I intend to publish a discussion paper about the future of the BBC in the next few weeks. That will set out a range of questions as a framework for public debate.
Will my right hon. Friend confinn that in considering the future funding and structure of the BBC, no options will be excluded? Will he consider particularly whether the BBC should continue to enjoy a monopoly of public sector subsidy and whether it is right that the full range of output of the BBC should continue to be funded by the licence fee payer?
If I answered every one of my hon. Friend's questions, I should be producing an early publication of the discussion document. I can give him the assurance that all the matters that he has raised are being considered during the preparation of the document.
In view of the complex and challenging future for the BBC, does the Secretary of State think that the present arrangements for the director-generalship of the BBC are sensible or satisfactory? Rather than persist with the rather unhappy situation in which two people, Sir Michael Checkland and Mr. John Birt, are effectively doing the same job, does the right hon. Gentleman think that it would be wise to cut through the knot and allow Mr. Birt to take over at a slightly earlier moment than presently planned?
I understand the hon. Gentleman's question, but the arrangements were set in motion by the governors and the BBC as a specific plan. That is a matter for the BBC rather than for me.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that I have worked for both systems of television and radio, commercial broadcasting as well as for the BBC. Does he agree that any steps that he takes to consider the future of the BBC should be structured on two important facts—that it is an institution of world renown and that it is one of the greatest patrons of the arts in this country?
May I underline the urgency of making the Green Paper public as soon as possible to assist what we all hope will be a widespread debate on the future of the BBC that involves viewers and listeners? Is the Secretary of State aware that we shall expect the document to reaffirm the Government's commitment to the independence of the BBC and its prime role in our broadcasting system? Meanwhile, will the right hon. Gentleman urge the BBC to stop its current round of job cutting, which threatens programme-making ability, ahead of any decisions on its role into and beyond the next century?
The hon. Gentleman's impatience is a little undue, considering that we are talking about a charter that runs until 1996. It is better that it were done well than done hastily. As for the hon. Gentleman's question about jobs at the BBC, under its present charter internal appointments and day-to-day management are matters for the BBC itself.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that, on the restructuring of the Independent Broadcasting Authority into the Independent Television Commission and the Radio Authority, the engineering division was privatised and became National Transcommunications. Does my right hon. Friend have similar plans so to privatise BBC Engineering? Is he aware that, because the BBC produces its own programmes, the privatisation of BBC Engineering could well have an effect on its programme-making capacity?
Seductive though the invitations are from my hon. Friends, it would be premature for me to say what will be in the document before we arrive at it.