HL Deb 14 July 1981 vol 422 cc1227-9WA
The Earl of Bessborough

asked Her Majesty's Government:

If they will now make a statement following the third report of the Local Radio Working Party.

Lord Belstead

The third report of the Home Office Local Radio Working Party, which was published on 18th December last year, put forward proposals for the further development of BBC and IBA local radio and explored in a preliminary way some of the issues involved in community radio (that is, the development of low-powered local radio services operating outside the scope of the BBC and the IBA). There has been a very substantial response to the invitation for comments on the report. The proposals in the report for the continued expansion of BBC and IBA local radio services have been generally welcomed.

My right honourable friend has decided in the light of the comments to give his approval in principle to the BBC's plans for a total of 38 local radio services in England, each of approximately countywide coverage. There was public support for an additional BBC service in Buckinghamshire. My right honourable friend is informed that the BBC will consider the possibility of establishing a contribution studio in Aylesbury to give fuller coverage of the affairs of Buckinghamshire. My right honourable friend has also given his approval in principle to an MF assignment to enable the BBC to provide a localised service in Clwyd.

As the working party recognised, the full implementation of the BBC's plans for localised opt-out services in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland depends on the introduction of new VHF networks in the national regions. The BBC's proposals for new networks are being considered in the context of preparations for an international frequency planning conference to be held in 1982–1984 for VHF Band II, and decisions on them will depend on the outcome of that conference.

My right honourable friend has also given his approval in principle to independent local radio (ILR) services at 25 locations mentioned in the report with two provisos. There has been public support for additional ILR services in the Isle of Wight and in Doncaster, and he has asked the IBA to investigate the economic and engineering possibilities of providing such services. However, the provision of a service for Doncaster could have implications for other approved ILR development in the area, in particular the ILR service for Barnsley which he approved following publication of the working party's second report. My right honourable friend has therefore asked the authority, in considering Doncaster, to look at the development of ILR in South Yorkshire as a whole, carrying out such local consultations as it considers necessary, and to make further proposals to him.

All the new services which my right honourable friend is approving today will have both MF and, subject to the reservations mentioned in the third report, VHF assignments.

The timing of introduction of local radio services in the areas approved today will be a matter for the BBC and the IBA in the light of their individual circumstances. Full implementation of the proposals would, however, take a number of years, and there may need to be a degree of flexibility about the most suitable and practicable way of bringing a service to a particular area in the light of developments in the economy generally and in the context of frequency planning following the VHF Band II conference. In addition, my right honourable friend has received some representations which suggest that a particular area should be included within the coverage of a particular local radio service. He is asking the broadcasting authority concerned to see in such cases whether, and if so to what extent, these representations can be accommodated in its planning.

About half of the replies received have dealt with community radio, the great majority expressing support for some form of community radio development, though only a few of those addressed themselves directly to the question of a suitable financial and regulatory framework. My right honourable friend agrees with the working party that community radio raises important issues of broadcasting policy and difficult problems of resources, both inside and outside government. My right honourable friend proposes to give further consideration to this matter.