HL Deb 07 November 1988 vol 501 cc494-508

4.1 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, with the leave of the House I should now like to repeat a Statement about the Government's plans for broadcasting legislation. The Statement is as follows:

"I have laid a White Paper before the House today.

"Our broadcasting system has a rich heritage, which is a tribute to the efforts and enterprise of the broadcasting authorities and all those professionally engaged in the broadcasting enterprise. Our proposals seek to build on these achievements in developing services of quality, range and popularity.

"Broadcasting is changing fast and this change makes possible a much wider choice for the viewer and listener. The viewer should not be denied this choice. That is our starting point. The Government should not seek to lay down a blueprint for the future by picking favoured technologies. Rather we propose an enabling framework with increased opportunities for additional channels as the customer determines. Several dozen television channels and possibly several hundred radio services may be in prospect.

"Subscription, which enables the viewer to signal his preferences to the broadcaster directly, will have a greater role to play. There will be a greater separation of the different activities making up broadcasting, including programme production, the assembly of individual programmes into channels, and transmission and service delivery.

"The ownership of commercial television and radio should be widely spread. The White Paper contains detailed proposals to ensure that control of television and radio services is not concentrated in the hands of a few groups or individuals and to prevent excessive media cross-ownership. The Government are determined to keep the market open to newcomers, and to prevent any tendency towards editorial uniformity.

"Safeguards on minimum standards are needed to protect viewers and listeners from shoddy wares and exploitation. Subject to these, they should be able to exercise greater choice over what they hear and see. While some important positive programming obligations are retained, we envisage a substantial liberalisation. particularly of the ITV system, and greater reliance on the viewer, rather than the regulator, to sustain range and quality.

"These are the principles which have guided us. Our thinking has been influenced at many points by the Peacock Report [Report of the Committee on Financing the BBC, Cmnd. 9824, July 1986], and by the admirable report in June of the Home Affairs Committee of this House. I hope that right honourable and honourable Members will read the White Paper in full, but I offer the House now an outline of our main proposals.

"We propose that a new fifth channel, with 65 per cent. to 70 per cent. national coverage, should be authorised to begin broadcasting at the start of 1993. Different companies could provide the services at different times of the day but the channel will be nationally based. A sixth channel will also be authorised if technical studies show it to be feasible.

"We propose a new flexible framework for the development of multi-channel local services through both cable and microwave transmission, known as MVDS. This will make possible a further extension of viewer choice. It will also provide new opportunities for local television in cities and for television services catering for minority interests.

"British Satellite Broadcasting plans to start its three channel Direct Broadcasting by Satellite (DBS) service next autumn. The Government gave BSB an undertaking last year that the United Kingdom's fourth and fifth DBS channels would not be allocated until BSB's service had been in operation for at least three years. BSB has recently said that it would be willing to see this moratorium lifted. Accordingly, the United Kingdom's two remaining channels will be advertised early next year. So five high quality DBS channels should soon be available to British viewers.

"Viewers will continue to be able to receive other satellite services directly, including those from proposed medium powered satellites. We continue to work for international agreement for the supervision of programmes in such services and shall propose to Parliament sanctions against any unacceptable foreign satellite services received here.

"The present ITV system will become a regionally based Channel 3. Licence-holders will, for the first time, have a statutory obligation to provide regional programming, including programmes produced in the region.

"Channel 4's distinctive remit will be retained and reinforced to sustain high quality programmes in the commercial sector. We consider that after the necessary legislation advertising on Channel 4 should be sold separately from that on Channel 3. Subject to these points, the White Paper sets out options on the future constitution of Channel 4. The Welsh Fourth Channel Authority will continue in essence unchanged.

"All these commercial television services will be free to decide their own mix between advertising and subscription funding, and will have greater freedom to raise money through sponsorship, subject to proper safeguards. All will be subject to consumer protection obligations regarding programme content. Most commercial television licences, including all those for Channel 3 and Channel 5 services, will be allocated by competitive tender subject to a quality threshold. Operators of Channels 3, 4 and 5 will be expected to show high quality news and current affairs programmes dealing with national and international matters and to show the news (and possibly also current affairs) in main viewing periods. Channel 3 and Channel 5 will be expected to provide a diverse programme service appealing to a variety of tastes and interests, to ensure that a minimum of 25 per cent. of original programming came from independent producers, and to ensure that a proper proportion of programme material is of EC origin.

