HL Deb 23 January 1985 vol 459 cc372-3WA
Lord Orr-Ewing

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will make a statement about the development of community radio.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Elton)

Although there is as yet no precise definition of community radio, it is most commonly seen as representing a third tier of radio quite distinct from those services at present provided by the BBC and the IBA, and it describes two possible concepts. One represents the most local form of broadcasting: a low-power transmitter broadcasting to the immediate neighbourhood, with the close involvement of the community. The other is of a station broadcasting across a wider area to what is called a "community of interest", such as an ethnic minority, or the enthusiasts for a particular kind of music.

We have for some time been interested in the idea of community radio and we are anxious to provide the opportunity for its development. It has, however, been difficult to assess what scope there might be for community radio in frequency terms, in advance of the international conference held at the end of last year which planned the expansion of the VHF waveband. In the light of that conference, we now know what spectrum will be available to the United Kingdom, in what timescale, so that it will now be possible to establish what assignments could be devoted to community radio.

Nonetheless, there remain some decisions which need to be taken, and the new frequencies will in any event not be available for some time. There will almost certainly be more would-be broadcasters than frequencies available. We shall therefore need to decide how to choose between competing applicants, and how the new stations are to be financed. We shall also have to consider what limits, if any, should be placed on what can be broadcast, and what the relationship should be with existing local radio stations.

My right honourable friend the Home Secretary is firmly resolved to reach practical and positive decisions on all these matters as quickly as possible, because he believes that community radio is a constructive development which should now be given a clear impetus. Community radio will promote self-help, increase freedom of speech, and be of value to many local communities.

It is important to distinguish between community radio and the present pirate stations, which cause interference, steal news broadcasts and other copyright material, and operate in flagrant defiance of the law. The Government will continue to take action against the pirates, in order to retain control of the spectrum for licensed broadcasters. These will include as soon as the necessary decisions can be implemented, community radio stations—perhaps starting with some experimental stations and building up as frequencies become available. But there will not be room for any community radio if the pirates have occupied all the spectrum beforehand.

We hope to make a further statement before too long in the light of our study of how the development of community radio can best be taken forward.