Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Intergovernmental Conference

13. Mr. Winnick: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the Government's latest proposals for the intergovernmental conference. [6850]

Mr. David Davis: We have set out our approach to the intergovernmental conference on a number of occasions, including during the debate at the Madrid European Council on 7 December. We want an IGC that improves the operation of the European Union, especially with a view to further enlargement, and one that makes the Union more relevant and acceptable to people.

Mr. Winnick: May I make a helpful suggestion to the Government? In order to accommodate both sides of the Tory parliamentary party--the rival factions on this issue--would it not be possible for both sides to be represented at the intergovernmental conference? One

10 Jan 1996 : Column 200

side could be led by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the other by the Defence Secretary. Is that not a helpful suggestion?

Mr. Davis: That suggestion is about as helpful as one has come to expect from the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Jessel: At the intergovernmental conference, will the Government constantly bear it in mind that the British people want only a minimal share in governing continental countries and want continental countries to have only a minimal share in governing our country?

Mr. Davis: I understand only too well what my hon. Friend is saying. Ironically, there is not too much difference between what he had to say and the comments on the opinion poll made earlier by the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Radice). British people want the nation state to be respected. They want proper co-operation in Europe, trading opportunities in Europe, peace and stability in Europe and a decentralised Europe. We shall support all those things.

Madam Speaker: Mr. MacKay--I am sorry, Mr. Mackinlay.

Mr. Mackinlay: What opportunities are there for the Governments of countries applying for membership of the European Union to contribute to the intergovernmental conference--especially the Visegrad countries, of which Poland is the largest? Will there be an opportunity for them to make a meaningful contribution to deliberations? In that regard, will the Foreign Secretary or the Prime Minister be meeting the new President of Poland soon?

Mr. Davis: I was surprised to see where the hon. Gentleman was sitting, given how he was addressed.

Mr. Skinner: We are a broad church here.

Mr. Davis: It is a very broad church if it extends as far as the Conservative Whips Office.

With respect to the hon. Gentleman's quite serious question, which I shall treat seriously, the Government have certainly been in communication with all the countries to which he referred--certainly Visegrad 4, Visegrad 6 and the Baltic countries. We shall continue to be in communication with them about their proposals and ideas. Their representatives meet regularly; they have attended meetings of the European Foreign Affairs Council on a number of occasions. We shall certainly be continuing that process and ensuring that their fears and concerns are reflected. Britain will take a very forward role in doing so. As for the hon. Gentleman's comment about a meeting with my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary or my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, I shall have to look into that and let him know.

Mr. Mans: When my hon. Friend attends the IGC and discusses the prospects of future members of the European Union in eastern Europe, will he ensure that our colleagues in Europe appreciate that the security of those future members should be conducted through NATO and not through any future security structure in the EU?

Mr. Davis: My hon. Friend will be only too pleased to know that that point has already been made very forcibly by myself in the reflection group and by my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary in the Western European Union. Our stance on it is very

10 Jan 1996 : Column 201

clear and was laid out in a memorandum written by my right hon. and learned Friend in March. We have stuck forcibly to that point throughout. Article 5 responsibilities--defence responsibilities--must be under NATO and not anything else.

BBC World Service

14. Mr. Dowd: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what estimates have been made of the effects on the operating budget of the BBC World Service of the combined effect of the recent reduction in its capital programme and the proposed introduction of private finance initiative funding. [6851]

Mr. Hanley: The effect of the PFI funding on the World Service budget will be clearer once the World Service completes its discussions with the private sector.

Mr. Dowd: Does the Minister regret the damage that the Government's arbitrary decision to cut both the operating budget and the capital budget of the World Service--in outright defiance of the triennium agreement--has done to its ability to plan for the future? Does he not realise that that will produce total cuts, in real terms, across the World Service's budgets of some £20 million by 1997-98? Does that not conclusively demonstrate that the Government's word is not to be trusted even when they are dealing with an institution such as the BBC World Service, which provides value to the people of Britain that far exceeds its operating costs?

Mr. Hanley: I fully recognise the great value and high quality of the World Service and the important role that it plays in overseas representation. It is not realistic, however, to examine the World Service budget in isolation from the Foreign Office budget as a whole, as the chairman of the BBC has acknowledged.

We have done everything possible to keep reductions in the World Service to the minimum. If one takes both capital and revenue reductions, the average is 4.75 per cent for the World Service while it is 7.0 per cent. for the Foreign Office as a whole. If one takes expenditure for 1996-97, the current expenditure reduction for the World Service is 0 per cent., whereas for the diplomatic wing of the Foreign Office it is 4 per cent. If one takes capital expenditure into account as well, as we said, the PFI will be playing its part.

The Government have favoured the World Service above every other part of the Foreign Office in the current expenditure round.

Mr. Jopling: Will the Minister bear it in mind that recently the BBC seemed sensibly to opt out of paying the huge sums of money required for prestige sporting events? We shall now, for example, be able to watch formula 1 motor racing on ITV--which allegedly paid £70 million over five years for that right--rather than on the BBC. Does not all that add up to the fact that the BBC should have ample savings with which to make up the shortfall for the World Service?

