about the idea of privatisation.

I do not accept that we cannot afford it. It is a small amount compared with total budgetary involvement. It is completely unacceptable to say that we are not in a position to carry on with what the BBC wants to do. We can and should do so.

Another argument is that to deny the BBC World Service some Government expenditure will make it improve its efficiency. I doubt it. Because the calculation for increased efficiency is too high, the instrument may be damaged. As the World Service will be unable to increase the efficiency demanded of it, I am afraid that it will have no alternative but to abandon some of what it does.

We have seen many examples of that, the greatest of which, alas, is the lack of emergency beds throughout the hospital service today, which has been caused because funding was reduced to such an extent. People said that that would make the hospital service increase its efficiency, but it reached the stage where that simply was not possible. Instead of putting funds into reserve for emergencies, we took them away to increase hospitals' efficiency. That is the most blatant example of how that philosophy has gone wrong.

Thus there is a severe limit on how much one can increase the World Service's efficiency. One must be immensely careful about that. As the Foreign Secretary cannot say what he will do in 1997, I hope that he will bear in mind the fact that we want him to ensure that the World Service maintains its full efficiency and coverage, including languages. He spoke clearly about the additional languages that have now been taken on. If there are more languages, let us take them on. With the service's increased range and penetration, we can cover vast areas of Asia, even though some countries may not want to be covered. That must be one purpose of our policy.

I said that people trust the World Service. I listen to it a lot. I always get the news from it, and listen to discussions on it when I travel and after a late night here, and I have come to the conclusion that the BBC World Service is now the only impartial part of the BBC. I do not say that from a party point of view but because of the behaviour of those on the other programmes.

In the great days of the BBC, interviewers enabled interviewees to explain their views, but that is not their position today. They are there to prove that the other chap is always wrong, and they never hesitate to make him look ridiculous, a liar or just unsuitable for interview. That is a deplorable development by BBC programmes, on both radio and television—perhaps more on television, because people like to be seen being unpleasant. The World Service has not been affected by that, and I hope that it will not be.

I repeat my request to the Secretary of State to safeguard the position. He should not be misled by privatisation and the thought of how well the World Service would do it. If it goes for privatisation, it will seek first to make money, and secondly, to influence the BBC if it so wishes. We want neither of those things. The Government can look after and control the BBC's expenditure perfectly well. They do so at present, and they can do so for the overseas programme.

I am glad that this debate has been called. Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me a chance to speak for a few minutes. The matter is vital, because the World Service contributes enormously to respect of this country and gives the rest of the world an impartial view of what is happening world wide, which is invaluable for the rest of the world as well as for us. When the Secretary of State replies to such a debate again in 1997 or 1998, I hope that he will say that we have kept the World Service and expanded it still further, and that we were not led astray by all the temptations of 1996.

5.13 pm
Miss Emma Nicholson (Torridge and West Devon)

Whatever first task fell to me, speaking from the Liberal Democrat Benches, none could give me more satisfaction, nor a more challenging task, than to focus on the BBC World Service. As other hon. Members have said, it has an outstanding past. As this debate emphasises, it is going through a difficult present, but what matters most is its future, which must be our concern today.

How can 150 million people be wrong? That is how many people around the world tune in each day, by conservative estimates. The BBC's estimate is 133 million, excluding China, Iran, Vietnam and Afghanistan, where many more millions of people must listen. The size of the BBC's international audience and influence is unrivalled.

The most chilling comment that I have heard recently about the World Service was from an insider, who said: The threatened cuts, with their effect on operating budgets and capital investment, could lead to a slow, lingering death. The BBC will not be a Broadcasting Organisation worthy of the name in the 21st century. It will wither and die". Good housekeeping, financial prudence and private finance initiatives all have their place in good government, but I fundamentally worry that the Government's difficulties in controlling expenditure in the vast spending Departments lead them to be thoughtless and arbitrary in small monetary cuts aimed at vital successful British endeavours such as the BBC World Service, the Commonwealth Development Corporation, the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission and the Commonwealth Institute, where cuts endanger the whole endeavour and are not merely excisions at the edges.

The latest comment that I have heard was from a business visitor who returned from Kuwait yesterday. He said that, at an embassy reception, a group of other European ambassadors declared that they would give their eye teeth to have a service such as the BBC World Service for their own countries. It is beyond their comprehension why we should for ever be cutting it back instead of expanding it.

Demise may not be an exaggeration, given the huge investment needed for technological advance, such as putting the World Service on the Internet, digital broadcasting and replacing worn-out transmitters. Even the Foreign Office admits that audibility is vital.

Sir Peter Emery

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it not still a procedure of this House that one does not read a speech? The fact that this speech was circulated beforehand so that everybody has it, and it is now being read, cannot be correct.

Madam Deputy Speaker

The right hon. Gentleman is right. It is accepted that only Ministers should read speeches. On the whole, however, the Chair takes a tolerant attitude on that. If it were strictly enforced, a good many hon. Members might feel very uncomfortable.

Miss Nicholson

As I was saying, audibility is vital. If one cannot hear, it is no good—I should know.

If Britain had no independent voice in the world, this country would be a poorer place culturally, educationally and economically. British business says that the World Service boosts British trade in securing exports. In a recent survey, the top 50 United Kingdom companies said that the BBC World Service creates an aura of trust for Britain abroad and makes their job easier. The return in trade and export earnings must be vast.

If the World Service did not exist, not only Britain would be deprived. The whole world would be a poorer place, as so many parts of it rely on the World Service for factual, impartial broadcasts and for that invaluable commodity, the truth, which is in short supply in times of conflict and danger. In times of crisis—wars, famines, revolutions and earthquakes—the BBC's audience overseas rockets. In the affected region and the country under scrutiny, many people rely specifically and only on the BBC for news. How can Ministers evaluate that in terms of pounds, ecus or roubles? The World Service is a brand leader without equal, envied around the globe in war and peace.

I am sure that the new BBC chairman will be successful, and that his fund of knowledge and experience will be put to good effect, but I am sad that the procedure of the appointment and its announcement by the Government did not adhere to the constitutional position in the 1981 BBC charter. We must not drop full preservation of political impartiality, as the Government have done.

As we have already heard, the BBC also exports the English language, not just on the air but in educational videos, audio tapes and written packages. Millions listen to it for that reason alone. What value can be put on that internationally? The extensive and growing use of English in the world not only involves transmitting our language but boosts the work of our publishers and authors.

In political and strategic terms, many world leaders, having had their first contact, when young, with British values and activities through the BBC World Service, retain a special relationship with us, and a fondness for our attitudes, which influences their decisions beneficially in favour of our views.

What about human rights activists and political prisoners, such as Solzhenitsyn and Aung San Suu Kyi, and hostages such as Terry Waite? How did they praise the BBC World Service? They saw it as their lifeline and morale booster, especially the emergency Gulf link programme, which was the forerunner of other lifeline crisis programmes for Bosnia, Rwanda—whose programme was partly non-governmental organisation funded—and Somalia when they were otherwise unreachable. How can that be measured in money?

We must not forget the World Service's science, development, environment and health education programmes. Radio reaches where other media cannot—to the blind and the illiterate, for example. As I know, television reaches where the deaf cannot understand in any other way, through subtitling.

How many hundreds of babies in India may have been saved from a lifetime of blindness through BBC World Service radio broadcasts on the importance of vitamin A? How many babies in Peru and Bolivia have been saved from death at birth by the BBC's "Quecha" health programme? How many teenagers have learned to avoid the risks of HIV and AIDS, and how many civilians have learnt how to avoid the risks of land mines? This development may be cheap to the Government, but it is beyond price to those who receive it. How do we add up the lost eyes and limbs in the profit-and-loss accounts?

Selfishly, I declare a keen interest in the BBC Arabic service, the value of which I have seen in refugee camps in the Persian Gulf.

The value of the World Service is therefore incalculable, while the cuts and their effects are all too frighteningly calculable. We know the figures: a modest, in terms of the national Budget, £4.5 million cut in the financial year 1997–98. That will amount to a £10 million shortfall in the overall operating budget of £135 million. To put it in a national budgetary perspective, that is the cost of three or four modern aircraft, of which we lost three last week.

I say most sincerely that we must also be careful that the Government, in forcing the BBC to pursue the private finance initiative, do not compromise political and commercial impartiality. The necessity for long-term planning makes the PFI a fragile answer.

Perhaps the cuts are being made in the wrong places and for the wrong reasons. The BBC World Service has just dropped French for Europe, and the German service, already reduced, may be cut further. That is in despite of our membership of the European Union and the need to put over Britain's views in countries where many people still do not speak English.

The entire European Union surely seeks to hear our values, and listens keenly to statements of our interests. Our thoughts are needed in the democratic development of the Union. Fifty per cent. of the BBC's transcription topical tapes service, which accounts for much of the work in the developing world, has been cut off. That is surely another implicit cut in overseas aid, this time in education.

Of course, not everything is gloom and contraction. The BBC has played a valuable part in training and in revitalising broadcasting. Despite international competition and the end of the cold war, audiences are increasing. New services have been started in Macedonian, in Azeri for Azerbaijan, and in Uzbek for Uzbekistan. The Arabic service, which proved its worth again in the Gulf war, may expand alongside the newly created Arabic television service.

Some countries re-broadcast the BBC 24 hours a day—Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. A new joint service, which began on 1 January in partnership with a United States station in Boston, is attracting many more listeners to hear our values, culture and output in north America.

