Orders of the Day — BBC (External and Transcription Services)

– in the House of Commons at 10:02 pm on 23rd July 1981.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Sir Brandon Rhys Williams Sir Brandon Rhys Williams , Kensington and Chelsea Kensington 10:02 pm, 23rd July 1981

When one considers the size of the Consolidated Fund and the comparatively small saving that the Government hope to make through cuts in the BBC world service, it becomes clear that we are touching large issues but that the sums of money involved are negligible by comparison.

This debate must be relevant to the conflict of ideologies that divides Eastern and Western Europe along the Iron Curtain, but it is also a matter of British culture, trade and world standing.

Two recent developments make the debate particularly relevant. The first is the course of events in Poland over the past few months. I believe that historians will compare the importance of this year in Poland with 1940 when Hitler failed to invade Britain although he could have done so, and thereby, in effect, lost the war. The decision by the Russians, at any rate so far, not to invade Poland in recent weeks could well mean that they will find that they have lost the ideological war with the West, but it is up to us to keep our courage up and to be robust.

This is not the moment to lose our self-confidence. We saw what happened in China after the death of Mao Tse Tung and the dramatic changes that have taken place in a few years even in that very slow-moving half-continent. No doubt those changes were partly prepared by the Western broadcasts that were received on the mainland of China during those years. In the next few years there could well be equally rapid changes in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Again, those changes will have been partly prepared by the fact that the BBC and other Western broadcasts have been regularly heard in the Comecon and Iron Curtain countries.

The other relevant development is that this year the Government have been forced to make an enormous addition to the lees charged to overseas students who come to study in Britain. We have not yet begun to realise the effect that that will have on our former dependencies and on all the countries with which we have export connections and long-standing trading links.

As recently as May 1980 my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that a massive propaganda campaign of a kind we had never mounted as yet was needed to influence opinion in the Soviet Union.

The Foreign Office has responded to my right hon. Friend's initiative by presenting niggling and futile cuts in the BBC world service, which will achieve few savings but which will inflict great damage.

At long last. the Government intend to do what is necessary to improve the transmission and capital equipment that underpins the main overseas service. However, the mood of the Foreign Office is wrong, and has been shown to be wrong again and again by the way in which it continually makes niggling attacks on the world service. It is right to update the equipment, but the proposal of the Foreign Office to make offsetting savings in the service is dubious. It is behaving like a firm that has found that it is losing sales and then proceeds to cut its expenditure on advertising. If the firm increased its expenditure on advertising, it would probably recover the sales that it had lost. It is particularly ill-advised to cut Britain's voice on the world service when we know that the product is excellent.

Photo of Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith , East Grinstead

I know that my hon. Friend wishes to be fair, but he will be aware that in 1980–81 there were increases in the number of foreign language broadcasts. Is it not right to point that out? My hon. Friend gives the impression that a rather stupid Foreign Office is unmindful of the value of broadcasting and has been setting about the BBC's external services with a will to destroy them.

Photo of Sir Brandon Rhys Williams Sir Brandon Rhys Williams , Kensington and Chelsea Kensington

I may have given the impression that in recent years the world service has been diminished, but that impression must be shared by almost all of those who listen to the world service abroad. For various reasons I travel abroad to America and so on. Even when I take quite sophisticated equipment with me to listen to the BBC and to keep in touch with events, I often find it very difficult to hear programmes. However, Moscow radio and other broadcasts, such as those made from Albania, Egypt and India have increased in audibility. Those broadcasts can be heard quite easily, even when using portable equipment that can easily he carried in luggage. The BBC seems to become fainter and more remote all the time. Although there may have been increases in the amount of expenditure on the services, they still do not reach the listeners.

We are now debating cuts in the service. Do the Government intend to defy the House on this issue? Is this debate futile, or are the Government prepared to listen arid to withdraw the proposals to make cuts in the world service? Earlier this week it was fortunate for the Government that the House did not proceed to a Division when the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) sought to introduce a Ten-Minute Bill to set up a Royal Commission. If there had been a Division, the House would have made its feelings clear. I am sorry that the hon. and learned Gentleman is not in his place. A pressing engagement must have kept him away. I should like to pay tribute to him for the campaign that he has mounted on this subject. I was glad to include my name among the sponsors of the Bill. It would be advisable to set up a Royal Commission, if that would help to guide the Foreign Office. I believe, however, that a positive initiative should be taken now.

I should like to draw the attention of the House to a recent Home Office study, published in May, entitled "Direct Broadcasting by satellite". It deals with the rapidly developing technology of beaming sound and television signals to satellites which are able to reflect the signals down over a wide area, thus producing an enormous improvement in the quality of reception and making possible the carrying of television broadcasts live over large distances.

The study contains some interesting and stimulating information. It would be a tragedy for the British electronics industry if these developments were not followed up and if the French, the Germans, the Japanese, the Americans and the Iron Curtain countries were left to pioneer the technology of transmission by satellite while we lag behind because we have not appreciated the importance of the development.

The document to which I refer contains a map showing the areas of Europe that can be reached if reception is assisted by a 2-metre aerial. There must be many people who could afford some kind of makeshift 2-metre antenna. The map shows that such an aerial would extend reception of planned domestic Western European services right over Eastern Europe to the borders of the Soviet Union. It is impossible to believe that clandestine aerials would not be set up all over Eastern Europe, to receive television broadcasts intended for France, Germany and Luxembourg.

It would be far better if programmes devised specifically for Eastern European audiences were sent out. The programmes might include irresistibly interesting matter that the Governments of the countries concerned would not jam because it was in their interest to receive them. I am thinking of technological information and industrial guidance, apart from news.

I wish to put this debate in the context of our whole attitude about ourselves, and our economic difficulties. We are allowing ourselves as are other Western countries, to get into a depressed attitude of mind of under-investment, economic nationalism and money illusion and allow these matters to creep into Government thinking. This results in wrong decisions being adopted in a panic of self-denigration. We need to make ambitious plans to extend the world service and not simply to do what is necessary to keep it audible. We should be thinking now about progress in television. I have already described the advantages for our electronics industry. There are many other aspects that should be considered.

These proposals are, of course, expensive. The initiative need not, however, be exclusively British. Why have we joined the European Economic Community, if not for the sake of better co-operation with countries of Western Europe that have similar interests? The French and the Germans are acting together in satellite technology. We do not seem to have got in on the act. This is a matter that the Foreign Office should seek to correct.

The planning of television news, technological and language services, particularly to Eastern Europe, but also to Africa and elsewhere should be a shared venture with EEC countries. We should identify our motives. It is not simply a matter of altruism and wanting people to know the truth because we consider that this is in the interests of greater humanity. There are significant aid and trade implications in maintaining our voice at an audible level and extending it to a much wider audience.

We should build on what we have and not seek to demolish it. There are a number of things of which we can be proud in the manner in which the world service has developed. It seems to me that we should now launch what I venture to call "The World University of the Air".

We have to look again at the way in which we offer aid to overseas students. We should not leave it to Communist countries to fill the gap that will be left in the educational programmes of these students. We have an established academic connection with many countries overseas, and we must not let that wither away.

The BBC world service does not provide only news, entertainment and so on. There is the English language service, which already includes television courses, and these courses are made available for transcription. My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Sir A. Kershaw), who so ably opened the debate, referred to the transcription services, and I have to ask who will fill the void if these transcription facilities are not made available from the BBC. Deutsche Welle has excellent services, and on the whole they are trustworthy and interesting, but Moscow radio has improved the quality of its services in the last few years out of all recognition. I am afraid that we shall leave gaps that will be filled by Iron Curtain countries if we persist in abandoning the transcription services or reducing their range.

Another development in this country that can be regarded as a success is the Open University. I should like the Government to extend its scope across the language frontiers. This could be seen as part of our contribution to the Lomé convention. We owe it to the former dependencies to offer them all that we can in the way of advice and technology. It is in our interests to do so. We should seek to provide direct transmissions of cultural and technological courses to Europe and Africa, South America, and other places where formerly we had strong connections. We should try to make local arrangements for tutorials as a follow-up. I realise that that is a longer range service, but possibly much could be done by arrangement with the local educational institutions. We should offer the courses on tapes for local transmission, and even for domestic purchase and study.

I have said enough to give the House an idea of what I mean by "The World University of the Air". I see it as a European venture, if only because we would probably need the co-operation of the French, Spanish and Portuguese in due course to make the necessary services available in all the different languages of the Lomé convention countries. But I ask the Minister, in connection with these niggling cuts that the Foreign Office has brought forward to the House, not just to think again, but to change his whole approach.

Hon. Members:

Hear, hear.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

I can guarantee that everyone will be called.

Photo of Mr Andrew Faulds Mr Andrew Faulds , Warley East

I was not trying to intervene too early, Mr. Speaker. I was trying to keep my end up, with massive support from my Benches.

Some of us may feel that we have been this way before. Governments of different complexions on occasion seem to have had too little appreciation of the invaluable contribution of the BBC's external services to the worldwide dissemination of balanced and responsible reportage of world events.

The BBC has established—and we all know this to be a fact—ever since Lord Reith set its standards, a world-wide reputation for honesty and reliability. Yet seven times now in the past eight years, Governments of one party or the other have tried to cut the BBC's overseas broadcasts. Adequate funds have not been made available either to ensure a proper coverage of the world's vernacular languages or to ensure clear audibility of the range of languages in which we broadcast.

There have been consequent problems of maintaining a consistent policy, with cuts required one year and the same services restored the next—a point that has been made by a number of colleagues tonight.

The BBC broadcasts about 670 hours a week to the outside world both in English and in 40 or so other languages, but its foreign output is considerably smaller than that of the Soviet Union, with about 2,000 hours a week, and a slightly smaller figure of about 1,900 hours a week put out by the United States. China, West Germany and the Warsaw Pact countries all put out a larger radio coverage. Instead of cutting down our output, we should be expanding it in this important battle of the air—this battle for men's minds across the globe. The BBC should be given the opportunity and ability to tell the truth, as it has done and continues to do, in more languages and to more countries. It is ironic that it is this and other Foreign Services, with their particular responsibilities for Britain's interests, who seem to be the ones who want to restrict the dissemination of the British voice abroad.

