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British Broadcasting Corporation

Volume 974: debated on Monday 26 November 1979

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50.

asked the Paymaster General what meetings he has had with representatives of the British Broadcasting Corporation.

At the invitation of the BBC I have on three occasions met a small number of BBC officials.

Does the Minister accept that on the recent exercise of BBC filming at Carrickmore there was a severe rush to judgment by this House? Will he assure the House that he is not in any way attempting to influence the BBC by exercising some sort of censorship, that the BBC remains free to film and report as it thinks fit, within the law and within the terms of reference that it is able to apply to programmes, and that the Government are not, either by raising issues in this place or through behind-the-scenes influence, attempting to censor an important medium?

This is a matter primarily for the governors of the BBC. At no time in any of my discussions did I raise, or was there raised with me, the question of the IRA "Panorama" programme. As far as I am concerned, no attempt has been made to censor the BBC.

Will my right hon. Friend, at the first available opportunity, cancel the BBC charter, put the wavelengths out to public tender and, at the same time, safeguard outside broadcasting and overseas broadcasting?

My hon. Friend has raised a fascinating and wide selection of issues, but they are matters for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

In view, however, of the almost intimidating statement made by his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister the other week, does the right hon. Gentleman consider that last night's impressive showing of a play about Suez was a timely reminder of the importance of the independence of the BBC?

When the right hon. Gentleman meets the BBC, will he explain that the BBC is independent and that it should not be intimidated either by the comment by the Prime Minister about putting its house in order or by the more serious statement made last week by the Secretary of State for the Environment when he tried to suggest that the BBC should not display protests that were being made about the Government's public expenditure cuts?

In all my relations with the BBC I have never gained the impression that it is in any doubt as to the fact that within the law it is independent.

Is the Minister aware that when the Home Secretary gave the written statement on the increased television licence fee last week and refused to be questioned at the Dispatch Box, as he should have been, the result was that thousands of people rushed to Post Offices in order to buy the necessary stamp and to get their licences? In my constituency—I bet that it has been repeated in many others—many disappointed customers attempted to pay their television licence on that evening before the deadline but the Post Office ran out of stamps. Will the hon. Gentleman see to it that those disappointed people are able to purchase their licences at the old rate?

That is a question that must be addressed to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. It cannot possibly fall within the purview of the Government information service.