That success story can he disrupted by the cuts we are discussing. The BBC has to invest to survive. It plans to put its service on the Internet, not only in English but in, for example, Cantonese, to exploit high computer ownership in Hong Kong. Surely that will be a valuable back-up to our influence in Hong Kong after the transfer to China in 1997.

We have already heard that the BBC has to replace its weak and aging transmitter in Masirah and relocate it on the mainland of Oman at a cost of £30 million, to be funded under the PFI. That involves not only the difficulty that he who pays the piper calls the tune but the question of repayment, which will place a further burden on operating costs. Yet that transmitter and its impartiality are vital for reaching the Persian Gulf and the Indian subcontinent, where the BBC has such a large and vital audience, with vast trading potential; and, in the case of the Indian subcontinent, English is an inherited language.

The cuts, combined with necessary investment, will also, in time, put more foreign language programmes at risk—perhaps 25 per cent. of them, or 10 out of the present 40. That means that threats will hang over transmissions in Czech, Slovak, Slovene, Hungarian and Romanian, and perhaps even in Serb and Croatian, to the cauldron of the Balkans. Hon. Members will recall what an important factor the BBC was in the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia, the abortive Hungarian revolution, the overthrow of President Ceausescu, the collapse of the Warsaw pact as central Europe rediscovered democracy, and above all the ending of the communist stranglehold on the USSR.

It is possible that the Spanish and Portuguese services to Latin America may be dropped.

Mr. Jacques Arnold

Will the hon. Lady give way on the subject of Latin America?

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. The rule is quite clear. If the hon. Member who has the Floor does not wish to give way, he or she is under no obligation to do so.

Miss Nicholson

Latin America is a vast area of more than 300 million people, with enormous trade potential for the UK, as so many recent ministerial visits indicate.

Not so long ago, during the Falklands war, the UK Government created their own Radio Atlantico del Sur, which proved so amateurish and ineffectual, whereas World Service correspondents were greeted in the Falklands by banners of gratitude proclaiming, "God Bless the BBC!"

Foreign Office Ministers would be foolish to ignore, as they have in the past, the dangers of the Falklands sovereignty dilemma, which still exists, as does Argentina's deadline of the year 2000 for taking over the Falklands, just when there may be vast oil riches to be found off their shores.

The Government continually fail to learn the certain lessons of the past in order to anticipate the uncertain lessons of the future. I fear that, where the dictators and oppressors have failed, our Treasury Minister bookkeepers, aided by a weak-willed, blinkered and ostrich-minded Cabinet, will succeed in weakening or eventually silencing altogether a powerful voice for Britain.

In conclusion, I have a couple of old tributes that are well worth repeating. They may stick in the minds of Ministers more than anything else. Even a rival and critic such as Teheran Radio said: England without the BBC is a lion without mane or tail, whose funeral will soon be due. The New York Times journalist Mr. Malcolm Brown famously declared: The BBC is, for the free mind, what Oxfam is for the hungry.

5.27 pm
Mr. Peter Temple-Morris (Leominster)

It is always a pleasure—I hope that I am being duly chivalrous—to follow the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon (Miss Nicholson), even if I am tempted to be somewhat more caustic bearing in mind the fact that she made my new year considerably more active than it might otherwise have been.

I hope in this speech at least to say something that my hon. Friends do not know that I am going to say before I say it. I will be succinct because many hon. Members want to speak. First, I shall briefly talk about my personal connections with the BBC World Service. I am sure that the memories of many hon. Members will be similar.

My connection goes back to a Cambridge university expedition in 1961 across mountains and deserts which involved camping and all the rest of it. What happened to me then can be summed up by the only quotation that I want to use, because it says it all. It is from a letter that came to me from Sarah Reynolds in Suffolk as a result of the publicity surrounding the financial problems of the World Service. She wrote also to her own Member of Parliament.

Sarah Reynolds was on the edge of the Sahara desert in temperatures of 45 deg C. She wrote: I heard voices outside and the sound of static. Upon investigation I found a group of people crowded around a tiny transistor radio. They were listening to the BBC World Service (Africa service in French). When the News was over, I asked them why they did not tune in to Radio Niger-it would be so much easier to listen to. 'Because we would hear what the government wants us to hear,' I was told. 'We can trust the news we hear from the BBC to be the truth.' 'Would it not be easier to listen to Radio France International?' I asked. 'We prefer to listen to the BBC World Service.' That is what she was told.

I shall telescope my comments by adding that, many years ago, I married an Iranian woman. By means of stories and a history which are too long to relate, the 1979 Iranian revolution occurred—when Ayatollah Khomeini was sitting under a tree in Paris, as some hon. Members may remember—and there was a considerable outcry against the BBC World Service, which also affected the British Government, from the Shah of Iran's Government.

I found myself on the other side of the fence, in the sense that I was asked by the then Iranian embassy to act in effect as an unofficial monitor of the BBC World Service. I spent some days over there scrutinising the scripts, including what had been left in and left out, according to the editor's pencil. I have no doubt that, although a Government who were a prominent ally of this country fell in that revolution—the final consequences of it have not yet been seen—the BBC World Service, much to the detriment of my wife's family, told the truth. Long may it continue to do so.

Since 1985, I have had the pleasure of helping to lead various World Service campaigns in the House, but it has not been roses, roses all the way—it is not today. Bearing in mind the enormous service that the BBC has rendered to the country, it has always had difficulty in making its case. We have seen elements of that difficulty in this debate. As this has been mentioned, I remind the House that, although we are grateful for the Government's audibility programme, which began in 1982, there was a considerable campaign, lasting several years, during the mid-1980s to get BBC World Service Television off the ground. The then Prime Minister resisted the launch of that project, during which time CNN took off. I firmly believe that, had World Service Television got off the ground when we wanted it to, CNN would not be in its present position of almost world paramountcy.

We had to mount another campaign at the beginning of this Parliament, in the 1992–93 Session, in relation to the triennium that is still running in the current financial year. I am grateful for all the support that the all-party early-day motion received—400 signatures. I think that the House, by choosing to express its appreciation of the BBC World Service through so many signatures, and bearing in mind those who do not or cannot sign early-day motions, passed its verdict. That was the third largest number of signatures to an early-day motion, coming after something like maternity and the second world war. That was the sort of class that we were in.

The objective of my speech and the debate is to underline the importance of the work of the World Service. I shall limit myself to mentioning specific points on that subject and discussing the need to protect the World Service's operating budget, our major concern, for the next triennium, 1997 to 2000.

I should, however, first briefly mention the specific work of the service. Many of the words of praise for the World Service should also, in some measure, be addressed to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which is beginning to get a slight complex—I have sympathy with it—about the massive outcry on behalf of the World Service. We should also not forget the important representative work that is done by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, or our old friend, the British Council. I could expand on that, but this debate is on the BBC World Service, for which the House has already shown its support.

I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) that we could maintain the World Service's budget if we really wanted to do so, and that the money involved is not very great. There must be a Treasury fault line somewhere. In government, one understands that, when one is engaged on a tough public expenditure round, cuts must be seen to be fair and distributed across the board. Any system that is not sufficiently flexible to protect something like the BBC World Service cannot, by definition, be a very good one.

We have discussed the plans for the future of the World Service, and it has been praised. I want to discuss its budget. First of all—as has been merely mentioned, not underlined—the World Service is already making efficiency savings, and has been for some considerable time. It has recently been the beneficiary of a very favourable National Audit Office report, and I should like to think that such checking and cross-checking had an effect on a tight public expenditure round. Only last summer, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the World Service conducted a capital review, which was made public in August 1995.

The review identified, perhaps before the Treasury came into the picture, a considerable need to increase capital expenditure during the next triennium. Perhaps it is intended that that expenditure will be derived through different means—the private finance initiative. I am very close to the line taken by my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup on that. The PFI generally seems, in the almost frenzied atmosphere that surrounds Budgets these days, to be assuming an almost holy role: the PFI is brought in on this, and it is wheeled in on that. We are dealing with something that is not necessarily the easiest area for the PFI. The private sector is not always the best risk taker.

The great reliance on Masirah island and the plan for a middle east relay station in Oman account for the vast proportion of £32 million. The relay station is a classic example of where the PFI could be used, because it is located in the middle of a turbulent region. It will be interesting to see whether the private sector will come forward as required to fund that development.

Many of the sites and much of the plant with which we are concerned require improvement and modernisation. They are in need of infrastructural improvement, rather than being natural candidates for the PFI. Last, but not least, foreign Governments like to be dealing Government-to-Government, and they see the BBC as a part of the Government, although they all know that it is not. More important, however, those Governments have trust and confidence in the BBC's independence. That must not be undermined for any reason.

Mr. Tam Daly-ell (Linlithgow)

The hon. Gentleman knows a lot about this issue. Is there anything to stop Mr. Murdoch or controversial Arab-based funds, for example, becoming part of the PH? What would that do to the reputation of the World Service?

Mr. Temple-Morris

I am grateful to the hon. Member for raising that question, because the Government of the day will have to keep a careful eye on that during the unfolding events. BBC World Service Television in the far east has also had its life made much more difficult because of a certain satellite which was bought up by Mr. Murdoch. So the lesson is there to be learnt.

I should like to end with my central anxiety. It was encompassed largely by an intervention I made earlier which was similar to one or two other interventions. The BBC World Service is already absorbing cuts during the current triennium. It has accepted the reduction in its capital budget—it is not arguing about that; it will absorb that. This is the: first time, in the current financial year, that the budget for a triennium has been disturbed during its passage. Although we all say how marvellous the BBC World Service is, we must realise that it must remain competitive and preserve its position. It is way ahead of the field and it must stay there. It is undoubtedly in the national interest to improve and expand the service.