I should like to look briefly at what the projected cuts entail, as one or two other hon. Members have done. The Burmese service is to go. It is the main means of communication between Britain and Burma, because diplomatic activity is limited and foreign publications in that country are largely unobtainable. As hon. Members will know, Burma has placed a strange self-isolation on its people since the war, but there are signs that it is now preparing to open up, as was said earlier. When trade and cultural contacts may again be possible, this country plans to retreat. It is an extraordinary time to choose to do that. The evidence is that the Burmese actually welcome that voice. The BBC has the largest audience of the external broadcasters to that country, beating—thank goodness this is the case—Radio Moscow and Radio Peking in that area of the world.

The Brazilian service is also to go. Brazil—and this was also said earlier—has the sixth biggest population in the world and has immense natural resources on which the industialised nations have their eyes. It is a country of great potential power and wealth. Our influence through the dissemination of news and views is to be withdrawn. Here again the BBC has the biggest audience of any foreign broadcasting organisation, beating—again, a pleasant fact—the Russians and the Warsaw Pact countries.

Then the BBC's Somali service is to go. There are Somali-speaking people in Ethiopia, Djibouti and East Africa, and there are Somali communities in the Middle East as well as the Somali's themselves who listen to the service. The Horn of Africa, as again was stated earlier, is a vital area in the great contest between the ideologies of East and West. The Soviet Union has made enormous penetration into the region. There are a number of liberation movements in the area fighting for independence from the pattern of the colonial carve-up whose political development and orientation is not yet settled. They are still open to influence, yet in that area at this time we choose to withdraw the vital influence of the BBC.

Those three ill-advised cuts in those three countries are apparently the quite haphazard result of an arbitrary decision to choose a service—one in each continent—and close it down. Had the exercise been carried out blindfold and with a pin, it would probably have had less damaging consequences. It is always possible, of course, that it was done that way—the Foreign Office's new tea-time game.

However, in addition to all the implications of that damage, the BBC's French, Italian and Spanish services are all to go, just at a time when we in this country, with Northern Ireland and the commotion on our streets, need to present an acceptable picture of ourselves. Yet we withdraw that influence from Europe. There is reason to believe—and this should disturb us—that some of the listeners to the programmes that will be dropped are the opinion-formers in the media in those countries.

We intend at the same time to silence the BBC Maltese service, when the world service in English is no longer rebroadcast in that island, for obvious reasons. Then there is the cessation of the BBC's transcription service which for years has flooded the radio stations of the world with British material. Perhaps I should declare an interest in that because in my former profession, when I was younger and even lovelier—

Photo of Mr John Wells Mr John Wells , Maidstone

That is not possible.

Photo of Mr Andrew Faulds Mr Andrew Faulds , Warley East

It is not possible, I know—I used to turn an honest penny from contributions to that excellent service.

A large number of radio stations throughout the world rely for a large proportion of their output on purchases from the BBC's transcription service. The transcription service provides two types of programmes. In BBC shorthand there is the topical, such as news and current affairs, and the timeless—that is, British literature, drama, music, science and education, and programmes on all aspects of British life. All that enormously valuable contribution to an appreciation of our culture and heritage is to be thrown away.

Photo of Mr Anthony Royle Mr Anthony Royle , Richmond Upon Thames Richmond

I have much sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman has been saying. He has criticised the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for the decision to cut services in certain places. It is not good enough to criticise the cuts without producing alternatives. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that he would cut nothing and keep the external services going as they are at present—there is an arugument for doing that—or is he saying that the cuts are in the wrong areas and that we should keep the French and Spanish services for the reasons that he stated? I should be grateful if he would answer that.

Photo of Mr Andrew Faulds Mr Andrew Faulds , Warley East

I can answer the hon. Gentleman quite simply. The saving of £3 million is not worth the damage to those services. I should like to see them maintained and, as I said earlier, I should like the money to be increased so that there are more languages and more coverage for the BBC to put out its reports of the British view throughout the world. I do not hold with the necessity for cuts in this area at all. I hope that I have made my views clear to the hon. Gentleman.

But, what worries me about the cessation of the transcription service is whether any thought has been given as to the likelihood of who will step in to replace the empty programme spaces in thousands of radio programmes from hundreds of radio stations across the world. Last year, in 1980, 36,000 hours of British radio were broadcast abroad which were purchased from the vast resources of the transcription service library. Should we perhaps wonder and worry about who will move in on those options? All these damaging acts, about cuts in the external services in seven languages, the truncating of the transcription service, to save all these £3 million annually—a piddling amount in national terms.

The consequentional effects of the cuts have perhaps not been thought through either. I have been given technical advice. These are not imaginative interpretations of my own. If the transmitters used for these services are turned to other services, the savings will not be made. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would comment on that possibility when he winds up the debate. The disruption of listening times and frequencies may well lose listeners whom we shall not recover. The rearrangement of services may not actually improve audibility, which apparently is the purpose of the whole operation.

Photo of Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith , East Grinstead

Has the hon. Gentleman any idea what the effect of withdrawing the subsidy on the transcription service would have on the price of that service?

Photo of Mr Andrew Faulds Mr Andrew Faulds , Warley East

I am afraid that I cannot give an answer to that question because I have not made an estimate, but the figures are small. The total cost of that service is about £1 million a year, about £480,000 to £490,000 is recovered from sales—

Photo of Mr Andrew Faulds Mr Andrew Faulds , Warley East

—so we are talking of an overall cost of about half a million pounds, something of that nature.

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I did not wish to intervene, but perhaps I should give the figures. The income of the transcription service is about £410,000 and the cost is about £1·4 million, so that the net cost is just under £1 million.

Photo of Mr Andrew Faulds Mr Andrew Faulds , Warley East

I am a fraction of £1 million out, but that does not affect the value of my argument that the damage is not worth the small intended saving.

Another danger of the developments being pursued is that it seems almost certain that other broadcasting organisations will not allow the BBC to dispose of the vacated frequencies as it sees fit. If the Minister believes that we shall have them at our call when we want them he is wrong. It will in all probability be impossible for the BBC to recover any of those lost frequencies.

The Government have been somewhat disingenuous in trying to make their case, which appears to be that the cuts would ensure better audibility for the BBC's other services. The Prime Minister had a go at that the other day, and the Minister of State had an even feebler try at the same story. Cutting the seven services will in no way ensure that the other 33 will be more audible. That is a simple statement of fact.

The claim that the new capital investment programme of £102½ million is proof of Government concern about this matter is pretty unconvincing. The Government are merely restoring an earlier cut from 1979 in the BBC's capital investment programme. More than half that intended programme of £102½ million—about £53 million—relates to expenditure after March 1985, and—and this is the sobering fact—is beyond the limit of the spending plans of the Public Expenditure Survey Committee. There is no promise of such expenditure and no such promise could be made. There is only a statement of readiness in principle to make those moneys available.

The audibility excuse for the cuts can be dismissed as a pretty unconvincing cover for unacceptable intentions. The audibility argument is even less convincing when we consider the transcription service cessation, because every single transcription recording is a first-class product and can be heard quite easily in more than 100 countries across the globe at perfect studio quality. The audibility argument on the transcription service is a total nonsense.

What is the Foreign Office at? It should be defending its interests—our interests—against the unsubtle scythe wielded by the Treasury and the Prime Minister. They have both wrought havoc enough.

The board of governors of the BBC, who know the value of the vernacular services and the transcription service, even if the Government do not, is profoundly disturbed. The board issued a statement to its staff on 2 July and its view is worth putting on record. In part, it said: The Board believes that the new cuts proposed would seriously damage the international effectiveness of the BBC's External Services, at a time when other countries throughout the world are increasing their services … The Board felt bound to ask whether the financial savings involved—3½ per cent.—really justified the dimunition of the external broadcasting effort—8 per cent.—which the cuts would represent. They earnestly hope that through discussion a way may be found to preserve those services currently threatened with closure. "Through discussion" is where we come in. That is what the House is all about.

We all know that many hon. Members on both sides of the House are as profoundly disturbed as the governors of the BBC. That has been made patently clear during the debate. We have had a couple of opportunities to voice our views on the matter—the Ten-Minute Bill of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner), who I hope will contribute later in the debate, and this debate tonight—but we have not had a chance to vote on the issue. The Government have been a bit reluctant to give us that opportunity. That is what we must have.

I believe that the collective wisdom of the House, on a free vote, will overturn the Government's misguided and ill-advised intentions. It is incumbent on the Government to give us a chance to make our judgment in the overspill period before the next Session and before a final decision is taken on these matters. I hope that the Minister of State will give us that commitment.

If the Government do not provide such an opportunity, the Opposition must force on them a Supply day debate. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am grateful for the support of Conservative Members, though I am surprised that they did not urge this necessity on the Minister of State, because he has a little more immediate pull in the matter. If the Government do not provide time, I think the Opposition must use a Supply day so that the mounting opposition which has been voiced from both sides of the House against these intended cuts will make the Government change their ludicrous decision.

Photo of Mr Nicholas Baker Mr Nicholas Baker , North Dorset 10:35 pm, 23rd July 1981

If I take a slightly different line from the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds), I hope that it will not be thought that I underestimate the importance of the external services or that I think that the cutting of any services is anything but a grave matter. However, we should discuss the matter in the real world. I accept that it was important to raise the matter two days ago in a Ten-Minute Bill, but I am bound to say that it was discussed in a way that tended—unusually for the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Jenner)—to be emotional, rather than rational. I did not find it particularly persuasive.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Sir A. Kershaw), whom we all respect, and to whose experience in these matters we bow, mentioned paragraph 28 of the Select Committee's report. He said that the paragraph, which was quoted by the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West, pointed out that two assets are underestimated in this country. One is the English language. My understanding is that tonight we are discussing the use not of the English language services but of the Vernacular services, and part of what is happening in the BBC is that the world English language service is to be strengthened.

The other asset that paragraph 28 said is valuable and being underestimated is the BBC. I strongly disagree with that. Having participated in our last debate on broadcasting, when we sang the praises of the BBC and its importance, I cannot agree that that is an accurate reflection of the views of hon. Members.

Photo of Mr Nigel Spearing Mr Nigel Spearing , Newham South

The effects of the transcription service are to be reduced in scope, not because the price is going up but because the service is to be axed and will disappear. Surely that shows a lack of appreciation of the quality and value of the product. Therefore, the paragraph that the hon. Gentleman mentioned is, alas, correct.

Photo of Mr Nicholas Baker Mr Nicholas Baker , North Dorset

I believe that the transcription service will not be devalued or disappear. I want to question my hon. Friend on that matter. My understanding of the financial arrangements of the proposals is that money is to be applied to the capital side. I want to say something on that subject, because I have a more direct constituency experience of capital expenditure than perhaps some other hon. Members in this debate.