"There will be one additional requirement affecting Channel 3 only. There will he continued provision, like that which brought ITN into existence, to ensure that there is at least one body effectively equipped and financed to provide news for Channel 3.

"There will be safeguards for the continued provision of a schools programmes service.

"The Government agree with the Home Affairs Committee that a new agency, which might be called the Independent Television Commission, should be established in place of the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) and the Cable Authority to license and supervise all parts of the commercial television sector. It will be able to operate with a lighter touch than the IBA, and without the IBA's detailed involvement in scheduling, but will have strong sanctions against failure by its licensees to live up to their licence conditions.

"The BBC will be expected to continue to provide high quality programming across the full range of public tastes and interests.

"The Government look forward to the gradual introduction of subscription on the BBC's television services and to the eventual replacement of the licence fee, which will, however, continue at least for some time to come. We propose that the night hours from one of the BBC's channels should be assigned to the ITC for allocation, like other licences by competitive tender. The BBC would keep the other set on the basis that it used it as fully as possible for making a start in developing subscription services.

"We envisage that the part played by independent producers in programme-making in the United Kingdom will continue to grow, as future licensees will be free to operate as publishers, without programme production capacity of their own. We believe that the transmission infrastructure should be separated from the programmes services.

"The Government propose to proceed with the plans I announced to the House on 19th January for the deregulation and expansion of independent radio, under the light touch regulation of a new radio authority. There will be scope for three new national commercial stations and as many as several hundred local services, including community radio stations.

"The Broadcasting Standards Council, established to reinforce standards on sex, violence, taste and decency, will be placed on a statutory footing. We propose that the exemption of broadcasting from the obscenity legislation should be removed at the earliest opportunity.

"These are the main proposals set out in the White Paper. We aim to ensure that viewers and listeners have greater freedom of choice from a more varied output of programmes, including programmes of high quality. British television has a deservedly high reputation in the world. We expect to see that reputation grow with the new opportunities which are now in sight.

"The House will have an opportunity to debate the proposals before they are put into legislative form. We shall also take careful note of views expressed outside the House. We shall then bring forward legislation".

My Lords, that concludes the text of the Statement.

4.12 p.m.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, I apologise to the Minister for not being here when he rose to his feet. I had not been informed that the Statement was about to begin. From these Benches we welcome the aspirations for broadcasting and recognise that some changes are needed. Unfortunately the proposals, as read out by the Minister in the Statement and spelt out in the White Paper, which we shall need time to consider, are highly unlikely to achieve anything near the target that he has described to us.

The Statement refers to: a much wider choice for the viewer and listener. It continues: The viewer should not be denied this choice. That is our starting point. However, more channels do not necessarily mean more choice. The work done by the Broadcasting Research Unit shows that there is no great pressure for more channels. Evidence from overseas indicates that unless great care is taken and real gaps are filled more choice, more often than not, means more of the same. Anybody who has seen American television will know exactly what I mean. People change from channel to channel and find the same kind of programmes, of a very poor quality on the whole, on the various channels. I hope that the Government will consider this matter very carefully before they legislate.

Subscription plays a great part in the scenario and, we are told, will have a greater role to play.

As I understand it, nowhere in the world is subscription broadcasting successful, except for specialities such as feature films. That is one of the reasons why many of us were very concerned about subscription when we discussed the Peacock Committee Report.

I turn now to franchises. If there is to be an auction for them, how are we to keep a grip on quality control when we are told that the new body that is set up to take over from the IBA is supposed to act with a "lighter touch"? I do not know whether the Minister can help me by defining more specifically what a "lighter touch" means. Broadcasting quality control is difficult enough with a heavy touch. We saw what happened to TV-AM which came under the authority of the IBA with its so-called heavier touch That body agreed that quality control, even with a heavier touch, was extremely difficult. It seems to me that the phrase "lighter touch" is another way of expressing the phrase laissez faire. I should be pleased to have guidance on how we can improve on broadcasting quality with a lighter touch.

