HL Deb 27 October 1993 vol 549 cc848-50

3.4 p.m.

Lord Orr-Ewing asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are satisfied that the BBC and independent broadcasters are keeping to the terms of their charter and licences and not expanding news and current affairs at the expense of entertainment.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, the editorial content and scheduling of programmes are the responsibility of the broadcasters and broadcasting authorities. It is for them to decide how to fulfil their obligations.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that not unexpected Answer. Is she aware that when this matter was discussed on 13th July there was support in many parts of the House for rather more drama, musical entertainment and sport but not much enthusiasm for 24-hour rolling news? But the corporation has gone ahead with it to some extent slightly modified. Remembering that when a poll was taken about the introduction of such a service only 20 per cent. of the public said that they would look at and listen to an extended news and current affairs programme, does she agree that it would be wise, until some new charter is devised, for the governors to be encouraged to take rather more interest in the make-up and mix of programmes?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I understand that BBC research indicated that several million people would welcome an extended radio news service. The new proposals to replace Radio 5 will combine more news with sport. So listeners will get both entertainment and information.

Lord Donoughue

My Lords, will the noble Baroness confirm to the House that, perhaps contrary to what may have been the implication of the original Question, spending on entertainment—sport, arts, music and so forth—has grown at double the rate of expenditure on news? Is it possibly the case that the reason there seems to be too much news is that so much of it is bad news?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I agree with the last part of the noble Lord's question. He is perfectly right with regard to the first part of it.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that there are eccentric individuals, not excluding myself, who prefer news and current affairs to boring old sport and entertainment?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, the BBC seeks to cater for tastes of all kinds.

Lord Barnett

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that I very much agree with her first Answer? Does she accept that getting the balance right on all programmes is an extremely difficult matter? It would certainly prove very difficult indeed for Ministers, and politicians generally, who watch so little television. Will she accept that it would be better for Ministers not to intervene at all?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I rather welcome the liberation of the noble Lord, Lord Barnett. The BBC services are used by nearly every household in the United Kingdom and many millions overseas. The Government aim to ensure that there are variety and choice in the programmes available to viewers and listeners, including the choice of high quality news services.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, perhaps the noble Baroness will elucidate one point for me. I agree that the broadcasting authorities decide how to interpret the terms of their licences and the charter. Can she tell me whether they are also entitled to interpret the law and how it is imposed as regards their programmes?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, the BBC is well aware of its obligations to observe due impartiality in the treatment of controversial issues. It is for the governors to secure that.

The Lord Bishop of Norwich

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that, despite the provision on television, radio programmes for children remain very important in developing their imagination? The noble Baroness, like me, probably benefited greatly in her early years from "Children's Hour". That programme is sadly no longer with us. Is she satisfied that the loss of all children's programmes from Radio 5 is not compensated for by the small provision to be made on Radio 4? Does she accept that that represents a real deprivation for children, a loss to their entertainment and indeed their edification?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, that is a matter for the BBC to decide. I believe that I can go even further back than the right reverend Prelate; I was brought up on "Felix the Cat".

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, does not the noble Baroness agree that the entertainment on both channels is so abysmal that news and current affairs are to be preferred to it?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, the noble Lord is entitled to his opinion.

Viscount Tenby

My Lords, does the noble Baroness accept that there is a body of opinion in this country which holds that, far from requiring more news and comment at the present time, we could do with a little less? If there were less self-analysis and contemplation of our own navels, and more silent achievement, the country would be in a far healthier state than it is today.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, the noble Viscount is entitled to his opinion also.

Lord Annan

My Lords, does not the noble Baroness agree that while sympathising with the view of the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, entertainment is of importance to the BBC, not merely for Members of your Lordships' House but also for the whole population of this country? And is it not the fact that more than £100 million extra is being spent by the BBC? That has been achieved by savings made by the policy of the director-general with the support of that much-maligned man, the chairman of the BBC, Mr. Marmaduke Hussey.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Annan, is right. As a result of other efficiency savings, over the next two years the BBC will be able to make a further investment of £75 million to enrich the programme mix.