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Lord Inglewood moved Amendment No. 171:


After Clause 70, insert the following new clause--

Financing of Gaelic sound programmes

(".--(1) Section 183 of the 1990 Act (financing of television programmes in Gaelic out of Gaelic Television Fund) is amended as mentioned in subsections (2) to (6).
(2) In subsection (2), for "Gaelic Television Fund" there is substituted "Gaelic Broadcasting Fund".
(3) In subsection (3), for "Comataidh Telebhisein Gaidhlig (the Gaelic Television Committee)" there is substituted "Comataidh Craolaidh Gaidhlig (the Gaelic Broadcasting Committee)".
(4) After subsection (3) there is inserted--
"(3A) Before making any appointment under subsection (3) the Commission shall consult the Radio Authority.".
(5) In subsection (4), in each of paragraphs (a)(i) and (b), after "television" there is inserted "and sound".
(6) In subsection (6)--
(a) after "will" there is inserted "--(a)"; and
(b) for "but" there is substituted--
"(b) widen the range and improve the quality of sound programmes in Gaelic that are broadcast for reception in Scotland;
but".
(7) In Part II of Schedule 1 to the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975 (bodies of which all members are disqualified) there is inserted at the appropriate place--
"Comataidh Craolaidh Gaidhlig".").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the 1990 Broadcasting Act established the Gaelic Television Committee and gave it a remit to use the Scottish Office-funded Gaelic Television Fund to finance the making of Gaelic television programmes. Since the committee began its work in 1992, it has financed a wide range of programmes. Indeed, the amount of Gaelic television broadcast has almost tripled and the enhanced service has been warmly received by the Gaelic-speaking audience. It complements other government support for the language and culture. The successful development of Gaelic television production from a very small skills base is a credit not only to the committee but also to the broadcasters and the

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independent producers in Scotland who have worked hard to deliver a range of high quality programmes for Gaelic viewers.

The rapid expansion in television programme production has not, however, been without its problems. Many people previously working in Gaelic radio have moved into television thereby creating a significant staffing turnover in BBC Radio nan Gaidheal. It has also proved difficult to develop satisfactory programmes in some categories, particularly comedy, where it is felt that radio would be a better medium to develop talent and ideas before embarking on expensive television production.

The amendments seek to address those problems by extending the committee's remit to cover radio and by giving it powers to fund some Gaelic radio production and meet some of the training costs involved for people employed in Gaelic radio. I do not envisage that the new powers will make a significant impact on the committee's budget since radio production is much cheaper than television.

I should stress that in making these amendments we are not seeking to transfer responsibility for meeting the costs of BBC nan Gaidheal to the committee. We expect the BBC to continue to maintain its Gaelic radio service, paid for from the licence fee, and to include a commitment to that effect in the statement of pledges to its audience which it is currently preparing. We recognise the importance of the Gaelic radio service to Gaelic speakers in Scotland. Indeed, recent research has shown that Radio nan Gaidheal is listened to by 66 per cent. of its potential audience of 69,000 Gaelic speakers, which is impressive when compared to the next highest BBC service in the survey, BBC Radio 1, with an audience share of just 27 per cent. The amendments, if enacted, will enable the committee to fund additional Gaelic radio programmes on BBC and commercial radio stations in Scotland which will enhance the range and quality of radio for listeners there.

The amendments have the effect of renaming the Gaelic Television Committee the Gaelic Broadcasting Committee to reflect its enhanced role and to give the Radio Authority a say in the appointment of membership to the committee and in the approval of the committee's expenditure plans in respect of radio. Responsibility for the oversight of the committee and its work remains with the Independent Television Commission. It would be our intention to bring the provisions into effect on 1st April 1997. In speaking to Amendment No. 171, I have also covered Amendments Nos. 220A, 221, 222 and 224. I beg to move.

Lord Kirkhill: My Lords, I hope that the Minister will accept that I am not in any sense trying to get in behind him in the comment that I now make. I genuinely seek information. I assure him of that. However, when the Bill was published the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, said that the Government might at some stage table amendments to improve the quality of the scheduling of Gaelic television programmes. So far that has not been done. I wonder whether the Minister can tell me the Government's intention.