We should remind ourselves that this is a foreign policy matter and not a matter that is local to broadcasting. We as a community have decided that our Western democratic society, based on Christian values and respect for individual freedom, needs to advertise, sell and promote itself, and has a message that needs to be broadcast to other countries. The countries that matter most are those that do not know or respect individual freedom, or which are struggling to achieve it. They should be the priority targets for such broadcasts.

It is for that reason that we believe in dispatching what is our propaganda for our standards and way of life. The material of our propaganda is the truth, or as near as our broadcasting authorities can get to it. We have an organisation that our society trusts to dispatch that truth as propaganda, and that organisation is the BBC. It does not have a tame or minor role. I therefore differ from the conclusion of the Select Committee.

We cannot discuss this issue in isolation from the economic performance of the country. For whatever reason, our economic performance is poor. We have to discuss constraints on defence spending and other important matters. It is difficult to argue that the reasons for supporting this programme are so supervening that they now justify increasing expenditure on these services in the way that many of us would want.

Photo of Mr Gary Waller Mr Gary Waller , Brighouse and Spenborough

Will my hon. Friend also take into account the size of the market? Does he accept that in the past 15 years the number of sets available in the world has increased five times? Would not any organisation consider that? Should not the Foreign Office take that into account when considering the amount available for the BBC's overseas services.?

Photo of Mr Nicholas Baker Mr Nicholas Baker , North Dorset

I take that point. Not only should the market be considered, but also the effectiveness of the services. They are designed to have an influence and an effect on people. We must try to measure that.

If money is limited, the emphasis on capital spending is right. The argument has been made that there is no increase in expenditure. However, as I interpret the figures, there is an increase in expenditure.

Photo of Mr Andrew Faulds Mr Andrew Faulds , Warley East

The hon. Gentleman might have missed the point. Of course there is expenditure, but we are talking of the restitution of cuts.

Photo of Mr Nicholas Baker Mr Nicholas Baker , North Dorset

That is the argument of the BBC, but it is not a strong argument, because the cuts in 1979 were made, whether one likes it or not. I happen to have had a constituency reason for being pleased in 1979 that cuts were made in capital expenditure. That was because of a damaging planning proposal to erect a transmitter adjacent to my constituency. I thought that the matter was ill-considered and that the BBC went about it in the wrong way. That is why I was relieved that the pause took place . The evidence that new equipment is needed is overwhelming.

Photo of Mr William Shelton Mr William Shelton , Lambeth Streatham

The 1979 cuts were in proposed increases, not in moneys to be spent.

Photo of Mr Nicholas Baker Mr Nicholas Baker , North Dorset

My hon. Friend is right. It is important to give the BBC a guarantee for the future. The uncertainty caused by Governments who plan ahead irresponsibly is damaging.

I come to the question of audibility. The evidence is not clear. When discussing the proposal to erect a transmitter near my constituency, I was assured by the BBC of the ineffectiveness of the broadcasts to Eastern Europe and to the south of the Soviet Union. The broadcasts are not getting through. That means that some of the money is being spent badly. It makes sense to apply our resources to the capital programme, to ensure that the broadcasts get through.

If the services form part of the foreign policy, they must be subject to reappraisal. I understand the difficulties for those who work for the external services, but just as world affairs change, so the foreign policy of Britain will change. The peoples to whom the world service broadcasts are bound to change. We have become too crystallised in our attitude. We assume that because we have an institution there is some God-given right which says that it will always last. We must be adaptable in circumstances where we cannot simply spread external services around the world in the way that many of us wish.

Photo of Mr Nigel Spearing Mr Nigel Spearing , Newham South

Not spreading, cutting.

Photo of Mr Nicholas Baker Mr Nicholas Baker , North Dorset

We broadcast to countries that are hungry for the truth and thirsty for news of freedom, whether behind the Iron Curtain or in Africa. That is important. I cannot see the same degree of importance for broadcasts to other countries within the EEC. I suspect that our desire to preserve them is for historical and old imperial reasons. The services in Pushtu and Turkish are important, and will continue to be so, but they are not in the same category as the French, Italian or even Spanish services. We can only guess at the effect that the Spanish service had during the coup. The risk of a coup in another European country must, we hope, be less than disaffection or coups in countries behind the Iron Curtain or Africa. I attach much greater importance to the countries that need the service.

I ask my hon. Friend the Minister for his evaluation of the Somali service. Most hon. Members are more worried about that than they are about the European services.

My next point relates to the uncertainty from which the BBC suffers. My hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) rightly pointed out that the cuts in 1979 were in planned increases. I am aware that the Government intend to make capital available through the grant-aid system, not only for the PESC years, but for four years beyond. I, and, no doubt, the BBC, hope that the Minister is not simply promising jam tomorrow but is making realistic plans. The worst thing for the BBC and those who work in the services must be the continual chopping and changing and uncertainty. We cannot exempt the BBC or the services from the economic facts of life, but we can plan for them within the resources available.

I hope that the Minister will say something about how the transcription services can be marketed. There is a good case that they can be sold, and therefore not lost, but marketed on a self-financing basis. This is a matter of concern to us, and we look forward to hearing what my hon. Friend the Minister has to say.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Warren Mr Kenneth Warren , Hastings 10:49 pm, 23rd July 1981

Tonight, the voice of the House will be heard in many parts of the world for many hours longer than it is often heard. The House values the external services of the BBC. In the presentation of the Government's case for changing the amount of time given to them, we may not have understood that the Government are responsible, not the BBC. I hope that that will be made clear when my hon. Friend the Minister replies to the debate.

I have heard the BBC in many parts of the world. I remember that during the seven years that I served on the Council of Europe I could not hear it clearly even in Strasbourg. We need to have a clearer definition from the Foreign Office of the places that it feels should hear the voice of Britain, rather than continue with the static statement "This is where they have been heard and this shall be the change".

I think that for Malta and Italy it makes not one iota of difference that there is to be a small change. I am not sure about Burma, as I am not an expert. Recently I was in Western China and I heard the most immaculate English spoken in Xian university, though none of the professors and students had ever been out of China. They spoke beautiful English because they had heard it on the BBC. The selectivity of the Foreign Office should be more visible and should be stated to us. We should not have to wait for a late-night debate before being able to consider who should hear and who is heard. That applies to capital expenditure and the future of the Hong Kong transmitter.

The Foreign Office policy options should not merely include what the Foreign Office or the House would wish. It would be valuable if the Foreign Office could consider organisations such as the British Tourist Authority, which has a vested interest in knowing what is being said around the world about the United Kingdom and to whom it is being said. That could there be a source of funding for the service that the BBC provides so excellently.

Whatever the Foreign Office may decide about to whom the service should be directed, it should be conscious of the substitution that will take place if it withdraws its service from certain areas. I am concerned that in the war of words, which is as great as the war of bombs, we should heed what the Russians decide to do when they substitute their service for ours. The cost to the Foreign Office should not be considered in one Vote as an absolute cost to the British Government.

We should seek a co-ordination of policy throughout the resources of the Government. That applies to the linguistic services that are brought together. They should not be dispersed at a stroke. Those who can speak Burmese and those who can speak Maltese may be small in number, but they are important in the determination of our foreign policy. I support those who question the veracity of withdrawing the service to Somalia at a time when that country is so tried by the oppression that it is having to face in a Russian-dominated Ethiopia.

We should not have to wait until something happens to the detriment of the external services. We should have announcements of changes so that they may be debated long before it is necessary to implement them. This is not the time to conduct post mortems. We should be looking forward to next year and to developing the external services. The external services are wonderful. We should not harass or harangue those who have responsibility for them so long after the decisions have been taken.

Photo of Mr William Shelton Mr William Shelton , Lambeth Streatham 10:54 pm, 23rd July 1981

I shall refer to the finances and responsibilities of the external services. I am sure that the whole House will agree that the overseas services of the BBC are a great enterprise and the envy of many countries. I remind the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds), who sits on the Opposition Front Bench, that Britain is the fifth largest international transmitter when account is taken of the number of hours broadcast and the number of languages that are broadcast. Even after the cuts, we remain the fifth. Some hon. Members made remarks about the size of Albania. What was said was not true. We are still in the big league.

Photo of Mr Andrew Faulds Mr Andrew Faulds , Warley East

There may be some disagreement about the figure. My understanding is not that the BBC is the fifth. I believe that it is much further down the list than that. But perhaps the Minister will put us properly in the picture when he speaks.

Photo of Mr William Shelton Mr William Shelton , Lambeth Streatham

I look forward to hearing my hon. Friend the Minister because I understand that the BBC is fifth, both in hours and in languages. There is widespread international respect for its integrity. It has been influential in great events—sometimes not necessarily on the side of the angels. I cite Iran as an example.

That does honour to the BBC and the Foreign Office, which pays for the services. In 1981–82 there is a total of about £58 million plus another £12 million for monitoring and relaying. Therefore, of course there is disappointment in the BBC, in the House and I am sure in the Foreign Office at the cuts.

It is my understanding that the Government have agreed to finance a capital programme of over £100 million over nine years so that the worn-out equipment can be replaced and audibility improved. That merely means that when we switch on the radio the programme sounds better. My hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams) was talking about audibility rather than the spread of broadcasting in different vernaculars when he was saying that one can hear certain programmes from Albania on the transistor radio. That is a matter of audibility, which must be improved. The Albanian Government are arranging the financing over nine years to do that. That is the good news.

The bad news is that there will be cuts of about £3 million a year—£27 million over the 10-year period—to help pay for the capital investment programme. I have not the remotest idea what happened when my hon. Friend the Minister went to see the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if that is the way it is done, but I imagine that it is unlikely that the Chancellor said "My dear fellow, have you £100 million in cuts? Of course, you don't have to make any cuts. You can go on spending exactly what you like." I suspect that the Foreign Office obtained its £102 million—it is probably a surprise it got it—only by agreeing to the sum of about £27 million. In the present economic situation, it is most improbable that the Treasury will see its way to increasing the Foreign Office Vote for the external services of the BBC by £100 million with no cuts.

I remind my hon. Friends that again and again we say that the Government must reduce expenditure, but whenever an individual item of expenditure is suggested, we always say that it is paramount that education, social services or the BBC external services must not be touched as they are sacrosanct. We always justify that by saying that it is not much money, anyway. It is, in fact, about £30 million over 10 years.