On the issue of money, there are some differences in the figures, but there is a planned cut in Her Majesty's Government's capital and current contributions to the World Service budget. If the private finance initiative, on which reliance is placed—good luck to it—is successful and becomes more successful, that will have an obvious effect on the operating budget of the BBC World Service. We cannot consider one without the other.

As became clear during the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary, there is a key question to be asked in relation to the motion and the amendment. That question is whether, in the light of what my right hon. and learned Friend said about the PFI, there is likely to be a reduction in the range of foreign language broadcasts. That is what the issues boil down to. It is difficult to vote against either the motion or the amendment. A further question for me is whether one can possibly support the Opposition motion or abstain from voting on it.

We hope that the PFI will be successful. It might be less successful than we now hope—I mentioned Oman, the biggest PFI project. Sooner or later, the Government may have to face a BBC World Service that says that it is strapped for cash and one or other of its language services will have to go. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary made certain undertakings on that issue; he went one stage beyond the PFI. I, for one, accept my right hon. and learned Friend's good faith for the moment.

I offer a few words of caution: we are discussing the next triennium. The negotiations are starting now and, as we proceed through the year towards autumn, more of the factors will become clear. For the moment, we should minimise the cuts and be generous with the negotiations for the next triennium. I am sure that, once the negotiations are concluded, the subject will return to the House and every word uttered by the Government, whom I support, will then be reconsidered.

5.42 pm
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris), who is one of the few truly civilised Tories left in the House.

I declare my interests in the subject: I am one of the parliamentary advisers to the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre Union, which represents many World Service staff members. Before I was elected to Parliament in 1983, I was the union's full-time official and was responsible for its membership in Bush house and at Caversham. Now, my contact with it is as a fairly regular contributor to the excellent programme "People in Politics" and to BBC World Service Television.

One question that strikes me—I know that it strikes many other hon. Members—is how such a wonderful service can be provided under such primitive conditions at Bush house and elsewhere. The World Service is superb—we can agree on that across the House. It is one of the few British institutions, perhaps the only one, that are world leaders but, in relative terms, it is run on a shoestring. There is enormous cross-party support in the House for the World Service, but, despite all the plaudits that it receives in the House and around the world, it still keeps having to suffer cuts. Those cuts have come not just from this Government but from previous Labour Governments—that must be placed firmly on the record.

Who in the Foreign Office has the knife out for the World Service? It is clear that someone has. No one in the Foreign Office is listening to what we are saying in the House and someone is feeding poison against the World Service into the Secretary of State's ear. Someone has been feeding that poison into the ears of previous Secretaries of State, including Labour ones. I do not understand how we could even contemplate cuts, however small, in one of this country's success stories—this country is short of success stories, despite the propaganda and noise from Conservative Members.

The Secretary of State mentioned the need to reduce expenditure. Which successful multinational company that was the world leader in its sector would contemplate cutting its capital expenditure? Such a company would increase its capital expenditure to enhance its position as the world leader. It is nonsense; we would not expect any multinational company to operate in that way, so why should we expect the BBC World Service to do so?

If the Government want to find extra resources to fund the World Service, they should look elsewhere in the Foreign Office budget. They could look to the £7.6 million spent by the Department last year on official hospitality or to the almost £400 million spent by the Department every year on funding our embassies and high commissions around the world. I am not saying that they do not do a good job; I am not even saying that I have not raised the odd glass of champagne at a Foreign Office reception. But I would cheerfully give it up and I would certainly give up the second and third glasses to allow the money to be used to fund the World Service. There is plenty of opportunity in the Foreign Office budget for the Government to find the savings if they are so minded, but the World Service faces a cut of £5.4 million in its capital expenditure in the next financial year.

The Secretary of State said that the private finance initiative could be used, but how will that be funded? The money has to be paid back; it is not free money. Someone will expect the interest payments and the leasebacks to be funded—they will have to be funded from operating expenditure. Where else is the money to come from? I should be grateful if the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the right hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley), would clarify that issue when he winds up the debate. As I understand it, future operating expenditure will be cut by £8.6 million in the first year of the next triennium. I should be grateful if the Minister would either confirm that or tell me that my facts are wrong.

The Government announced the decision on capital cuts and the availability of the PFI after the business plans of the World Service had been drawn up, yet Ministers have the nerve to appear on the "Today" programme or stand at the Dispatch Box and talk about efficiency. They tell the World Service to throw into the melting pot all the capital funds and projects that it has already drawn up and to see whether it can raise money in the private sector. That is a crazy way to run any business, particularly the World Service. The Government talk about efficiency savings, but the way in which they have handled the funding of the World Service is the opposite of efficient. The World Service still has to deal with the last round of cuts—about £6 million.

Part of the measure of the efficiency of any organisation, including the World Service, is staff morale. At present, morale is low because, despite receiving plaudits from politicians, both in and out of the studios, and from around the world, the World Service staff continually have to face further cuts. They face those cuts because some idiot in the Foreign Office feels that it is not sensible to invest taxpayers' money in the World Service.

The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) said that he was not happy to have privatisation in this sector. If the Government have their way, the BBC's transmission—both domestic and World Service—will soon be privatised. That privatisation, in itself, poses a dramatic threat to BBC independence, especially that of the World Service.

My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway), who has now left the Chamber, mentioned the censorship of the BBC's Arabic service over the subject of Dr. Al-Masari. The Secretary of State said that he wanted some hard evidence—it is there for anyone to see. The BBC's Arabic television service is transmitted via a Saudi-owned satellite relay station in Rome. The company that owns the satellite station is Orbit Communications, which in turn is owned by a cousin of King Fahd, and it blanked out the BBC's transmission. If we sell the BBC's transmission service—if the transmitters go and they are bought by foreign companies, perhaps companies that are fronts for foreign Governments—the independence and impartiality of the BBC World Service will be threatened.

It is the independence, fairness and impartiality of the BBC World Service that commend it so strongly to peoples throughout the world. If we were to damage that reputation, it would be a crime—a crime perpetrated by the present Government.

5.49 pm
Mr. George Walden (Buckingham)

I have a small interest to declare. I remember receiving a cheque from the overseas service of the BBC—I suppose that that is under the same rubric—in the 1980s. It was a cheque for a very small sum, paid to me for impersonating an English dustman to the then Soviet Union. It was a rotten script-I believe I wrote it myself. I subsequently impersonated a British politician for the World Service several times to several countries. Those are my interests.

I need not express sympathy or admiration for the World Service, because every right hon. or hon. Member who has spoken has done so for me. All I shall say is that it is a pity that sometimes we do not hear programmes of the same analytical depth on, let us say, BBC Radio 4. Some of the malt whiskies that we make in this country are delicious, but one can find them only abroad; it is similar with some of the World Service broadcasts. Would that one might hear them on the domestic services more frequently.

The establishment of BBC World Service Television was mentioned earlier. I have a bit of a "mea culpa" to make because, at the time when I joined the campaign to try to obtain some seedcorn—if my memory serves, only about £4 million—my pitch was that if we did not have that £4 million, nothing would happen.

I turned out to be wrong, in the sense that something got off the ground. It is a matter for discussion whether it might have done so sooner, and perhaps would have put in a better competitive performance vis-à-vis CNN if that £4 million had been found, but I must be honest and say that the Government were right, to the extent that the service did materialise and is doing well at the moment.

Listening to the debate, I have a sense of disproportion. It seems to me disproportionate that the Government should have allowed themselves to be put in the dock in the way that they have been during the debate and in the way that they have been by the media, for the sake of a relatively small sum. I am occasionally accused of not understanding politics, but I understand that to make a big political issue out of a small number of millions is not a very political approach. I pride myself on understanding that, if nothing else. The hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) added to the sense of disproportion in the excessive forcefulness of some of his remarks. One cannot get away from the fact that the Government have enormously expanded the World Service, and should be congratulated on doing so.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State gave two assurances earlier, which have in effect punctured the debate. First, he said to my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) that he would reconsider the matter if essential programmes were threatened. Secondly, he made what I understand to be an important concession, allowing capital to be transferred to revenue if that should prove necessary.

It is odd that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State did not say that on "Today" this morning, because everyone knows that "Today" is the real Parliament in this country. [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] Mr. John Humphrys is the Opposition spokesman, the Prime Minister and Mr. Speaker to boot. What better place might there be for my right hon. and learned Friend to make his two concessions? For that is what they are. I assume that those concessions were arrived at after a great deal of scurrying and patter of fast footwork in the Treasury during the day. Never mind; we got there in the end.

I hope that there is a lesson for everyone involved. As the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) said, an incessant, curiously aggressive attitude appears to stem from somewhere towards the World Service. I have experienced it personally, as the hon. Gentleman conceded, under the previous Labour Government. I happened to be involved as a principal private secretary at the time. The Government were literally counting up thousands of pounds for the Pushtu service, which was a strange way for the then Foreign Secretary, Dr. David Owen, to spend his time. Other things of greater magnitude were going on in the world.

I make no apology for my involvement because it was compulsory, but that seemed a strange thing to do. It struck me as strange that today, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State should have been forced to come to the Chamber—because I am sorry to say that that is what happened—because of those rather small cuts.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

Will my hon. Friend direct his remarks to the anxiety expressed by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) about the dangers that might face the overseas service of the BBC if capital came in through a front company that might represent an overseas country, especially the dangers for the transmission services, which might lead to the blocking of the overseas service in parts of the world that are vital to the United Kingdom?