The Statement, the White Paper and the Government's remarks show the Government's concern to do away with regulation where they can, certainly as regards commercial television. But one of the great advantages of broadcasting in this country, which was brought out time and time again in this House when we debated the Peacock Committee report, was that both participants in our duopoly were concerned with public service broadcasting. I stress strongly that it is no good, certainly for broadcasting in this country, for the BBC to be considered the sole bastion of public service while public service disappears from the commercial channels. I am aware, as the Minister explained to us, that obligations will be laid on Channel 4, and for educational and some other programmes on other stations. But if Channel 4 has to seek its own advertising, how can we be sure that it will be able to continue with its minority programmes in view of the financial squeeze in which it might find itself?

If the BBC is left on its own as the one saviour of public broadcasting, it will lose audiences because it will be stuck in a kind of public service ghetto. Fewer people will watch it because of the competition from other channels. There will not be the situation that now exists in commercial television where a balance is compulsory and where a comedy can be followed by a documentary. There would be no call for a channel delegated to public service only. That seems a very dangerous road to go along. In the long run that road could be to the detriment of the BBC. If that situation occurred, questions would be asked in Parliament about why Parliament should be supporting the BBC when the demand for its programmes appeared to be declining. If commercial broadcasting is left without any firm regulations governing it at all, we shall find that the whole tenor of our broadcasting will decline. We shall be left with a very inferior type of programme in comparison with what exists at the moment.

Broadcasters around the world are astonished that we are doing away with a regulatory system when they consider that we have been so successful. The report of the Home Affairs Committee in another place referred to our broadcasting as "the least worst in the world". Nevertheless our broadcasting is still very much better than anyone else's. There is room for changes, but many of the changes that are proposed may result in a great deterioration in our broadcasting, and particularly in our television. However most of what has been said in the Statement applies to radio as well.

I wish to ask the Minister one or two questions. It is made clear that take-overs will be permitted. What kind of control will be exercised over those takeovers? Will our broadcasting system be treated as some commercial commodity that can just be bought in? If that is the case, the criterion of quality will disappear altogether and it will become a matter of finance.

Secondly, what does the noble Earl mean by sponsorship? It seems to me that the whole country will be run on sponsorship soon. We are trying to get sponsorship for the arts and sponsorship for charities. Now we hear that Channel 4 will also be expected to rely partially on sponsorship. Thirdly, if the idea is to increase the amount of advertising available, are the Government thinking in terms of increasing the number of minutes for advertising in each hour? At the moment we have seven minutes in the hour over the whole day and eight minutes in the hour at peak time. To accommodate this increased broadcasting, are we going to fall into the same horrible trap that again we see in American broadcasting where the advertisements seem to come in every few minutes and in the end one can very seldom tell the difference between the advertising and the programme itself?

It is impossible to go through everything in the White Paper in detail, but, as the Minister said, we shall no doubt have a chance to debate it at some time, I hope in the near future. In the meantime, I regret to have to say that it appears to represent a triumph of free market criteria over broadcasting criteria.

Lord Bonham-Carter

My Lords, I also wish to thank the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, for repeating the Statement which has been made in another place on the very important and complex matter of the new changes which are to be introduced into broadcasting, television and radio. This is an extremely complicated subject. The Statement which we have heard covers a very wide variety of matters. We have not had the opportunity yet to read the White Paper; therefore any considered judgment and our views of this must wait until we have that opportunity.

However, as the noble Baroness said, the White Paper raises a number of critical questions about the principles which Her Majesty's Government feel necessary to apply to the development of television and broadcasting in the light of the new technologies. Those technologies will open up the possibility, but not the certainty, of much wider choice to viewers nd listeners. The wider choice could not merely be to majority viewers and listeners but also to minority viewers and listeners. This could provide—but not in the proposals which have been made today, with the exception of the Welsh—for regional listeners to be looked after as they might be.

