HC Deb 01 July 1996 vol 280 cc566-70

'.—(1) The Secretary of State may by order provide for the Commission to include in any multiplex licence granted in respect of one frequency to which section 26 applies such conditions relating to the broadcasting of programmes in Gaelic for reception wholly or mainly in Scotland as may be specified in, or determined by them under, the order.

(2) The Secretary of State may by order require the holder of a multiplex licence ("the holder"), in complying with any such conditions, to broadcast programmes in Gaelic supplied by each of the persons mentioned in subsection (4) ("the suppliers") amounting to such minimum number of hours (if any) of transmission time per year as may be specified in the order in relation to that supplier.

(3) For the purpose of enabling the holder to comply with any such conditions and any obligation imposed by virtue of subsection (2), it shall be the duty of each supplier to provide the holder, free of charge, with such programmes in Gaelic which have been broadcast by the supplier as the holder may request.

(4) The suppliers are—

  1. (a) the BBC,
  2. (b) the Channel Four Television Corporation,
  3. (c) any holder of a Channel 3 licence to provide a regional Channel 3 service (within the meaning of Part I of the 1990 Act) for reception wholly in Scotland, and
  4. (d) such other persons providing television broadcasting services as may be specified by order by the Secretary of State.

(5) Subsection (3) shall not apply in relation to any programme first broadcast by the supplier concerned—

  1. (a) before I January 1993, or
  2. (b) in the period beginning on 1 January 1993 and ending on 31 March 1997, if the supplier has no right to broadcast it again or has such a right but is not entitled to transfer it to the holder.

(6) The holder may broadcast any programme supplied by virtue of subsection (3) on one occasion only.

(7) The holder shall consult Comataidh Craolaidh Gaidhlig and the suppliers about—

  1. (a) the quantity of programmes likely to be requested by the holder from each supplier by virtue of subsection (3), and
  2. (b) the schedules proposed for the broadcast by the holder of programmes supplied by virtue of that subsection.

and shall have regard to any comments made as a result of such consultation.

(8) Any order under this section shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.

(9) In this section "Gaelic" means the Gaelic language as spoken in Scotland.'.—[Mr. Sproat.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Sproat

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

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Geoffrey Lofthouse)

With this, it will be convenient to discuss also new clause 39—Financing of programmes in Gaelic out of Gaelic Television Fund'(1) Section 183 of the 1990 Act (financing of television programmes in Gaelic out of Gaelic Broadcasting Fund) is amended as mentioned in subsections (2) and (3). (2) In subsection (6) there is inserted after the second 'Committee', "for broadcast on an analogue service". (3) After subsection (6) there is inserted:— (6A) The Committee shall seek to coordinate the provision of Gaelic television programmes broadcast in Scotland using digital capacity on a multiplex service; and may do this by applying for a digital additional service licence under section 22 of the Broadcasting Act 1996, either:

  1. (a) on its own, or
  2. (b) in association with other interested bodies.".'.

Mr. Sproat

The new clause will increase the amount of Gaelic television programmes broadcast at peak time in Scotland. As I stated in Committee, the Government intend to place an obligation on the ITC to ensure that the operator of the third digital multiplex service includes in Scotland a minimum of half an hour of Gaelic programmes in peak time every day as part of its service. The clause also places an obligation on existing broadcasters of Gaelic programmes to make available free of charge Gaelic programmes that they have previously broadcast for retransmission as part of the digital multiplex service.

I must make clear that the Government intend that any additional costs should be met entirely by the broadcasters and not by the Gaelic Television Committee. To this end, we will be asking the ITC to monitor the costs of committee-funded programmes closely to ensure that the broadcasters do not pass on additional costs to the committee. Taken together, the new measures will significantly increase the amount of Gaelic programming available at peak times in Scotland, and I hope that they will be warmly welcomed by the Gaelic-speaking community.

4.15 pm
Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

I welcome the measure contained in new clause 26, which will help to put in place the mechanism to allow the proposed half hour of Gaelic programmes to be broadcast on one of the new digital.multiplexes. While the measure is broadly acceptable, will the Minister clarify what he understands to be the purpose and effect of subsection (4)(d)? If the Gaelic Television Committee were to become a broadcaster in its own right, will that subsection enable it to provide programmes directly to the multiplex holder?

I commend to the Minister and to the House new clause 39, standing in my name and that of the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Dr. Moonie). The Gaelic Televison Committee welcomed the Government's announcement in Committee on 9 May that a minimum of half an hour per day would be allocated for Gaelic broadcasts on one of the new digital terrestrial channels. This has been seen as a definite step in the right direction, but there is concern that the committee will still be unable to operate as a broadcaster. The Gaelic Television Committee may still be held to ransom by broadcasters to subsidise what they decide are the Gaelic programmes that they ought to put out.

There may be some conflict of interest between the 68,000 Gaelic speakers, to whom the Minister referred, and the wider community that has been targeted by the makers of Gaelic programmes—with some considerable success—in Scotland. The Gaelic Television Committee is anxious that the interests of the Gaels should not be overlooked.

