HL Deb 06 July 1994 vol 556 cc1290-303

4 p.m.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall now repeat a Statement on the future of the BBC which is now being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage. The Statement is as follows: "I should like to make a statement about the future of the BBC. I am today publishing a White Paper with the Government's policies for the BBC's role and operations after December 1996, when its present Royal Charter expires. A copy of the White Paper, with a user friendly summary, will be available in the Vote Office when I have finished speaking.

"In developing these policies we have been able to take account of advice, ideas and comments from a wide variety of sources. We had the replies from many organisations and individuals to the Government's consultation document, published in November 1992. I am grateful to everyone who wrote to us, and especially to those who arranged conferences and seminars so that the issues could be discussed. The BBC put forward its own views about its future, which provided a useful focus for public debate, and it has continued to develop its proposals, taking account of the debate about its future and changes in the world of broadcasting.

"We also had the benefit of the National Heritage Select Committee's report on the future of the BBC, which was published in December last year. The committee took evidence from a large number of interested parties. The White Paper includes the Government's response to the Select Committee's report and its recommendations. I have, of course, not yet had time to consider the Select Committee's report on sports sponsorship and television coverage, which was published earlier today. Its views on listed events and subscription channels have attracted a great deal of interest and the Government will take careful note of them. The White Paper acknowledges that the present restrictions are necessary and that there are arguments for strengthening them.

"Our consultation document made it clear that the Government saw a continuing role for the BBC as the major public service broadcaster in the United Kingdom. But new opportunities are being created by technological developments. The Government believe that the BBC is well-placed to evolve into an international multi-media enterprise, building on its present commercial services in this country and overseas. We will do all we can to encourage this process.

"The responses to our consultation document showed that there is considerable public support for the wide range and diversity of the programmes and services which the BBC provides for audiences throughout the United Kingdom. However, public support for the BBC would diminish unless the corporation could demonstrate that it was cost effective.

"The BBC has, in the last few years, set in hand extensive, and often painful, measures to improve its efficiency, reducing its overheads and reorganising its operations. It is in the midst of a difficult process of modernisation, which the Government expect to continue in the years ahead. The results so far are encouraging. As a broadcaster, the BBC has been able to invest over £100 million more in programmes. As an organisation, it can face the future with more flexibility and with a clearer view of how its various activities contribute to fulfilling its strategic purpose—to provide broadcast services of information, entertainment and education.

"In the light of this, the Government will recommend that the BBC should be granted a new Royal Charter for a term of 10 years from January 1997. A new agreement between the Government and the BBC would govern its operations; this would replace the present licence and agreement.

"The new Royal Charter will set out the responsibilities of the governors and the national councils in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The board of governors will have a strategic oversight of the BBC's activities and management. The governors and the national councils will have a special responsibility for ensuring that the BBC's services reflect the interests and needs of the public throughout the country, and for improving the BBC's accountability to its audience and to Parliament.

"Within the United Kingdom, the BBC should continue to take a lead in programme making and to provide its present television and radio services. These will be funded from the licence fee, at least for the time being. The Select Committee, after considering all the options, concluded that the licence fee was the best available method of funding the BBC's services. The Government agree with that view. However, we propose there should be a review of funding from the licence fee before the year 2001 in the light of technological and other changes.

"The BBC will, of course, continue to be editorially independent and we shall expect it to maintain high standards in all its programming. Like other broadcasters, it will continue to have obligations to observe due impartiality on controversial issues and to ensure programmes do not encourage crime or offend against good taste, decency or public feeling.

"Overseas, the BBC will continue to broadcast World Service Radio, financed by grant-in-aid from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. This service has over 130 million listeners and is widely recognised for the reliability and accuracy of its news.

"This reputation is an asset of great value, both culturally and commercially. The Government consider that the BBC should be encouraged to exploit further its commercial potential.