Mr. Walden

As my hon. Friend invites me to express an opinion on that subject, I shall. It has always been my opinion that, as a rule of thumb in matters of privatisation, one should be—and I am—in favour of privatising anything that moves, provided that it does not affect or enter into what I call the cultural sector. By that I mean education, broadcasting and similar spheres. That does not exclude the involvement of private capital.

I do not want to discuss the specific case that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West mentioned, because I do not know enough about it, but if that is true, it seems to me to mark the limit that one should keep an eye on, in involving private capital in what are essentially, as I say in shorthand, cultural fields, because it is possible to get oneself into some nasty political spots.

Mention has been made of China, which I suspect will he very important in that regard in future. It will be extremely important for us to be able to broadcast freely to the Chinese because, as we all know, there is likely to be turbulence in that country.

Other hon. Members want to speak. I believe that I have made my argument. I welcome the reassurances that the Secretary of State gave. I only lament that it was necessary for him to give them in that form.

5.57 pm
Mr. Jim Dowd (Lewisham, West)

Throughout the House, the BBC World Service is regarded a precious asset to the United Kingdom, providing an international advantage that many other nations envy, including many of our industrial competitors. However, we are not here tonight simply to indulge in a paean of praise to the World Service.

The people who work in the BBC World Service throughout the world, in Bush house or elsewhere, are not all saints. They try to do a job on behalf of broadcasting and on behalf of the country, but not significantly on behalf of the Government of the country. From time to time, the Government have been led into conflict with foreign Governments who do not share our traditions and ways, because those Governments cannot understand that the BBC World Service is not the Government's voice and that the Government cannot direct propaganda over the BBC World Service, although the BBC World Service is very much the voice of Britain.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) on prevailing to ensure that we held the debate tonight because, as the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) made plain, were it not for the fact that we are holding the debate now, we should not have obtained the concessions that we have obtained from the Foreign Secretary, although I shall return to them later to examine their worth.

The hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) spoke elegantly and eloquently on behalf of the BBC World Service. While he was speaking, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Watson)—who has had to leave the Chamber for a short time—remarked to me that the hon. Gentleman had stolen all the things that he wanted to say. I replied that the hon. Gentleman had stolen all that I wished to say also.

The hon. Gentleman gave a cogent declaration of the technical position. We are not here today simply to praise the BBC World Service; we must also examine the hard cash reality of its position and the Government's decision to abandon the three-year agreement unilaterally and to impose a separate settlement upon the BBC World Service.

The National Audit Office report to which the hon. Gentleman referred makes it plain that there is scope for improvement and savings within the BBC World Service. That is the case with any large organisation. The report also underlined the fact that the World Service provides excellent value for taxpayers' money and that it is continuing to make considerable progress in that direction.

The Government's action in the second year of the triennial agreement must cast doubt upon their good intentions in the matter. How can a three-year agreement be broken unilaterally at any stage? What will be the status of the 1997–98 agreement? I believe that that agreement will be negotiated under different management, so to speak. None the less, if a Government give their word that an agreement shall last for three, five or however many years, they must honour that commitment. An agreement cannot be unilaterally re-examined, and the Government have destroyed their credibility in the matter.

The Foreign Secretary and his Ministers have faced questioning about BBC World Service funding during Foreign Office questions on the past two occasions and I was fortunate to be called to speak both times. On the first occasion, the Foreign Secretary quoted personnel at the BBC World Service very selectively—as he did again earlier this evening—in order to justify his position. He quoted the managing director, Mr. Younger, as saying that the World Service was looking at the application of the private finance initiative. He continued: Equally, we will be taking a fresh look at the scope for further efficiency". The Foreign Secretary did not go on to quote Mr. Younger's next comment: However, I am greatly concerned at the possible implications for our programme services of the cuts planned over the next two years". The Foreign Secretary also quoted the chairman of the BBC up to the point when he said: On the other hand, I am worried lest these proposed cuts will have a greater effect on our service than is immediately apparent". The chairman went on to say: As we explore the Private Finance Initiative and other projects, we will keep the Foreign Office closely informed of our progress in minimising damage"— he did not say "avoiding damage"— to the services we supply to over 133 million people". That brings me to the PFI and what has been said about it. No one, including the Foreign Secretary, has confirmed whether the Government are prepared to underwrite the on-going negative revenue effects of a successful PFI. In BBC World Service terms, the more successful it is, the greater effect it will have on the operating budget. Are the Government prepared to underwrite it and, therefore, insulate the World Service from the effects of increased revenue payments? If they are not, they are simply seeking to buy a short-term benefit from reducing capital today at the expense of long-term liabilities on the operating budget tomorrow.

The perceived independence of the BBC is at the heart of its international reputation. The hon. Member for Leominster referred to the effects of the television transmitter and to the problems with the Star satellite in Asia. Hon. Members should consider that situation for a few moments. The satellite used to carry BBC World Service Television—it is not funded by the same agreement, but it provides an instrumental lesson—to the far east. It was bought by a company owned by Rupert Murdoch—if it was not News International, it was certainly one of its subsidiaries.

Mr. Murdoch wanted to beam programmes into China, but the Chinese Government objected most strongly to the line that they believed the BBC and Britain were taking with regard to Hong Kong. As a consequence, the Chinese Government blackmailed—I hesitate to use that word, but I believe that the House will understand the pressure that was applied—Murdoch television to replace BBC World Service Television on the satellite. They were ultimately successful, as I believe that it has now been replaced by CNN or something else.

That means that a large part of south-east Asia cannot receive BBC World Service Television. It demonstrates clearly that once the infrastructure is in private hands, it is susceptible to political interference and corruption. I think that that serves as a lesson for the BBC in the future.

I come now to the purpose and the effect of the BBC World Service. I do not think that we are being culturally myopic or adopting a little Englander or little Britain mentality if we say that the BBC World Service is the best in the world. One of my constituents, who is also a very good friend, is a Sri Lankan Tamil with relatives living in Sri Lanka. When Rajiv Gandhi decided to send the ill-fated Indian peacekeeping force to intervene in the civil war in Sri Lanka and it invaded the north of the island, my friend was obviously very concerned about his family's fate. He contacted his relatives in Colombo in order to ascertain whether everything was all right.

My friend spoke to his father and asked him what was going on. His father replied, "We are not really sure. We are all fairly safe, but we are trying to find out what is going on." My friend then asked how he was doing that and his father replied, "We are listening to the BBC World Service." Members of that family were not listening to national radio in Colombo or to All India Radio; they were listening to the BBC—and they were listening particularly for Mark Tully. My friend's family was listening to the BBC, first, because the BBC was more likely to know what was going on and, secondly, because it was most likely to tell the truth.

We must not jeopardise the BBC's status in that regard. The World Service is not simply an excellent and significant asset to this country, which represents good value for money: it is the greatest and most powerful international advocate of the values for which this nation stands.

6.6 pm

Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)

I am speaking at this late stage of the debate because I believe that the matter should be considered in a perfectly calm and logical manner. We have achieved that aim for about half the debate, but it certainly was not evident in the approach adopted by that rather disappointed little lady, the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon (Miss Nicholson), who, as a Conservative, was entirely frustrated at not being promoted within the Government. Her suggestion that the BBC World Service would wither and die is the most nonsensical statement that has been made today and I believe that the remainder of her speech can be dismissed on the same basis.

I suggest that there is something very wrong in the House when, for the first time in my 35 years' experience, a Back Bencher circulates a speech prior to its delivery and then reads it verbatim to hon. Members. If we have reached that stage, we may as well adopt the American system of placing speeches in the record and therefore lose all opportunity for debate in this place.

No hon. Member would argue that the BBC World Service does not fill an essential need that no one else in the world can supply. The BBC World Service does its job with efficiency and with a degree of informed opinion that is unknown in any other national broadcasting service. As has been mentioned time and again, most importantly the World Service is trusted—and it is trusted most where the news often takes the form of propaganda rather than the truth. It is in those places that the BBC World Service is most appreciated.

The BBC World Service is particularly important to the emerging nations of the Commonwealth of Independent States. As treasurer of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, I speak with some authority when I say that the emerging democracies listen to the BBC World Service. When no one else could fill that role, they received instruction from the World Service about politics and about running democratic institutions and local government. Broadcasts in Serbian, Croatian, Macedonian, Uzbek and now Kazakh are a major step in that direction.

It is with considerable pride that we are able to claim that the number of potential listeners, or those who listen from time to time—the total is now 133 million—is likely to grow over the next three to five years.

Let us consider the private finance initiative and the proposition of privatisation. The suggestions of the possible dangers reflect a misunderstanding. If private capital is used purely for building and capital assets—projects that would normally have to be financed by the taxpayer—and there is what would normally be a kind of sale and leaseback but in fact is a contract to build with a set leaseback over a period, many of the worries that have been expressed will disappear.

What of the idea that we shall be eating into Supply expenditure? What is the return on any capital that is borrowed? Interest on that capital must be obtained in some way, and it is usually linked to come from Supply expenditure.

I am not for privatisation for the sake of it. I support the process, however, where it can be seen to have a direct benefit in releasing the taxpayer from having to provide moneys. If that is the result, it is excellent. It has been suggested that private finance can produce about £32 million for capital compared with the Government's allocation of £20 million. Part of the Government's money, not private money, would come back into the Supply sector. That must he beneficial. There is much business sense in the way in which that approach could be carried forward.

