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House of Lords

Wednesday, 27th June 2001.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Derby.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick

Sir David Hugh Alexander Hannay, GCMG, having been created Baron Hannay of Chiswick, of Bedford Park in the London Borough of Ealing, for life--Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Bridges and the Lord Williamson of Horton.

Lord Sheldon

The Right Honourable Robert Edward Sheldon, having been created Baron Sheldon, of Ashton-under-Lyne in the County of Greater Manchester, for life--Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Barnett and the Lord Dubs.

Several Lords--Took the Oath.

Maritime Theater Missile Defense Forum

2.50 p.m.

Lord Chalfont: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, perhaps I may apologise for an error that has crept into the wording. The reference should be to "theater" missile defence and not to "tactical" missile defence.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have any plans for the Royal Navy to join the Maritime Theater Missile Defense Forum.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach): My Lords, although the United Kingdom Government have not previously been formally represented at this forum, we are considering carefully whether to send representation in the future. A decision is expected shortly.

Lord Chalfont: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that encouraging Answer. I welcome him to one of the "hot seats" on the Government Front Bench and wish him great success in the future. Does he agree that as the Royal Navy might in the future be engaged in expeditionary force operations, it is important for it to exchange information with the other navies of the world on the future of missile technology?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his kind comments. Knowing his vast experience in this field, I am doubly grateful and I thank him. I agree with the thinking behind the Question. It is right that we should seek to monitor

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developments in the field of maritime theatre ballistic missiles. If we decide in the near future to be represented on this important forum, that will be exactly the intention.

Lord Roper: My Lords, we on these Benches share the pleasure of seeing the Minister in his new role. Irrespective of the diversity of views on strategic ballistic missile defence, will he accept that there is a wide commonality of approach to the question of the missile defence of our ships; and that, therefore, we too welcome the fact that the Government are considering taking part in the forum. Will the Minister further accept that, if we are to acquire this kind of capacity, it makes a great deal more sense and will save resources if it is acquired on a shared basis?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his kind comments. He makes exactly the right distinction. We are not talking today, but we may be tomorrow, about what has been described as "national missile defence"--now known as "missile defence". Here we are talking about something quite different and I am grateful for his support in this field.

Lord Burnham: My Lords, on behalf of these Benches, perhaps I, too, may welcome the noble Lord to what was described by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, as a "hot seat"--and one that has been made temporarily hotter by the mistake in the wording of the Question. As I understand it, this forum contains a number of countries outside NATO of all types. Therefore, is it not particularly important that the United Kingdom should take part in the work of the forum to enable greater co-operation to be achieved between the various nations?

Lord Bach: My Lords, again--I am not tiring of saying this--I am most grateful to the noble Lord. He has been particularly kind to me during the first few weeks that I have been in this job. When the cards in the Conservative Party eventually fall to the ground, so to speak, I hope that the noble Lord will be in the same position as he is now--

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Bach: I am afraid that I cannot help but agree with exactly what the noble Lord said. We are talking about a body that reaches beyond NATO. Therefore, it is most important for us to know what is going on within it.

BBC World Service

2.54 p.m.

Lord Quirk asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether access to the BBC World Service will remain truly global after the changes announced for 30th June.

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Amos): My Lords, the BBC World Service is withdrawing short wave broadcasts to North America and Australasia from 1st July. These audiences listen largely on FM and the Internet. The World Service will redirect funding to improve FM and Internet services worldwide, and short wave where there is less privileged access to democratic media, thus improving global coverage. The World Service will monitor developments and report on any loss of listeners in North America and Australasia next year.

Lord Quirk: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Of course, I acknowledge the steps that are being taken to offset the cuts that she mentioned. However, given that the noble Baroness will be fully aware of the value of the World Service not only to its listeners but also to the reputation of the UK, is she also aware that in the eastern states of the US alone there are many, many thousands of devoted BBC fans for whom the Internet is not a viable option and for whom--even if they live in cosmopolitan cities--there is no guarantee that local stations will be willing to carry the World Service of the BBC?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, perhaps I may first assure the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, that we are not talking about cuts. I endorse entirely the view that the noble Lord has expressed about the value of the World Service both to its listeners and in terms of maintaining the reputation of the United Kingdom abroad. However, I must point out to the noble Lord that World Service coverage has increased since last year by 2 million listeners per week. Moreover, in the United States, where there are 2.6 million listeners, only 300,000 of those listeners tune in solely on short wave. This is very much about looking at global coverage and ensuring that we invest in those parts of the world where audiences can listen only on short wave.

Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, my burning concern is to ask my noble friend the Minister whether the World Service is sufficiently funded to enable it to carry out its important task?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I believe that those involved in the World Service would agree that the extra funding of £64 million made available for the three years between 2001 and 2004 has been most welcome. That money will be used to increase investment in new technologies, including new Internet services. It will also be used for the modernisation of short wave transmitters and to expand FM rebroadcasting to the major cities worldwide.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, is the Minister aware that, by concentrating on expanding short wave transmissions in the developing world and on the new technologies of FM and the Internet in the developed countries of America, Australia and New Zealand, the BBC World Service has got its priorities

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absolutely right? Is the noble Baroness further aware that nowhere does the Government achieve better value for money than in the Foreign Office grant to the World Service?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, it gives me great pleasure heartily to endorse the noble Lord's comments.

Lord Tanlaw: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that there have been cutbacks in this respect? Can she reconcile the following example with her report that the short wave service is being expanded? The Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, which has a very long history in short wave research, has had its grant cut and has made an appeal for those funds to be reinstated. Can the noble Baroness reconcile that cut in provision for the laboratory's research into short wave and atmospheric conditions with the fact that her department intends to promote short wave transmission in those other areas that fall outside the cuts she mentioned?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I repeat, once again, that we are not talking about cuts. The BBC World Service grant in aid has increased by £64 million. We are talking about the BBC World Service making decisions about the nature of its business, and the importance of it being a dynamic organisation that remains flexible and responsive to the changing needs in society. It is about the World Service meeting the needs of a digital age.

Baroness Hooper: My Lords, given the acknowledged value of the World Service, will the Minister assure us that there is no threat to, or likely diminution of, the service, in particular to Latin America?

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