Mr. Hanley: I cannot go along with the argument that my right hon. Friend uses inasmuch as I believe that the World Service, along with the BBC as a whole, has become much more efficient than it was in the past. The World Service has also produced television services the

10 Jan 1996 : Column 202

world over at no cost to the British taxpayer, which is a great triumph, and the quality of those programmes is improving daily.

I believe in the investment that we have made in the World Service. It has a capital provision of more than £62 million for the next three years, and expenditure on the Oman relay station will cost £20 million during that period. That is a substantial capital investment. With further efficiency savings, I believe that the World Service will continue to serve us extremely well. On top of that, real terms funding has been increased by 50 per cent. since 1979.

Mr. Shore: The Minister must be aware that the BBC itself does not finance the World Service; it is financed by subventions from the Foreign Office, and always has been. Will the Minister therefore look more carefully now at the case for sustaining the previously budgeted expenditure, not only for this year but for 1997-98? There is a real danger not only that the capital budget will be cut--that will happen anyway and the World Service may or may not be able to make up for it through the PFI-- but that the operating budget will be cut. Those of us who heard earlier this year of the end of our 50-year-old radio service to France, which has operated since General de Gaulle first came to Britain in 1940, can only look to the future with great anxiety and wait to see which other services are in danger.

Mr. Hanley: ise that some hon. Members have longer memories than others, and can therefore remember the time when the French language service was extremely important. However, the World Service's decision to cut that service has nothing to do with the recent budgetary measures. The decision was taken by the BBC purely on its own merits, and was announced last September. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to fund nostalgia, that is up to him, but the World Service is efficient and effective. I recognise the £10 million funding gap--[Interruption.] If Opposition Members take some interest in the subject, they might like to listen to the answer. I am talking about the funding gap in 1997-98. The prediction of that gap is based on several assumptions that remain to be verified. I realise that it will be a difficult year, but I am confident that much can be done to absorb the cuts, especially through further efficiencies.

Sir Patrick Cormack: Does my right hon. Friend accept that the BBC World Service acts as a most effective, and cost-effective, ambassador in every home and institution in which it is listened to? Bearing that fact in mind, will he carefully re-examine the figures, especially those for 1997, to ensure that the World Service is not jeopardised for the sake of the price of a mile of motorway?

Mr. Hanley: I can tell my hon. Friend, and I know that he will agree, that the Government have a strong record of support for the World Service. As I said earlier, real terms funding is up by 50 per cent. since 1979. World Service output and audiences now stand at record levels-- the audience is more than twice the size of the nearest competitor. The World Service has benefited from an investment of £166 million since 1991, which has greatly improved audibility and efficiency. For example, a new £29 million relay station is nearing completion in Thailand. The World Service is now broadcast in 42 languages, including the 24-hour English output, and

10 Jan 1996 : Column 203

it is rebroadcast by more than 900 local radio stations. That is a record of success. [Interruption.] No wonder the Opposition are angry about it.

Mr. Robin Cook: If the World Service is such a success, why are the Government not backing that success? The Minister has just mentioned the 42 languages. Does he not know that this month the World Service is carrying out a review to decide which of those languages it will have to drop in 1997? Which language does the Minister think that the BBC World Service could drop without damaging British influence? If he cannot answer that question, does that not underline how short-sighted it is to cut the funding of one of the great assets of Britain, which should be one of the best investments that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office could make in foreign relations?

Mr. Hanley: I said earlier, and I shall repeat it, that the World Service has done better out of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office public expenditure survey than any other branch. Indeed, the rest of the Foreign Office has had to make sacrifices because of the World Service. Does the hon. Gentleman want to say how much he would spend on the Foreign Office budget and how much extra on the World Service? What allocation would he make for the Foreign Office budget under his Government, if he ever had the chance to form one? I should be interested if he would put the numbers on the line, because we want to know how much extra he would spend.

Mr. Temple-Morris: Does my right hon. Friend accept that, as has already been made clear, it is a matter of major concern on both sides of the House that the operating budget of the BBC World Service for the next triennium is under serious threat? He has waxed eloquent about the achievements of the BBC World Service. As he has the Foreign Office responsibility for that service, will he undertake to protect it, rather than cutting an operation that delivers more for Britain at less cost than almost anything else?

Mr. Hanley: My hon. Friend's interest in, and support for, the World Service is well known. I am grateful for the discussions that he had with me on the subject before Christmas. As I said, we have protected the World Service from the rigours of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office budget for the coming year. We have favoured it, and to a large extent ring-fenced it, in comparison with expenditure on the British Council, on the diplomatic wing and even on the Overseas Development Administration. In other words, the World Service has done better than any other part of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in funding. That is a recognition of the importance that the World Service holds for the United Kingdom and of the way in which the House regards it.


Next Section

IndexHome Page