I have had discussions with the World Service. I have often broadcast on the service, way back from the 1960s. It was fearing a 10 or 15 per cent. cut in Supply expenditure, but that has not happened. It is important[Interruption.]—to understand that the minimum action has been taken. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary said, it should not affect any aspect of the World Service's broadcasting. We must have that assurance. Indeed, I thought that that assurance had been given a long time before the debate. The assurance was not dragged out as a result of the debate. The assurance—[Interruption.]—goes a long way to overcoming any objection that can—[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. The House knows my views on repeated seated interjections.

Sir Peter Emery

So that other Members can contribute to the debate—

Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Peter Emery

No. I want to give other Members the opportunity to make their views known. The hon. Gentleman might be able to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker.

The financial factors that the Government have put before us make good sense. It has not been understood that within the Foreign Office budget the greatest increases over the past five years have been made available to the World Service. That fact has not emerged from the debate. There have been cuts everywhere else. The Government's amendment makes sense and the Government's case has been properly presented. I have no difficulty in supporting the amendment.

6.13 pm
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

I do not complain that the Foreign Secretary did not see fit to allow me to intervene during his speech, or that he could not do so. I put one question to him in the hope that the Minister of State will answer it when he replies. I think that the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris), who was kind enough to give way to me, shares some of my worries. The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) has worries, which are shared by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Dowd). What will happen when private finance is inserted into the system? It seems that neither the BBC nor the Government will have any control over that finance.

Let us suppose that the private finance initiative is invaded by Rupert Murdoch or by controversial Arab funds. What then happens to the reputation of the World Service? It is no good saying that we can have an end-user certificate. There will be no control. There could be takeovers. After two or three transfers down the line, the World Service could fall into hands that would horrify those of us who sit on green Benches.

I see that the Foreign Secretary has escaped—he has left the Chamber—doubtless for good reasons. I put my question bluntly to the Minister of State. Will he use 30 seconds, a minute or whatever it takes to set out the Government's contingency plans, if the PFI fell into hands that neither side of the House would deem to be satisfactory, in responding to a basic trust that is at the very core of the World Service?

That is all that I have to say.

6.16 pm
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

Not for the first time, I find myself in considerable sympathy with the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), for whom I have enormous regard. If anybody deserves the title "honourable", he does.

I am grateful, of course, to my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary for his assurance, and for the personal care and attention that he has devoted to the BBC World Service. Not for half a second do I question his commitment, still less his integrity. I am troubled, however, about the injection of private finance, and potential reliance on it for the BBC. It is almost a contradiction in terms.

I say to my right hon. Friend the Minister of State that some things should rightly and properly be funded from the public purse. I can think of nothing higher in that category than the promotion and protection of Britain's interests abroad.

It is a great pity that the Foreign Office had to suffer any cuts in the recent expenditure round. This may not be a fashionable view in all quarters of the House, but I believe that the Foreign Office serves the United Kingdom extremely well. Of all the diplomats whom I have met during my travels abroad, I can remember only about three or four who I felt did not measure up to the job. It is a pity that cuts are directed at the Foreign Office at any time. All our ambassadors should represent the best of our country, and be able to do so without looking over their shoulders every second for auditors.

In the British Council and the World Service, we have two of the most cost-effective general ambassadors that any nation could possibly have. The World Service is renowned for its quality. We have heard anecdotes from Members on both sides of the House, and perhaps, Madam Deputy Speaker, you will allow me to contribute mine.

Some years ago, I was asked, after a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conference in Australia, whether I would go to the Solomon Islands, way out in the south Pacific. I thought that it sounded terribly romantic, and was most eager to go. It was a most moving experience. I found a country that, although very poor, was rich in the personalities of its people.

What moved me most was going to a couple of schools there and speaking to fifth and sixth formers. They were remarkably well informed and knew the names of more British Cabinet' Ministers than most fifth and sixth formers in my constituency would know. When I asked why, the answer was interesting, as they did not get newspapers, which were generally a week or fortnight old when they arrived from Australia, and their own pidgin English papers concentrated almost entirely on local affairs. Nevertheless, they were well-informed young people. The answer was that they listened regularly to the BBC World Service. From that, they had derived a voracious appetite for knowledge and information, and good basic information about the world in which they lived, and particularly about this country. They had a great admiration and respect for this country. I could not help wondering as I listened to them whether we entirely deserved that, but that is another story.

If I needed an illustration of the worth of the World Service, I found it in the Solomon Islands. I found it, too, from talking to people from eastern Europe, when involved in a committee on human rights, which was allowed, for the first time, into the Soviet Union in its dying days by Mr. Gorbachev. We talked to people there—Jews and Christians—whom we sought to help. To them, the BBC World Service, often listened to in conditions of extreme danger, had been a lifeline. One found the same in Romania, the former East Germany and in other countries. It really would be quite wrong if anything were done to jeopardise that magnificent service.

I was grateful for the assurance that none of the foreign language services will be threatened, and I sincerely hope that my right hon. Friend will, when he replies, be able to reinforce that assurance. I would be most grateful for my right hon. Friend's attention, which is difficult at the moment, as my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Surrey (Sir M. Grylls) seems to have engaged him in conversation.

I should also be grateful for another assurance. Important though the foreign language services are, the English language service is of paramount importance, and I hope that nothing will be done to jeopardise the breadth or depth of its coverage. It is the way in which many people learn the English language. It is through the World Service that many become acquainted with our literature, our culture, our politics and our democratic system. It would be most unfortunate if there were any contraction in that service.

This has been a useful debate. It has shown that every hon. Member who has spoken, on both sides of the House, is full of admiration for, and totally committed to, the World Service. I truly believe that that commitment is shared by the Government, and hope that it will be reinforced in the speech that my right hon. Friend will make shortly.

6.23 pm
Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham)

It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack), who encapsulated the mood of the House.

I owe a double debt to the BBC World Service. I worked there briefly, and it is part of my journalistic formation. But, more importantly, I remember being arrested some 14 years ago by the Polish communist secret police and being taken away to an obscure gaol in Warsaw, a very frightened young man taking support—financial and other—to the underground trade union, Solidarity.

After a couple of days, my fellow inmates brought me the news that I was on the BBC. I was immensely relieved that my name had been made known—it was not just the vanity of a would-be politician at having his name in the headlines—and that it had been uttered by the BBC. For some reason, I did not think that anything odd could befall me. That is the extraordinary power that that institution has had for many years.

Although the giant totalitarianisms of communism and fascism are no longer with us, there are still many dictatorships around the world. There are still many brave men and women, people of all parties—this is not a party political debate—and persuasions who go momentarily to lend a hand and give some help, and the BBC World Service provides a lifeline, in English and, indeed, other languages.

Concern has been expressed at the decision, some 45 years after General De Gaulle made his famous appeal to the French from the studios of the BBC to rally against Nazism, that the BBC, acting in advance of the budgetary pressure and cuts that were about to be imposed, dropped its broadcasts to France. That, perhaps, is no great loss, but around the world the French language remains a powerful instrument of communication. I hope that the BBC will continue to broadcast in French to Africa, south-east Asia and elsewhere where French is spoken.

Referring now to my time as a journalist, I wish to reinforce the point that has been made by hon. Members on both sides of the House—that the BBC is an extraordinarily mean and tight ship. One could mount a different debate complaining about the often harsh treatment of the many foreign language journalists who work at the BBC. They are placed on short-term contracts. Their futures are not secure. If they bring their families with them, they can make no long-term plans. That, perhaps, is a debate for another occasion.

The fundamental point about that extraordinary institution in the Strand is that it is the most remarkable repository of knowledge about the world. It would be a shame if any cuts reduced—for the whole of the country and, indeed, the Government and all of us who are interested in foreign affairs—that extraordinary source of knowledge.

Many hon. Members have raised concerns about privatisation. The right hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) talked endlessly about business values, about running the BBC as a tight business. 1 found the description of the BBC as simply another profit centre regrettable.

Although, in essence, jamming no longer exists—we can go through it or overcome it technologically—there is a more modern form, where one seeks not to prevent but to buy or financially control the means of news distribution. We have seen the example in Asia of Mr. Murdoch succumbing—kow-towing—to pressure from the dictators of Peking to remove the BBC World Television Service from his satellite, and that is extremely worrying.

I hope that the Minister will give a very strong commitment. We have heard a concession, although I am not sure whether it is real or whether it is a phantom—one of those things hissing through the ether. I am not sure whether the Secretary of State really gave the pledge that has been called for by most hon. Members, which has been called for in much press comment, which much of the country demands, and which, in the interests of Britain, democracy and information, the world thoroughly needs.

6.29 pm
Mr. Mike Watson (Glasgow, Central)

It is difficult at this stage of the debate to find something new to say. It is remarkable that hon. Members on both sides of the House have been as fulsome in their praise of the BBC World Service as they have. But perhaps it is not remarkable, because the organisation is held in great esteem by all hon. Members. We have all benefited from its services when travelling abroad.

Therefore, it is with some disappointment that we have to have a debate on cuts in the World Service, rather than on a more positive basis. However, we can use this debate, as we have done, to laud its many fine services, which are widely appreciated throughout the world.

In an intervention, I told the Secretary of State that I was concerned to have clarified the apparent increase in the PFI to £30 million, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) has just referred. It is important that the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the right hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley), should clarify that when he replies. Many of us were concerned that there was a contradiction in terms in what was being done in respect of the BBC World Service over a very short period.

As I said, as recently as August 1995, the joint World Service and Foreign Office capital review body suggested that a further £5 million of capital spending should be made available to the World Service specifically for the new transmitter in Oman. Within weeks, the Budget comes along, the whole thing changes, cuts are announced, and only by utilising the PFI, which, as has been said several times, is not a cost-free initiative, can such capital expenditure now be achieved.

