HL Deb 18 December 1979 vol 403 cc1535-7

2.57 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in view of the desire of Francophone Africa to increase its links with this country, it is intended to cut the French Service shortwave transmissions of the BBC; and whether, in view of the links these broadcasts provide with Anglophone Africa, they will increase this "projection" of this country over the air.


No, my Lords. As my honourable friend Mr. Blaker said in another place on 13th November, at column 1252, in 1980–81 there will be no cuts in any of the vernacular transmissions of the BBC external services.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply, but I did ask him whether there would be an increase in the French short-wave broadcasts to West Africa, for the reasons given in the Question. May I ask whether he does not feel that in the context of the Economic Community of the West African States (ECOWAS) more should be done towards getting a better understanding and better relations between Francophone and Anglophone Africa? Furthermore, on the question of the development of that area on a regional basis and bearing in mind the cultural aspects, have not the BBC a very important role to play in bringing together the Anglophone and Francophone countries and helping them to co-operate to a greater extent?


My Lords, I am afraid I cannot foresee any increase in the services broadcast to that part of the world. I must say that we believe that the present services are very satisfactory.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he agrees that a number of Francophone countries in Africa are very anxious indeed to diversify their cultural and commercial connections, especially with the United Kingdom, and that there is a strong argument for not only maintaining the present level of external services to those countries, including Western Africa, as we have heard, but also, even in these difficult times, finding some resources to increase them?


My Lords, certainly agree about the importance of these services but I am afraid that, with the present constraints upon our resources in that area, I cannot foresee any increase. However, I certainly agree about their importance.

Viscount ECCLES

My Lords, further to what the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, said, may I ask the Minister: is not the most interesting thing at the moment the way in which the inhabitants of the ex-French colonies now want to learn English? Would it not be worth while to see whether the British Council and the BBC could increase the possibilities for people of learning English in those parts of Africa?


My Lords, my noble friend is quite right. As your Lordships will know, we are having a debate tomorrow evening about the British Council, and my noble friend might like to put his point during that debate.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the House, in my opinion at any rate, would prefer to find these categories described as "English-speaking" and "French-speaking"?


My Lords, may I ask one further question of my noble friend? He said that the external services were very satisfactory. They are indeed, but they do need extending. As Mr. Nicholas Ridley, the Minister of State, said in another place on 13th November (at col. 1286 of the Official Report) that the Government are greatly increasing the money provided for external services, would my noble friend not feel that in effect a certain priority should be given to increasing the money spent on services to that part of Africa?


My Lords, the additional funds referred to by my noble friend and mentioned by my honourable friend Mr. Blaker in another place will be used to improve the audibility of the BBC external services. There is no plan to extend the vernacular services.


My Lords, further to what the noble Lord has said—this is a most important point—would he not agree that it is most important that the BBC should be heard in China? Is the noble Lord aware that it is inaudible in Peking and indeed anywhere North of Canton? Could he not arrange for the Singapore relay system to be stepped up?


My Lords, I will take a careful note of what the noble Baroness has said, look into the matter and let her know what is being done.