HL Deb 31 July 1980 vol 412 cc1040-3

3.14 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 what discussions they have had with the BBC regarding changes in the transmission of the World Service which would seriously prejudice reception in the United Kingdom.

The LORD CHANCELLOR (Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone)

My Lords, discussions have taken place at a technical level between the BBC and Foreign and Commonwealth Office engineers on the replacement of the outdated transmitter at Crowborough with a new high-powered medium frequency transmitter at Orfordness. The purpose of the new installation is to improve the audibility of BBC External Services broadcasts in Western Europe.


My Lords, while thanking the noble and learned Lord for that Answer, may I ask whether he is aware that a large and discriminating audience within the United Kingdom regard this service as the very best of the BBC broadcasts and resent their exclusion? Can he comment on the rumour that the main reason for having beamed broadcasts is not so much technical as to save money on artistes fees? Finally, will he use his good offices to persuade the BBC to moderate its indecent haste and wait until public reaction to these changes is properly understood?


My Lords, I appreciate the tribute of the audience in this country to the overseas broadcasting services in English because I am one of the discriminating audience to which the noble Lord referred as, I imagine, are a number of other people in this House. I cannot comment on rumours, but I must point out to the noble Lord, whose enjoyment of the service I share, that the purpose of the external broadcasts is to broadcast externally. If, in fact, we were talking about the domestic services of the BBC, I do not think that it would be me answering the Question this afternoon, because those services are differently funded.

The Earl of SELKIRK

My Lords, should like to ask whether the proposals that are being made about Orfordness mean that the World Service will be heard in the North of England and in Scotland in future, particularly as we, I believe, pay for this. Moreover, is it not right that the best broadcasting news service should be available to everybody in this country?


My Lords, I can only endorse what my noble friend says about the best broadcasting news service, but the domestic services of the BBC are a matter for the BBC. This afternoon we are talking about the external services for which the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is responsible. I cannot say what will be the audibility of the Orfordness transmitter—I am told I cannot, at any rate— until it is put up and tried out. There will be a degree of audibility in this country, but it is still part of the external services.


My Lords, has my noble and learned friend observed that, when medium wave broadcasting stations are put up and their ranges are forecast, they are invariably very much greater in reality than they are forecast to be? Therefore, is it not likely that the Orfordness transmitter will be much more widely heard than is at present forecast? That has certainly occurred with local government medium wave broadcasts which now cover a very wide range and have very large audiences in those areas.


My Lords, my noble friend knows so much more about this than I do. I only hope that he turns out to be right, because I should hate to be deprived of this service. There is a limiting factor which I should have mentioned in my reply to the noble Lord, Lord Whaddon. I think that there is a limitation based on the necessity under which the BBC is constrained not to interfere with the legitimate 463 metre band which some other countries use legitimately under international arrangements.


My Lords, while agreeing with the noble and learned Lord that we shall be sadly deprived if we cannot listen to this service, does he agree that the overriding importance is that the World Service should be heard all over the world? We urge the Foreign Office not to make economies in this direction. When every other country is stepping up this kind of service we should continue to step up ours even more than we have up to now.


My Lords, I think that I agree with the noble Baroness, but I may be making a mistake about this because I am not operating on my own wavelength this afternoon! But I think that the Orfordness transmitter is designed primarily for Western Europe. I agree that the World Services are more widely intended.


My Lords, is it not highly desirable that the people of this country should be able to continue to remind themselves, by switching on their radio—as they can now—that the BBC, on their behalf, is doing this wonderful service to the world by broadcasting the truth about what is happening in this troubled world?


My Lords, I am sure that this is desirable, but, speaking from where I stand, I can only repeat that the External Services are financed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for the purposes of our overall external services. I myself derive enormous advantages from listening to the External Services on more than one wave length. I regard it as very highly desirable that people should be able to do so, but I do not think that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office could be asked to provide that very valuable by-product.