The Foreign Secretary was rather disingenuous when he referred to what the managing director, Mr. Sam Younger, had said about looking positively at the PFI, because, as far as I recall, he failed to say that Mr. Younger also said that he was greatly concerned at the possible implications for our the BBC World Service programme services of the cuts planned over the next two years". That is a much more telling comment than the previous one.

The Secretary of State also failed to give due emphasis when quoting the BBC's chairman, Marmaduke Hussey, as saying: We will certainly bend all our energies to exploring the suggested approaches. But we are concerned that if we are not successful, there will inevitably be a reduction in our range of programme services. Most people who have contributed or listened to the debate will accept that programme reductions are inevitable as a result of the cuts that have been announced. It in no way serves the Government's argument to say that such cuts are a small proportion of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's cuts as a whole, so the Government are being kinder to the World Service, which everyone loves because it is a cuddly organisation with which everyone is friendly and with which everyone likes to snuggle up in bed. That may well be the case, particularly for people in some of the more remote parts of the world to whom the World Service can be a lifeline in many ways. But as far as hon. Members are concerned, the World Service requires proper funding in order to enable it to continue the job that it has done so effectively.

Just how effective the organisation is was clear to me as a member of the Public Accounts Committee receiving the National Audit Office's report at the end of last year. The report essentially commented on the progress made since the Public Accounts Committee hearing which representatives of the World Service had attended in 1992. The report was clear in its praise for the cost-saving measures that had been carried out, for the advances made in technology, and so on.

On the one hand, the Government praise the organisation, but on the other hand say that, unless it uses the private finance initiative, they will not allow it to expand. Therefore, we need clarification, as does the World Service, of what the £30 million involves. I am particularly concerned about that. It will involve leaseback for the World Service, but what sort of costs will that entail? It is not clear to me just how that would sit with the commitments that the World Service may already have in terms of capital spending. I hope that we can have some clarification on that.

I hope that the Minister of State will also clarify some of the answers that he gave during Foreign Office questions six days ago. On that occasion, he said: The effect of the PFI … will be clearer once the World Service completes its discussions with the private sector."—[Official Report, 10 January 1996; Vol. 269, c. 201.] In a sense, that is self-evident. It will be clearer, but that is not exactly helpful at this stage. There will clearly be substantial start-up costs and other operating consequences for any PFI project. The World Service needs a commitment that its operating budget will be protected. We have not had that today.

The Minister also said that real terms funding had been increased by 50 per cent. since 1979. That was the result of the previous Prime Minister's commitment to invest in an audibility programme—which, incidentally, has been praised again in the NAO report—but that also impacts on the joint capital spending review which was carried out which seems to have been jettisoned within weeks of being published.

We know that that is the result of the Government's short-term interests and their need to cut public expenditure so as to enable them to cut taxes. We had one cut in November, and doubtless we shall have a further cut next November if the Government can stagger on that long. The World Service and many other areas of public expenditure are suffering for short-term gain, as perceived by the Government. That in itself is reprehensible.

Many people throughout the world benefit daily from the BBC World Service. It would be a tragedy if some of those people were denied its services, which may be their lifeline. They may mean the difference between health and sickness, survival and death. The World Service contributes to such essential projects as AIDS education, reproductive health, women's education, and even, as has been mentioned, the dangers of land mines and how to avoid their horrific effects if disturbed. Such issues are of daily importance to people in many far-flung parts of the world, and that is widely recognised.

Equally, we need answers from the Government not just on which languages will be cut but on what people in far-flung parts of the world will do if the World Service is no longer available to them. Should they tune into Voice of America, Radio France International or Radio Moscow? I do not know what stations may or may not be available, but where there is an alternative, the BBC World Service is still everyone's first choice, and the Government must give a commitment to ensure that the funding is there to make it possible for such services to remain for people to whom they mean much more than many in Britain appreciate.

Arguments in favour of the World Service have come from both sides of the House this evening. Let the Minister of State now give the sort of commitments for which all hon. Members have been looking in the debate.

637 pm

Ms Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East)

It is clear that the Opposition have been fully justified in the choice of today's debate, not least because we have forced the Government into giving the House assurances about the future funding of the BBC World Service, and we have caused them to think again. I rejoice in the fact that we have had some measure of success in that respect and I assure the Government, in turn, that we shall continue to monitor the matter closely because we are anxious that the World Service should be able not just to continue to do its valuable work for the future but to expand its services.

Many powerful speeches have been made by hon. Members on both sides of the House. There has been a great deal of similarity in the contributions, all of which have shown clearly the great esteem in which the World Service is held. We have also been reminded that many well-known people outside the House and outside the country have had great reason to be thankful to the BBC World Service. Mention was made of President Mandela and the Burmese opposition leader, to whom I wish to pay special tribute. As The Economist put it just a week ago, if high-class endorsements were all that were needed to ensure the BBC World Service's survival, it would be in no difficulty whatever.

The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) talked about the Government being in the dock for what was really a small amount of money. That point was also made effectively by the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) during Foreign Office questions, when he said that the BBC World Service should not be jeopardised for the sake of the price of a mile of motorway".—[Official Report, 10 January 1996; Vol. 269, c. 202.] I think that we would all strongly endorse that sentiment.

Grave reservations have been expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) and other Labour Members about the way in which the Government have approached the issue. We have been concerned not only about the substance of the cuts, but about the procedure involved. We say strongly that the Government were wrong to interfere in the triennium settlement in the way that they did. That was a dangerous precedent that must have lost the Government a great deal of trust. The points that were made about that settlement by my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Dowd), were well taken.

Many concerns have been expressed about the effects on the BBC's operating budget, especially in 1997–98. Although the Government have tried to deal with that in their concession today concerning the private finance initiative, I recommend them to read Hansard and consider carefully the reservations expressed by all hon. Members about that initiative in relation to the BBC World Service. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have powerfully expressed concerns about that initiative's use, especially if there is any suspicion that the BBC's independence will be compromised. We shall monitor that matter closely in future months. The Government must not forget that important point. It would be good if the Minister dealt with some of those concerns in his winding-up speech.

Many hon. Members have pointed out that the cuts about which we are concerned today come on top of other cuts. The hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) reminded us of his early-day motion two years ago, which attracted a great deal of cross-party support in the House. Concern was expressed then about the cuts that the World Service was facing and, since then, the Government have tried to impose further cuts. That renders many of the Government's statements about their support for the BBC World Service unconvincing.

It is true, as my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston said, that there was welcome investment in the service in the early 1980s, but we are concerned that that investment has been undermined by the Budget announcement of cuts. This is the worst and most inappropriate time to undermine the BBC World Service because, more than ever, investment in new technology will be necessary.

An interesting article in the Financial Times yesterday talked about A renaissance of radio for emerging markets and the launch of…three digital satellites to broadcast hundreds of high quality radio channels to parts of the world that had not previously received such high-quality broadcasts. Labour Members and, I believe, many Conservative Members, want the BBC World Service to be at the forefront of those developments, and not to be put in the position of having to catch up subsequently, which would be difficult.

Hon. Members have said that the BBC World Service has a dual role: it brings great political prestige to Britain in the way in which it portrays our country, and, as our motion points out, it promotes tremendous "respect and goodwill" for Britain throughout the world. We also know, however, that it is valued by business interests, which feel that it is terribly important in promoting both the English language and an awareness of our country as one to do business with in future.

We pay tribute to the way in which the World Service has proved itself responsive to international events and crises. It doubled its output to former Yugoslavia during the recent events there, including FM re-broadcasts to Sarajevo. That work was important.

I was glad that mention was made of the importance of the BBC's English language service and of the English language teaching for which the BBC World Service is responsible. About 5.5 million people around the world sit down and study English as a result of BBC World Service broadcasts. Those people do not tune in casually; they are dedicated listeners who use the BBC World Service to learn English. The BBC World Service is an important part of the English language teaching industry. If one includes such things as that industry's publishing spin-offs, it constitutes one of the country's 10 largest invisible earners. That is a dramatic figure, which we should take into account in considering the World Service and its activities.

English language teaching through the World Service has some important achievements to its credit, including a tremendous increase in English use in the countries of central and eastern Europe and in parts of the former Soviet Union. We should not forget the importance of those countries to us in future and their commercial importance—we should be keen to emphasise that.

Many hon. Members have referred to the importance, and the difficulties at times, of our relationship with the Republic of China. I welcome the fact that the BBC World Service has reached agreement with many provincial stations in China, which reach out to a huge population, on the English language teaching work that the BBC World Service undertakes, yet we know that the Government have not been as supportive of the service as they should have been. I understand that the previous Foreign Secretary said that there would be a push to English language teaching, but, in the end, the push that was envisaged a couple of years ago during the London conference on Britain in the world did not happen. Again, we would like to investigate that for the future.

The BBC World Service's education programmes are vital—I refer to health education programmes to the third world in particular; the missing persons help line, which has been operating in Somalia; advice to people on how to dispose of land mines, which cause many tragic problems in the world; and how to feed children in conditions of poverty or near poverty. All that BBC education work is important and well respected, as, of course, is the impartiality and the independence of the BBC World Service's advice.

I endorse the comment that the BBC World Service is a world leader—it is a world beater and it leaves its competitors far behind. It deserves better treatment than the shabby uncertainties that have been forced on it by the Government. I am glad that, as a result of the debate, the Government have at least had partially to change their mind. We shall not hesitate to draw that victory to the nation's attention. Having said that, our motion corresponds closely to all the points that have been made by virtually all hon. Members in the debate. I therefore urge the maximum amount of support for our motion in the Division Lobby tonight.

