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The Duke of Montrose: My Lords, I support these amendments. I must first apologise for being unable to take part at the Committee stage. However, I have read Hansard. On Second Reading I declared my interest as a life member of An Comunn Gaidhealach.
In Committee the Minister gave some very reassuring comments about the opportunity now afforded for having a dedicated Gaelic language television channel. Gaelic may or may not, as some of its apologists have asserted, have been the language spoken in the Garden of Eden, but it is a language and a tradition which for the best part of 2,000 years relied exclusively on oral communication to relay its truths and histories. Some historians have liked to cast doubt on the authority of that as opposed to a written history. However, it would be nice to think that technology has finally come up with a complete means to redress the balance which, particularly since Caxton went to work with his printing press, has worked against that sort of communication for this particular culture.
Speaking particularly to Amendments Nos. 113, 211 and 212, the noble Baroness, Lady Michie, explained at Second Reading how the original concept in setting up the Gaelic Television Fund was that the target for production of Gaelic language programmes should be 200 hours per year. As my noble friend Lord Luke said, if the money provided then had been index-linked it would now be worth £12.5 million. He also made the point that it is sad that, since then, some of that money has been transferred to other purposes.
There is currently no legislative provision for maintaining, far less increasing, the fund, which is no doubt very comforting for those who have to deal with the purse strings. These amendments are a modest effort to ensure that current funding will at least keep up with inflation.
Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, as a Welshman, I rise to support my Scottish colleagues in this House. In the days when I was Secretary State for Wales, I greatly regretted that I did not speak the Welsh language. I was, however, energetic in my support of it, and the late Lord Whitelaw and I played the major role in establishing S4C. Against that background, I have the greatest sympathy with those who want to see the Gaelic language supported and adequate broadcasting provision provided. I confess that I have not followed the exact arrangements in detail, and if the Minister can convince me that they are entirely satisfactory, and that there is adequate funding and so forth, fine. However, some reassurance would be helpful. This issue is of interest not only to Scottish Members.
Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, the amendments to Schedule 15 and the consequential amendments to Clause 205 would link the resources provided for the Gaelic Broadcasting Fund with the retail prices index. We believe that it is not acceptable for the Bill to provide for a guaranteed level of funding as measured against the retail prices index or, indeed, any other indicator.
The implied comparison with the funding for Welsh language broadcasting is clearly inappropriate. The Welsh Authority service was set up on a distinct basis to provide a fully-fledged channel, S4C. The formula approach to funding was therefore a basic element in its construction.
In the case of Gaelic broadcasting, although the Bill empowers a new Gaelic Media Service to broadcast a dedicated channel following the granting of relevant licences from Ofcom, that is a longer-term aspiration. What we are dealing with at the moment is a body that administers grants from the Gaelic Broadcasting Fund to provide a more limited service of up to 200 hours of Gaelic programming. In future, the Gaelic Media Service will take over that role. Any moves to create a dedicated channel for Gaelic programming are more likely to be evolutionary than revolutionary in nature. Moreover, this is expenditure wholly within the competence of the Scottish Parliament. Even if the other factors that I mentioned did not apply, I would not see the Bill as the right vehicle for imposing unilaterally a spending obligation for Gaelic broadcasting on the Scottish Executive.
Amendment No. 114 after Clause 206 would give the Secretary of State the power to impose an obligation on the BBC, the Channel 3 licensees in Scotland and Channel 4 to provide at least 30 hours of Gaelic programming each year, free of all charge, to the Gaelic Media Service. None of those programmes may be funded wholly or partly by the service.
Under the Broadcasting Act 1996, read in conjunction with the Mulitplex Licence (Broadcasting of Programmes in Gaelic) Order 1996, the BBC and Channel 3 licence holders in Scotland are already obliged to provide, free of charge, the holder of the multiplex licence under which Channel 5 and SC4 Digital are broadcast with at least 30 hours of Gaelic programmes each year. Therefore, the amendment would effectively double the quota which the BBC and Channel 3 licensees have to make available. It is not clear from the amendment whether the same programming could be supplied to both SDN and the Gaelic Media Service.
The effect of the amendment would be to impose on the BBC and Channel 3 licensees an increase in their existing obligations with regard to the provision of Gaelic programming. That increase has not been the subject of any consultation or negotiation. As the 1996 order has not thus far been extended to Channel 4, it could also impose new obligations on Channel 4.
Amendments Nos. 214, 215 and 216 to Schedule 15 to the Bill would amend Section 32 of the 1996 Act to make the existing requirement on the BBC and Channel 3 licensees in Scotland, which is to provide 30 hours of Gaelic programming each year to SDN, subject to the proviso that such programming should not be funded by the service.
As with the previous amendment to Clause 206, the effect of the amendment would be to impose on the BBC and the Channel 3 licensees an increase in their existing obligations with regard to the provision of Gaelic programming to SDN, which, again, has not been the subject of any consultation or negotiation.
The noble Lord, Lord Luke, asked forto put it bluntlymore money and for a review of funding for Gaelic broadcasting. It would not be proper for this House to commit those responsible for the funds, the Scottish Executive, to such a review of funding. However, the Scottish Executive will consider the case for an increase as part of its spending review in 2004.
The noble Baroness, Lady Michie, referred to the mystery of the funding arrangements, the lack of transparency and a general difficulty in coming to terms with where the money comes from and where it goes. We are aware that the funding for Gaelic broadcasting is met by the Scottish Executive from within the Scottish block grant. We will, however, write to the noble Baroness with precise details of how the money moves from one part to another.
The comparison with Wales is interesting, but we should all bear in mind that there are estimated to be 57,000 Gaelic speakers inside and outside Scotland and 500,000 Welsh speakers. That may give us some clue as to why Welsh television is more highly developed than its Scottish counterpart. As I said, we
Lord Luke: My Lords, while I thank the Minister for that answer, I found it pretty unsatisfactory. I cannot understand why it is inappropriate to compare the S4C and the Gaelic situations merely because one is one-tenth the size of the other. It still should be considered and surely it should have the same amount of money that was designated for it in 1990. The fact that it lost so much of its value should be taken care of. I am not asking, as the Minister suggested, for more money; I suggest that we should now have the money that was originally available. The fact is that the money comes in some mysterious way from the block grant to the Scottish Parliament but it still comes from Whitehall; that is where the block grant comes from in the first place. I find it rather strange that the reference involved the Scottish Parliament when I understandI believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Michie, shares this viewthat that is a reserved arrangement.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Michie, for her support; she knows so much more about this subject than I do. I also thank the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, and the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, for their support. This is not a very satisfactory situation. However, at this stage there is nothing more that I can say. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.