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Mr. Fabricant: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the performance of the local radio advisory councils has been very patchy? While one or two radio stations believe that they have benefited from their input, other stations feel that the LRACs are an unwelcome intrusion. The vast majority of listeners are not even aware that they exist.

Dr. Moonie: I suspect that that is the case with many bodies that the Government appoint to represent our interests. I accept that there are great differences in radio councils' performance levels, but the fact that democratic accountability sometimes fails to meet the very high standards of some hon. Members does not mean that it should not occur. The hon. Gentleman should have regard to that fact: it is a good in its own right.

The BBC must acknowledge the very local interests of many small radio stations. We propose that there should be a council of the English regions matching the national broadcasting councils. Until now, the BBC has had an English regional forum. We agree with the point made by the Voice of the Listener and Viewer organisation that the new draft charter

If that requirement is not inserted in the charter, we shall seek the BBC's assurance that it will maintain such a body.

The BBC has a range of other advisory bodies--for example, on science and religious broadcasting--and the General Advisory Council. While I do not believe that we should lay down every aspect of the BBC's operations in the charter and agreement, we would welcome an early statement by the BBC as to what advisory structures it will continue to operate.

The BBC has a new requirement under the agreement to undertake public consultation about changes that it makes to programme services. Consultation implies that

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there is some willingness to accept the views of members of the public. I trust that the BBC now knows, to its cost, how much strength of feeling programming changes can arouse. For example, there is still great unease about "Test Match Special" replacing Radio 4 broadcasts on long wave. FM reception in my area is not very good and I can no longer receive Radio 4. The "Anderson Country" experience must also have proved a salutary lesson.

Mr. Hawkins: Is the hon. Gentleman aware that surveys have shown that the Radio 4 audience increases substantially when the cricket is broadcast on the normal transmission channel? For many millions of people, England's performance in the cricket World cup--which we hope will improve in future--is vital. That programme certainly offers more objective coverage than the "Today" programme.

Dr. Moonie: I also hope that England's performances in the World cup improve--they could scarcely be any worse than the performances over the winter.

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet): Spoken like a true Scot.

Dr. Moonie: A true Scot who has played cricket for most of his adult life and who still takes an avid interest in the game. However, I find it difficult to find the broadcasts on long wave.

The hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Hawkins) has missed the point. Radio does not aim simply to attract the largest audience; it aims also to cater for specialist interests. I assure him that the BBC was inundated with complaints from regular listeners to Radio 4 about the changes to its programming. I believe that the views of those who have been loyal listeners for many years should be taken into account when programming decisions are made.

The BBC's accountability to the public and to Parliament depends also on the free flow of information. The introduction of a range of performance objectives to be included in the annual report is a useful step, but we must not risk allowing quantitative measures to overtake qualitative judgments. On occasion, the Government have woefully ignored issues of quality in broadcasting. As evidenced by the current Broadcasting Bill, the Government have not yet learnt from their mistakes. We must not allow that situation to prevail with the BBC.

As I said earlier, we are concerned about many aspects of the Broadcasting Bill, which is inextricably linked to the documents before us. Of particular concern is the proposed sale of the BBC's transmitter network--which has already been mentioned. We will make our feelings about that fully known when we debate the Bill in this place, but I believe that it is worth raising some general issues now as we debate the documents that are paving the way for the sale.

Nowhere in the documents or in the Bill is it stated explicitly that the BBC will be the sole beneficiary of the proceeds of the sale. We have received private reassurances that it will, but we would feel much happier about the Government's good intentions if that were made clear either through a statement or in legislation. We are seeking an assurance that the BBC will retain the money to pay for the development of new services. We are also

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concerned that this is possibly the first privatisation measure that does not refer to the employees of the body to be privatised.

In addition, the agreement refers to directions to the BBC to dispose of stations, while the charter's definition of "station" is so broad that many parts of the BBC could be sold at the whim of the Secretary of State. The BBC may be taking a fairly relaxed view of the privatisation proposal, but there are many more questions to be asked and answers to be given about that issue.

I want now to mention radio broadcasting in Scotland--I am sure that hon. Members will forgive me if I make one or two important parochial points. I am sure that hon. Members will have received the communication from Broadcasting for Scotland, which sets out a number of its concerns in detail. It mentions in particular the fact that

It goes on to suggest the following:

    council right to initiate a strategy and objectives for their country

    a council duty to inform audiences in their country of relevant BBC policy effects".

The document refers also to Gaelic broadcasting. That matter was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald), who appears to have left the Chamber--I did not say that.

Labour Members are concerned about the lack of status accorded to Gaelic broadcasting compared with the situation in Wales. We believe that, while the BBC is sympathetic to moving towards a national Gaelic radio service, that should be specifically recognised by a commitment in the charter. I am sure that some of my hon. Friends will wish to return to that issue.

Today, I was sent a long and comprehensive document by Wilf Stevenson of the British Film Institute about the archiving of BBC material. I quote the document in the hope that the Minister of State will be able to refer to it in his reply. I am very happy to let the Minister read it if he has not already done so. It states:

The following points are suggested for improving the situation:

    (b) that the Charter should specify that the BBC has an obligation to maintain archives to the commonly accepted standards, and that it can either do this itself or make arrangements to fund the National Television Archive;

    (c) that if it is decided to maintain an internal Television Archive, there should be a formal requirement to co-operate with the relevant national bodies, such as the BFI in respect of television and related materials; and

    (d) that the BBC should not dispose of any of the contents of its libraries and archives without first freely offering such material for preservation in the appropriate national, regional or national regional collection."

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Those are fair points and I hope that the Minister will refer to them when he is winding up.

It has been argued that, at a time of dramatic change in broadcasting, it would have been better to guarantee the licence for the full 10 years of the charter period. The Opposition have much sympathy for that point of view and we can see the logic of the argument, but I can also see the logic of reviewing the licence fee after five years. A decision has to be made to do one or the other. The licence fee is already the subject of widespread public debate due partly, no doubt, to the recent imprisonment case in "Coronation Street".

If the licence fee is to be changed in any way, it must be after a major public consultation in which all the options are explored and which is, if possible, free from the type of debate that can sometimes characterise more general taxation matters. In the past 17 years, the Conservative party has not been a friend to the BBC. Many Conservative Members have attacked and threatened it and expressed the desire that it be sold off. I believe that the BBC has won many of the arguments about its future and the Opposition have consistently supported it. The Government have drawn back and given the BBC a partial vote of confidence.

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