6.48 pm
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Jeremy Hanley)

As the House will agree, we have had a lively debate. Above all, it has confirmed yet again the esteem and affection in which the House holds the BBC World Service.

It is worth repeating some of the good news. As we have all agreed, the BBC is a great national asset, and it has flourished as never before under the present Government. World Service output is at record levels: the service now broadcasts in 42 languages—that includes the core 24-hour English language service—and its programmes are re-broadcast by more than 900 radio stations world wide. As we have heard, it estimates that its world audience consists of some 133 million—although the figure could well be higher—which is more than twice the size of the audience of its nearest competitor.

That is a great success story for the World Service and for Britain. The Government have continued to provide strong financial support, because we fully recognise the high value and quality of the service and the important role that it plays in overseas representation. It has built up a reputation that is the envy of other broadcasters. That contrasts with the position at the end of the 1970s, when there was a critical need for the new investment in the World Service that we provided.

Funding had stagnated for some years when the Government made those investments—£166 million of capital up to 1991 to boost audibility, and £29 million for a new relay station in Thailand that should come on stream later this year. Funding has increased by 50 per cent. in real terms since we came to power, and those investments have enabled the BBC to achieve record audiences. BBC World Television News is available to 43 million homes and 111 countries, at the cost of not a penny to the taxpayer.

I hope that the debate has laid to rest many concerns that have been expressed in recent weeks, as well as some ill-informed comments. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary pointed out, the BBC is operating in a fast-changing world; we must look to the future, and ensure a sustainable and forward-looking basis for its operations. We all agree that the World Service and its commercially funded companion services in the BBC world wide add up to a uniquely varied and effective overseas broadcasting operation, and we all agree that that should continue. If the debate has helped to clarify some of the complexities of the broadcasting scene and its funding and to set the Government's overall approach to the World Service in perspective, it has served a useful purpose. On 13 December, I chaired the annual ministerial meeting with the World Service: I found that a useful and positive occasion, and greatly enjoyed the discussion.

Let me now deal with some of the detailed issues raised by right hon. and hon. Members. Let me assure my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) that there is no question of privatising the World Service. The private finance initiative provides a new way of funding capital expenditure by making greater use of private sector expertise and money, but under the PFI the World Service remains in control of both programme content and programme distribution.

Mr. Galloway

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Hanley

No. The hon. Gentleman had an opportunity to speak, and I now have very little time.

The World Service is the customer; the private sector assumes more of the risk that is inherent in capital projects. Under the PFI, there will be a contract for each item, the terms of that contract will have to be adhered to and actions will follow any breach.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) mentioned the Arabic television service. That service is funded commercially, not by licence fee or grant in aid. The BBC has made it clear that, when it signs such contracts, it must retain absolute editorial independence and control, even when partnerships with local broadcasters are involved. I understand that the BBC is currently investigating interruptions to the Arabic service; in the light of its findings, it must decide how best to take matters forward with its partners. There is no connection with the PFI or privatisation of transmission, and involvement of private finance and expertise in World Service capital programmes will not in any way affect the service's control over content or distribution.

Let me say to the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) that most forms of international broadcasting depend on a local partner. The only exception is short-wave radio. There can be no guarantee that particular partnerships will always work out; those partnerships are a matter for the BBC. I know that the BBC will always place its editorial integrity above all other considerations, which is entirely right.

In one of his knockabout interventions, the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) said that there was a knife out for the World Service in the Foreign Office. He explained that any reductions that had been made under successive Governments had been made by some mandarin in the Foreign Office. That is a pretty funny argument. Next year—I can give the figures for all three years if the hon. Gentleman wishes—the World Service current-cost reduction is 0 per cent.; that for the diplomatic wing is 4.1 per cent. In 1997–98, the reduction in current expenditure for the World Service is 1.7 per cent.; that for the diplomatic wing is 3.3 per cent. In 1998–99, the reduction for the diplomatic wing is 4 per cent., against yet another 0 per cent. reduction in World Service expenditure. If someone in the Foreign Office is out to get the World Service, I am afraid that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West would probably say that that person is not doing his job.

We have preserved expenditure on the World Service as far as possible. We know how valuable it is: that is why we tried to preserve the triennium system, which was mentioned by several hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Gateshead, East (Ms Quin). I understand the concern that was expressed about that three-year agreement. One reason why the Government have gone to such lengths to minimise reductions in the World Service allocation for 1996–97 is that we recognise the existence of the triennium. Nevertheless, there could never be any absolute guarantee of funding, three years ahead, for the World Service alone, of all public bodies. As it is, the service has fared a good deal better than not just the diplomatic wing but every wing of the Foreign Office. That says a great deal not only for it, but for the way in which the Government have cared for it.

I was sad that the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon (Miss Nicholson) introduced an element of exaggeration to the debate. Opposition Members forecast possible cuts in one or other language service, which I suppose was reasonable within the bounds of debate. Those forecasts were not correct, but they were reasonable. From the hon. Lady, however, we heard phrases such as "the silencing of the World Service" and "the withering and dying of the World Service". That is way over the top. The hon. Lady must have taken lessons from those masters of political hyperbole among the Liberal Democrats.

Miss Emma Nicholson

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Hanley

The hon. Lady did not allow any interventions.

The hon. Lady has had many friends among the Conservative party. I was saddened by her statement that she regarded certain Ministers as weak-willed, blinkered and ostrich-minded". That is not true, and it was sad to hear it from the hon. Lady so soon after she had been given so much support by, in particular, Ministers at the Ministry of Defence and at the Foreign Office.

In fact, the hon. Lady published her speech in advance. It was fascinating to note that she omitted two paragraphs. One read: The BBC, of course, has its faults as well as its virtues. While the World Service is cut to the bone, there's fat elsewhere in an over-sized, bureaucratic, administratively top-heavy organisation, with too many advisory bodies. That is how the hon. Lady described the BBC in her printed speech. Perhaps her courage deserted her—or perhaps that was another example of a Liberal Democrat speech in which an hon. Member says one thing in the House and leaves the real meat for distribution to the constituencies. She left out another paragraph, and I am sure that hon. Members would love to read it. I was saddened by what she had to say. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Geoffrey Lofthouse)

Order. It is becoming impossible to hear what the Minister has to say. I address my remarks to people beyond the Gangway.

Mr. Hanley

The debate has shown a sustained record of Government support for the World Service. It has shown a World Service in flourishing condition. It has also shown the complexities and changing nature of the broadcasting scene and the need for fresh thinking, of which there has been absolutely no sign from the Opposition. Admittedly, the Opposition now accept that the private finance initiative may have something. The BBC must move with the times if it is to keep its place at the head of the field, and we are determined to give it every help in doing so.

The Government have produced the necessary investment for the World Service, which has freed the BBC to compete in a far wider range of overseas activities and to increase its representation. Of course, we must continue the drive for greater efficiency and we want to involve private sector finance and expertise more closely, subject to the BBC retaining complete control over its programming and distribution. The Government remain absolutely committed to the World Service and we intend to see it into the next century in the same flourishing condition that it enjoys today.

I thank my right hon. and hon. Friends for their contributions and for the care that they have shown for the World Service in our discussions over the past few months. I also thank many Opposition Members for their care and concern for the World Service and for what they say privately to us outside the Chamber about their admiration for the way that the Government have funded the World Service.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question: —

The House divided: Ayes 291, Noes 310.

