HL Deb 05 February 1986 vol 470 cc1136-8

2.57 p.m.

Lord Gridley

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether the British Broadcasting Corporation plans to operate a satellite television World Service, and if so when is the earliest date of transmission proposed.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Young)

My Lords, the BBC has established a working party to study the cost, contractual feasibility, and potential market for an external broadcasting service in vision. I understand that they will be reporting shortly. We shall consider carefully any proposals which they may put to us.

Lord Gridley

My Lords, while thanking my noble friend the Minister for that Answer, may I ask her whether the people who are concerned in this matter have considered whether, in the event of a television World Service, it would affect the reputation for impartiality gained by overseas radio broadcasts, which is much appreciated throughout various areas of the world?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I am glad to agree with what my noble friend has said in his tribute to the BBC external broadcasts. His original point, of course, is one of the matters which no doubt will be looked at in consideration of the report that has recently been received.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, the Government have announced that this service presents a formidable funding and technical problem. Can the noble Baroness give the House some idea of the magnitude of the cost?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I think it would be very difficult to answer the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, because it is too early to say how any proposal which might be made for a television service could be funded.

Lord Thorneycroft

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the British telecommunications industry is technically right out in front in the techniques associated with DBS broadcasting? Although I agree that there are all these problems of funding, does she accept that if anything can be done to accelerate matters it would be of immense advantage to the telecommunications industry in this country?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I note very much what my noble friend has to say about the importance of the telecommunications industry and the fact that it is in the forefront of development. I assure him that the proposals made by the BBC will be studied carefully, bearing in mind the point that he has made. The IBA has recently presented a report to my right honourable friend the Home Secretary on possible options for a United Kingdom DBS service, and those are currently being studied by the relevant departments, too.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, can we take it that in order to secure maximum economy there will be complete collaboration with the independent broadcasting organisations with a view to their sharing the satellite facility?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I note what the noble Lord says. I am sure that that is one of the matters that needs to be considered carefully.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, can the noble Baroness say at this stage whether the BBC's plans anticipate its independent use of a satellite, or whether it intends to rent part of the services of an existing satellite? That will have a most profound bearing on the eventual capital cost of the operation.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I take the point that the noble Lord has made, which is an important one. I have no doubt that that is one of the matters that will be considered by the working party that is looking at the future possible service.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, may I echo what I think the noble Lord, Lord Gridley, said in his supplementary question: may we have an assurance from the Government that the expenditure will in no way impair the amount of money spent on sound broadcasting, which reaches far more people in the third world than television broadcasting ever could, and which is already under-funded?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I am glad to confirm to the noble Lord the importance that we attach to the BBC External Services. We recognise their value throughout the world.

As he will be aware, the external services have a grant-in-aid of £92 million for 1985–86. That is a sum which has been fixed for the next two years. But, as I said in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, it is too early to say anything about funding for any satellite television service proposals.

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