Most hon. Members will have received the magazine mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Sir A. Kershaw) entitled "Britain's Dwindling Voice", which is a briefing from the Association of Broadcasting Staff and the National Union of Journalists. I wonder how much it cost and who paid for it. I wonder whether the BBC or the trade unions paid for it. On the first yellow page, it makes an interesting statement: The sympathetic reception we have received from all parts of both Houses of Parliament has been heartening, and there seems no doubt that no one is really happy about cutting External Services. The implication of that is that not even my hon. Friend the Minister is really happy about the cuts. That is a travesty of the facts. I am sure that he will tell us that he is not happy about the cuts. No one wants these cuts to be made. I am deeply unhappy about them. I signed early-day motion 167 because I wanted to bring pressure on the Treasury for the future. I hope that that early-day motion will have that effect. But I do not believe that anyone in the Foreign Office wished to make cuts for no reason. Surely such cuts are due to economic and financial circumstances.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud said, the document gives figures for the weekly output and cost per year of the services that are being cut. By using my pocket calculator, I arrived at the interesting conclusion that our transmissions to France—21 hours—cost £270 per hour, whereas transmissions to Italy—seven hours—cost £576 per hour. Some hon. Members may argue that transmissions to Italy are more expensive because we transmit for fewer hours. My answer is that transmissions to Spain, which has the same number of hours as Italy, cost £497 per hour, or £79 per hour less than those to Italy.

There may be good reasons for such enormous differences in the hourly cost of these overseas transmissions, but disparities such as that must raise questions about possible internal economies within the BBC overseas service. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister of State will say whether internal economy has been considered.

My second point relates to areas of responsibility. It is my understanding that the BBC has complete editorial control and freedom over what goes into the programmes supplied by the Foreign Office and that the Foreign Office, which pays, decides foreign policy priorities. That is right and proper. But it is also my understanding that the BBC does not seem to recognise, accept or agree this breakdown n in areas of responsibility and that it has been seeking lo challenge the judgment of the Foreign Office on the relative importance to Britain of different countries. In a way, it is trying to usurp the role of the Foreign Office. As a result of saying that, it is possible that I shall never again be invited to appear on "Nationwide".

What would the BBC say if the Foreign Office attempted to dictate the contents of its broadcasts in the same way as the BBC seems. to be attempting to dictate to the Foreign Office where it should broadcast? The BBC seems to be taking too much upon itself.

That judgment is not only based upon the lobbying and the document but is reinforced by an interesting telephone conversation I had today with a member of the BBC secretariat who noticed that my name was linked with this debate. I shall not reveal his name, so that he does not get into trouble. He was courteous, friendly, helpful and revealing in what he said. He stressed the great importance of the vernacular broadcasts to Europe that are being cut. He said that these should continue because Northern Ireland was so badly reported. in Europe and because, as other hon. Members have said, there may well be some internal threat to Spanish democracy. Whether or not he is right, surely it is not for the BBC to decide such matters. That should be the responsibility of the Foreign Office. That judgment should be made by the Foreign Office, and probably the BBC should not challenge it.

My contact also said that the BBC broadcast in 40 languages and had always covered every major region of the world. He told me that stopping the broadcasts in Portuguese to Brazil was a breach of long-established policy and harmful to exports, as they were always mentioned in such broadcasts. Here again, it should be for-the Foreign Office to decide.

Photo of Mr Phillip Whitehead Mr Phillip Whitehead , Derby North

As the hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Waller) said earlier, in 1979 the BBC tried to tell the Foreign Office—the hon. Gentleman would say dictate—that there should be a service in the Turkish vernacular, and in 1980 the Foreign Office asked the BBC to expand that service. Does not that suggest that there is no monopoly of wisdom on the question of where we should broadcast?

Photo of Mr William Shelton Mr William Shelton , Lambeth Streatham

I certainly would not deny the right of the BBC to express its opinion., as no doubt it is requested to do, to the Foreign Office, but in my view it is going beyond that to ring up Members of Parliament such as myself to sponsor perhaps—I may be maligning it—this very interesting booklet and to run the campaign that it seems to have been running.

The nice man from the BBC finally said to me—and he repeated this twice—that the BBC would love to talk to the Foreign Office about all this, "provided that it was a genuine dialogue". If that is really the opinion of the BBC, I can only say that it is absolute cheek.

Photo of Mr Nigel Spearing Mr Nigel Spearing , Newham South

Does the hon. Gentleman realise that when the Foreign Office witnesses came before the Select Committee and gave the evidence on which the Select Committee has commented they gave no hint that there would be any further announcement relating to BBC services? No one would expect them to reveal the nature of those announcements, but, in view of that rather curious attitude to the Select Committee, does he not concede that dialogue between the BBC and the Foreign Office may have been impossible?

Photo of Mr William Shelton Mr William Shelton , Lambeth Streatham

My hon. Friend the Minister may care to comment on that. I understand that the dialogue with the BBC has been going on for eight months. The talks to which the gentleman from the BBC referred today were not talks in the past but talks in the future. He said that the BBC did not want a confrontation with the Foreign Office but that it would love to have talks with the Foreign Office—that is, today, tomorrow or the day after—provided that it is a genuine dialogue. I repeat, what cheek. Now I shall probably not even be invited by Radio London.

Photo of Sir Brandon Rhys Williams Sir Brandon Rhys Williams , Kensington and Chelsea Kensington

I would echo a word used by my hon. Friend—the word "revealing". Is he not revealing that in his view the BBC is a servile body whose function is to serve the Foreign Office and never to answer back?

Photo of Mr William Shelton Mr William Shelton , Lambeth Streatham

I think that my hon. Friend misunderstands the division of areas of responsibility in overseas broadcasting. As I said initially, the BBC has complete freedom to say what it wishes within the time slot—the editorial content—but the Foreign Office has complete control over what countries receive the broadcasts and for how many hours. I understand that that division of responsibility is enshrined in the charter setting up the external services. I am saying that, just as the BBC might wish to have Foreign Office advice as to content of programmes but would deeply resent any attempt by the Foreign Office to influence the content of the programmes, the Foreign Office is no doubt interested in having the advice of the BBC about which countries and how many hours but would deeply resent any attempt by the BBC to twist its arm and influence its decisions through any kind of lobbying.

Finally, I think that the whole House, the Minister of State and indeed all the Ministers at the Foreign Office would have been deeply grateful and would have given a rapturous reception to the capital programme without any cuts, although I am not saying that if more money had been available it would automatically have been spent in the way in which it was spent last year. Hon. Members may not be aware that there has been an increase in three services—in Farsi, Turkish and Russian—and a new broadcast in Pushtu. There must be flexibility. As the economic and political situations in different countries change, so the broadcasting must change. Of course my hon. Friend the Minister would have welcomed a bigger budget, but surely all of us must recognise, even if we do not all entirely agree, that in the present situation we are very fortunate to get what we did. I suggest, therefore, that my hon. Friend's role has been more that of the hero in this than that of the villain in which he seems to have been cast.

If cuts have to be made, it is for the Foreign Office or the House to decide where the cuts should be made and where the increases should be made, not for the BBC.

Photo of Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith , East Grinstead 10:49 pm, 23rd July 1981

I very much agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton). As the BBC is full of enterprising and intelligent people, who are far from servile or diffident, it is bound, occasionally, to get a little exercised about what happens as a result of Government policy. On this occasion it is right to say that some of the words spoken by, or inspired by, the BBC have gone over the top. This exercise is by no means the one that we had a few years ago, when hon. Members from both sides of the House rose up in wrath against the Government, and the Government gave way. On this occasion there is not the same enthusiasm to go over the top against the Government. We know why that is so.

Cuts are being made in the revenue, but the Government have also pledged themselves to making a sizeable increase in the capital expenditure programme for the BBC's external services. Although this is a peculiar hour for a debate, more hon. Members would be in the Chamber if there were the same degree of anger and resentment at the Government's policy on this occasion as on the previous one. In fairness to the Government, hon. Members must accept that this time they have more of a case—[Interruption.] After the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) had spoken, he left the Chamber for some time. When the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) was speaking from the Opposition Front Bench there was one other Labour Member in the Chamber. No other Opposition Member was present. That justifies my contention.

Photo of Mr Andrew Faulds Mr Andrew Faulds , Warley East

We all know that there are pressing engagements that pursue hon. Members at all hours. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman should not make a judgment about our nearly empty Benches and say that that shows that hon. Members are not concerned about this issue. One problem this time is that we have had two years of this obdurate Government. We are beginning to realise, with deepening depression, that no reasonable arguments or cases have any effect on the Prime Minister's extraordinary determination not to change course by a fraction of an inch, regardless of the damage that she does. That may be one of the reasons for there being fewer hon. Members in the Chamber tonight.

Photo of Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith , East Grinstead

The hon. Gentleman has misunderstood the determination of hon. Members. We have all been Members of Parliament for long enough to know that, if sufficient passion is aroused, hon. Members come to the Chamber, whatever the hour. Indeed, this debate did not start at a particularly late hour.

Photo of Mr John Wells Mr John Wells , Maidstone

This is the first time that I have attended a broadcasting debate, and I am determined to make the Minister change his mind.

Photo of Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith , East Grinstead

If more hon. Members felt like that, more of them would be in the Chamber. I do not wish to strike too discordant a note. I greatly respect the value of the external services and the dedication and enthusiasm of the BBC's employees. I pay tribute to the BBC's director, who feels strongly that the Government have not given him as good a hand as he felt he had every right to expect. There would be no hon. Members in the Chamber if we did not respect the fact that the BBC is genuinely concerned about the Government's decision.

I respect the views put forward by the hon. Member for Derby, North and by others who are anxious about the Government's policy. I have no wish to turn my back on the force of those arguments. However, I hope that the Minister will make it clear that this is a Foreign Office decision. It has a certain amount of money to spend. Like every Department, it must occasionally cut its expenditure or rearrange the thrust of it. That also happens when other parties are in office. On this occasion the Foreign Office has looked at the value of broadcasts and decided that it is right to ask the BBC to accept cuts in revenue in return, over a period of years, for a considerable growth in capital expenditure.

Some hon. Members imagine that the most effective way of influencing people in France or in the developing countries is to expand the radio service. The hon. Member for Warley, East made that point. The hon. Member for Derby, North believes that there should be a considerable expansion of services. My hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams) also said that we should expand our services, particularly to our friends, and that if we did not do so they would become just propaganda services. That view commands respect across the Floor of the House.