"The main changes we propose for the future are, therefore, aimed at the development of the BBC's commercial activities, particularly its international television services. As the Select Committee recognised, a new and expanding global market is opening up for broadcasting services. Broadcasting has been transformed from a mainly national to an international activity. Moreover, broadcasting, as we have known it, is likely to become only one strand in an international media market, which will include some services and products which combine elements of different media—sound, pictures and text— allowing the users to decide which they prefer. These developments will greatly extend the variety and choice available to everyone in this country and elsewhere.

"The BBC is well placed to take advantage of this growing international market: it is well known internationally; it has highly skilled production staff, a large production capacity and considerable programme archives; and it has experience of operating commercially at home and abroad.

"However, we should not risk licence payers' or taxpayers' money on commercial ventures. That is why we have encouraged the BBC to forge new partnerships with the private sector. In this way, it can take advantage of the private finance initiative and of the commercial expertise of its private sector partners. Understandably, the BBC is anxious that these partnerships should allow the BBC to keep editorial control over its programmes. This will help it to protect its brand name, which is recognised world-wide.

"The Government believe the BBC should compete commercially, but it must also compete fairly. The BBC has published a commitment to fair trading and is preparing detailed guidelines. We shall want to examine these guidelines closely and ensure that they are implemented effectively. For this reason, it is essential that its services financed from the licence fee and the grant-in-aid should be operated separately from its commercial activities.

"We are exploring with the BBC various options for the future of its transmission services. These include privatisation, in full or in part. The BBC is preparing for an early introduction of digital broadcasting services for radio and then for television. Digital technology is more efficient in the use of the frequency spectrum and opens up the possibility of even more services. It also offers opportunities to United Kingdom manufacturers of equipment and receivers.

"The purpose of these studies, which should be completed towards the end of the year, is to seek to combine the early introduction of digital broadcast-ing services with the advantages of privatisation. These include the benefits of private sector finance, since the Government do not intend to increase the licence fee to pay for introducing digital services. The Government and the BBC are clear that functions should be kept within the BBC only when there is a compelling reason for doing so.

"Although we intend that the BBC should continue to be established by Royal Charter, a number of the Government's proposals will require legislation. When there is a suitable opportunity, we propose to repeal the provisions in the Broadcasting Act 1990 which prevent the Independent Television Commission and the Radio Authority from licensing services owned, or partly owned, by the BBC. In future, any commercial broadcasting services operated by the BBC would have to be licensed by the commission or the authority. More generally, we intend to give the commission and the authority new powers to license and regulate commercial digital television and radio services. Reflecting a widespread concern over standards, we also propose to merge the Broadcasting Standards Council and the Broadcasting Complaints Commission. This will provide a clearer focus for the public's complaints about broadcasting services and reducing the number of regulatory bodies.

"The Government recognise that in the BBC the United Kingdom has an organisation which is a world leader. It makes more programmes than any organisation outside the United States and Japan. Over 99 per cent. of the population of the United Kingdom can receive its services and most people use them regularly. From the perspective of my own department, no other organisation provides such active and creative patronage of the arts or does so much to make major national and artistic events and the cultural heritage of the country' accessible to everyone.

"In the next 10 years there are likely to be significant and rapid changes in broadcasting and the media generally. No one can foresee now the outcome of these changes, either nationally or internationally, but it is clear that they offer huge opportunities both for the BBC and for other United Kingdom broadcasters.

"The Government wish the BBC to be in a position to take advantage of these opportunities. Our policies keep a wide range of options open for the BBC's long-term future. We confirm its role as the United Kingdom's major public service broadcaster, but we are encouraging it to develop into a multi-media enterprise, with international interests. That prospect is reflected in the title of our White Paper: The Future of the BBC: Serving the Nation; Competing World-wide." My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Baroness for giving us the opportunity to react to the Statement on the White Paper and to ask a few preliminary questions on the issues that it addresses. Our response today obviously can be no more than a very general reaction. We shall all need to study the White Paper in detail before we can offer a considered view.

