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Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I thank all the noble Lords and the noble Baroness who took part in the debate.

It is interesting that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, had some sympathy with the amendment. He was right to do so because the BBC is held in very high esteem—make no mistake about that. I am concerned that that esteem should not be undermined and that the BBC retains the trust of licence-payers and the whole community. That was one of the reasons for moving the amendment.

To illustrate that, I saw on ITN a poll as to who people trusted more—Mr Campbell or the BBC in the recent spat. The result was decisive. Ten per cent said that they trusted Mr Campbell more and 90 per cent said that they trusted the BBC more. The BBC should guard that reputation very closely. I was glad to hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Cohen, that the governors do take an interest. However, it is not patent that they do so. The people who make complaints do not understand that they do so. The replies that they receive from the BBC are entirely unsatisfactory in many instances. I know that because I have taken up many complaints with the BBC and have been completely dissatisfied with the way in which they have been handled and replied to.

I did not expect the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, to support the amendment. Indeed, it is a probing amendment. I am sorry that he has had enough of it. We always enjoy the interventions of the noble Lord,

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Lord Pearson, especially in European and BBC matters. I hope that he will not be deterred by the view of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, that we have had enough of it, but will continue to bring matters of importance to the House.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said that the governors of the BBC already have independent advice. But we are not sure whether that advice is independent, and we shall be watching it. I hope that in time we can have full confidence in the BBC in how it handles European matters and complaints about its coverage of such matters. Having said that, I thank everyone who has taken part in the debate, and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 205 [The Gaelic Media Service]:

Lord Luke moved Amendment No. 113:

    Page 182, line 42, at end insert—

'the retail prices index' shall have the same meaning as in section 19(10) of the Broadcasting Act 1990 (c. 42) (additional payments to be made in respect of Channel 3 licences);"

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 114. Amendments Nos. 211, 212, 214, 215, and 216 are consequential.

As your Lordships are aware, Amendment No. 113 relates to Clause 205. We on these Benches strongly support the aims of the Government in creating the new Gaelic media service. I shall not try to pronounce it in Gaelic. While we feel that the provisions in the Bill for a Gaelic service are to be commended, there are some concerns about the effectiveness of the legislation. In another place the Government stated that they were unwilling for funding issues to appear on the face of the Bill. I do, however, believe that there are a number of funding issues that need to be addressed, given the unfortunate experience with the Gaelic Television Fund.

It is essential to secure and protect the new Gaelic media service so that it is sufficiently funded at the outset and to ensure that the funding is protected from erosion in the future. That was not the case when the Conservative government set up the Gaelic Television Fund in the Broadcasting Act 1990. Unaccountably the budget of 9.5 million was neither inflation-proofed nor ring-fenced. In 1991, 1 million was promptly diverted to education—I am sure for perfectly worthy causes. That happened every year. Therefore, the amount available for the Gaelic Television Fund is now 8.5 million a year. When taking into account inflation through the years, it should be some 12.5 million. That is a shortfall since 1991 of 33 per cent. Consequently, television hours financed by the fund have now fallen to 150 hours from 195 in 1991.

While Gaelic television was in its infancy, Welsh television, in the shape of S4C, was going from strength to strength. It continues to do so, and has contributed significantly to the revival of the Welsh language. During the Committee stage in this House, on 22nd May, the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Temple

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Guiting, promised a review of funding for S4C, necessitated by the increased costs associated with digital development. We on these Benches welcome this. S4C funding has been index-linked since 1997. After the Broadcasting Act 1996 a minimum funding level was set.

As the Government have accepted the arguments for a funding review of S4C, surely Gaelic deserves the same—or better—consideration. If the Government are serious in their commitment to regional broadcasting and to fulfilling their obligations to Gaelic—a language identified by UNESCO as endangered—they must seek to improve on the measures proposed in the Bill.

The Bill as it stands allows a new Gaelic Media Service to establish a Gaelic channel. That will not only serve the Gaelic-speaking audiences but will also provide a most welcome economic boost. An impact assessment by Highlands and Islands Enterprise has shown that in excess of 100 jobs could be created in the region. That is a very large number in such a sparsely populated area. We support that commitment to promoting economic development in rural areas.

