I have authorised the B.B.C. to set up stations at Brighton, Durham, Leeds, Leicester, Manchester, Merseyside, Nottingham, Sheffield and Stoke-on-Trent. The Manchester City Council has, however, decided to withdraw its support for a station there. Local support for a station in East Anglia was not sufficient to justify my authorising a station there to the exclusion of one of the places chosen. The stations at Leicester, Merseyside and Sheffield are expected to start broadcasting in November or early December: those at Brighton, Nottingham and Stoke-on-Trent by the end of March. The stations at Durham and Leeds are expected to start by the end of May. This experiment is being conducted with a view to the establishment of a more general and permanent service; but it will be necessary to see how it goes before further stations are authorised.
While we all wish these stations well, would not my right hon. Friend agree that the difficulty of finding nine local authorities willing to cooperate clearly indicates the insuperable difficulty of finding 70 or 80 local authorities for a subsequent phase of local broadcasting? Would he reconsider in the long term the financing of these stations with a view to the possibility of using licence fee revenue?
To take my hon. Friend's second point first, one of our objects is to see whether a truly communal station may be financed in this way. Frankly, I do not know whether or not it can be—that is why we are having this experiment. With regard to my hon. Friend's first point about difficulty in getting more stations, the difficulty was to select them. Actually, we had a very large number of applicants.
Is the Postmaster-General aware that the reason why it has not been possible to establish a station in East Anglia is that it cannot be afforded out of rate revenue? Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that the only practicable way to have local radio there is to have a commercial radio station? Will he look at it again, in order to help those who cannot afford it owing to the rate burden?
That is the most utter nonsense because the money comes out of the same pockets; whether it is licence fees or the profit on a packet of "Daz", the same people have to pay for it. I am, of course, quite aware of the interests of hon. Members opposite in commercial radio—[Interruption.] I said the interests of hon. Gentlemen opposite in commercial radio. I know their interest in that, of course, because there is a lot of money to be made out of it—[Interruption.]
I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman was casting an aspersion on the hon. Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale). He can cast aspersions unfortunately, on the whole of the other side.
On a point of order. Mr. Speaker. You have said that the right hon. Gentleman is able to cast aspersions on the whole of the other side. I would point out that I have never taken part in commercial television, I have no interest in it whatsoever, and I object to the slur of the right hon. Gentleman.
Will my right hon. Friend advise me, in relation to Question No. 38, whether or not it is the practice of his Department to make a visit to the areas where local radio stations are possible to discuss the pros and cons in relation to broadcasting as a whole? Further, is it or is it not the fact that it is possible for any large potential user so to destroy confidence in the system that no radio station is, in fact, set up? Is not my right hon. Friend regretting the fact that there is no radio station for Bristol?
Yes, Sir. I regret that there is no station in Bristol. It is, of course, possible for one very active potential user to defeat the whole thing, and up and down the country we find that the activities of the Local Radio Association and also of chambers of commerce have prevented applications coming in.
No, Sir. I said that I had authorised a station there. All I said was that the city corporation had withdrawn its support, but I see from the Press that councils round about are interested. I am told that the B.B.C. have not yet reached any decision about the station yet.
Is the Postmaster-General aware that he has evaded giving this answer over several months now? Is it not time that he referred back to his White Paper, in which he said that chambers of commerce and other bodies would help in the financing of these stations? Unless we have this information before we rise for the Recess, we can only presume that the ratepayers in these areas will have to find the money.
I am well aware that the hon. Gentleman does his best to discredit this experiment. He has done this ever since the beginning; so have his hon. Friends. What the hon. Gentleman is asking me for is the result of the experiment. How could I give the result of the experiment before it takes place?