I must confess that I can only regard any statement made by the present Government on television with some suspicion in the light of the campaign which has been conducted and carefully orchestrated over the last few years against first the BBC and then the IBA. The strategic purpose which lies behind this campaign is to me fairly transparent. It seems to me to be obvious that what the Government want to do is to produce a broadcasting and television system which is as much like the present press as possible; that is overwhelmingly Conservative in ownership, overwhelmingly supportive of the present Government in their ideology. Of course there is the lighter touch to which the noble Baroness referred. The failure throughout the Statement, as far as I can see, to use the words "public service", which appear in the eyes of the Government to be dirty words, will with the lighter touch make this far easier.

That having been said, we must always be thankful for small mercies. I wish to congratulate the Home Secretary on having preserved Channel 4. I should like to congratulate him on having preserved ITN and I suppose one must congratulate him on having failed to give a date when the licence fee will be abolished for the financing of the BBC. It is my view that the licence fee could well be maintained in the medium term. It is unpopular in a sense, as all taxes are unpopular, but it is the best way that has yet been found of financing public service television which maintains the high standards which have been acknowledged in the world at large. As the noble Baroness said, as the Peacock Report says and as the noble Earl's Statement indicated, British broadcasting has a worldwide reputation for the standard and quality of its product. It seems to me extraordinary that any government should jeopardise this unless forced to do so.

The present proposals indicate not the execution of the BBC, which at one time seemed possible, but its euthanasia. The rich heritage of broadcasting to which the noble Earl referred depends on the example set by the BBC and the IBA. I must repeat that the lighter touch will lead not only, I suspect, to lower standards or the wider choice which the Statement optimistically referred to which is not noticeable in the popular press; nor is it noticeable, as the noble Baroness indicated, in other television services. What I suspect we shall get is an even greater outpouring of quiz shows and "soaps".

As for the Broadcasting Standards Council, it is becoming increasingly ludicrous as a body whose standards are more and more obscure. I do not know how many noble Lords had the opportunity to see a programme on Channel 4 last week in which the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, was asked about the standards he would apply in his new job. I do not understand why sex and violence are put in the same box. They seem to me rather different matters, one of which is generally regarded as pleasurable, the other as unpleasurable. I regret that the noble Lord is not here today. I have great respect and admiration for him. However, I do not understand why of all the people in this country he is the one man who can tell us what it is acceptable for us to see and what it is not acceptable for us to see in these matters in which I did not know that he had expertise.

It looks to me as though the Broadcasting Standards Council is to be the Hayes Office multiplied by the Lord Chamberlain. The noble Earl's definition of what would be acceptable in the broadcasting of sex was interesting. Romeo and Juliet sex, he said, was quite all right; explicit sex was unacceptable. Then there came a third grey area which was called "groping sex". He said that groping sex would have to be gone into with some care. It struck me that the Broadcasting Standards Council was groping for a role.

There was one omission from the Statement which I found interesting. The External Services, one of the glories of British broadcasting, were not mentioned. I should like an assurance from the noble Earl that the External Services will continue to be financed adequately and that they will continue to be allowed to act independently. It must be said that the recent order on transmission of broadcasting, by terrorists will somewhat limit their capacity. They have spent a great deal of time broadcasting terrorists to other countries, if not our own.

I very much look forward to the debate we shall have on the White Paper, which I hope will be soon, before the Government's mind is set in concrete as to the type of legislation they propose. I also hope that before long we shall have an opportunity to debate the censorship on the transmission of broadcasts by Sinn Fein and the UDA. This is a very difficult matter but one which I think this House should consider.

4.30 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, and the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, for the very cautious welcome they have given. I agree with the noble Lord that there are certain elements on which we can agree. I agree with him totally that the subject is very complicated. The noble Lord prudently said that he had not yet read the White Paper and therefore found it difficult to comment. However, in spite of his not having read it, I thought that the noble Lord commented on it with extraordinary in-depth knowledge. When he does read the White Paper I think that he may well equip himself with a white jacket and a screwdriver because we arc dealing here with a very technical and complicated area.

