To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he has any plans to increase the funding available for the BBC external services.
Funding for the BBC is set for periods of three years. In 1990–91, the final year of the present triennium, funding is 40 per cent. higher in real terms than in 1979–80 and 13 per cent. higher than in 1987–88. Funding for the next such period, beginning in April 1991, will be decided during the 1990 public expenditure survey and announced following the autumn statement.
Does the Minister accept the unique value of a world broadcasting service which regularly reaches 120 million people worldwide and which played such a positive role in the recent and continuing political developments in eastern Europe? Is he aware of the level of support in the House for the World Service? Is he further aware that if he does not secure the public financial support from the Treasury for which he has been asked to argue in the coming expenditure survey round, it will be unable to develop its services in the way that it has in the past or retain its pre-eminent position in world broadcasting services?
I am happy to have this opportunity to pay tribute to the quality and value of the BBC World Service broadcasts, particularly to those countries where closed societies make it difficult or perhaps impossible for people to obtain accurate information not only about the rest of the world but sometimes about their own country. I am well aware of the value attached to the World Service not only by those who listen to it but by hon. Members.
Will my hon. Friend look generously at the needs of the World Service in its next funding period, bearing in mind the fact that we devotees of the BBC World Service regard it as a fine example of a service whose newsmen report the news as it is, not the newscaster's view of it?
I very much note what my hon. Friend says. The World Service has done well under this Government. As I said, its funding has increased by 40 per cent. in real terms since the Government came to power in 1979–80 and its current output is the highest since the 1950s.
Despite what the Minister says, the increased funds needed by the BBC external services cannot make up for the early damage done by the Government when they slashed funds to the British Council and massively increased fees for overseas students. Is not the Government's ill-thought out decision not to fund the world television service a continuation of that earlier Government policy?
I am not sure how the hon. Gentleman links funding for the British Council with that for the World Service. They are entirely separate. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that other English language television news services operate without a Government subsidy. I understand that the BBC is seeking to attract private sector support for a world service, and we wish it well in its efforts.
My hon. Friend will be aware that the Government are rightly concerned about obtaining value for money, but does he agree that the BBC World Service gives superb value for money, that it reaches a large number of people—it should reach many more—and that increased funding from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office would be welcome to the many people who value the service and would enjoy its greater audibility?
We are conscious of the point about the importance of audibility and that is why there has been a 10-year audibility programme under this Government, involving new investment of £90 million. I am glad to say that that expenditure programme is almost complete and its results are impressive.