One's first impression is of welcome and relief. The Government appear minded to avoid some of the perilous pitfalls into which their ideology might have impelled them. It is a relief to know that the Royal Charter is safe for the foreseeable future; that the corporation will continue at least for the time being—I refer to paragraph 9—to be funded largely by the licence fee; that it will not be forced to seek or accept advertising; and that the Government recognise the worldwide significance of its work. It is the voice of this country at its best. Other countries have always admired it and striven to imitate it. It is good that the Government are today paying public tribute to that fact.

Above all, it appears that the Government have dropped the iniquitous idea of privatising as much as possible of the BBC. In the days of the Thatcher Administration that was always a threat, and to many of us a nightmare. It now seems to have vanished over the horizon of history. For thus much we must thank the Government and also the corporation, because since the 1980s the BBC has worked tirelessly to retain its right to an index-linked licence fee, its role as a public service broadcaster and its spread of national and local radio channels. We must all commend the convincing clarity of the vision which the BBC achieved in its 1992 document, Extending Choice. Well done, Mr. Birt; that worked.

After one's relief, one's second impression is that the Statement is silent on a number of things, like the dog that did not bark. Almost nothing is said about that widely discussed proposal to sell off the BBC's complete transmitter network. It is simply here an option. There is no evaluation of the highly controversial producers' choice initiative which has wrought such administrative havoc within the corporation and produced so little effect outside it. There is no consideration of the central question of what should be the critical mass of inhouse production which the BBC must retain if its ideas are to be fulfilled. Similarly, the role and extent of the BBC's training programme are not discussed. Neither is the byzantine reticulation of the corporation's accountability struc-ture, which now, I believe, includes more than 60 advisory councils. Perhaps other noble Lords will echo my concerns at those lacunae and perhaps the noble Baroness will give us further and better particulars when she responds to our questions.

There are six specific questions arising out of the Statement on which I seek her help. First, what plans do the Government have for the future of the BBC's transmission network? Is its future secure for the next 10 years; or is it up for grabs and privatisation forthwith? The Statement is not clear about that.

Secondly, why have the Government said little and done less about the BBC management's failure to respond to the complaints and dissatisfaction of its own staff? Morale in the corporation has never been lower. Staff have been driven to take strike action; and yet Ministers seem to have been strangely silent. Why?

Thirdly, what have the Government done to encourage the BBC to develop its unique educational role, from children's TV right through to the Open University? Fourthly, what incentives can the Government offer the BBC to develop its training programmes, as the central provider for the audio-visual industry in this country? The corporation has unique experience and that experience ought to be developed and marketed.

Fifthly, should not the Government advise the BBC to simplify its accountability and user representation structures? It is not enough simply to merge the BSC and the BBC. At the present moment, with 60 advisory councils, there is real danger of the tail wagging the dog. Sixthly, can the noble Baroness tell the House anything more about the new agreement between the Government and the BBC in paragraph 7 of the Statement? Could the review of the licence fee which is mentioned in paragraph 9 take place as early as this year or next? All we are told is that it will be "before the year 2001".

Until these questions can be answered and the issues they represent be seriously addressed, we can only be cautious in our welcome for what we have heard. The Government's record on broadcasting has not been good. The Broadcasting Act 1990 has been singularly unsuccessful for everyone except the Treasury, and the Statement now tells us of further tinkering to come. So we remain sceptical about the Government's understanding of the timing, the depth and the structure of the media revolution through which we are passing. But we on these Benches, we in the Labour Party, can say to the Government this afternoon: "So far, so good. Now trust the BBC to hold fast to all that is good. Tell everyone that the BBC is one of Britain's greatest gifts to the world. Stop digging it up by the roots all the time to see whether it is still growing and, for the brief period in which you remain in office, let it alone".

Lord Thomson of Monifieth

My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, I thank the Minister for reading the Statement made in another place. She mentioned that the White Paper is user friendly. I am not wholly sure that the Statement was user friendly. It was not friendly to her throat, and we are grateful to her for reading it in the painstaking way she did.