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6.15 p.m.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, perhaps I may say on behalf of these Benches that we welcome the Minister's proposal to extend the remit of the Gaelic Television Fund to make it the more general Gaelic Broadcasting Fund. We agree with everything the Minister said about the record of Gaelic broadcasting since the fund was set up.

I do not want to strike an ungenerous or sour note. However, it is one thing to extend the operations of the Gaelic Television Fund to radio broadcasting and to say that it will have some extra resources. To do so against the background that the present funding is not being increased to cover radio--indeed, the total funding is being severely restricted--is another thing. As I understand it, if the Gaelic Television Fund had been fortunate enough to enjoy the provisions which the Government are now writing into the Bill for the Welsh-language S4C and had index-linked the fund, it would today have about £6 million more. The Gaelic Television Fund is struggling financially and although it welcomes the opportunity to expand into radio, I think it a pity that it is not being given extra funding for the purpose.

I wish to raise another matter with the Minister and gain his reaction to it. The Gaelic Television Fund people are anxious, as the Welsh-language broadcasters were anxious, that they should have their fair share of the opportunities of the new digital age when it comes. I assume that with the many new channels that digital technology will bring through the multiplexes there may be an opportunity for greater concentration of Gaelic programming. I wonder whether the Minister has thought about the possibility of consolidating the Gaelic programmes on the various terrestrial channels that exist at the moment on a designated digital channel--perhaps not on a round-the-clock basis but at least for several hours a day. Encouragement in that direction would be most welcome.

It would offer a further opportunity. I know that those involved feel that they have done well in terms of the programmes they have funded. They have won some creditable awards for their programmes. But they feel frustrated that final commissioning decisions are always left to the terrestrial broadcasters such as Scottish Television or Grampian Television on the ITV side and to BBC Scotland. I have explained to them that I do not think that they can hope for any change because editorial responsibility for the commissioning of programmes must rest with the terrestrial broadcasters. However, multiplex offers a new world--does it not?--and it may well be possible to have a digital Gaelic channel in one of the multiplexes and for the Gaelic Broadcasting Fund to be the commissioner. I hope that that idea can be explored. I should be grateful to know the Minister's thinking.

In general therefore I welcome the extension of the fund's responsibilities but put in a plea that its overall funding might be looked at more generously.

Lord Inglewood: I turn first to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill. We recognise that there are difficulties in finding sufficient time during peak

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viewing hours on Channel 3 in Scotland for the scheduling of Gaelic television programmes. My department and the Scottish Office are considering how the present scheduling of programmes might be eased following the introduction of digital television. I hope that that answer indicates to the noble Lord that both my department and the Scottish Office are concerned about the problem.

The noble Lord, Lord Thomson, raised the question of funding. We must be clear that the Gaelic Television Committee is not a broadcaster. It is a statutory body which gives grants for the making of television programmes. We see no reason why its funding should be treated any differently from that of any other grant-awarding body in Scotland, such as the Scottish Arts Council and the Scottish Film Council. That is perhaps a better comparison than that of S4C, suggested by the noble Lord, because S4C is a broadcaster. I am sure that the Secretary of State for Scotland will note the views that have been expressed on the need to provide adequate resources to support Gaelic broadcasting and that he will take them into account when setting the fund's budget in future years.

The noble Lord suggested having a specific digital channel for Gaelic. The basis of the allocation of multiplex licences depends upon inter alia the variety of the programmes offered and--I am now concentrating on later in the story than now--if there were to be local multiplexes, it is clear that there would be a strong case, in meeting that variety criterion, for any potential applicant to include a Gaelic service on that multiplex. On national multiplexes, it is still too early to say how the variety criterion might be met in respect of Gaelic provision, bearing in mind that its 69,000 speakers are only a small part of the total national audience.

It is interesting to focus on that matter but we must remember that once we have digital television the origin of the programme will not necessarily be all that clear to the viewer. It may not even be necessary to have a specific Gaelic channel, because there may be a number of different services, each of which, as part of its general move towards providing a wide variety of programmes, will introduce Gaelic programmes. There is plenty of potential for Gaelic in the digital future.

On Question, amendment agreed to.


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