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Mr. Gale: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Kaufman: I shall give way to the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) first.

Mr. Fabricant: The right hon. Gentleman talked about how loyal audiences of Radio 4 have diminished and he made comparisons between popularism and public service broadcasting. Does he therefore welcome--as I do--the introduction of Paul Gambaccini on Radio 3, who is increasing the audience and widening its age group? The right hon. Gentleman's arguments are very interesting. Does he suggest that if the BBC is not a public service broadcaster, it ought to be privatised, given the financial and technological changes that are taking place?

Mr. Kaufman: I shall refer to the latter part of thehon. Gentleman's question later. With respect to the former part of his intervention, I can immediately respond to it. However, I have to dispel the false impression that the hon. Gentleman has given, that the programming to which he referred has increased the BBC's audience. Indeed, when the Select Committee asked the BBC about that, it claimed that it had no figures one way or the other. The hon. Gentleman is an apologist for facts that are not available.

What has happened to Radio 4 is nothing compared with what has been done to Radio 3--it was once the epitome of high standards, which were copied throughout the world. During the Christmas recess I visited Prague, which has a wavelength called Classic FM modelled on BBC Radio 3. I then went to Jerusalem, which has a wavelength called the Classic Voice, also modelled on Radio 3. Unfortunately, those stations are not modelled on Radio 3 as it is, but Radio 3 as it was.

Radio 3 was once the epitome of high standards, which were copied throughout the world, but is has been so debased and vandalised that it is scarcely worth transmitting. It has been turned into a famous composer's latest hits wavelength. For the first time ever, this year a majority of its hours will be devoted to commercial compact discs instead of live or in-house recorded music. Last year, 49 per cent. of Radio 3's output was on CD and 51 per cent. was in-house and live music. This year, 55 per cent. of the output of Radio 3 is commercial CDs. Mr. Nicholas Kenyon has sent a letter to Ms Gillian Reynolds, the radio correspondent of The Daily

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Telegraph, saying that the BBC's objective is to maintain a peak of 46 per cent. of live and in-house music--that is, there will be 54 per cent. commercial CDs. Radio 3's first six hours every weekday are now devoted to disc jockey music.

At the same time, the BBC's patronage of live British performance shrinks. Figures that the Select Committee had to force out of the BBC show that for the money spent on the hour-long weekday disc jockey programme introduced by Paul Gambaccini, the entire repertoire of Scottish Opera, Opera North and Welsh National Opera could be broadcast live each year. Would not that be a better way of dealing with the regional issues to which the right hon. Member for Conwy referred--fostering and assisting our great regional opera companies instead of putting on a disc jockey programme?

At present those excellent companies hardly get any broadcasts. Mr. Gambaccini gave the game away in an interview in last week's Radio Times:

That is not what Radio 3 is about or what BBC radio ought to be about.

The BBC ought not to use Radio 3 as a marketing tool instead of as an entity of intrinsic worth. I am sorry to say that it is time for Nicholas Kenyon, the controller of Radio 3 and a very nice man, to be removed from a position in which he has done great damage. If it is not halted and reversed, that damage may prove irreparable.

The more one examines what is happening to the BBC, the more it is clear that what was once a unique and precious institution is now becoming just another broadcasting organisation--with a great past, certainly; still with a considerable number of high spots, indubitably. Partly the change is due to a deliberate abandonment and degeneration of standards; partly it is due to circumstances beyond anyone's control--the development of worldwide multi-channel communications. That is a trend that the BBC not only cannot resist but would be unwise to resist.

The BBC is changing fast and I am in favour of the changes that it is making in television. It already has two major satellite channels that broadcast to millions abroad. BBC Prime is a subscription service; BBC World is funded by advertising. In today's press it is reported that, on BBC World, the BBC has signed its first television sponsorship deal and is to put out a programme sponsored by Air Canada. That is the way broadcasting is moving. Those two BBC channels are no longer solely BBC channels; they are conducted in partnership with major commercial organisations, including Pearsons here in Britain, the huge conglomerate of Cox Communications in the United States, and Nissho Iwo in Japan.

There are further plans for satellite cable services to the USA. In a letter yesterday the BBC gushingly told me that

They will be for the United States.

The BBC claims that those services are financially ring-fenced and not funded by the licence, but that is nonsense. On BBC Prime, as with the BBC's participation in the United Kingdom satellite channel UK Gold, many

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of the programmes transmitted are past or present successes funded by licence payers. On BBC World, the news material is provided by BBC's worldwide news staff, again funded by the licence.

I do not criticise the BBC for that development. Indeed, it is inevitable as the boundary between the BBC's licence-funded and commercially funded services begins to disappear. But those developments do raise questions about the BBC's future. On the one hand, its share of the domestic audience is falling and will continue to fall--the director-general admits as much. On the other hand, the BBC's commercial activities are increasing, will continue to increase and should continue to increase.

The BBC is no longer solely a publicly funded public service broadcasting organisation. It is an increasingly commercial organisation which, with decreasing justification, lays claim to public funding through a regressive tax which--as my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy pointed out--is increasingly the subject of public debate and controversy. Regardless of whether licence funding is appropriate, I do not see how Labour can indefinitely defend a regressive tax which has its greatest impact on the poorest and which results in a disproportionate number of women on low incomes being prosecuted, fined or sent to gaol.

The day must inevitably come when the payers of that tax will rebel and when the BBC's commercial activities will first erode and then remove its claim to be a publicly funded organisation.

Mr. Maclennan: I am following the righthon. Gentleman's line of thought with interest and attention. His vision of the decline of the quality of the BBC may be starkly realistic. Is he coming to the conclusion-- I suppose he will tell me to wait for it--that the decline is irreversible? Does he believe that the mere removal of Mr. Nicholas Kenyon would stand against those ineluctable forces of history? Or does he think that something can be done by way of the language of the charter or the agreement, to sustain and support the standards of quality that he so realistically states are being eroded?

Mr. Kaufman: I believe that there are two parallel trends. The first, which I deplore, is the trend towards the deliberate degradation of some of the BBC's output. That could be stopped if the BBC had the will to stop it--it is an internal decision of the BBC. I fear that these documents of themselves can do nothing about the problem, because the BBC, unlike the ITV companies, is wholly unaccountable.

At the same time, I believe that the technological trend is irreversible. Nothing can be done about it; but I do not think that the technological trend inevitably involves a degradation of standards. Properly organised, the high public service broadcasting standards for which the BBC has stood for more than 70 years can be protected within the technological changes that are under way.

The day may come when the BBC's presence in the public sector will become anomalous and possibly difficult to justify. What is more, the BBC's loss of audience will mean that it has to struggle for its place in the communications market. That is why I have long

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advocated that the BBC should forge partnerships with major players in the national and international communications arena. With Pearsons, the BBC already has a worldwide partnership. I am conceited enough to point out that it is a partnership that I began advocating long before the BBC moved in that direction, so I am delighted about it. But I believe that the organisation should cultivate other partnerships too--with the ITV companies, for instance, because, as relatively small franchise holders on one terrestrial channel, they are increasingly vulnerable.

The BBC should consider partnership with BSkyB, with which it already shares coverage of, for example, Premier League football. Above all, the BBC should cultivate the possibility of a partnership with BT. Given that United States-owned cable companies are allowed to poach BT's telephone subscribers, the Government's failure to allow it to participate in television transmission is unacceptable. The Government's failure to remove legal restrictions on BT as a broadcaster is an act of purblind folly.

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