I am not sure that radio is as powerful as some hon. Members argue when the Foreign Office has to consider how best to achieve its objective of influencing and persuading people that there is some value in our point of view and our way of life. There are no doubt arguments within the Foreign Office about whether it is better to sponsor certain conferences. The Government also have to consider whether money would be better spent by the British Council than on hotted-up broadcasting to Spain or Malta.

In league terms, involving the number of hours of broadcasting compared with the Russians, I believe that we are going down the wrong path. We are ignoring the quality of broadcasting. We are attaching too much importance to tie nature of broadcasting itself. There is also a danger that we shall ignore the many subtle tools open to Governments.

Photo of Mr Phillip Whitehead Mr Phillip Whitehead , Derby North

Listeners to the BBC service to Brazil, which is about to be axed, total about the same number as the readers of all the serious newpapers in Brazil. Is that not an influence that could not be obtained through Foreign Office diplomats?

Photo of Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith , East Grinstead

I do not wish to be drawn into a judgment about the nature of some of the cuts. From what I understand of the situation, I am not happy about the decision over Somalia. I am also not sure about Burma. What do the figures of listeners alleged to listen means? When the BBC says that 1·9 million or 2 million people listen to the French language programme, is it claimed that this is the number listening at the time the broadcast goes out? Or is the BBC saying that, in the course of a year, that is the number reached by the broadcast? Some people may listen only once or twice a year. I suspect that when a particular transmission goes out there is not an audience of 2 million listening simultaneously.

Photo of Mr Phillip Whitehead Mr Phillip Whitehead , Derby North

The figure is explicit. Regular listeners are defined as those who listen at least once a week. That was the case in the Brazilian example that I quoted.

Photo of Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith , East Grinstead

I beg to doubt the efficacy of figures based on listening once a week. I am not sure how such statistics are compiled. My hon. Friend the Minister of State may be able to clarify the situation. Even if the figures are valid, I believe that the claims made for the value of listening to one programme once a week are exaggerated. The impression is given that 190,000 people are sitting in the jungles of Brazil listening to the programmes. That is not true, I suspect.

My next point concerns what they listen to. 'The document supplied by the ABS and NUJ gives no indication of the make-up of programmes. A large proportion of those that I have heard while abroad contain a mixture of news and music. Much of the music is of the pop variety. I suspect that this has a connection with the so-called interest of young people in France in French language broadcasts. We are broadcasting "Disques demandés"—type programmes. There may be some argument where pop music is regarded as a tool of Western civilisation and where the young cry out for contact with the West. It is a way of sucking people into one's orbit.

That reason is sometimes adduced for broadcasts of this kind to Eastern European countries. Attracted by the music, it is claimed, the listeners will eventually hear the truth emanating from the BBC, which comes as a refreshment to those accustomed to the tired platitudes of totalitarian Governments. That is the simple philosophy behind putting in the sugary type of programme. but I should need a lot of convincing that we are spending taxpayers' money wisely by broadcasting "Disques demandés"—type programmes to the French, who are already saturated with that sort of stuff.

Photo of Mr Anthony Kershaw Mr Anthony Kershaw , Stroud

My hon. Friend is extremely persuasive. He has nearly persuaded me that all the BBC external services are absolutely useless and ought to be abolished at once.

Photo of Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith , East Grinstead

I regret that my hon. Friend should have listened so inattentively. What I am suggesting is that it is correct for the Foreign Office, when deciding how it should spend its money, in this field and others—

Photo of Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith , East Grinstead

Our money, I agree. It is right for it to decide whether it is better to spend the money on other things or on broadcasts to other countries. I shall not get into a passionate rage because it is stated that the Government believe that there is not much value in French language broadcasts for 21 hours a week to metropolitan France. If it had then been said "What is more, we intend to abolish French broadcasts from the BBC to Francophone Africa", I would begin to question the policy of the Foreign Office, but it has not done that.

I know that great play has been made over the fact that there was an attempted coup d'etat in Spain, but do hon. Members on each side of the House seriously expect me to believe that seven hours' broadcasting to a few hundred thousand people in Spain—I do not know how many listen at one time; it might be a tiny audience—will somehow have a magnetic effect on Spanish opinion or a stabilising influence? Most of the opinion-formers in Spain, Italy, France, and other countries that are Catholic and have not too high a respect for our policy in Northern Ireland have many other sources of information, far more compelling than some of the programmes that go out on the external services.

Photo of Mr Andrew Faulds Mr Andrew Faulds , Warley East

The hon. Gentleman slightly misunderstood the argument about Spain. The point was made that if, in the circumstances of a coup, the media of that country were controlled by the military, or by whoever had taken over, there would be considerable value in having a foreign voice coming in. That was the argument in regard to Spain.

Photo of Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith , East Grinstead

We cannot expect the Foreign Office to base its programmes or to spend our taxpayers' money on the idea that somehow it must broadcast because such is the value and power of the few hours' broadcasting a week that it may save a country not only from a coup d'etat, but from going to the dogs, to civil war and to bloodshed. I honestly believe that hon. Members' in all sincerity, exaggerate the power of those broadcasts.

As for the broadcasts in French, I sometimes think that there is still a hangover from the war, and that some of us are thinking in terms of Occupied France and Nazi-dominated or Vichy-dominated radio. The way that it is put is that the French are a long-suffering people who suffer badly at the hands of their Governments, who control broadcasting, so that they do not have the same freedom as "us Brits". That is why it is so important for us to broadcast the truth and to dispel the fog of prejudice that exists in the minds of the French over our attitude to the sheepmeat regime. We have to educate the French as to the honesty of our opinion. We have to save the European Economic Community. We have to save the French from their selfish, prejudiced views. That is the sort of story that is put around, and it is tasteless arrogance.

Photo of Mr William Shelton Mr William Shelton , Lambeth Streatham

Is my hon. Friend aware that the French external broadcasts are very small in comparison with ours, are directed almost entirely to French-speaking ex-colonies, and that the French Foreign Office has not exactly been unsuccessful in the last 10 years?

Photo of Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith , East Grinstead

My hon. Friend is right.

The document from the ABS and NUJ says: A key factor in the popularity of the BBC's French service is its known independence from the State. There is a widespread feeling in France that the news provided by the French media is often biased in favour of the Government of the day. This was apparent during the days of President Giscard d'Estaing, since when there has been a big shake-up among key figures in broadcasting and in SORIRAD, the Government-financed organisation which has interests in many commercial operations including, Europe No. 1 and Radio Monte Carlo. There is more of that besides.

Through its broadcasts, the BBC explains both sides of the coin on EEC matters and the complexities of such controversial topics as fishing limits and lamb exports. Let us imagine the scores of well-educated French officials, business men and intellectuals tuning in religiously to the BBC to get the British view—I put it that way because I know that the BBC is editorially independent—of the lamb war or the arguments over fishing. As the majorjity of them, we are told, are under 35, I do not believe that that is what happens. That is not to say that there is no value in broadcasts, but I am far from convinced that we must stick with broadcasting in the French language to France.

My right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs is quoted by the Italian paper Corriere Della Sera—I do not know whether it is true—as saying: No one can persuade me that in a country like Italy, where there are hundreds of private radio and TV stations, that the nightly broadcasts of the BBC can have an audience larger than a few enthusiastic sleepwalkers. I should not be surprised if the Foreign Secretary—if he is quoted correctly—has hit the nail on the head.

We must overcome this new form of neo-imperialism, this idea that somehow the British have a monopoly of truth and that we have the most excellent and exquisite weapon for delivering the truth. It is a good weopon, but let it be used in the places where it can be used properly. If we think that we are losing influence in France because we do not have a BBC external service, what in the blazes are all the other people doing going across to France—all the newspapers, political and intellectual contacts that we have and all the other forms in which we can do the mutual influencing?

Photo of Mr Phillip Whitehead Mr Phillip Whitehead , Derby North

Will the hon. Member remind the House of one other editorial in Le Monde in 1979, when there was the previous attempt to cut the French service? That paper remonstrated with us in a way that no British newspaper would do if we suddenly heard that there would be no French language broadcasts to this country. French intellectual opinion, reflected by that Le Monde editorial, showed that BBC broadcasts were welcomed and that their continuance was desired.

Photo of Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith , East Grinstead

Let us hear more about the nature of those broadcasts. Le Monde may have said that, but I have yet to hear a tremendous outcry in France. If we took a straw poll in France today, I wonder how many people would know of the existence of the programmes and how many of those would miss them if they do not take place.

I have said enough on that score. If hon. Gentlemen do not accept my argument, they do not need to and I shall move to another aspect of it.

We must accept priorities in this area as in other policies. The grant-in-aid in 1980–81 was higher, in real terms, than in 1979–80. The Foreign Office has been asked to reduce its payroll and has done so. We know that the BBC is not required to make the manpower savings that the Civil Service has to make. It is not unreasonable for the Foreign Office, when looking at its budget and making its dispositions, to take the view that the BBC has to make sacrifices and make some of its staff redundant because that has happened to other Departments of State, too.

The BBC is saying that the revenue cuts are real. They will hurt now at the rate of £3 million a year, and in the PESC period up to 1984–85 the BBC will suffer £6·6 million in revenue cuts. In return, all, that it will receive will be an increase in capital expenditure over the previous programme of £4 million. One is a real cut, and the other is an increase of £4 million. If one considers all the comparisons, it is true that in the short-term the BBC is worse off, but the Government have said to the BBC "The capital programme is an escalating, expanding one. In the PESC period, you are starting projects which we believe are worth while, and they will go on expanding through the decade." "That is why in 10 years," the Foreign Office says, "we shall have an expenditure of £100 million." That is what the BBC describes as "jam today", but by inference it really means "pie in the sky". What further reassurance does the BBC want that the Government's long-term offer is genuine? What further reassurance does the Minister feel that he can give?

I look at the problem from this standpoint: has the BBC any capital project that it would like brought forward? Is there any scheme on which it would like to start sooner, if only it had the money, and which, once started in the next year or so, would be difficult to stop or put into cold storage after work on it had begun? If it has no such project, we must assume that the BBC's external services have all the money for investment that they can cope with between now and 1984–85. If that is so, the BBC is in no different position from that of any other publicly financed corporation or Government Department. There must be a limit, given the way that we organise matters in Parliament, to how far ahead a Government can give a cast-iron, copper-bottomed guarantee.

If the BBC cannot handle a bigger capital investment programme between now and 1984–85, or feels that the one that it has already provided for is miserable and inadequate, or does not even want additional finance to back any initial planning stage that it has for any new scheme, in my view it is not right to describe this long-term programme as "jam tomorrow", especially as the Government do not dispute the need for an expanding capital investment programme; on the contrary, they believe it to be vital.

