HL Deb 10 May 1993 vol 545 cc968-9

2.40 p.m.

Lord Palmer asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is the limit of the BBC's expenditure on campaigning for the continuation of its Royal Charter.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, none.

Lord Palmer

My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount for that informative reply. Would he not agree, though, that for the corporation to take out full page advertisements in such magazines as Time at a cost of £21,000 is a ridiculous waste of money?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, we welcome the BBC's initiative in holding meetings round the country to hear people's views about its future. When the Government consultation document was published, it set out a framework of questions for discussion. At that time the BBC published its own proposals. Since then the BBC has been consulting widely to prepare its response to the Government's document. I understand that the BBC intends to publish it shortly.

Lord Renton

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that under the Royal Charter the BBC receives billions of pounds of the people's money to spend as they wish? Is it not quite wrong that it should use much of that money in order to perpetuate its affluence?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, the BBC charter allows the BBC to broadcast its opinions on matters of broadcasting policy. Of course, editorial control of programme content and scheduling are matters for the BBC. I understand that the cost of its recent public consultation has been about £200,000.

Lord Donoughue

My Lords, is the Minister aware that we welcome the positive tone of his reply and agree with it? Does he also agree that the BBC is the best public broadcasting service in the world? Is it therefore not only natural but to be applauded that it should spend some of its resources on advertising that service and in order to defend itself from attacks on its charter?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, as I say, we welcome the BBC's publication of its proposals and its responses. We wish to consider carefully the BBC's contribution to the debate and all the other responses before decisions are made on the future of the corporation.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, the charter of the BBC refers to a licence from the Secretary of State. Is that expenditure licensed by the Secretary of State?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I believe that the licence referred to is the licence fee which the BBC collects. That fee produces about £1.5 billion a year; that is £83 a year for a colour television, which works out at about 23 pence per day. That is quite good value for money.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, are there grounds for believing that the present system is probably the best that can reasonably be devised for the governance of public service broadcasting? Under those circumstances, one must agree with the Minister that if the BBC believes that that is the case, it is fully entitled to spend a reasonable sum of money on stating its point of view.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, that is exactly what the current review is about. We have made it clear in our consultation document that all options for the future of the BBC would be considered.

With regard to the licence fee, we have also said that no one has yet devised a better way of funding the BBC that we have seen.

Lord Elis-Thomas

My Lords, is the noble Viscount yet able to tell the House whether the Department of National Heritage has taken the decision that the BBC should be governed by a further Royal Charter or whether it should be by legislation of this House and the other place? That would place the BBC on the same statutory footing as the other broadcasting authorities in the United Kingdom.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, we have made no such decision. It is only a few days since the closing date for responses. The present charter has over three-and-a-half years to run and we shall bring forward proposals early next year.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that, despite recent publicity, many like myself believe that the BBC should continue more or less in its present form? However, in relation to the £200,000 which is being spent on a public consultation exercise, to which most people would not object, may we be assured that the BBC will listen to what the public say and, if possible, act on much of it?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I presume that that is why the BBC are having the consultation, so that they will listen to the views put to them. The Government have always taken the need for economical use of resources into account in the arrangements for setting up the future of the BBC.