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Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that the expected job losses in London may be compensated for by job increases in the regions as a result of the new strategy of moving new programmes to the regions?

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, that is one way of looking at the situation. In general, the BBC is keen to find ways of redeploying staff whose jobs disappear. That may include relocation. The extent to which that may be possible is a matter for the BBC and the individuals involved.

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, there seems to be a severe difference of opinion between the BBC management, which argues strongly that it is maintaining if not increasing its educational output, and the staff, who see cuts and an increase in repeats. We do not expect the Minister to resolve that problem on the spot, but does she agree that educational broadcasting is one of the main reasons why the BBC holds its privileged position of being in receipt of licence fee money? It would be surprising and certainly imprudent were the BBC ever to contemplate cutting expenditure on educational broadcasting.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, received the BBC's educational factsheet, which should have set his mind at rest. I am sure the noble Baroness, Lady David, received it. The BBC recently announced a major increase in investment in programme commissions from outside London. That will not lead to reductions in educational output.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone: My Lords, can my noble friend arrange with the BBC for the placement in the Library of the document called, BBC Education Programmes—The Facts, which challenges the whole of the factual basis upon which the original Question was based?

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. I have just referred to that document, which was circulated to interested Peers. If those Peers who are interested but did not receive the document

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wish to contact me, I shall ensure that they receive individual copies. I shall also ensure that a copy is placed in the Library.

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, perhaps I may point out that we all received the factsheet, which was interesting and impressive. But other factsheets are often circulated which contain different facts based on different assumptions.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, having received that factsheet, I am surprised that the Question was pursued.

Baroness David: My Lords, perhaps I may ask the Minister something which has not been mentioned regarding the Open University. Is the noble Baroness aware that the Open University organisation is anxious about the new plans for the broadcasting of its programmes? Everybody recognises that it has been brilliant in the past, but it is worried that many programmes in the future will be delivered at night. That will mean that a good many likely students will miss them. There is a great capacity to excite in the BBC broadcast programmes. People who happen to catch those are stimulated and send in inquiries. The Open University is worried that those people, who make up a large percentage of their students, will miss such programmes if the night-time plans increase.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, the number of hours of Open University programmes will not be cut. With regard to night programmes, the Government favour any measures which increase the amount of educational programming which it is possible to deliver. The programmes are based on schools, most of which have access to video recorders. Broadcasting overnight allows far more material to be made available to schools. However, there may still be a need to provide programmes during normal school hours and it is for the BBC to determine where to strike the balance.

Baroness David: My Lords, there are many more students in higher education in the Open University than in any other establishment.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, I said that there would be no cuts.


2.59 p.m.

Lord Barnett asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their policy on the feasibility of rejoining the European exchange rate mechanism.

Lord Henley: My Lords, on many occasions Her Majesty's Government have clearly stated that we do not anticipate the United Kingdom joining the exchange rate mechanism in the lifetime of this Parliament.

Lord Barnett: My Lords, as the noble Lord will be aware, I am very keen to help the Prime Minister in this respect because I very much agree with his policy of keeping options open on joining the single currency. But if he is keeping options open on that, should he not also be keeping options open on the exchange rate mechanism?

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Lord Henley: My Lords, since at the ECOFIN meeting last week it was agreed that there will be no move to a single currency in 1997, I do not think that it is quite necessary to take the line that the noble Lord is pursuing. As regards the first part of his question, in which he offered to support my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, I shall of course convey that back to my right honourable friend. I am sure that he will be most delighted to receive support from such a welcome source.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn: My Lords, may I commend the consistency with which my noble friend has responded to this Question and others on very similar topics in recent months and years and may I also commend the consistency of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister? May I go so far as to ask whether my noble friend will agree that in the light of these repeated assurances there is a risk that the Question from the noble Lord opposite was otiose to the point of superfluity?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I do not intend to answer the last part of my noble friend's question. As regards consistency, I can assure him that I and all colleagues in Her Majesty's Government have answered this Question and similar Questions with the utmost consistency ever since they were first asked by the noble Lord and other noble Lords in all parts of the House.

Lord Merlyn-Rees: My Lords, the noble Lord has given us government policy as of just after three o'clock today. Can he assure the House that it will be exactly the same policy after half-past five tomorrow?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I can give the noble Lord absolutely that assurance. After half-past five or half-past six tomorrow my right honourable friend the Prime Minister will still be Prime Minster. He will be Prime Minister in two weeks' time, he will be Prime Minister in two years' time, and for many years thereafter.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, may I remind my noble friend—

Noble Lords: No!

Lord Tebbit: —in a form interrogative by asking whether he remembers that Her Majesty's Government's policy was absolutely clear—that we remained in the ERM—until the glorious 30th September 1990? Would he not agree that we should look for changes which may come under pressure? Would he not further agree that the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, was right to raise this matter, for if we are to have the option of entering the single currency on 1st January 1999, which has not been excluded by the Government, we should have to join the narrow band of the ERM by 1st January 1997, which is really not very far away to allow for a change of policy?

Lord Henley: My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely correct that we should look for changes. That is why my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and the entire Government have made it quite clear that we shall keep our options open. That is the deal that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister negotiated at

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Maastricht; and at that time possibly my noble friend supported the deal that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister negotiated.

Lord Peston: My Lords, the noble Lord does not seem to understand his noble friend's question. That is why the Question is not otiose but is vitally important. Is he aware that the option under Maastricht is a nullity unless we are members of the exchange rate mechanism? That is what we signed in the Maastricht Treaty. The question being put to the noble Lord, which I, too, would like him to answer, is this: if we are not going to join the exchange rate mechanism before 1997, why is his party tearing itself apart on the single currency? The issue will not arise for them. They will not be able to exercise the option because the option will not be there. That is the whole point of the Question. Why does not the noble Lord answer it?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I suspect that it is the noble Lord who is in ignorance on these matters. He is right to imply that membership of the ERM is one of the convergence criteria. He then goes on to suggest that the refusal to join implies a ruling out of EMU. That simply is not the case. The exchange rate criterion in the treaty was written at a time when the ERM operated under very different rules from the way it operates at the moment. It is not now clear how the requirement will be measured, but there is no legal or practical need for a formal interpretation of the treaty on the subject now, especially since, as I made quite clear, the 1997 start for the EMU is ruled out. For that reason it is quite clear that we can keep our options open on the ERM until well after the election and we can keep our options on EMU open for considerably longer. We can make up our mind at the time as is appropriate.

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