I believe in the Government's sincerity about that, and that is why I do not join those right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House who belabour my right hon. and hon. Friends with their strictures.

Photo of Mr John Wells Mr John Wells , Maidstone 11:33 pm, 23rd July 1981

I welcome the BBC's extra capital expenditure which has been provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

As chairman of the Anglo-Spanish group and of the Anglo-Finnish group in the House, I am delighted that the BBC's Finnish service is to continue, but I deplore the cut in the Spanish service. A number of hon. Members have quoted widely from the document which has been circulated to us, so I shall not bore the House by reading out all the Spanish details. But perhaps I might take my hon. Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Mr. Johnson Smith) to task for saying that there were about 250,000 listeners to the Spanish service, because my reading makes it very nearly 1 million listeners. Perhaps my hon. Friend and I wear different spectacles.

Photo of Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith , East Grinstead

Not at all. I accept what my hon. Friend says. But is it his understanding that when a programme is being transmitted 1 million people are listening at that very moment?

Photo of Mr John Wells Mr John Wells , Maidstone

Of course not. But my hon. Friend implied that at the peak there were 250,000 listeners, whereas my understanding is that at the peak there are 1 million. There is rather a difference.

All hon. Members have reiterated that the BBC is independent of the Government and that the BBC does the editorial work whereas the Foreign Office chooses the countries. However, in the past week we have seen the deplorable ineptitude of the Foreign Office in all matters Spanish. I shall go no further into detail, but every hon. Member knows what I mean. I hope that we shall see a few appointments from the Spanish desk in the Foreign Office to posts of tenth secretaries in the Central African Republic in the next few weeks. There can have been no greater mess-up in our country's diplomatic relations in peacetime.

The BBC and the Foreign Office are at variance in their judgment over matters Spanish. I put my money on the BBC in this instance. This is an area of which I have some knowledge. Some members of the Anglo-Spanish group—at our request, not the BBC's—went to Bush House to witness the Spanish Broadcasts to Spain and to other countries. We were impressed by their merits.

The Minister has told me elsewhere—and no doubt he will tell the House later—that Spanish newspapers feel that they could get along very well without us. They feel that we are somewhat patronising in thinking that we have a monopoly of the truth. That is what his officials advise him. That is their reading of some of the Spanish newspapers. But I have very little confidence in my hon. Friend's advisers in matters Spanish. I question their understanding of the matter.

I bear in mind what has been said by hon. Members on both sides of the House, particularly the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Sir A. Kershaw), about the failed coup. It may have been a 10-hour wonder, but there was great merit in the support by the British broadcasting service to Spain of news as accepted and understood by the world. In any coup or takeover the broadcasting services are attacked first. Therefore, a continuing, reliable broadcast from a third nation, whose broadcasting service is respected, can only be for the good.

I hope that there will be a reprieve, however modest, and that there will be a continuing presence in Spanish broadcasting. It costs only £180,000 a year; it is only an hour a day; and the staff number only 13. I know that small amounts add up. All these amounts of £180,000 can run into millions of pounds. But I plead with my hon. Friend to maintain our wavelengths and our position there in however modest a way.

My third point concerns the need for a continuing presence into France. I believe that we shall have a great and exciting thing with independent broaadcasting of sound radio in the county of Kent in the foreseeable future. At present, we have the excellent BBC radio service called Radio Medway, which exports its services to a foreign country called Essex. I hope that before too long we shall have independent radio in Dover, which will export its services to a foreign country called France. A little hop across the water can do no harm. I hope that the Foreign Office will look kindly at the independent broaadcasting services in Kent when they get going. This is important for the future.

Like several of my hon. Friends—in particular my hon. Friend the Member for East Grinstead who is trying to look forward, not back—I hope that the Minister will urge his Department to look forward. I urge him to make some promotions into the Central African Republic as quickly as he can.

Photo of Mr Greville Janner Mr Greville Janner , Leicester West 11:39 pm, 23rd July 1981

I apologise to the House for my absence during the early part of the debate. It was due to an unavoidable engagement.

Some hon. Members have for many months been involved on efforts to support the BBC in its work. We believe that the external, transcription and world services provide a service in the best sense of that word. They are powerful voices for this country. They provide a cost-effective and excellent entrée into the minds of people in other lands, and, in the case of the world service—as a by-product—into the minds and the ears of very many people in this country, too.

This is one of the rare campaigns in this House that enjoys the support of hon. Members from all parties. There are a few sad exceptions, and we have heard from them. On the whole, there is near unanimity in the voice of this House. When an early-day motion is taken round and hon. Members are eager to sign it, from both sides of the House, we know that we have a reflection of a most powerful view. When this happens, in most cases the Minister concerned is grateful for it, because he is doing his best to rake in from the Treasury, in hard times, money that is difficult to come by.

In this case, however, the Minister, who takes advantage of the transcription services to the Caribbean and elsewhere, apparently enjoys the wielding of the axe. When he is tackled the Minister does not say "Look, we are very sorry that these most excellent services have to go, but we have discussed this with the BBC and it agrees that we are doing our best to save them." Not at all. He says "There are no cuts." That is his answer. I have had the great joy of debating with him on radio and that was his answer. "Cuts? Monstrous!"

If we look at the total expenditure, if we use our statistics along with "lies, damned lies" we can say "Lump together the expenditure transferred from previous years on capital outlay on audibility, and put that together with the other expenditure and we are actually spending more." Behold the magic of the Treasury, in allowing us more rather than less. But the fact is that seven services are being cut. If that is not a cut, the word has no meaning in any language, whether in English, French, Somali or Spanish. We may be grateful that the Foreign Office does not interfere with the content of programmes as it does with their existence. Conversely, it appears quite wrong to me that the Foreign Office should decide on the existence of services any more than it decides on their content.

What the Foreign Office has said is "We have decided that these services will come to an end. The BBC can have its limited independence, limited that is to the contents, but if we decide that a service is to go, that service goes and it is our decision. What is more, we do not give a tinker's cuss for the will of this House." I find this offensive. When a change of this sort is to be made in the voice of Britain, the voice of hon. Members should at least be heard. Otherwise there is no point in us making our views known. It is no good saying "Fine, the voices of hon. Members are being heard at a quarter to midnight in a debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill". Were there to be a vote tonight, even at this hour, even at this stage in the Session, I have no doubt that the House would show the Government, by a substantial majority, that these cuts in the language services and the destruction of the transcription services are against the will of the House.

Photo of Mr Nigel Spearing Mr Nigel Spearing , Newham South

Earlier the hon. Member for East Grinstead (Mr. Johnson-Smith), who has unfortunately left the Chamber, suggested that the attendance for the debate was such that the House did not really care. Bearing in mind that this debate was not known about until mid-day yesterday, and the fact that hon. Members may have taken on other engagements, what view does my hon. and learned Friend have about the attendence for the the debate and the time that it has already taken?

Photo of Mr Greville Janner Mr Greville Janner , Leicester West

Having addressed the House on previous Consolidated Fund Bills, when the only other Members present were a Minister and a Government Whip, I think that the attendance at this debate has been remarkable and so have been the careful contributions to it. The early-day motion, which has been signed by nearly 170 right hon. and hon. Members—almost half of them Conservative Members—is a clear demonstration of the view of the House.

There has been no opportunity for a vote. The nature of debates on Consolidated Fund Bills prevents us from voting tonight and we could not vote on my Ten-Minute Bill because the Government decided not to put anyone up to oppose it. I accept the assurance of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis) that neither the Government nor anyone else had any part in his remarkable epic speech on the Bill. We could have had a vote if the Government had decided to force one, but in the knowledge that they would have been defeated they decided not to oppose the Bill and I obtained the unopposed leave of the House to introduce it.

We know that there will be no time for a vote during the overspill period in October. The Queen's Speech will be in November and the vote at the end of the debate will have its broad and overall effect, but it will not refer to this matter. No doubt far more important and immediate matters will be before the House then and the earliest date that we shall be able to vote on this important matter, affecting our relationship with seven countries and, through the transcription service, many more, is December. The dismantling of the services will begin well before December. The transcription service can last until April and some services will be able to retain some staff beyond December, but the BBC and its staff are in an awful position.

The Minister knows that when there is a vote—and there will be a vote—the Government will lose. They have no support of any size on their own Benches and none, except one hon. Member of some size, on the Opposition Benches. The Minister knows, or should know if he is prepared to open his eyes, that the Government will be defeated on this matter in due course.

Having regard to the feeling of the House and being by nature a democrat—I give the Minister the benefit of that happy doubt—the hon. Gentleman ought to say that the Government will look at the matter again, take note of the early-day motion, the Ten-Minute Bill and the fact that he managed to assemble a mighty crowd of two to support him tonight and accept that the House totally opposes the unjustifiable decision foisted on the BBC.

The decision will weaken the Minister's own Department, which has enough problems in dealing with world affairs without losing the muscle that we can provide for it. He should at least agree to ask his colleagues at the Foreign Office to reconsider the decision. I hope that he will not swing his axe with joy, while claiming that there have been no cuts. Seven services and the transcription service are going.

I hope that the Minister of State will give the BBC, those who work for it, those who believe in it and, above all, those who listen to it, both here and especially overseas, an assurance that the Government have heard the voice of Parliament, even before there is a vote to make it clear to him that his decision is one of almost unparalleled unpopularity and an almost amazing lack of cost effectiveness. The decision should be revoked or at least reconsidered in the light of our debate.

Photo of Mr Gary Waller Mr Gary Waller , Brighouse and Spenborough 11:49 pm, 23rd July 1981

I had not intended to take part in this debate, but I was encouraged to do so because a number of matters have been raised, including those by my hon. Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Mr. Johnson Smith), who I am sorry is no longer in the Chamber, which need to be put in perspective.

I entirely support the view that public expenditure has to be cut. I am not in dispute with the Government on that issue. I realise that it is easy to say that, and at the same time to say "Yes, but this is one thing that we should not cut". However, we should not wield the axe in-discriminately. We must think in terms of how the money can be used most effectively. In my view, the BBC overseas services are one of the most cost-effective arms that this country possesses. I say that particularly because of the large increase in the numbers of people throughout the world who are able to listen to radio. I was surprised by what my hon. Friend the Member for East Grinstead said. If one compares radio as a medium with conferences and all the other propaganda weapons that are open to the Government, radio comes high in the list. I do not lay too much emphasis on the word "propaganda", because it is important that the BBC should not be seen in that light.

