HC Deb 23 July 2002 vol 389 cc844-5
15. Mr. Fabian Hamilton (Leeds, North-East)

If he will make a statement on the effectiveness of the BBC World Service. [69591]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Denis MacShane)

The BBC World Service is a vitally important asset for Britain. We want it to remain the best known and most respected voice in international broadcasting. That is why, last week, we announced an uplift of £48 million in funding for it over the next three years.

Mr. Hamilton

I am sure that my hon. Friend and the whole House agree that that is a tremendous boost for the BBC World Service. Does he agree that it played a crucial part in the recent war in Afghanistan and that it is the main source of communication among many Afghans, who listen to the World Service before any other station? Does he also agree that the Persian service has played, and continues to play, a crucial role in Iran in supporting the reformist elements of President Khatami? For example, in January 2001, 287,000 people contacted the Persian language website, but the figure had increased to 2.4 million by last month.

Mr. MacShane

I fear that my hon. Friend has answered his own question. He is right. An increase in services using regional languages—Persian, Pashtun, Urdu, Hindi, Arabic and central Asian languages—has been provided by the World Service.

I refer to another part of the world where the World Service has performed marvels: it has doubled its audience in the United States. I know that Mr. Alan Greenspan, the chairman of the Fed, listens to the World Service. People all over America download from the World Service's internet web service accurate, impartial and non-propagandist news.