On these Benches we warmly welcome the fact that the Government have abandoned their anti-BBC attitudes of the 1980s. In the Statement which has just been made, they now recognise, that, in the BBC, the United Kingdom has an organisation which is a world leader". Those words are music in the ears of many of us in your Lordships' House. But we note that the commitment in the Statement to continuing the licence funding carries the rather ominous qualification, at least for the time being". I give the Minister warning that on these Benches we shall continue to be vigilant to make sure that there is no government backsliding on that aspect.

I also wish to pay tribute—perhaps not a totally unqualified tribute but a real one nevertheless—to the BBC leadership for facing up, in a rather self-indulgent organisation of prima donnas, to agonising and controversial changes in order to modernise its management practices. The BBC leadership deserve credit for the courage it has shown in that direction.

The Statement noted that a number of the proposals involve legislative changes. Do the Minister and the Government agree that the renewal of the BBC licence and charter should be the occasion for a comprehensive review of broadcasting policy and for a new and better broadcasting Act which would deal with the many anomalies left by the last Broadcasting Act, including such issues as cross-media ownership, the financing of Channel 4, the matter of listed sporting events and so on?

Finally, the Minister mentioned regulatory changes. We will want to study in detail what she proposes, but perhaps I may remind her that the purpose of broadcasting policy and broadcasting regulation is not to regulate in the interests of the broadcasters but to regulate in the interests of the viewers and listeners. Their interests ought to be paramount.

Against that background—I put the matter diffidently and tentatively—is it not at least worth considering the case for a single office of public broadcasting with the task of independently ensuring that both the BBC and its various services and all the commercial broadcasting services, radio and television, of this country fulfil the public service obligations that they have in their various licences?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Morris of Castle Morris and Lord Thomson of Monifieth, for the welcome which they generally gave to the White Paper. I seem to have a great many more than six questions to answer from the noble Lord, Lord Morris, and thankfully only two from the noble Lord, Lord Thomson.

The first question of the noble Lord, Lord Morris, concerned the BBC education services, and of course education is one of the BBC's primary roles. The White Paper underlines that and focuses the BBC's attention in school programmes on the requirements of the national curriculum. It must consult the educational community on its output. But that is an important part of the BBC's role.

An equally important part is the BBC's research role, and it is vital that it takes the lead in research and training. Continuation of the licence fee will allow it to invest in the future. Why only five more years of the licence fee, asked the noble Lord, Lord Morris. There is no immediate prospect of a suitable replacement for the licence fee. However, with rapid developments in services and technology over the next few years, we want to keep the options open. We need to strike a balance between medium-term security and finding the best approach for the future. I noted the warning by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, that he would be keeping his eagle eye on the situation.

The noble Lord, Lord Morris, asked me whether the Government had backtracked from their commitment to privatising transmission. The answer is no, we still see advantages in privatising the BBC's transmission services in whole or in part. It would allow more intensive use to be made of transmission infrastructure and the injection of private finance to pay for the introduction of digital broadcasting technology. But we are looking at it in the context of developments in technology and in markets and we expect to reach a decision by the end of the year.

Is not producer choice an expensive bureaucratic exercise? That was the gist of the noble Lord's next question. My answer is no, it has led to greater efficiency and produced savings which have been able to be ploughed back into programmes, as I said.

On the question of a public service broadcasting authority commissioning programmes from all broad-casters, there is considerable merit in having broadcasters with different sources of revenue. In the past few years there have been moves towards stronger links between broadcasting and programme-making and this will be lost if public service broadcasting was the responsibility of a separate body which did not make programmes itself.

The morale of the staff, I think, is an understandable point, and I understand why BBC staff may have felt threatened by changes which were necessary to improve the BBC's efficiency and bring its management practices up to modern standards. However, I believe that staff are now seeing the benefit of those changes in the form of a stronger and more effective BBC.

