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21 Jan 2003 : Column 272—continued

Jim Dowd (Lewisham, West): I am somewhat confused. There will be seven votes a fortnight from now, and my hon. Friend says that we should send the clearest possible message. How on earth can we send a clear message on the basis of seven votes producing seven results—for if any are identical I shall be astonished—and what on earth do we expect the Committee to do after receiving the seven results if the House gives it no clear direction on priorities?

Mr. Bradshaw: I am sure my hon. Friend knows that Members will have more than one vote. They will not have to vote for just one option; they can vote for all seven.

I was simply reinforcing a point made by a number of other speakers. However much individual Members may favour a particular solution, it is important for them to be willing to compromise a little so that the Commons can send a strong signal of its settled will—not least to make the Joint Committee's further work easier. My hon. Friend is right: if we send mixed messages, or if the results of the votes on the two most popular options are very close, that may make the Committee's life much more difficult.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke: Will the Minister confirm that the Government still hope to resolve the issue by the end of the current Parliament? Will he perhaps indicate to the Joint Committee that it might seek to conclude its labours by the end of the present Session, so that that timetable seems realistic?

Mr. Bradshaw: It would be extremely helpful if the Committee could do that—and yes, the Government still intend to wrap up the issue during the current Parliament. I sincerely hope that we can.

This is not the last word on the Joint Committee's report, of course. A similar debate has been held in the other place today. I am sure that Members of this House will want to read Hansard to see what was said there, just as I hope that their lordships will pay close attention to our proceedings today and to some of the excellent speeches that were made. We will return to the issue on 4 February. We will have a shorter debate, Members will have a chance to vote on the seven options, and the Joint Committee will note what has been said and resume its work. I look forward to that debate, and hope we can send both the Committee and the House of Lords a good strong signal.

It being Seven o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed without Question put.

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Motion made,

Hon. Members: Object.





Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 116(1)(Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Question agreed to.

21 Jan 2003 : Column 274

Broadcasting (Wales)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Jim Murphy.]

7 pm

Ian Lucas (Wrexham): I am pleased to secure this debate and to welcome my hon. Friend the Minister from his long hours in Committee. I am sure he is glad of the change of scenery. I hope not to detain him too long.

I want to talk about radio and the proposals on access radio in the Communications Bill; to set out the position in my constituency of Wrexham and in north-east Wales; and to explain why community-based access radio is important and why the money must be found to set it up as soon as possible.

Talk-based local radio is a great success story. It is a trusted medium. It encourages debate. It helps local community groups to publicise their activities. It has an especially valuable role for the disabled. It is popular with the elderly, who may live alone and use it for company. Alongside music-based stations, it can create a vibrant community radio sector. The young tend to listen to music-based commercial stations. The rest of us rely on talk-based local radio.

I was brought up in north-east England. I recall the early days of BBC Radio Newcastle, which, along with regional television, was an important part of the region's identity. It created its own personalities and is greatly valued still. The BBC has a prized reputation in local radio, which was at the forefront of establishing its reputation as impartial and strongly based in local communities.

Talk-based radio is so successful that the BBC has 40 local radio stations in England. In Scotland, the BBC sees the value of local news bulletins across the nation, with places as disparate as the borders and Shetland given dedicated time on the airwaves. Northern Ireland has two stations, with Radio Ulster and Radio Foyle serving the community together, but for reasons that I cannot understand Wales is a different story.

The commercial sector focuses on music, the youth market and advertising, but the BBC in Wales is not interested in local radio. It seems institutionally incapable of responding to constituents' demands that they are entitled to as good a service as listeners across the border in England. My constituents are very angry about it.

I wrote to my local newspaper canvassing views on the absence of a local talk-based station for Wrexham and for north-east Wales. These are just some of the responses:

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Saddest of all is this:

Before 1995, Clwyd had its own radio service. Radio Clwyd is still fondly remembered in Wrexham and throughout north-east Wales. It was taken off but the BBC justified its action in 1995:

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): I would not contradict the hon. Gentleman's experience, which is that a community will tend to adopt a local radio station and feel empowered as a result. That can never happen if listeners are simply slotted into a station with which they do not feel any connection.

Ian Lucas: That is absolutely correct. Regrettably, the position is even worse now than in 1995. Last year, the BBC removed the opt-out news bulletins in north-east Wales. By contrast with the position in Scotland, Wales has no opt-out news bulletins from the BBC but it provides a single service through BBC Wales for the whole of Wales.

It seems that the BBC in particular has an inability to recognise that Wales is a nation having distinct regions. I began to wonder why my constituents were getting such an inferior service from the BBC. Could it be a lack of money? According to the corporation's annual report and accounts for 2001–02, £18 million was spent on radio in Wales. That compares favourably with Scotland, which received £19 million for a larger population and a wider geographical area. So why does Scotland have six sets of geographically based local news bullets when Wales has none?

Could it be that the regions within Wales were too small? The BBC funds a separate Radio Guernsey and Radio Jersey service, despite listening audiences of 50,000 and 74,000 respectively. Radio Shropshire, which I know well, provides an excellent service to an audience of 361,000—fewer listeners than would be covered by a service for north-east Wales, which has a population of more than 391,000.

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