HL Deb 08 June 1993 vol 546 cc707-9

11.48 a.m.

Lord Leigh asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether people living in the Yorkshire Dales will he unable to receive BBC Radio 4 when, shortly, it is broadcast only on FM; and if so whether they will take action to remedy this.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, the governors of the BBC have said that Radio 4 will remain on long wave until they are satisfied that transmission arrangements meet listeners' needs throughout the United Kingdom. But there are always likely to be some small communities which, for reasons of topography and shortage of suitable frequencies, will be unable to receive particular services.

Lord Leigh

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his reply. Does he agree that the loss of the BBC medium and long wave bands in that area to commercial radio will be of grave concern to the many tourists who invade the dales each year, as well as to farmers and others who live off the land? They rely on Radio 4 for their weather forecasts. That is especially so as I understand that the medium and long wave bands follow the contours of the land, whereas the FM wave band goes in a straight line across the top of the dales, which is not much good when one is at the bottom or even halfway down.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, the BBC generally favours the FM band which allows good quality reception after dark, the stereo facility for drama and automatic tuning through radio data systems. It prefers the long wave for the primary speech content of the future news service which is planned to come in when the BBC is satisfied that the Radio 4 coverage of FM has been expanded. The news service target date is April 1994.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, will the Government hear in mind that the Yorkshire Dales are not the only part of the country which cannot receive broadcasts on FM? Large parts of the Highlands of Scotland are also unable to do so.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, the noble Lady is absolutely right. No radio service manages to cover the entire country. Even the current long wave only covers about 98 per cent. of the country. There will always be pockets in remote places which, because of mountains and steep valleys, will not have adequate reception.

Earl Peel

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the report in the Daily Telegraph today which states that life for those working in the Yorkshire Dales is by no means the idyllic one portrayed by the James Heriot programme on television? People living there are now suffering from stress caused by zealous EC regulations and national park bureaucracy. Does my noble friend agree that it is imperative that those people should have the service of Radio 4 that others have? Furthermore, as someone who lives in the Yorkshire Dales, I can say that we have already witnessed the disappearance of ball by ball coverage of the cricket which has now gone from 1215 KH to some strange and obscure FM frequency.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I know that the broadcasters do their best to reach as many people as possible from each transmitter. The BBC has recently built a new transmitter at Woolmoor, which will improve reception for about 25,000 listeners in the dales. Radio 5 is on AM which covers sport and education.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, will the noble Viscount accept that when the time comes that Yorkshire has finally slipped into the North Sea and Lancashire stretches gloriously from coast to coast, there will still be the need for long wave broadcasts for people not only in this country but in Northern France? I have received complaints from people there who follow the BBC through the long wave and they are worried that they will not be able to receive the service in the future.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, Radio 4 is a highly respected service which is valued by its listeners in many countries. However, it is a domestic service and is not intended for people in Europe. The BBC World Service is for listeners overseas. The BBC transmits Radio 4 on the Astra satellite, which means that it can be received in Europe with the right dish.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, does that mean that those of us who live in North Yorkshire will not be able to hear "Today" and "Today in Parliament"?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I do not know whether the noble Baroness is able to receive those programmes on FM in her home. It may be an advantage or a disadvantage to her to receive the "Today" programme. It very much depends on where the aerials are stationed and the BBC are doing much work to improve the service.

Lord Donoughue

My Lords, given the universally depressing nature of the news in the past few days, does the Minister agree that such culture deprivation —if I may coin a phrase—might not be a wholly bad thing? Would it not be a happier world if the deprivation were extended to other regions, especially newspapers, as well as to broadcasting?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, luckily it is for the BBC to decide what programmes are broadcast on what frequencies which are assigned to it, and not for the Government.