Amendment No. 114 relates to Clause 206 and the supply of programmes to the Gaelic Media Service for broadcast on a Gaelic channel. That would be an enormous leap in the service available to Gaelic consumers who would no longer have to channel surf round the terrestrial channels for the odd snippet of their mother tongue but would finally feel that their language was being brought to them in a better, more coherent package. The Broadcasting Act 1996 created a digital service available via satellite through the Multiplex A licence holder. The Gaelic service provision is for a minimum of 30 minutes per year. The 1996 Act prescribed that programmes previously broadcast by the BBC and the Channel 3 licence holders be made available "free of charge" to the channel. Unfortunately neither the BBC nor the Channel 3 licence holders have done that, and they have not supplied programmes to the Multiplex A licence holder. Only programmes funded by the Gaelic Broadcasting Fund have been made available. The situation contrasts sharply with that of S4C which receives 10 hours per week from the BBC alone.

We feel that the Government are missing an opportunity to utilise resources already available to the new Gaelic Media Service. The amendment empowers the Secretary of State to impose the requirement that broadcasters provide a minimum 30 hours per week to the Gaelic Media Service. This amendment makes it clear to the broadcasters that they have to supply programmes other than those funded by the Gaelic Media Service. While that obviously places a burden to fulfil the requirements, we believe that it is achievable and that it constitutes much less of a burden than is endured by BBC Wales in its commitment to S4C. I beg to move.

4 p.m.

Baroness Michie of Gallanach: My Lords, as I have said previously, I welcome the setting up of Seirbheis

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nam Meadhanan Gaidhlig, the new Gaelic Media Service. By tabling these amendments we return to the issue of funding and the provision of programmes in Gaelic—that is, the number of television hours per year from the suppliers going out at peak times and not in the middle of the night as so often happens. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Luke, for his support. He spelled out the reasons for these amendments and explained their purpose. I reiterate that the value of the Gaelic Broadcasting Fund has been eroded by cuts and inflation each year since its establishment in 1991 when its value was 9.5 million. If its value had been maintained, it would now be worth 12.5 million. Instead there has been a 33 per cent real-terms reduction which has severely weakened the fund.

Under the Broadcasting Act 1996 the remit of the Gaelic Committee was expanded to include radio as well as television programmes. Furthermore, it was expected that Grampian, Scottish Television and the BBC would each provide from their own resources at least 30 hours of Gaelic programming a year to the current licence holder, S4C Digital Networks. That has not happened.

The Gaelic Broadcasting Fund requires protection at least similar to that for the Welsh language. The Welsh language has not been subject to the same squeeze because, as we have heard, its fund has been index linked since 1998. However, I understand that the Welsh S4C funding has not kept up with the requirements of digital development coupled with inflation in the broadcasting industry. We have been told, and, I believe, that the Government have promised a review of funding for Welsh broadcasting. However, I am always very suspicious of reviews and ask myself when they will happen and how long they will take. Nevertheless I am sure that Welsh broadcasting will welcome the fact that the funding is to be reviewed. I submit to your Lordships that Gaelic deserves at least similar treatment.

These amendments seek to secure some sort of stability at last for future funding. I simply do not understand how the arrangements currently work. In Committee, the Minister said:

    "I can confirm that the matters addressed in the current Bill as regards Gaelic broadcasting are wholly within the reserved policy area".

I welcome that statement. He went on to say:

    "However, it is true to say that the funding of Gaelic-medium programmes through the Gaelic Broadcasting Committee is being provided by the Scottish Executive".

Then he said:

    "The executive is not responsible, however, for programmes supported by the Gaelic Broadcasting Committee".—[Official Report, 22/5/03; col. 988.]

It seems a huge muddle. Perhaps the Minister can explain by what method this very specific fund, the Gaelic Broadcasting Fund, reaches the Scottish Parliament. He may say that it goes in some mysterious and opaque manner via the Barnett formula and the block grant. That may be so, but I doubt it. The Barnett formula operates on the basis of planned spending in departments in England. I believe that it works by identifying whether a spending area

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within a devolved administration is a comparable sub-programme in terms of spending by the United Kingdom Government on services in England. However, no programme in England is comparable to the need to fund Gaelic broadcasting in Scotland. So presumably funding does not come through the block grant. There are areas where various forms of funding are passed directly to the devolved administrations and simply bypass the Barnett formula. Perhaps that is the answer to the problem.

I do not like mysteries in government. We are supposed to be open and transparent these days—freedom of information and all that. Noble Lords can perhaps sense my frustration. Why do we have to argue about such a paltry sum when we know the benefits of a secure Gaelic broadcasting service—which would be of such enormous value to a language that is still alive despite having endured years of deliberate proscription and denigration? We believe that it is at last beginning to turn the corner. I ask the Government to give Gaelic broadcasting a long-term and secure future.

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