My Lords, the Government want to make certain that S4C offers the best possible language service to its audience, and feel that the best way to secure its future while delivering a better service is through partnership with the BBC. From 2013-14, therefore, the cost of S4C will be met from a combination of continued Exchequer funding, advertising revenue and the licence fee.
I thank the Minister for that reply. First, do the Government realise how vital S4C—the only Welsh language channel—is to the Welsh people? Secondly, can I have an assurance that by 2015 the service provided in the Welsh language by S4C will not be diminished but will be as secure and comprehensive as it is at present?
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Roberts and many of your Lordships involved with Wales mind passionately about S4C, and he is right to raise the issue. I hope I can assure my noble friend and the House that its funding is secure for the next four years. This will enable S4C to structure itself for the modern broadcasting environment and, importantly, it will retain its commercial freedom.
My Lords, does that not mean that there will be less money for Welsh television year by year? Because of the dangers of the BBC exercising too much influence in the new arrangements, will the Government assure us that there will be firm guidelines regarding the relationship in the new partnership?
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord is right, and that point has been brought up many times. The exact level of funding is not yet set beyond 2014-15. While future funding will reflect overlaps and efficiencies, it will remain consistent with the commitment to a strong and independent Welsh language TV service.
My Lords, does the noble Baroness accept that the position of the Welsh channel is wholly unique? Does she appreciate that this channel was established 28 years ago after a long and bitter campaign of civil disobedience and law-breaking in Wales, and that although Parliament has the right to change the legislative structure which was set up to protect and preserve the Welsh language, to do so would mean reneging on a compact made between the Home Secretary of the day, the late William Whitelaw, and the Welsh people?
I agree with the noble Lord that it is unique. That is important and it is why the Government have stressed that S4C should continue to be properly funded. A new governance structure will be required to deliver the partnership with the BBC. The BBC Trust and the S4C Authority will need to agree jointly the strategic goals and broad editorial requirements and hold S4C to account for their delivery. This structure will be up and running by 2012-13.
My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the agreement which her department concluded with the BBC over the part-funding of S4C ensures the continued independence of S4C within the partnership as regards commissioning programmes from independent producers and raising revenue from advertising? Can she further confirm that legislation will be needed to effect the change in S4C funding, which is currently subject to statute?
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy is of course right, and he naturally feels strongly about S4C because, after all, he started it. I can assure him that S4C will remain a unique entity and retain its editorial independence under the partnership. The intention is that the Public Bodies Bill will effect the change in S4C’s funding by breaking the current automatic funding link with the RPI. He is also right to say that it is important that the programmes for the channel are 100 per cent independent.
My Lords, the noble Baroness has said that she cannot give undertakings on funding beyond 2014-15. However, under the commitment that she has given today, can she commit that the Welsh language channel will continue beyond those years, and that it will be adequately financed?
My Lords, we have been consulting on this very important point, which many people have raised. We fully recognise the iconic status of the channel and the contribution that it makes to cultural and economic life in Wales. The last census showed that, since S4C started, there has been a 3 per cent increase in Welsh speakers in Wales. As well as sustaining and promoting the Welsh language, the channel provides a focal point for the celebration of Welsh national events. That is why we are financially securing S4C’s future.