HC Deb 10 March 1998 vol 308 cc299-300
1. Mr. Cranston

What assessment his Department has made of the role of the BBC World Service in raising the UK's profile in British export markets. [31794]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Derek Fatchett)

The BBC World Service raises the UK's profile in British export markets in two ways. A survey of British business leaders has shown that, through its role as the most trusted international broadcaster, the World Service helps to create a climate favourable to British trade. In addition, the World Service enhances the UK's profile with its reports on the latest developments in science, industry and commerce and presents a picture of Britain attractive to international business.

Mr. Cranston

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply, which acknowledges that the BBC World Service is a real asset on the world stage for this country. My hon. Friend is aware that the BBC World Service is now operating in an environment in which competitors are bringing on the internet and using television and modern forms of radio broadcasting such as FM and digital. Will he lend his support to the strategy of the BBC World Service to meet the challenge from those competitors by using on-line television and modern forms of radio broadcasting?

Mr. Fatchett

I agree with my hon. Friend in his comments about the value of the BBC World Service. It is now broadcasting in 44 languages and reaches more than 140 million people throughout the world. Its reputation is well established. My hon. Friend raises a number of important points about the development of the service. The chief executive had a recent meeting with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and will have a further meeting with my noble Friend Baroness Symons to discuss the future. All the issues to which my hon. Friend referred will be taken into account in those discussions.

Dr. Julian Lewis

Is the Minister aware that to remain competitive in the new environment, the BBC World Service believes that it needs a very modest cash injection spread over four years? Is there any hope of that injection being given?

Mr. Fatchett

I realise that the hon. Gentleman was not a Member of Parliament under the previous Government, but he will know what happened to the BBC World Service under them. It was constantly subjected to cuts by the Conservative Government and during that period morale fell considerably. The hon. Gentleman will be delighted to know that morale has now increased. There is a good relationship between the Government and the World Service and funding will continue to be discussed with it. No announcements will be made without the World Service's knowledge.

Mr. Howard

Is not short-wave transmission of the BBC World Service to China jammed? Is that not a vivid manifestation of China's attitude to human rights? Is it not an utter disgrace that, next month at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, for the first time in 10 years, the United Kingdom Government will not support a resolution to draw attention to China's record on human rights?

Mr. Fatchett

I am delighted to hear the right hon. and learned Gentleman taking up human rights. When the Government have made a stance on this issue on other occasions, he has been critical. We are always pleased to see a convert on these issues. The United Kingdom, under the Labour Government, has entered into a constructive dialogue with China on human rights. Mary Robinson, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, will visit China. That was announced during the visit of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. We have a record on dialogue with China on human rights of which we can be proud and we shall continue to play a constructive role.