Mr. Dafis

Does the hon. Gentleman look forward to the day when similar provision as is made for Gaelic speakers in Scotland and Welsh speakers in Wales is made for speakers of the Irish language in Northern Ireland? Would he welcome the establishment of an Irish language television fund or committee that could provide programmes to be shown on the new Irish language television channel, Teilifis Na Gaelige, emanating from the Irish Republic?

Mr. Maclennan

I should be interested to see such a development if it stemmed from Northern Ireland. Most British Governments would be interested to hear such proposals, but it is not for me to put Erse words into the mouths of broadcasters in Northern Ireland. I accept what the hon. Gentleman says about that interesting possible development.

I am anxious to ensure that the most cost-effective means of providing Gaelic services on the third multiplex is achieved. I believe that it could be, if provision were made for the committee to co-ordinate the feed of Gaelic programming into the third digital multiplex and for that committee or its agent to be licensed by the Independent Television Commission to provide the programme service to the multiplex operator. That is the purpose behind new clause 39.

There is concern that there is an imbalance between the power of the broadcasters and the duty of the committee, which is essentially a funder—in some cases, funding up to 100 per cent.—and is operating without a great deal of influence over the content of the programmes that it is funding. That situation requires statutory rectification. I hope that the Government will look with favour on that proposal.

The Gaelic Television Committee is a representative body and it has shown considerable expertise. It would discharge the role of broadcaster well. It would be in line with what would seem to be the Government's intentions—stepping up the provision of Gaelic—if they accepted the new clause.

Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries)

As one of the instigators of the early-day motion that was signed by a large number of right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House suggesting that we give additional support to the Gaelic Television Committee, I think that the Government have reacted, bearing in mind what a success Gaelic broadcasting has been. I have visited the studio in Stornoway and met those involved. There has been warm acceptance throughout Scotland of the number of hours of Gaelic television shown. Indeed, a great many people who cannot speak Gaelic enjoy watching the programmes with subtitles. I am glad about the Government's reaction, and I welcome the new clause.

Mr. Sproat

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) for the tremendous work he did when he was at the Scottish Office to ensure that there was such an increase in Gaelic broadcasting. I am sure that the Gaelic-speaking community will be grateful to him for all he did.

I thank the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) for his explanation of his new clause. He wants to create out of the Gaelic Television Committee a body quite different from that set up under the Broadcasting Act 1990. As I explained in Committee, the statutory powers of the Gaelic Television Committee are confined to the payment of grants. It is exercising those powers to good effect, as shown by its figures for the number of hours of Gaelic programmes being transmitted.

The committee's structure, which was devised to take into account the scale of the Gaelic-speaking community and the nature of the broadcasting industry, remains valid at this stage in the evolution from the analogue to the digital age. Moreover, the Government have provided for the multiplex provider to consult the committee on the nature and scheduling of the programmes to be broadcast.

In response to the question of the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland, I emphasise, however, that I do not see a role for that committee as a broadcaster. It is a grant-giving and advisory body, and it is not our intention that it should be a broadcaster. Potential applicants for the third digital multiplex—

Mr. Calum Macdonald (Western Isles)

The Minister will know that the intention is to open up the supply of programmes into the digital field. Can he clarify subsection (4)(d) of new clause 26, and say whether the Gaelic Television Committee could be one of the suppliers mentioned in that subsection, because that would go a long way to meeting the concerns of the committee about being able to provide a supply of programmes when the digital field comes on stream?

Mr. Sproat

No, I cannot give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. That is what I was trying to tell the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland. The Gaelic Television Committee is an extremely important body, both in the grants and advice that it gives and the part it has played in the success of increasing the number of Gaelic programmes in Scotland. Indeed, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries said, many people who do not speak Gaelic enjoy watching the programmes with subtitles.

Having said that, I must add that we do not envisage an expansion of the role of the Gaelic Television Committee into the kind of supplier referred to by the hon. Gentleman. I emphasise, however, that the extra 30 minutes each day in peak time in Scotland, and the free giving of programmes that have already been transmitted by the BBC, STV or Grampian, constitute a major increase for the Gaelic-speaking community. For the moment, we are leaving it there.

Mr. Macdonald

Who are the other persons providing television broadcasting services mentioned in subsection (4)(d)? Does that specifically rule out the Gaelic Television Committee, or does it leave open a question that might be decided at a future stage?

Mr. Sproat

The persons referred to in the subsection are any other persons that the multiplex operator decides should provide services. It could mean Channel 5, or it could be a group that the committee helped to put together. There is no reason why that should not happen, but the committee itself cannot be a broadcaster in the strict and proper sense of the term.

Potential applicants for the digital multiplex can expect the Independent Television Commission to give careful consideration to their proposals for consulting the Gaelic community in general, and the Gaelic Television Committee in particular. I hope that I have convinced the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland that he should not press new clause 39.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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