asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will secure the future of the BBC by agreeing with it the future level of the licensing fee over the next five years.
When I announced the increase in the television licence fees on 23 November 1979 I made it clear that the new fees should last for at least two years. I also published a paper on the BBC's forward planning which contained proposals for dealing with the BBC's expenditure over a four-year period.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of reports that regional broadcasting is to be cut disproportionately by the BBC because of the present financial situation? Is he further aware that in the Northern region, regional television and radio programmes make a vital contribution to the life of the region and, indeed, that many of those programmes more than match the quality of networked programmes? Will he therefore make immediate representations to the BBC to ensure that regional broadcasting is expanded rather than reduced?.
I understand that the proposals which have been put forward are still a matter for discussion within the BBC. How the financial targets are met must be a matter for the BBC governors themselves.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that although BBC licence fees were substantially increased last year, it is reported today that the BBC intends to cut out five orchestras? As Britain is one of the musical capitals of the world, is not the BBC cutting the wrong things?.
I must repeat that I understand that these proposals are still a matter for discussion within the BBC. What the BBC decides to do within its own financial targets, and with the money that it receives from the licence fee given by this House, must be a matter for the governors of the BBC.
Is the Home Secretary aware that the director-general of the BBC has made a statement today indicating that there will be substantial cuts in regional broadcasting? Will he undertake to make a statement to the House about these cuts?.
No, for the perfectly simple reason that these proposals are still a matter for discussion within the BBC, and anyway they are entirely a matter within the discretion of the governors of the BBC.
Before my right hon. Friend agrees to any further increase in the licence fees, will he inform the BBC that he expects the corporation to negotiate with the unions reductions in the excessive manning levels in force in the production of television programmes?
As I have said, keeping within financial targets is a matter for the governors. Manning levels in the BBC are also the concern of the governors.
While those discussions are taking place will the Home Secretary remind the director general, in no uncertain terms, that viewers and listeners in the Northern region pay exactly the same licence fees? Will he tell him also that we very much resent the savage cuts which are now proposed in regional broadcasting? The quality of broadcasting in the North—meaning Newcastle, not Manchester—is greatly superior to the more costly London-based programmes.
I represent a constituency in the Northern region. I must point out to the right hon. Gentleman that he is entitled to make representations to the director-general. I am entitled to make representations to the director-general as a Member of Parliament for a Northern constituency, but not as Home Secretary.