The noble Lord, Lord Morris, also asked how about revising the Broadcasting Act completely. Changes in technology and in broadcasting markets will require some changes to legislation. We are considering what amendments are necessary as part of our review of cross-media ownership. We will keep an open mind on what is necessary.

The final question from the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, was: has forcing the BBC to take independent productions reduced the quality of its programmes? Independent producers have been able to contribute new and innovative programmes that have enriched the diversity of the BBC's programming. We will continue to encourage the BBC, where possible, to extend its commissions from independent producers throughout the country.

Perhaps I may turn to the two points that were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth. The noble Lord asked when the licence fee will be reviewed. It will be reviewed in good time to reach conclusions before the end of 1996. The noble Lord's other question was: is the ITC effective as a regulator? My reply to that is that the ITC has shown recently that it is not afraid to criticise commercial broadcasters. Its ultimate sanction is to revoke a broadcaster's licence. It is wholly appropriate that the ITC should regulate the BBC's commercial services in the future.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, my noble friend has done the House very good service in repeating this enormously important Statement. But I would like to ask her whether the Government will go a little further and arrange for an early debate in this House on the many very important issues that arise. It would be a great pity if the House were to rise for the Summer Recess without the very considerable body of knowledge on broadcasting and its problems which is to be found in this House being given an opportunity for expression. I urge upon my noble friend that she and the usual channels, whatever inconvenience it might mean for their arrangements, will arrange for a full day before the House rises to be given to discussion of these immensely important issues.

I want to ask only one question of fact. It relates to the statement that the new Royal Charter will set out the responsibilities of the governors and the national councils in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Statement says: The board of governors will have a strategic oversight of the BBC's activities and management". Will my noble friend tell the House what the phrase "strategic oversight" really means? Does it mean "authority"? Does it mean "control"? Does it mean the type of authority that a board of directors has over the affairs of a company? Or does it mean something less? And if it does mean something less, what exactly does it mean? "Strategic oversight" is an extraordinary expression. It suggests something less than full control and full responsibilities. But the practical point is that if the BBC does anything wrong, will the responsibility for that wrongdoing be accepted by members of the Board of Governors, or indeed responsibility for other aspects of the BBC itself? That is an extremely important aspect of the matter. I beg my noble friend to make that clear.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, my first reply to my noble friend is that, of course, I will pass on his remarks to the usual channels. The question of a debate is, however, a matter for the usual channels; it is not in my gift. In answer to his second point, it is primarily for the governors to ensure that the BBC meets its objectives while keeping closely in touch with its audiences. The governors have set up a new public complaints unit independently to consider complaints. The BBC will also have to take account of the views of the Broadcasting Standards Council and the Broadcasting Complaints Commission which, as I said, we propose to merge into a single body. The governors set objectives and monitor performance. They appoint the managers and they can dismiss them.

Lord Barnett

My Lords, perhaps I can add to the answer that was given to the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter. In my seven years as vice-chairman we certainly exercised that authority to appoint and dismiss very senior managers. I can assure the noble Lord that we did just that.

I also warmly welcome, in broad terms, the White Paper and much that is in it. I especially welcome the point that is made on the need to ensure that the editorial independence of the BBC remains. That is of crucial importance.

As to the cost-effectiveness and efficiency of the BBC, I am sure the noble Baroness is aware that much had already been done, in the face of the much misunderstood attacks on John Birt, under "producer choice", which an independent report found to be working very effectively. It has saved £100 million in 1993–94 for front line programmes and will probably save another £75 million over the next two years. Is the noble Baroness equally aware that a great deal of success has already been achieved with the international television service? There is no cross-subsidisation from the BBC licence fee or from taxation. It has been done by making the service commercially successful. Is the Minister also aware that it will almost certainly be more successful following the link up with the Pearson Report?

