HL Deb 25 November 1969 vol 305 cc1204-8

3.47 p.m.


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to repeat a Statement which is being made in another place by my right honourable friend, the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications, about the development of local radio. It is as follows:

"I have authorised the B.B.C. to establish local radio stations at: Birmingham, Blackburn, Bristol, Chatham (to serve the Medway towns), Derby, Hull (to serve Humberside), London, Manchester, Middlesbrough (to serve Teesside), Newcastle (to serve Tyneside), Oxford and Southampton (to serve the area surrounding the Solent).

"The B.B.C. estimate that the 12 new stations, together with the eight already in existence, will by 1971, have brought about 70 per cent. of the population of England within the range of local radio.

"As the House knows, 20 more stations, including stations in Scotland and Wales, bringing the total to 40, will follow over the subsequent four years. Locations for these stations have not yet been chosen, but I will inform the House as soon as I decide on the next stage in this development.

"The service will, like other operations of the B.B.C., be financed essentially from the licence income, the net increase of which from April, 1971, will enable the B.B.C. to meet this and its further commitments."


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Baroness for repeating this Statement. She will realise that the main difference between my noble friends and myself and those who sit on her side of the House is not whether these local stations should be authorised, or the rate at which they are authorised, but how they should be financed. If these local stations were to be financed commercially from advertising revenue I should welcome the Statement. Is the noble Baroness quite satisfied that her right honourable friend and the B.B.C. have their priorities right in authorising further expenditure from the licence revenue for the benefit of limited local audiences, in view of the present financial difficulties of the B.B.C. and the economies they are having to make affecting national programmes?


My Lords, nobody pretends that this is an easy situation or that revenue is ever adequate for anything. Nevertheless, I am sure that the plans the B.B.C. have made have been extremely thoughtful. With the additional £3½ million we hope to gain in the next few years from the prevention of licence evasion, I think there will be very much more money available. Furthermore, the Government have always taken the view that local radio would not be served adequately by commercial interests and that it would be much better done by the B.B.C.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement. My friends on the Liberal Benches and myself very much welcome the progress in this direction, but we wonder whether quite enough deliberation has gone into it, and we tend to ask ourselves, if not the noble Baroness, whether there is not a little undue hurry in place of the intransigence of the Conservative Party on this matter. There are a couple of questions I should like to ask the noble Baroness. First of all, are the Corporation, and therefore the Minister, happy that there are enough really able and gifted personnel to operate these stations? Because it is a matter for great skill. It very much depends on having really good people to do that. Secondly, we should like to ask whether the Government have considered fully the possibility of providing some of the revenue through advertising but advertising run according to the Pilkington suggestions, advertising gathered from a different body from that which makes the programmes for local radio. I should like to distinguish this sharply from the kind of commercial money-raising for payment for these local stations which the Conservative Party favours.


My Lords, I should not like to intervene in the private fight which the noble Lord is conducting with his Conservative friends, but I can definitely assure him that the kind of personnel available will fulfil everything that one wishes of them. The existing local radio stations have been a tremendous success; and they have been a success, as noble Lords will know, especially with young people. I think that we can look forward to a continuation of that standard. The second point that the noble Lord raised is an issue of major policy and I think it would not be correct to comment on it at this stage beyond saying that the Government have, of course, taken it into account.


My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Statement does not seem to be very fair to Scotland? The noble Baroness read out a whole list of places and said that Scotland was far down in the queue. Surely Scotland is entitled to a fair share of the deficiency of the B.B.C.


My Lords, the present reorganisation is for England, which contains four different regions. Scotland, Wales and Ireland are out of it for the moment. They will be included subsequently, I hope towards the end of the four-year period.


My Lords, is my noble friend able to explain why Cambridge has been so obviously slighted?


My Lords, I am quite unable to comment on individual towns, as I am sure the House will agree.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Baroness for this Statement I am very sorry that it contains nothing that can give us any idea as to whether these stations will be merely, as it were, booster stations for London or whether they will have their own individual programmes and programme makers. I do not know whether the noble Baroness is aware that there is a very strong feeling, not only among the public but inside the B.B.C. staffs as well, that these changes should not do away with the—shall I say?—personality of the local stations.


My Lords, I can reassure the noble Lord. The whole point of these stations is to give a more local flavour to local broadcasting. In fact, that is what it is all about.


My Lords, can the noble Baroness tell me whether the Scots are going to be asked to pay increased licence fees to supply the English with these stations; or whether the Scots are going to pay a lower fee until such time as they get stations of their own?


My Lords, I am sure we can rely on the Scots to deal with that point.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that some of us regret the introduction of this note of racial discrimination into this matter? Having regard to criticisms which have been made, will she take it from me that there is very warm appreciation on the part of many of us on this side of the House of the wise and sensible step that the Government have taken?


My Lords, is it correct to understand from one of the answers given by the noble Baroness that the B.B.C. are depending entirely for the extra finance required for these stations on the "pick-up" that they are going to receive through checking present evasion of licence fees?


No, my Lords, that was not what I intended to convey; it was simply that there would be rather more money as a result of these efforts than there has been in the past.