Division No. 24] [7.00 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Berry, Roger
Adams, Mrs Irene Betts, Clive
Ainger, Nick Blair, Rt Hon Tony
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Blunkett, David
Allen, Graham Boateng, Paul
Alton, David Bradley, Keith
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Bray, Dr Jeremy
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale) Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E)
Armstrong, Hilary Brown, N (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Ashton, Joe Burden, Richard
Austin-Walker, John Byers, Stephen
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Caborn, Richard
Barron, Kevin Callaghan, Jim
Battle, John Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Bayley, Hugh Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Beggs, Roy Campbell-Savours, D N
Beith, Rt Hon A J Canavan, Dennis
Bell, Stuart Cann, Jamie
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Chisholm, Malcolm
Bennett, Andrew F Church, Judith
Benton, Joe Clapham, Michael
Bermingham, Gerald Clark, Dr David (South Shields)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Home Robertson, John
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Hood, Jimmy
Clelland, David Hoon, Geoffrey
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)
Cohen, Harry Howarth, George (Knowsley North)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Howells, Dr Kim (Pontypridd)
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Hoyle, Doug
Corbett, Robin Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Corbyn, Jeremy Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Corston, Jean Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Cousins, Jim Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Hutton, John
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE) Illsley, Eric
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John Ingram, Adam
Cunningham, Roseanna Jackson, Glenda (H'stead)
Dafis, Cynog Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)
Dalyell, Tam Jamieson, David
Darling, Alistair Janner, Greville
Davidson, Ian Johnston, Sir Russell
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral) Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)
Davies, Chris (L'Boro & S'worth) Jones, leuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l) Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)
Denham, John Jowell, Tessa
Dewar, Donald Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Dixon, Don Keen, Alan
Dobson, Frank Kennedy, Charles (Ross,C&S)
Donohoe, Brian H Kennedy, Jane (L'pool Br'dg'n)
Dowd, Jim Khabra, Piara S
Dunnachie, Jimmy Kilfoyle, Peter
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Kirkwood, Archy
Eagle, Ms Angela Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Eastham, Ken Liddell, Mrs Helen
Etherington, Bill Litherland, Robert
Evans, John (St Helens N) Livingstone, Ken
Ewing, Mrs Margaret Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Fatchett, Derek Llwyd, Elfyn
Faulds, Andrew Loyden, Eddie
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Lynne, Ms Liz
Fisher, Mark McAllion, John
Flynn, Paul McAvoy, Thomas
Foster, Rt Hon Derek McCartney, Ian
Foster, Don (Bath) McCrea, The Reverend William
Foulkes, George Macdonald, Calum
Fraser, John McFall, John
Fyfe, Maria McKelvey, William
Galbraith, Sam Mackinlay, Andrew
Galloway, George McLeish, Henry
Gapes, Mike McMaster, Gordon
Garrett, John McNamara, Kevin
George, Bruce MacShane, Denis
Gerrard, Neil McWilliam, John
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Madden, Max
Godman, Dr Norman A Maddock, Diana
Godsiff, Roger Mahon, Alice
Golding, Mrs Llin Mandelson, Peter
Graham, Thomas Marek, Dr John
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Martin, Michael J (Springburn)
Grocott, Bruce Martlew, Eric
Hain, Peter Maxton, John
Hall, Mike Meacher, Michael
Hanson, David Meale, Alan
Hardy, Peter Michael, Alun
Harman, Ms Harriet Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Harvey, Nick Milburn, Alan
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Miller, Andrew
Henderson, Doug Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Heppell, John Molyneaux, Rt Hon Sir James
Hill, Keith (Streatham) Moonie, Dr Lewis
Hinchliffe, David Morgan, Rhodri
Hodge, Margaret Morley, Elliot
Hoey, Kate Morris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wy'nshawe)
Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld) Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon) Simpson, Alan
Mowlam, Marjorie Skinner, Dennis
Mudie, George Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Mullin, Chris Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Murphy, Paul Smyth, The Reverend Martin
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Snape, Peter
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Soley, Clive
O'Brien, Mike (N W'kshire) Spearing, Nigel
O'Brien, William (Normanton) Spellar, John
O'Hara, Edward Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)
Olner, Bill Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
O'Neill, Martin Steinberg, Gerry
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Stevenson, George
Parry, Robert Stott, Roger
Pearson, Ian Strang, Dr. Gavin
Pendry, Tom Straw, Jack
Pickthall, Colin Sutcliffe, Gerry
Pike, Peter L Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Pope, Greg Taylor, Rt Hon John D (Strgfd)
Powell, Ray (Ogmore) Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Prentice, Bridget (Lew'm E) Timms, Stephen
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Tipping, Paddy
Prescott, Rt Hon John Touhig, Don
Primarolo, Dawn Trimble, David
Purchase Ken Turner, Dennis
Quin, Ms Joyce Vaz, Keith
Radice, Giles Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold
Randall, Stuart Wallace, James
Raynsford, Nick Walley, Joan
Reid, Dr John Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Rendel, David Wareing, Robert N
Robertson, George (Hamilton) Watson, Mike
Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW) Welsh, Andrew
Roche, Mrs Barbara Wicks, Malcolm
Rogers, Allan Wigley, Dafydd
Rooker, Jeff Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Rooney, Terry Williams, Alan W. (Carmarthen)
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Wilson, Brian
Ross, William (E Londonderry) Winnick, David
Rowlands, Ted Wise, Audrey
Ruddock, Joan Worthington, Tony
Salmond, Alex Wray, Jimmy
Sedgemore, Brian Wright, Dr Tony
Sheerman, Barry Young, David (Bolton SE)
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Shore, Rt Hon Peter Tellers for the Ayes:
Short, Clare Mr. John Cummings and
Ms Ann Coffey.
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Bonsor, Sir Nicholas
Aitken, Rt Hon Jonathan Booth, Hartley
Alexander, Richard Boswell, Tim
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia
Amess, David Bowden, Sir Andrew
Ancram, Michael Bowis, John
Arbuthnot, James Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Brandreth, Gyles
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Brazier, Julian
Ashby, David Bright, Sir Graham
Aspinwall, Jack Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Atkins, Rt Hon Robert Brown, M (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E) Browning, Mrs Angela
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Bruce, Ian (Dorset)
Baker, Rt Hon Kenneth (Mole V) Budgen, Nicholas
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset) Burns, Simon
Baldry, Tony Burt, Alistair
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Butcher, John
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Butler, Peter
Batiste, Spencer Butterfill, John
Bellingham, Henry Carlisle, John (Luton North)
Bendall, Vivian Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Lincoln)
Beresford, Sir Paul Carrington, Matthew
Biffen, Rt Hon John Carttiss, Michael
Body, Sir Richard Cash, William
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Hawkins, Nick
Chapman, Sir Sydney Hawksley, Warren
Churchill, Mr Hayes, Jerry
Clappison, James Heald, Oliver
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Heath, Rt Hon Sir Edward
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ru'clif) Heathcoat-Amory, David
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Hendry, Charles
Congdon, David Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Conway, Derek Hicks, Robert
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st) Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Hill, James (Southampton Test)
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)
Cormack, Sir Patrick Horam, John
Couchman, James Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Cran, James Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire) Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon) Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk)
Davies, Quentin (Stamford) Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W)
Davis, David (Boothferry) Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)
Day, Stephen Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Deva, Nirj Joseph Hunter, Andrew
Devlin, Tim Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Dicks, Terry Jack, Michael
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen Jackson, Robert (Wastage)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Jenkin, Bernard
Dover, Den Jessel, Toby
Duncan, Alan Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Duncan-Smith, Iain Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Dunn, Bob Jones, Robert B (W Hertfdshr)
Durant, Sir Anthony Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Dykes, Hugh Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Eggar, Rt Hon Tim Key, Robert
Elletson, Harold King, Rt Hon Tom
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Kirkhope, Timothy
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield) Knapman, Roger
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon) Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)
Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley) Knight, Rt Hon Greg (Derby N)
Evans, Roger (Monmouth) Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)
Evennett, David Knox, Sir David
Faber, David Kynoch, George (Kincardine)
Fabricant, Michael Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Fenner, Dame Peggy Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Lang, Rt Hon Ian
Fishburn, Dudley Lawrence, Sir Ivan
Forman, Nigel Legg, Barry
Forsyth, Rt Hon Michael (Stirling) Leigh, Edward
Forth, Eric Lester, Sir James (Broxtowe)
Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring) Lidington, David
Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley) Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Freeman, Rt Hon Roger Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
French, Douglas Lord, Michael
Gale, Roger Luff, Peter
Gallie, Phil Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Gardiner, Sir George MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan MacKay, Andrew
Garnier, Edward Maclean, Rt Hon David
Gill, Christopher McLoughlin, Patrick
Gillan, Cheryl McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair Madel, Sir David
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Maitland, Lady Olga
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Major, Rt Hon John
Gorst, Sir John Malone, Gerald
Grant, Sir A (SW Cambs) Mans, Keith
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Marland, Paul
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Marlow, Tony
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N) Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Grylls, Sir Michael Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn Mates, Michael
Hague, Rt Hon William Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archibald Mellor, Rt Hon David
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Merchant, Piers
Hampson, Dr Keith Mills, Iain
Hanley, Rt Hon Jeremy Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Hannam, Sir John Mitchell, Sir David (NW Hants)
Hargreaves, Andrew Moate, Sir Roger
Harris, David Monro, Rt Hon Sir Hector
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Spring, Richard
Moss, Malcolm Sproat, Iain
Needham, Fit Hon Richard Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Neubert, Sir Michael Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Steen, Anthony
Nicholls, Patrick Stephen, Michael
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Stern, Michael
Norris, Steve Streeter, Gary
Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley Sumberg, David
Oppenheim, Phillip Sweeney, Walter
Ottaway, Richard Sykes, John
Page, Richard Tapsell, Sir Peter
Paice, James Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Patnick, Sir Irvine Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Patten, Rt Hon John Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Temple-Morris, Peter
Pawsey, James Thomason, Roy
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Pickles, Eric Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Porter, Barry (Wirral S) Thornton, Sir Malcolm
Porter, David (Waveney) Thurnham, Peter
Portillo, Rt Hon Michael Townend, John (Bridlington)
Powell, William (Corby) Tracey, Richard
Rathbone, Tim Tredinnick, David
Redwood, Rt Hon John Trend, Michael
Renton, Rt Hon Tim Trotter, Neville
Richards, Rod Twinn, Dr Ian
Riddidk, Graham Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm Viggers, Peter
Robathan, Andrew Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn Walden, George
Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S) Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Robinson, Mark (Somerton) Waller, Gary
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne) Ward, John
Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent) Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela Waterson, Nigel
Ryder, Rt Hon Richard Watts, John
Sackville, Tom Wells, Bowen
Sainsbury, Rt Hon Sir Timothy Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
Scott, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Whitney, Ray
Shaw, David (Dover) Whittingdale, John
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey) Widdecombe, Ann
Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Shepherd, Sir Colin (Hereford) Wilkinson, John
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge) Willetts, David
Shersby, Sir Michael Wilshire, David
Sims, Roger Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Skeet, Sir Trevor Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'fld)
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick) Wolfson, Mark
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Yeo, Tim
Soames, Nicholas Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Spencer, Sir Derek
Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset) Tellers for the Noes:
Spicer, Sir Michael (S Worcs) Mr. Timothy Wood and
Spink, Dr Robert Mr. Michael Bates.

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 30 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.

MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved, That this House congratulates the BBC World Service on its international reputation for objective news and comment and records its appreciation of the valuable contribution it makes to promoting respect and good will for Britain; expresses its welcome for the 50 per cent. growth in real terms of its resources since 1979 as well as the significant increase in foreign language broadcasts over the same period; and shares Her Majesty's Government's determination to ensure that the World Service will continue to enjoy unrivalled success.