I do not regret that not everything that is heard on the BBC overseas services is news and current affairs. I returned from the United States yesterday, and I felt that the British way of life and form of government benefited just as much from programmes which have nothing to do with foreign affairs, current affairs and news. Feature programmes and serials that are popular in this country, and sometimes even more popular in the United States, do just as much good for this country as news and current affairs.

It is true, of course, that the Foreign Office must decide on the countries to which the BBC overseas services will broadcast. However, no one is better placed than the BBC to judge which services are most listened to. The number of letters that are received from countries throughout the world attest to the popularity of programmes.

It is also important to bear in mind, for instance, that other countries are increasing their broadcasting to Spain at a rate of knots. It is surprising to learn that China broadcasts twice as many hours a week to Spain in Spanish as does the BBC. Albania broadcasts approximately three times as many hours, and the Soviet Union the same amount. Clearly, they regard the Spanish listening figures as important, and so should we.

Let us consider the number of people who are able to listen to these programmes. In South America, for instance, there is a great increase in the numbers. In Latin America and the West Indies, between 1955 and 1979—the most recent year for which I have figures—the number of sets increased from 13 million to 96 million.

My hon. Friend the Member for East Grinstead threw doubt on the numbers who listen at particular times of the day. It is difficult to have a definite idea of the numbers involved, but there is no evidence that people are listening less to the BBC than they did in the past. Moreover, there is definite evidence about the large number of sets. Radio is increasing greatly in importance as time goes by, and there is no reason to doubt that that will continue in the future.

Let us consider the efficiency of the BBC overseas services. Over the past 10 years there has been an 11 per cent. drop in staff. Its increase in productivity—just in relation to the numbers of hours broadcast—has been 12½ per cent., and that takes no account of the increase in the market—something to which I attach great importance.

It is clear that many countries are paying a great deal of attention to radio. Britain should be foremost among them because Britain's voice in the world still has an ear. Many people still tune to the .BBC knowing that they will hear the truth. They cannot always be sure of hearing the truth from their own broadcasting services.

It might be that people at the top of Government do not tune in to the BBC, at this hour, for example. It is not because people at the top tune in that events in Poland have changed. One of the reasons why changes have taken place in Poland and in other countries behind the Iron Curtain is that the ordinary people are able to listen to the BBC and other Western broadcasts. Perhaps they believe them more than their own services. Radio is important. That is why, taking into account the value for money, the Government should think again and consider the consequences of their decision.

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury 11:56 pm, 23rd July 1981

Perhaps I can share a joke with the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner). He said that the voice of the House should be heard on the matter. That applies to him, too. If he had heard the voice of the House tonight, he would not be so certain of his ground. I shall share another joke with him. He referred to our joint radio broadcasts. Perhaps he did not know that it was broadcast at 6.30 in the morning to ensure that the audience was not as great as it might have been if it had been broadcast at the normal time.

The hon. and learned Gentleman must be a little careful in the assumptions that he makes about the views of the House, especially since we have, in his absence, had such an extraordinarily good debate. I congratulate and thank my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Sir A. Kershaw) on raising this subject and for giving us this opportunity to speak on it. It has been an important debate and it has taken us a long way forward in our thinking.

Nobody has questioned the excellence of the BBC"s external services. If there is any doubt about it, I reiterate that there is no question of a reduction or change in the world service in English. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker) said, it will be enhanced because as a result of greater transmitter power the service will be heard more clearly throughout the world. There was a certain amount of heavy breathing from Opposition Members who seem to reflect the BBC's views rather than having thought about the difficult problems.

I shall answer as many questions as possible. I do not want any hon. Member to feel that he must interrupt me, because I hope that I shall cover all subjects mentioned, although I fear it might take some time.

When we debated the subject on 13 November 1979, when the Government backed down, as it were, the number of hon. Members who stressed the importance of improving the audibility of the BBC's transmissions impressed me. The right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore), who was the Shadow Foreign Secretary, said: We are far behind others in the technical capacity and volume of our overseas broadcasting stations."—[Official Report, 13 November 1979; Vol. 973, c. 1243.] The message of the debate was that we must put right the audibility. The strange letter from Mr. Mansell appeared to go uneasily with his frustration that he could not construct the station at Henstridge, Dorset—referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker)—because of planning delays. Why did he want that station if he said that the audibility was adequate? I assure him that many people who tell me about the audibility of the BBC would not agree with what he said.

Unfortunately, the result of the debate two years ago was that the capital programme was postponedyet again. Two years were lost because the Government did not tackle the capital within the cash limits applied to the BBC. The planning permission delays at Henstridge and other technical delays at Orfordness did not do so much damage as may have been expected, because it was impossible to spend the money due to the technical difficulties. Therefore, the effect of the past two years has been that, although the capital programme was delayed, it was as much delayed by the technical problems as by the hostility of the House to the Government's proposals.

In the past 18 months we have discussed the question of audibility with the BBC. Indeed, we have discussed, in a series of regular consultations, the whole range of problems that the House has discussed tonight. I shall call it a dialogue, if that is preferred. There is no question but that we have explored every possibility in dialogue with the BBC. The Government concluded, on the urging of the BBC, that audibility was the top priority. As if we wanted confirmation of that, the Select Committee, of which my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud is the distinguished Chairman, published its report. I restate what I stated yesterday, namely, that it recommended that the capital programme had been cut too often by too much and the time had come to spend more money on it. I absolutely agree. That is precisely what the Government are doing.

We have two small difficulties with the Select Committee which I must mention; my hon. Friend was kind enough to mention them. The new Far East station and the new East Africa station may not be brought forward as much as the Select Committee wishes, partly because they are not part of the BBC's priorities—and there must be an orderly sequence in the spending of the money—and partly because, in both of those cases, there are considerable technical difficulties that make an early start difficult. Those are the reasons why they may not start until 1985, rather than any desire to get out of the obligation to complete those relay stations.

The Select Committee also criticised us—several hon. Members referred to this, including the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing)—because we did not warn it about our impending decisions on the Government's future expenditure plans for the service. I must give some dates. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials who gave evidence before the Committee were there between 3 and 5 June this year. The Government's decision was taken on 22 June and communicated to the BBC on 23 June. We allowed two days before announcing the plans to Parliament on 25 June, out of courtesy to the BBC and because we were required to do so. It would have been quite wrong to have told the Select Committee, even if a decision had been taken, before the BBC had been told. We are required to make a decision after consulting the BBC. Even then, at the time of the hearings, the Government had cone to no such decision.

Photo of Mr Nigel Spearing Mr Nigel Spearing , Newham South

If the hon. Gentleman reads Hansard, he will find that I did not make the aspersion that he has implied. I did not say that the Select Committee should be acquainted privately—of course it should not publicly—with the result. I said that some intimation might have been given that conversations were in progress and that a future decision of some sort had to be made. It was the lack of that intimation to which the Select Committee took exception.

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I do not think that I can accept that. When Governments take a decision, they take it after consulting all their parts internally. The decision is not a decision until the Government have taken it. The fact that one Department may want something and another Department wants something else cannot be described as a decision of which intimation should be given until the Government finally decide what to do. The decision was taken on 22 June.

We decided that audibility must be our top priority. We decided to make new money available in substantial amounts to the BBC's external services. The capital programme for the rest of the decade is worth £102 million at 1981 prices. There has been a suggestion that this is merely a restoration of previous plans. Far more will have to be spent on Bush House modernization—nearly twice as much as was contemplated—because of the discovery of blue asbestos in the ducts. There is a much larger programme of plant replacement throughout the world. In addition, there is the new Far East relay station, which has never been included in any previous programme. The cost of this total and enhanced programme is far greater than anything that has ever been discussed before.

Never before has the BBC's capital programme been authorised. It has always been done on a year-to-year basis under the PESC programme. That is not a satisfactory procedure. The programme will take eight or nine years to complete. The PESC programme extends for only four years. It has never been possible to deal with the problem properly in the PESC system. When a nationalised industry is building, for example, an electricity generating station, authorisation is given for the capital programme and certain projects within that on a rolling basis. That is not the same as the PESC programme. That is why expressions such as "pie-in-the-sky" are not justified, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Mr. Johnson Smith) rightly said.

Photo of Mr Andrew Faulds Mr Andrew Faulds , Warley East

Is the hon. Gentleman really claiming that the BBC can place total reliance on the expectation that after 1985 the rest of that money will be forthcoming?

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

The BBC can place as much reliance upon it as the Central Electricity Generating Board can place reliance on its being enabled to complete a capital project that has been authorised. There is one condition, which is that the required savings must be found.

If anyone is interested in the details of the programme, may I point out that it consists of 14 powerful transmitters in the United Kingdom with satellite feeds to all the overseas relay stations and additional relay stations for East Africa and the Far East. This is on top of existing work to complete four new transmitters in Cyprus and a 500 kw medium wave transmitter in Orfordness.

We considered the services of the external broadcasting units. It is the Government's duty to choose which services they want to increase and which they want to decrease, to start or to finish. It is a decision that must be taken on foreign policy grounds—namely, the foreign policy interests of the United Kingdom. That has been stressed by many hon. Members.

There are between 2,500 and 9,000 languages in the world, whichever way one likes to count them. The question must be which of those languages we should broadcast in. After the changes, we shall still be broadcasting in 33 of those languages. However, it is a question not just of sticking with the existing languages but of deciding what is appropriate from time to time in terms of our foreign policy.

I shall suggest some of the things which I believe are not appropriate to decide the matter; then I shall suggest some of the things which I believe are appropriate. I do not believe that the views of the BBC staff are an appropriate consideration in the matter because those are internal union views and not matters of British foreign policy. Nor do I believe that the importance of the market is a big consideration. Japan, the fastest growing commercial nation in the world, does one-third of our overseas broadcasting hours. It does not consider that its commercial interest will be served by a massive increase in its external broadcasting.

The hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) mentioned that Brazil has an immense population and immense resources. Those are not good arguments. They are nothing to do with British foreign policy. That does not seem to me an intelligent way of looking at the matter.

Photo of Mr Andrew Faulds Mr Andrew Faulds , Warley East

The point which I was trying to make was that in terms of the political importance of Brazil, which is developing into the great nation in South America, surely to cut our contacts and news and views dissemination to that country is politically short-sighted?

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

That may or may not be so, but that is not the only argument which the hon. Member advanced. It is a question of what is in our foreign policy interest.

