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21 Jan 2003 : Column 272continued
Jim Dowd (Lewisham, West): I am somewhat confused. There will be seven votes a fortnight from now, and my hon. Friend says that we should send the clearest possible message. How on earth can we send a clear message on the basis of seven votes producing seven resultsfor if any are identical I shall be astonishedand what on earth do we expect the Committee to do after receiving the seven results if the House gives it no clear direction on priorities?
I was simply reinforcing a point made by a number of other speakers. However much individual Members may favour a particular solution, it is important for them to be willing to compromise a little so that the Commons can send a strong signal of its settled willnot least to make the Joint Committee's further work easier. My hon. Friend is right: if we send mixed messages, or if the results of the votes on the two most popular options are very close, that may make the Committee's life much more difficult.
Mr. Kenneth Clarke: Will the Minister confirm that the Government still hope to resolve the issue by the end of the current Parliament? Will he perhaps indicate to the Joint Committee that it might seek to conclude its labours by the end of the present Session, so that that timetable seems realistic?
This is not the last word on the Joint Committee's report, of course. A similar debate has been held in the other place today. I am sure that Members of this House will want to read Hansard to see what was said there, just as I hope that their lordships will pay close attention to our proceedings today and to some of the excellent speeches that were made. We will return to the issue on 4 February. We will have a shorter debate, Members will have a chance to vote on the seven options, and the Joint Committee will note what has been said and resume its work. I look forward to that debate, and hope we can send both the Committee and the House of Lords a good strong signal.
(1) the Northern Ireland Grand Committee shall meet at Westminster on Thursday 6th February at a quarter-past Two o'clock; and
(2) at that sitting:
(a) the Committee shall take questions under Standing Order No. 110 (Northern Ireland Grand Committee (questions for oral answers)); and
(b) at the conclusion of the business appointed for consideration, a motion for the adjournment of the Committee may be made by a Minister of the Crown, pursuant to paragraph (5) of Standing Order No. 116 (Northern Ireland Grand Committee (sittings)).[Mr. Jim Murphy.]
Ian Lucas (Wrexham): I am pleased to secure this debate and to welcome my hon. Friend the Minister from his long hours in Committee. I am sure he is glad of the change of scenery. I hope not to detain him too long.
I want to talk about radio and the proposals on access radio in the Communications Bill; to set out the position in my constituency of Wrexham and in north-east Wales; and to explain why community-based access radio is important and why the money must be found to set it up as soon as possible.
Talk-based local radio is a great success story. It is a trusted medium. It encourages debate. It helps local community groups to publicise their activities. It has an especially valuable role for the disabled. It is popular with the elderly, who may live alone and use it for company. Alongside music-based stations, it can create a vibrant community radio sector. The young tend to listen to music-based commercial stations. The rest of us rely on talk-based local radio.
I was brought up in north-east England. I recall the early days of BBC Radio Newcastle, which, along with regional television, was an important part of the region's identity. It created its own personalities and is greatly valued still. The BBC has a prized reputation in local radio, which was at the forefront of establishing its reputation as impartial and strongly based in local communities.
Talk-based radio is so successful that the BBC has 40 local radio stations in England. In Scotland, the BBC sees the value of local news bulletins across the nation, with places as disparate as the borders and Shetland given dedicated time on the airwaves. Northern Ireland has two stations, with Radio Ulster and Radio Foyle serving the community together, but for reasons that I cannot understand Wales is a different story.
The commercial sector focuses on music, the youth market and advertising, but the BBC in Wales is not interested in local radio. It seems institutionally incapable of responding to constituents' demands that they are entitled to as good a service as listeners across the border in England. My constituents are very angry about it.
"BBC Radio Wales thinks 'Wales' is just Cardiff and the Valleys."
"Since Radio Clwyd finished, there has been a void in people's
"We tune in to Radio Stoke and Radio Merseyside which have a far superior service than Radio Wales . ."
"My wife and I listen to Radio Shropshire, which we think is an excellent example of what local radio should be, closely followed by Radio Merseyside."
Ian Lucas: That is absolutely correct. Regrettably, the position is even worse now than in 1995. Last year, the BBC removed the opt-out news bulletins in north-east Wales. By contrast with the position in Scotland, Wales has no opt-out news bulletins from the BBC but it provides a single service through BBC Wales for the whole of Wales.
It seems that the BBC in particular has an inability to recognise that Wales is a nation having distinct regions. I began to wonder why my constituents were getting such an inferior service from the BBC. Could it be a lack of money? According to the corporation's annual report and accounts for 200102, £18 million was spent on radio in Wales. That compares favourably with Scotland, which received £19 million for a larger population and a wider geographical area. So why does Scotland have six sets of geographically based local news bullets when Wales has none?
Could it be that the regions within Wales were too small? The BBC funds a separate Radio Guernsey and Radio Jersey service, despite listening audiences of 50,000 and 74,000 respectively. Radio Shropshire, which I know well, provides an excellent service to an audience of 361,000fewer listeners than would be covered by a service for north-east Wales, which has a population of more than 391,000.