The noble Lord said one or two curious things. He said he was quite convinced that he would treat every statement this Government make about television with a great deal of suspicion because he thought that we were gong to ensure that all television companies would be packed with people who supported the present Government. A short while ago he said he thought that the Government should not attempt to interfere with television. Now we have produced a White Paper, which the noble Lord has not yet read. in which we say we are going to open the television areas to competition and a general variety of interests. The noble Lord finds a critical element in that. Of course he is entitled to his view; but I do not think he can have it both ways. If he is going to complain that the Government have been too restrictive in the past in what has been allowed for television, he cannot then turn round when we are opening it up to others and say that that is bad too.

I should like to make one point very clear. Technology has advanced enormously, whether we like it or not. What is capable of being done now simply was not capable of being done ten years ago. There have been very great changes. What the Government seek to do, as the White Paper says, is to, open the doors so that individuals can choose for themselves from a much wider range of programmes and types of broadcasting. I continue to quote: But the Government believes that, with the right enabling framework, a more open and competitive broadcasting market can be attained without detriment to programme standards and quality. Its single biggest advantage will be to give the viewer and listener a greater choice and a greater say. I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, and the noble Baroness, Lady Birk. when they say that if you have more programmes they are automatically bound to be worse. I do not think that is so. There is a danger that it could be so, and that is one of the reasons why we set up the Broadcasting Standards Council, to which the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, takes such exception. There are also great hoops through which any company will have to go before it is granted a franchise. Both Channel 3 and Channel 5 licensees will have to pass the "quality threshold", which includes such requirements as consumer protection, high-quality news and current affairs programmes, a diversity test, a proper proportion of programmes of European Community origin and 25 per cent. of original programming from independent producers. There will also be a proportion of regional programmes. The requirements are quite extensive.

The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, said that subscription has not been successful. I do not think that is completely true. Subscription has proved a great success in France and also, I understand, in certain parts of the United States. The noble Baroness asked about the Independent Television Commission and how it would enforce the licensing conditions. It will conduct formal reviews of the performance of its licensees and, if they are not performing satisfactorily, the commission will be able to issue a warning to them—a yellow card. If the performance does not improve after the issue of the yellow card the ITC will be able to withdraw the licence one year later, if necessary. The Government are also considering whether the ITC should be in a position to impose financial penalties.

Both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, asked: what does the light touch mean? The Independent Television Commission will apply strict standards but it will do so without the kind of detailed controls which are imposed by the Independent Broadcasting Authority. It will have a range of methods to reinforce its licence conditions.

I should like to point out one quite important thing. In view of the fact that all these technological changes are coming about, whether we like it or not, all we seek to do is to provide a framework by which people can take advantage of them if commercial considerations permit and if viewers wish it. As the White Paper says quite clearly, the Government should not try to pick winners: they should enable, and not dictate, choice. I feel sure that the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, will be at one with the Government on that point. We do not seek to dictate choice: we seek to enable it to come about.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, can I ask the Minister a point for clarification? When he was answering my question about the lighter touch, he referred to keeping a restraining hand without too much detail, without going too far, or words to that effect. Does that mean there will be no insistence on balance, which is one of the cornerstones of the IBA? It seems to me that that can be the only answer.

Earl Ferrers

No, my Lords. I did not mean to give that impression, and I am sorry if I did. Balance will he one of the criteria involved in the application of the licence-holder before being granted a licence. Licence-holders will have to go through the hoop of providing a proper balance before they will be considered for the grant of a licence. What I meant by the lighter touch was that the Independent Television Commission will not have the responsibility of controlling or supervising programmes.

Lord Walston

My Lords—

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords—

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, if I may intervene, we cannot have this number of speakers at the same time. It is customary, following the reading of a Statement, to hear from the Opposition spokesman who occupies the Front Bench opposite, followed by the other Opposition spokesmen, including what used to be the SDP. I suggest that if my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing will be kind enough to contain himself while the noble Lord, Lord Walston, addresses your Lordships it will help our proceedings.

