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Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Delegated Legislation Committees),


Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Delegated Legislation Committees),

Dioceses, Pastoral and Mission Measure

Question agreed to.


Hit and Run Accidents

9.12 pm

Jeff Ennis (Barnsley, East and Mexborough) (Lab): I want to present a petition on behalf of my constituent Mrs. Catherine McDermott and more than 5,000 residents from my constituency and throughout South Yorkshire. The petition protests at the lenient
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sentencing policy for drivers involved in fatal hit and run accidents. Mrs. McDermott’s grandson, Kyle, was killed in a hit and run accident in Mexborough last year.

The petition states:

To lie upon the Table.

Abortion Act 1967

9.13 pm

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Some 7.75 million babies have been killed in this country since the introduction of the Abortion Act 1967. I do not believe that that was the intention of the original legislators. I therefore strongly support the petitioners and the petition.

The petition states:

To lie upon the Table.

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Community Radio

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Alison Seabeck.]

9.15 pm

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to discuss a subject close to my heart and those of many campaigners across the United Kingdom. I am sure that it is also close to the heart of my hon. Friend the Minister, who I am delighted is here to respond.

I am an enthusiast for community radio because it has a vital role to play in communities across the UK. It will have a particularly vital role in my own community of Wrexham, which you know particularly well, Madam Deputy Speaker, and in the community of north-east Wales; community radio is coming to north-east Wales in spring next year, when Calon FM, which has secured a community radio licence, will begin to broadcast.

Community radio is one of the Government’s great success stories. It was introduced by the Communications Act 2003 and is now governed by the Community Radio Order 2004. Some 148 licences have been awarded under the community radio legislation and at present 85 new stations are broadcasting to provide services to their local communities. I believe that one, Sheffield Live, is beginning to broadcast today. I wish it all the best; I am sure that it will contribute hugely to its community.

I have always been a strong believer in local broadcasting. I well remember listening to Radio Newcastle as I was growing up on Tyneside. It contributed greatly to its local community. Local radio, particularly from the BBC, has a strong reputation for impartiality and quality of service. If it has a failure, it is that it does not extend far enough. Although, historically, BBC and commercial radio stations have provided valuable services in many communities across the United Kingdom, many areas were not covered by local radio. That was a major failing, which the 2003 Act sought to address.

The gap in provision can mean that a community does not communicate sufficiently with itself. We have seen the success of community radio in creating a forum for listeners, initiating discussion and debate, putting its finger on the pulse of local issues and creating great momentum in local campaigns. Community and local radio are particularly well placed to play such roles.

We are seeing a fracturing of communities across the UK; members of our communities often do not feel able to attend community meetings as they did in the past. Community radio can fill the gap that has begun to develop in certain areas. For example, gaps in local media are also beginning to develop in the commercial sphere. Commercial radio is becoming increasingly less local and the amount of time that a commercial radio station now spends on local broadcasting is shrinking. Although commercial radio still plays an important role, much more of its broadcasting output is nationally based and moving away from dedicated local provision. The disadvantage of that is that the type of localised contact that can be made through community radio is also shrinking.

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Ironically, this is happening at the same time as a huge development of talent in the creative media sector. I speak with particular knowledge of my own community in Wrexham, where the technical advances that have been made mean that it is now much more possible for high-quality media work to be created. In colleges across the UK, high-quality broadcasting material is being produced on a large scale. The frustration for the people who are producing that work is that there is insufficient air time available for the public to receive that information into their homes. For example, Yale college, a further education college in my constituency, provides an excellent service to the local community and has recently worked with the BBC to produce a series of digital stories that are being broadcast mainly across the internet.

I am a great believer in oral history. One of the things that motivated me into getting involved in politics was seeing programmes of oral history on television. I particularly remember a series called “The 20th Century Remembered”, with Fenner Brockway and Lord Boothby talking about their experiences. Local areas in the UK have very powerful stories to be told by local people. For example, I heard a digital story about Erlas hall in Wrexham, where the 90-year-old daughter of the last gardener at that hall, whose work ended in the first world war, talked about how she had known the garden in the past and how the community in Wrexham had been involved in it. That had previously been forgotten—a local history story had disappeared. As a result of her input, the garden is being recreated. I am anxious that that type of oral history can be communicated locally to local communities.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): My hon. Friend makes an important point about oral history. One of the extraordinary differences between an online presence and a broadcast presence for such a story is that when listening to a broadcast network, radio station, channel or whatever, one comes across things that one had not originally chosen to hear. That serendipity is half its significance, because it can challenge one’s existing prejudices. Does he worry, as I do, that the BBC’s strategy in terms of localising its news provision is always based on an online presence rather than on community radio, where that serendipity can be made possible for people?

Ian Lucas: I very much agree with my hon. Friend’s observation. I worry, in particular, that many of the people who would be most interested in a story such as that about the garden at Erlas hall are from the older generation who are comfortable with radio, particularly local radio, but do not feel able to access the internet. I also take his point about the accidental discovery of programmes. I experience that all the time when I listen to the radio, in the car or whatever, and it can feel positive to receive information and knowledge that one does not expect. One can broaden one’s horizons enormously by receiving information in that way.

I have cited one example of a local piece of knowledge being communicated locally. That is happening, but it needs to happen on a broader basis. Another matter on which community radio can have a great impact is local music. The Welsh Music Foundation has set up a novel project in Wrexham, which is a music studio created
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with the assistance of the local authority. Young people in the Wrexham community use it as a rehearsal room at a ludicrously cheap rate. Rehearsal time is being used up at the moment and I hope that it will continue to be used with great enthusiasm.