The Government had a need, I suppose, to put something about privatisation into the White Paper? I understand that. But can she recognise, and will she try to pass on to her right honourable friend, that privatising something—for example, transmission—is not really an answer to anything. In practice, it would provide very little in the way of extra competition but it could, and almost certainly would, add to cost; and it would mean a loss of control for the BBC. When the Government consider the option of privatisation of transmission— and I understand also the question of digital matters —I hope that they will think very carefully before privatising transmission as a whole.

Finally, in the light of today's excellent Select Committee report, I recognise that in regard to listed sporting events the Minister cannot make a statement today for very obvious reasons. The report only came out at 12 noon. But will she pass on to her right honourable friend that it is of crucial importance that major national listed sporting events should not be available only to those who can afford satellite television. It would be appalling if that were to apply just because they are able to pay hugely for that pleasure. The broadcasting of such events should be available to anybody who can take television, whether terrestrial or satellite. I hope, therefore, that it will be available. While the Minister cannot answer that question today, in principle she might be able to tell the House that the Government accept the proposition in the all-party Select Committee's report. The committee unanimously agreed that there should not be exclusivity and that these crucial national listed sporting events should not be exclusive to satellite television.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, who of course has immense experience in this field, for bearing out some of the words in the Statement. I will, of course, pass on the remarks that the noble Lord made, which for obvious reasons I cannot answer, to my right honourable friend.

With regard to the cost of privatisation, it would bring an injection of private funds to allow very desirable developments in broadcasting technology. Other ways of achieving that investment may be possible and we shall consider the options with the BBC. There will be no cross-subsidisation for the BBCs commercial activities. We want the BBC to compete fairly and be seen to do so.

In relation to sport, about which I feel as strongly as anybody else, the Select Committee published its conclusions on the broadcasting of sporting events and my right honourable friend will look closely at what is recommended before reaching decisions on what further action may be necessary to ensure access to national sporting events. There are certain sporting events which have a special place in the life of this country. That was recognised in the Broadcasting Act 1990 which prevents certain events being broadcast solely on a "pay-per-view" basis. My right honourable friend believes that that safeguard remains necessary and he will consider the Select Committee's recommendations on whether or not those arrangements should be strengthened.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, on the whole I welcome the White Paper. However, it ducks the one question, also touched on by the Opposition Benches, as to whether the BBC should continue to be judge and jury of its own case. There is unhappiness about that. The Government have taken a long time to mature the White Paper; we have been expecting it for a year. No doubt they have been thinking and rethinking how they can form some sort of organisation which would not be as disadvantaged as it is at present. But no Minister dare in any way criticise the BBC. If they do so they will receive a fearful blistering, not only from the press, but also from the BBC. Sir Norman Tebbit, as he then was, was the last to experience it when he pointed out that the account of the Tripoli raid given by the BBC was rather different from that given by ITN. He asked the BBC why its description was so vividly different. The headline that night was, "Conservative Chairman attacks the BBC for its programmes". Since then he has been rather quiet on the issue.

We looked at a number of commitments and I am not sure that I agree with a number of noble Lords on the opposite Benches. The Statement says, A new agreement between the Government and the BBC would govern its operations; this would replace the present licence". Which Minister will do that? Will it be someone from the DTI? It will be a much wider issue with mixed private and public enterprise. It is not easy to see how any politician could take on the responsibility. I hoped that the Government would set up a broadcasting commission and even consider an ombudsman. That may give members of the public some satisfaction and someone to whom they can write with their criticisms.

The BBC is governed by rules—we set them up in 1990—in relation to fairness, balance and impartiality. It is governed by its producers' rules also. I read those from cover to cover, all 297 pages of them. I wonder whether any producer ever reads them all? But they are not always obeyed. We have seen one or two glaring cases, such as the programme about the Kray twins. That was not in accordance with the wishes of the programme people or the standards that they wished to set. I am sorry that there has not yet been a solution in that area.