Lord Walston

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. I should like to make just one small correction. We used to be the SDP and we still are.

I want to put to the Minister one perfectly simple question. Do the Government consider that television and sound broadcasting are primarily market-led, profit-making businesses or are they, at least to some extent, a public service and an art form? We have no objection here to some of the former, but certainly not to all of it. We must retain some of the public service and some of the art form. I cannot help feeling that a significant element of the latter is of enormous importance to the whole of our broadcasting industry and to the country as a whole. The BBC has undoubtedly fulfilled these purposes in an admirable way and will continue to do so; but it will not be able to do so if it has to rely solely on profits, whether those profits come from subscriptions or from sponsorship. Therefore, it is up to the Government to say where its finance is to come from and, if it is to be guided, as are other providers of sound and television broadcasting, whether it has to rely solely on the profits which it can generate from its programmes. I should he most grateful if the noble Earl could answer that point.

At the same time I should like to endorse very strongly the final comments of the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, concerning the BBC's External Services. I hope that we can have an assurance from the noble Earl on that matter also.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, before the noble Earl replies to that point on behalf of these Benches and myself I should like to welcome the fact that, after a long period of gestation, the Government have come down firmly in favour of the continuation of a licence fee and public service broadcasting. I believe that some of us do not appreciate, and the public certainly do not appreciate that there is already an obligation on the independent broadcasting companies to carry out some public service duties—the news and, as the noble Earl mentioned, current affairs programmes. Is it not wise to consider whether in the very long term some of the television licence money should go to maintaining those obligations to public service broadcasting on the part of bodies other than the BBC? The BBC currently receives an income of £1,000 million a year from the licence and is the only body which benefits from it. As other forms of finance begin to be introduced—subscription television for the BBC, possibly sponsorship on some channels—I wonder whether it is not right that this huge licence income should also go to others seeking to provide public service broadcasting.

One of the problems which has emerged from points raised by several speakers on the other Benches and to which the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, referred is that the regulatory authorities are now in a hit of a muddle. We are losing one and we shall have a new one which is meant to undertake a range of activities, including checking on sex and violence in programmes and the quality threshold. That will be a very difficult judgment to make.

I was particularly struck by the fact that my noble friend did not mention the word "balance". That is written into the BBC's charter, it is written into its licence and it will presumably be written into the licence of other organisations which seek to entertain the public. Ought not balance to be considered by the regulatory authority when it is set up?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, my noble friend is quite right. Of course balance is important. As I tried to explain earlier, that is one of the criteria which will have to be considered when an application is submitted and before someone is considered to be a proper applicant. Applicants will have to show that they can produce a balanced programme, among other things.

My noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing also said that he believed that the BBC ought to get funds from elsewhere other than the licence fee. The noble Lord, Lord Walston, said that the BBC cannot be expected to rely on profits. I do not think that "profit" was the right word to use. All the Government say is that the BBC will continue to provide the service which it produces at the moment but that it is the Government's desire that the BBC should seek alternative means of funding than from the licence. In the White Paper the Government make the point that it is their intention that at some time in the future the licence fee should be replaced. We suggest that subscription should be tried. At the moment it is an untried system. Until it is tried it is impossible to say whether it is the right system to use and what proportion of the BBC's funding it should represent.

The noble Lord, Lord Walston, asks whether it should be market led or a public service. The answer is that both TV and radio have an element of both. The BBC's public remit will be unchanged and Channels 3, 4 and 5 will have more positive programming obligations.

One other point which I think is important relates to the question of deciding what is acceptable and what is not. When there was a duopoly of the BBC and ITV it was clearly necessary for them to operate under fairly strict regulations and controls. When there are 10 or more channels within the reach of the average viewer it is believed that viewers can increasingly sort this out for themselves provided that the choice before them is sufficiently varied. Whether we like it or not technology has advanced and made these things possible. I accept the concern which some noble Lords have expressed about balance and standards but that is one of the points we shall have to keep in mind, and it is one of the factors which we shall be able to consider further when we come to debate the matter.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Parry

My Lords, I too should like to thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made in another place. I shall begin with a wholly positive comment by welcoming the assurance given in regard to Sianel Pedwar Cymru, the Welsh channel. I do so not in any nationalistic or jingoistic sense but because of its importance to the whole of the culture of the country and to the debate on the White Paper that will follow the Statement.