Really important and impressive bands are beginning to work and develop through those facilities. They are beginning to make an impact through the internet by communicating with other parts of the music sector. However, again, access to local radio, or radio provision of any type, is not immediately available. A community radio station with a varied output and an imaginative approach could facilitate access to the airwaves for bands that create good, positive music, which would increase the involvement of young people in their local community.

The benefits of local radio are social, creative and commercial. Local radio performs a valuable role as a forum for the exchange of information. Traditionally, that has been one of local radio’s great strengths, but there is reluctance on the part of some of our established institutions to buy into the fact that community radio can contribute enormously to communication in a community. For example, local authorities are much too slow to take advantage of community radio, now and in the past. We have to examine the way in which we communicate with the people that we represent, and local authorities need to do that, too. Local authorities often produce leaflets that are unimaginative, propagandist and not particularly stimulating, and that is often the means of communication between local authorities and the people that they represent. Those authorities could benefit from investment in local community radio. If they want a public response to the question whether fortnightly bin collections are working, community radio would be a good way of getting it. That would be a good investment of public money—better, perhaps, than producing reams of local magazines that nobody reads.

We need to explore far more than we have before the creativity that community radio can produce. The imaginative aspect of good radio broadcasting can be extremely impressive because it communicates profoundly with listeners and is very valued, but there is a limited forum for such imaginative, creative radio output. I would like community radio to take a much more imaginative approach. It should focus on the local, but do it imaginatively. The quality of broadcasting generally, propped up by the genuine talent in the creative industry in our communities, could hugely benefit the people whom we represent.

There is a problem with funding community radio. Although the Government have done a great job in promoting community radio, the community radio fund could benefit from some expansion. Although I would dearly love the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to commit to that this evening, I expect that that is a forlorn hope. However, community radio needs more money. I have suggested that local authorities could be a source of that funding because they should use the new opportunities presented by that medium to communicate better with their constituents.

I welcome the Welsh Assembly’s recent commitment of approximately £500,000 to community radio funding in Wales. That is to be applauded. We need to consider exploring financial opportunities for community radio more widely.

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I became a great local radio enthusiast because we do not have local radio in north Wales. Despite the fact that we benefit hugely from the BBC in many ways, a decision was made in the past that only one English language and one Welsh language radio station funded by the BBC would exist in Wales. We do not therefore have the special focus on local radio that exists in most parts of the UK. That big gap has taken some time to fill. I hope that community radio will now fill it. I accept that the BBC is entitled to make such a decision, but it frustrates me that my constituents in Wrexham do not have the benefit of a BBC local radio station when people in Shropshire, Stoke and on Merseyside all have such stations. If funding is to be made available in specific parts of the country for local radio, and the BBC is not prepared to provide it in other parts, a proportion of it should be given to others to fund radio provision. To use a dreaded phrase, I support top-slicing the licence fee when there is no local radio provision.

I value local radio provision. Community radio has a great future, but it must have sustainable funding. It can have broad funding or up to 50 per cent. commercial funding under the current rules, but it must have a baseline of funding and support. In my view, a proportion of the licence fee should partly fund that baseline when the BBC does not agree to provide a local radio station in a specific part of the country.

9.33 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) on bringing the important issue of community radio and community radio funding to the House’s attention. I am happy that my hon. Friends the Members for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and for Eccles (Ian Stewart) are present. They have both played their part in promoting community radio. My hon. Friend the Member for Eccles chairs the all-party group on community media.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham said, community radio has, in a relatively short time, established itself as a new tier of radio. Already, several people in the UK have benefited from having a community radio station in their area. Eighty-five stations are already on air, and a further sixty-three are preparing to broadcast, having secured a licence from Ofcom. We eventually expect around 200 stations across the country. I pay tribute to Sheffield, which goes live today, and we look forward to many other stations coming on stream.

Ofcom has stated a desire for a community radio station for every community that wants one. This rapid growth represents a fantastic achievement by all those involved with community radio stations. At the centre of many of the stations is a core of dedicated, enthusiastic people making a contribution to their local community. Many volunteer their precious spare time to do so. One of the attractions of the concept of community radio is that it is run by local people for local people.

I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of giving creative work of a local nature a platform to prosper. My Department has been working with the
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Arts Council to research the role that community radio could have in the creative industries. The findings of that research will be available shortly. Of course, these stations cannot be run on determination alone, and every community radio station must seek and obtain funding. I do not pretend that that is ever easy. That is why my Department has provided more than £1.5 million to the community radio fund during the past three years.

What is the community radio fund? The Department recognises that certain activities, such as media skills training, are more attractive to funders than bids for running costs such as management and administration. That is why we have directed the fund, administered by Ofcom, to provide support for the core costs of running a station, which are notoriously difficult to secure. As I have said, more than £1.5 million has already been awarded to community radio stations from the fund. That has taken the form of 79 grants made directly to stations by Ofcom. The feedback from the awards has on the whole been very positive, and has included such responses as

I am therefore pleased to confirm to the House that, following the comprehensive spending review, we have decided to maintain funding at the current level of up to £500,000 a year for each of the next three years. I hope that that is good news, and that it will be welcomed by the sector.

Ian Stewart (Eccles) (Lab): I chair the all-party parliamentary group on community media, which covers community radio, and on its behalf I welcome the funding. Without it, the sector would not exist. If the Minister accepts the argument put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) and by the all-party group relating to the value of the sector, he will surely understand that, although £1.5 million over three years is welcome, it cannot come near to the amount necessary to stabilise the sector for the future. Will he meet me and my committee to discuss these matters further?

Mr. Sutcliffe: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the spirit of his intervention, which was really about how we are to sustain community radio. Obviously, I am prepared to meet him and his hon. Friends for further discussions. If those discussions cannot take place with me, perhaps the Secretary of State will attend to the matter in due course—

Ian Stewart: Or both of you?

Mr. Sutcliffe: Even both of us, if that is appropriate.

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