I must agree strongly with my hon. Friend the Member for East Grinstead. The idea that because we broadcast in Spanish to Spain we averted a military coup or because we broadcast to Portugal we will affect the destiny of the Portuguese democracy is claiming far more than the BBC would claim for itself. We got much closer to it when my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams) quoted in aid Poland. There is a clear interest in British foreign policy that the Poles should have access to the truth and., as my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North called it, the British free way of life. That is absolutely essential. However, we are not cutting broadcasting to Poland. Indeed, we are increasing it in Russian.

The hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) said that he had met someone from China who stressed the importance of the BBC external services to the Chinese through the times of the cultural revolution. That is so. But we are not cutting the BBC services to China. We shall enhance them by building a Far East relay station. Therefore, I am trying to concentrate on what is in our interests.

Photo of Mr Phillip Whitehead Mr Phillip Whitehead , Derby North

Does not the Minister agree that it is in our foreign policy interests that we have close links with what is still an emerging democracy in Spain and what is still an emerging State from the Communist orbit in Somalia, a country which the Minister has not mentioned?

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I do not, because I have already said that I do not believe that those are high priority services in British foreign policy interests. By the nature of the Government's decision, that must be what we think.

Many hon. Members talked about audience figures. I must stress the total unreliability of the audience figures we have, particularly for the more remote countries. In addition, hon. Members did not say how many people listened nearly every day, every week or once a year. Figures are bandied about without saying what they mean. Let me give an example of how the audience figures are compiled. In 1976, a survey in Spain revealed that, of 3,000 people questioned at random, only three listened to the BBC regularly. It would be hard to imagine anything less likely to be accurate or specific than the grossing up of such a tiny base sample.

That is not a major consideration. I do not accept that what the Russians do is a strong criterion either. The BBC is not a quantity service, it is a quality service, and it is listened to because of its quality. That is what matters, and the Russians cannot claim that quality.

Photo of Mr Anthony Kershaw Mr Anthony Kershaw , Stroud

But if we have no quantity, we also have no quality.

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

But there are 9,000 languages. Would my hon. Friend choose a different number of languages from what we have chosen? It is impossible to broadcast in every language to every person. The cost would be absolutely prohibitive. What is more, we have the great advantage that English is becoming the world's most popular language, and we are increasing the power with which the world service in English can be heard.

Every hon. Member has argued about one or other of the vernaculars that we have chosen. It is not possible to prove that our judgment has been right. Equally, everyone has his own favourite. My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. Wells) has a special interest in Spain and Finland. He has won one and lost another. It is significant that already we do not broadcast to a large number of countries in Western Europe—for example, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Yet no one can say that our interests or democracy have suffered or that the truth is absent from those countries because of this omission.

With the exception of a few minutes from Italy, not one European country broadcasts to us in our language, and nor do the Americans, with their enormous number of broadcast hours. There has been a general acceptance that it may not be right to go on assuming that our friends and allies in Western Europe are somehow deprived of the truth and that we must supply it to them.

Photo of Sir Brandon Rhys Williams Sir Brandon Rhys Williams , Kensington and Chelsea Kensington

In mentioning Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark, has not my hon. Friend mentioned countries where English is widely understood and where English language broadcasts are widely received? However, in mentioning Spain, Italy and France, has not he mentioned countries where many people do not understand English sufficiently to follow the news?

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

Equally, in mentioning Brazil, Burma and Somalia we are mentioning countries where English is also largely understood.—[HON. MEMBERS: "In Somalia?"] Both English and Arabic are well understood in that part of the world.

I turn to Somalia, as this has been the service about which the House has felt that the Government were perhaps mistaken. Every service has its protagonists, of course. Whichever service we had chosen, that would have been the case.

There are in fact only 7 million Somali speakers in the world— far less than the BBC's five other vernacular services to Africa. As I have said, English and Arabic are well understood in many parts of that country.

Photo of Mr Andrew Faulds Mr Andrew Faulds , Warley East

How can the Minister sustain the claim that there are only 7 million Somali speakers in the world? Is he referring only to those in Somalia, or is he including the Somali communities in other parts of the world? Does he mean those in Djibouti or East Africa? I do not think that he can back up those figures with the facts.

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I said that there were only that many Somali speakers. If my information is wrong, I shall bow to the hon. Gentleman's greater knowledge, but I believe that there are only 7 million Somali speakers.

Photo of Mr Andrew Faulds Mr Andrew Faulds , Warley East

In all Somali communities throughout the world?

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

That is what I am saying, but the hon. Gentleman may know better.

I turn next to the transcription services. I should make it clear to hon. Members that it is not the Government's intention that those services should cease. The BBC can perfectly well continue them. We merely seek to end the subsidy from the grant-in-aid from the taxpayer. These are not services which are in the interests of British foreign policy, although they may be in the interests of other Departments of Government or other people. It is therefore not right that the Foreign Office should have to subscribe to the losses made by those services.

If developing countries wish to acquire the material, they may use the aid funds which are provided on a large scale. The BBC can perfectly well obtain funds from other sources to some exent, and we very much hope that they will succeed in being able to keep the bulk of the transcription services going—

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

—by means of charging their customers or getting money from other sources.

In this context, I should say to my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington that there is no question but that "English by Radio" will continue. It is already self-financing, as we should like the transcription services to become, too.

There are then the transcription services, which we have decided should be increased. They are Russian, Turkish and Farsi. A new Pushtu service is also starting next month. As a result of these, there will be a small increase in costs incurred. I emphasise that there should be this flexibility. It has been suggested that the pattern of language broadcasts should be static for all time. The case of Turkey was cited in aid. The House chose a good example, because that is a country in which priorities have changed. I believe that we were right two years ago to suggest that the Turkish service was not necessary, and I believe that we are right now to suggest that it should be increased. [Interruption.] Indeed, further changes may well be made in another year or two, as events change. As several of my hon. Friends have said, there must be this flexibility in the way in which we view our foreign policy interests and where it is necessary to broadcast and where it is not.

There is a strange argument that if a service is once stopped or diminishes it will be impossible to start it again. Yet when we asked the BBC to start the Pushtu service again it took it no time at all to find a frequency, to find a transmitter and to find Pushtu speakers, and the service is going on the air in record time. I congratulate the BBC. In practice, it has no difficulty in starting up a service again.

Photo of Mr Andrew Faulds Mr Andrew Faulds , Warley East

The Minister is as wrong about this as he is about many other matters. The Pushtu service has not been started up again. It is a new service.

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

That is better still. The hon. Gentleman has illustrated my point that there is no difficulty in starting up a new service.

Photo of Mr Gary Waller Mr Gary Waller , Brighouse and Spenborough

Does not my hon. Friend accept that people are loyal to a service? Once that service is ended—even if there is a remote possibility of starting it up again—people will begin to listen to another service in their language. They may listen to the Russian or Chinese service. It is surely mistaken to imagine that one can turn on a tap and people will start listening again.

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I do not believe that audiences cannot be recaptured in the same way as translators.

Our study resulted in making net savings from current operations of about £2·6 million a year at 1981 survey prices. Over the remaining nine-year period of this decade that will save about £23 million at 1981 prices. As the capital programme is £102 million, that leaves £79 million to come from the Government. Some of that was included in the Public Expenditure Survey Committee provisions but a large proportion of it was not. For instance, in the two years 1983–84 and 1984–85 combined there is an increased total of new money from Government of £13 million. As the programme develops for the next five years, that will grow every year. Broadly similar amounts of new money will be available in those later years. This whole programme can be considered to be approved by the Government unless the BBC is unable to make the current savings. If hon. Members decided to put off those current savings, the effect would be to postpone the capital programme still further and to delay audibility to a point at which the BBC would probably lose nearly all its audience.

By putting the transmitters right, the BBC will be able to reach far more people in the world. More people will be able to hear it. As a result of making this our priority, the audience will grow more than it would if we continued to broadcast every vernacular with insufficient audibility for people to hear.

Photo of Mr Nigel Spearing Mr Nigel Spearing , Newham South

The Minister has just made an important statement. Is he denying that a debate on a motion—perhaps on a Supply day—could express a view not only about the reinstatement of the cut services but also about maintaining, at the same time, the capital? With due deference, Mr. Deputy Speaker, any other suggestion would be a contempt of the House.

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

It is not possible, by means of a motion, to force the Government to spend still more money. It is wrong to say that this is the seventh cut in eight years. This is not a cut. It is a considerable net increase. The last so-called cut in 1979 was a postponement of capital spending. The five so-called cuts under previous Governments were mainly small, resulting in a reduction of only 30 hours a week. They were largely matched by increases in funding, which the BBC has not mentioned in its propaganda.

I have spoken already this week about the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington that we should move quickly into world broadcasting of television by satellite. My hon. Friend mentioned the Home Secretary's report. We must await the comments on that document which have been invited by the end of the month.

This is an immensely expensive area. I assure my hon. Friend that his remarks are taken seriously by the Government. We have to study the implications, which are major and complex as well as expensive. I do not believe that we can go faster than the technology and our friends will allow. I have only one slight quarrel with my hon. Friend's view of the future. I believe that it is possible to transmit television programmes to countries with which we have a friendly reciprocal arrangement. If, however, a country did not wish to have television programmes transmitted to it at this time, it would probably be difficult to surmount the obstacles that would be put in our way. As a means of foreign policy, it may not be so effective as the external services, which should remain our priority.

I turn finally to a point made with great force by my hon. Friends the Members for Hastings (Mr. Warren), Streatham (Mr. Shelton) and East Grinstead. It is true that, under the licensing agreement, the BBC has complete editorial freedom and that the Government do not interfere at all. This is a contributory factor to the high esteem in which the BBC is held abroad. It is not only that this; is contained within the licensing agreement; it has also been demonstrated that this is true.

In return, the Government have a duty to prescribe the priorities in terms of hours and languages broadcast and between the capital and revenue services. I believe that foreign policy considerations must dominate the decision. Rightly or wrongly, the Foreign Office and Foreign Office Ministers are the people in the position to get the facts in deciding the priorities both because of reports from our embassies throughout the world and because of our knowledge of our priorities and what we are seeking to do.

It is an instrument of Government policy. I agree that it is political. Hon. Members may criticise our political priorities in the matter. It must be something that we decide. I believe and commend to the House the fact that it is right to increase the grant-in-aid to the BBC external services and right that the priority in the increased grant for a secure nine-year programme should be given to make the BBC audible. I also believe that the House should agree that the Government must decide and be flexible about our priorities in the broadcasting of vernacular services and that, on this occasion, we have got the matter about right.