HL Deb 24 July 1986 vol 479 cc380-2

3.14 p.m.

Lord Monson

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 why they have decided to abandon the community radio scheme after nine months of preparation, and whether they will compensate the 266 applicants for the time and effort expended and costs incurred.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Glenarthur)

My Lords, it proved impossible within the present statutory framework to devise satisfactory arrangements for supervising the experiment which both provided safeguards for the public and at the same time did not involve the Government in controlling the content of broadcasts. We concluded that it would be better to reconsider community radio as part of radio policy generally in the Green Paper to be published this autumn. As to compensation, applicants were asked not to incur the expense of elaborate applications; but we shall want to reflect on the views expressed.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord the Minister for that reply. Does he agree that the Home Office must have been fully aware of all the possible snags long before groups were invited to submit applications last autumn? Is he aware that many if not most of the applications were supported by individuals and organisations of the highest integrity and respectability, including the police, local clergymen of various denominations, hospitals, charitable organisations, and so on? Finally, does he further agree that none of the thousands of individuals who comprise the groups which made applications would have gone to the trouble of expending so much time, energy and money if they had imagined for one moment that their applications would automatically be consigned to the dustbin?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, every effort was made to resolve the difficulties of mounting a sensible and continuing experiment within the present legal framework, but we concluded that it would not be right to keep applicants hanging on any longer—hence the announcement made by my right honourable friend. Certainly we recognised that many applicants had worked hard on their applications and we regret the disappointment caused by our decision not to proceed. The applications have shown that there is enthusiastic and constructive support for community radio, and we very much hope that it will prove possible to devise suitable arrangements for its development in the future.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, is the noble Lord the Minister aware that that Answer in regard to compensation for the applicants is really not good enough? Is he further aware that many of these applicants are people of very limited means and organisations with very limited funds? Having misled them into doing all this work, or even having decided quite honourably not to continue with community radio, are the Government not really responsible for the costs that these people have needlessly incurred?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I shall not accept from the noble Lord that the Government have misled anybody. As I said in my original Answer, the guidance notes issued to all applicants made it clear that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary did not want people to incur the expense of elaborate applications. At a recent meeting with my honourable friend the Minister of State, representatives of the Community Radio Association undertook to send him details of the costs incurred by some of their members, and we shall want to reflect on what they, the noble Lord and indeed others have said on how the question of compensation can be taken forward.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the country is covered by a fairly comprehensive network of independent radio stations which are serving local communities very well and which are financed entirely by private, mostly local, money? Is he further aware that any introduction of a scheme that would further divide the limited revenue which can be raised locally will probably destroy the whole structure of local radio and that most of these local radio stations, many of which are not making a profit at all, heaved a sigh of relief at the Government's decision?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I think that the remarks of my noble friend point all the more to the need for a Green Paper to cover the whole subject of radio.

Lord Mulley

My Lords, while accepting the disappointment of those who have promoted community radio applications and their integrity, in considering the future will the noble Lord not bear in mind the very wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent? In fact, to license these stations without any safeguards at all is not only dangerous but grossly unfair to the independent radio stations which are subject to the very severe and proper supervision of the IBA and its rigorous regulations. They also have to pay very substantial rentals to maintain the cost of the IBA. In the matter of compensation, will the noble Lord also bear in mind that those who make unsuccessful applications for such licences receive no compensation at all, and as the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, has said, many of the independent radio stations are now finding it extremely difficult to break even against the varying competition?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I understand much of what the noble Lord says. I think that the Green Paper will provide an opportunity for all those concerned to consider the nature of our national and local radio services in future and the appropriate regulatory framework for them. That will include consideration of the scope for a new tier of community radio stations.

Lord Winstanley

My Lords, were not the Government warned over and over again by knowledgeable people that what has happened would happen? Does that not underline the need for them to listen a bit more attentively to expert advice when it is offered to them?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, there is always room for more than one point of view.

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