When that channel for Wales was set up it was not intended to be specifically for the Welsh language although it was given an almost sacred duty to preserve that language. It has kept to its task and has been successful. Far more importantly in some ways, the channel has also broadened the culture in the bilingual channel. It has broadened the culture of Wales and in the nature of the Welsh content made a contribution to its preservation.

When the Minister addressed himself to the dangers of new technology and the all-pervasive atmosphere of other cultures which will be footprinted upon ours in the years to come through that new technology, and when he said that he was anxious to set up a protective mechanism, my mind went back to my days on the Independent Television Authority Council for Wales. That became the Independent Broadcasting Authority for Wales, on which I also sat before going to the General Advisory Council of the IBA and eventually into similar capacities with the BBC. I mention that because the Minister has not mentioned the role of the general advisory councils of the bodies when he repeated the Statement this afternoon. They are very important because the lightness of touch which the noble Earl has talked about was very often vested not in the authority's body but in the advisory committees, which themselves have been successful.

Can the Minister assure us that in imposing a lighter touch and in creating an organisation to control these new developments we shall not end up with a situation in which the strength passes back to government? In the early days of the Government of which he is a member it was said that they were very anxious to create less government. If the institutions which protect the people within government are dismantled, very often the power goes back to central authority and achieves the opposite of the purpose intended.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I think that those are all highly relevant points which it would probably be better to bring out in a debate rather than interrupt at even greater length the debate which the noble Earl, Lord Longford, has introduced. I would only say to the noble Lord. Lord Parry, that it is not the Government's intention that power—if that is the right word—should revert to the Government. The Government believe that there should be choice, there should be variety of choice and that it ought to be the consumer who does the choosing, subject to certain safeguards of acceptability.

There is one other question which I apologise for not having answered. My noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing and the noble Lord, Lord Walston, both asked whether the External Services of the BBC would be affected. The White Paper has no bearing on the BBC's External Services, which will continue to be funded as now.

Lord Annan

My Lords, perhaps I could ask one question, but I certainly do not want to have a debate at this moment. My question concerns subscription and what is meant by it. Does it mean that I would have to buy a new television set with a special device in order to obtain a subscription channel of the BBC? If it does not mean that, does it mean that £200 million or £300 million will be taken from the BBC licence fee and that this will be replaced by appeals on the BBC channels for the public to subscribe? If so and if the practice of the United States of America is any guide, does he think it likely that we shall see Sir Robin Day divesting himself of his clothing down to his underpants and auctioning it to the public? That is exactly what happens on the public service channel in America. They are desperate for subscriptions and cannot obtain them and occurrences of that kind have been seen.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, there are many ways in which subscription can he brought about. I am bound to say that the rather graphic description produced by the noble Lord. Lord Annan, in which Sir Robin Day auctioned his clothes was not one of the ways that the Government had in mind.

One of the systems involves an attachment on the television set which enables the viewer to be charged when he operates it. I think that the BBC will try some new subscription methods during the night hours when programmes can be shown and possibly videoed automatically by people who will then pay when they see them again in the course of the day. There are all kinds of different methods. That is the reason why the Government are not specific on the matter. We feel that we have to try them out and see what enterprise and initiative can bring about. The point is that if subscription can come about it could relieve the licence fee somewhat.

Lord Prys-Davies

My Lords, I should be grateful if the House would allow me to put one question to the Minister about the Welsh language fourth television network. Am I correct in assuming that the Government are not committed to the preservation of the existing broadcasting and financial viability of the Welsh language fourth channel station? In other words, will the station henceforth have to depend on the income that it can generate from advertising?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, at the moment Channel 4 Welsh language television is subscribed to by the ITV companies. They obtain that money from advertising. It is suggested that instead of that method, the revenue should in future come direct to the company itself via advertising.