I have one other query. We are always being told that a restructuring of the BBC is taking place. I have no wish to disturb the staff of the BBC. They are loyal, good and conscientious in many ways. But when I ask for the total number I am told, "It has come down substantially". When I ask for specific figures I am told 25,000. That was said 25 years ago. It is said, "We intend to knock 5,000 off so that we can give good value for money and put more money into programmes". But the number remains static. Perhaps the Minister can inform the House of the present total.

I support the point that a debate would be desirable. The House holds a great deal of expertise and it would be nice, while the matter is fresh in our minds and not set in tablets of stone, for us to debate it.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, in response to my noble friend's point regarding judge and jury, the public will judge the BBC. It will have to publish clear objectives for its services in a statement of promises to its audiences. Changes to the nature of those services will be possible only if the BBC first consults its audiences on the proposed changes. It will also have to provide people with information about its services and its performance when it sends out reminders for the television licence. People will be given an address to which they can send comments about the services and programmes.

My right honourable friend is responsible for the BBC and will take the lead in the review of its funding, in consultation with his colleagues. As regards bias on the part of the BBC, the new agreement will contain a clear obligation to treat contentious issues with due impartiality. It will be primarily for the BBC governors to ensure that BBC programmes comply with that obligation.

I am grateful to my noble friend for giving me prior warning that he would ask about the number of members of staff at the BBC. I obtained a list and during 1993–94 the BBC as a whole shed over 1,500 members. The biggest reductions came in central overhead departments where the workforce dropped by 8 per cent. Productivity savings amounted to £100 million in 1993–94. Between 1989 and 1993 the BBC staff was reduced from 28,600 to 24,900 and there will be a further fall this year.

Lord Bottomley

My Lords, the noble Baroness quite rightly referred to the high standard of work performed by the BBC Overseas Service. That was accomplished in spite of the fact that Conservative Governments often cut the grants. Can the Minister give an assurance that future grants will not be cut in a way which will affect the high standard of performance given by overseas services.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords. I am not sure that I understand to which grants the noble Lord is referring. The grant-in-aid remains, as does the World Service. We will do all we can to make: sure that that remains entirely viable.

Lord Renton

My Lords, although there is much in the Statement that I welcome, especially the merger of the Broadcasting Standards Council and the Broadcasting Complaints Commission, perhaps I can ask my noble friend about a matter which I feel is an anomaly. All the other broadcasting agencies in this country are governed by statute and are indirectly answerable to Parliament. The Statement says that a number of the BBC's activities in future will be covered by legislation. Why then do we have the anomaly that the main part of the BBC's work is to continue to be the subject of a Royal Charter, under which the BBC's responsibility to Parliament, if it exists at all, is extremely vague?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Renton for his question. Establishing the BBC by Royal Charter prevents it from being seen as a creature of Parliament. It therefore underlines the BBC's editorial independence. That was recognised when the BBC was first established and it remains a relevant consideration today.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that many people, while welcoming the Statement and the White Paper, are relieved chat the BBC is not to be reorganised out of existence as some of us feared? In relation to the governors, does the noble Baroness realise that many people believe that the governors are still drawn from too narrow a section of society—the great, the good and the politically correct? Is there any proposal to try to widen the area from which the governors are recruited?

Can the noble Baroness give us further reassurance about the BBC World Service, which is admired throughout the world? What we need is an assurance that the service will not only be properly financed at its present level but, as and when it is felt to be right, will also be financed to expand. That is the kind of assurance we want.

Finally, the noble Baroness said that in future the commercial broadcasting services of the BBC will have to be licensed by the ITC and the Radio Authority. What criteria will be used for the licensing of commercial broadcasting services? Perhaps I may give an example. I should have thought that the BBC would want to build up its world television news network perhaps to rival CNN. Would the licensing preclude it from doing that? If it did, it would be altogether reprehensible. It would not be good for the BBC or for the people of this country.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, the World Service is expanding. The BBC is opening a new bureau this year. With regard to the great and the good, what is most important is to ensure a balance of experience, including in the future for the BBC's commercial activities.