HL Deb 11 March 1981 vol 418 cc280-2

2.48 p.m.

Lord Morris

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 plans there are for any increase of broadcasting time by the BBC External Service, and in what languages.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, from the end of March the BBC External Service's broadcasts in Russian will be increased by 30 minutes a day to a total of 45 hours a week, and their broadcasts in Turkish by 30 minutes a day to 10½ hours a week. A new daily 15-minute service in Pushtu will be introduced during the summer.

Lord Morris

My Lords, I thank my noble friend most warmly for that Answer. Is he aware that there are many who will be most grateful and admiring of Her Majesty's Government's initiative in this area? Furthermore, may I ask my noble friend whether he is aware of the effect that the cut of £6.2 million over the current year and next year in the capital costs of the BBC External Service has on the quality and on the audibility of broadcasting throughout the ambit of their broadcasts?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, we attach the utmost importance to the audibility of the BBC external broadcasts and feel that although, of course, they have been subject to cuts, which are common across the board at the moment, they have done extremely well. To improve their audibility satellite feeds to the relay stations in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East are being introduced, and four new transmitters are planned to be in service by mid-1982. A powerful new medium-wave transmitter will start broadcasting from Orford Ness in Suffolk in early 1982, and the BBC have eight new transmitters ordered for a planned new broadcasting station in the United Kingdom.

Lord Goronwy-Roberts

My Lords, while welcoming what the Minister has said about improving these services in the three countries he named—particularly if I may say so, the increased broadcasting to Turkey at the present time—may I ask him whether it is not also the fact that during the same period some very heavy cuts have been made in other parts of the world? Would he not agree that any further investment in this excellent service can only strengthen our diplomacy, improve our commerce and generally strengthen the influence of Britain in the world as a whole?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I agree entirely with the sentiments which the noble Lord has expressed. At the moment I am lead to understand that no cuts have been made, but my honourable friend Mr. Ridley is in consultation at present.

The Earl of Kimberley

My Lords, my noble friend said that the broadcasts in Russian will be increased by 30 minutes. Can he say whether, prior to that, in the past few months they had been cut by 30 minutes, or will the 30 minutes be a complete increase?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, my understanding is that the 30 minutes is a complete increase. Last summer the Russians began jamming the BBC Russian broadcasts and they were then increased by a further four hours a week to help counter that.

Viscount Eccles

My Lords, while welcoming the increases in the broadcasts that my noble friend has announced, may I ask whether he can give an assurance that the BBC's broadcasts in English will not be reduced? I have just come from South America and the need for English news which can be depended upon is much greater now than it was even a year or two ago.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, the Government have never had any plans to reduce the World Service in English.