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Lord Roberts of Conwy: It would be very remiss of me not to lend my support to the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, but I am conscious of the fact that I was not in my place to hear his opening words. One of the disadvantages of the long stretch of a Committee day is that one must eat at some time. Obviously I chose the wrong moment because I wanted to be in the Chamber to hear the noble Lord's opening remarks. However, that does not prevent my expressing support for his amendment.
A Conservative government established Channel S4C in the early 1980s and it has been an astonishing success. As many noble Lords know, it means a great deal to those of us who live in Wales. The channel faces considerable competition, although that has always been the case in terms of Welsh language programmes. But S4C has also been something of a pioneer in relation to digital television. As we all know, that is an expensive business. Nevertheless, the channel has devoted considerable resources to developing the S4C
Judging by the past 20 years or so that the channel has been operating and considering the excellent use made of the resources available to the authority, if the Government do devote additional resources to S4C, they will be well rewarded. The authority will ensure that the Government get good value for their money.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: I shall be as brief as I was on Amendment No. 150, which we discussed around half an hour ago. I can assure my noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy that he did admirably on behalf of these Benches from his own Welsh-speaking base. In my case, the land of my fathers is the land of my mother's fathers. My late noble relative sat in your Lordships' House with a relatively unpronounceable Welsh title and her father had played scrum-half for Wales in the first decade of international rugby. During the earlier period to which the noble Lord, Lord Temple-Morris, referred, my late noble kinsman sat as the Minister for Welsh Affairs, as well as being Minister for Housing and Local Government. He did so for four years.
When the late great Sir Keith Joseph became Minister for Welsh Affairs, he approached my late noble kinsman and asked him whether he had any advice. My late noble kinsman said that the only advice he had for him was that he should learn the words of the Welsh national anthem and he would sometimes find on platforms in south Wales that he was the only person singing the correct words. It is somewhat unfortunate that my colleague in another place, Mr Redwood, did not receive similar advice before taking up office.
One of my favourite stories about my late noble friend Lord Whitelaw relates to a man offering him confidential adviceso confidential that he was obliged to speak in French. The late Lord Whitelaw said afterwards that the man had been more confidential than he imagined because he spoke not a word of French himself. It is to his additional credit that someone so monolingual as the late Lord Whitelaw should have played a seminal role in setting up S4C. I am proud of what S4C has achieved, is achieving and will, under this group of amendmentssome of which we passed over undebatedcontinue to achieve.
I support the amendment. I shall not add to what has been said by the noble Lords who brought it forward. There was a famous occasion in the 18th century when, after Edmund Burke had concluded a speech, the Member who spoke next simply said "Ditto" to Mr Burke. I stand by the arguments that they have advanced.
Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My noble friend Lord Prys-Davies has spoken eloquently in support of the amendment and more generally on the subject of funding for the Welsh Authority. I am grateful for the contributions of the noble Lords, Lord Livsey, Lord Brooke and Lord Roberts, and, in particular, for the contribution of my noble friend Lord Temple-Morris, who gave the Committee a fragment of his autobiography and paid great tribute to the Welsh, Wales and the Welsh language, as did other noble Lords. I heartily concur. Time does not allow me to share with the Committee my Welsh background. Two weeks ago I visited the Assembly in Cardiff, which is now an extraordinarily different place from the one I visited some 15 or 20 years ago.
The authority currently receives £83.6 million a year in government grant. As we have been told, this figure is uprated annually as measured by the RPI. The Secretary of State has discretion to increase the prescribed amount if she considers it appropriate to do so having regard to the costs to the authority of transmitting S4C and S4C Digital.
In its report on the draft Bill, the pre-legislative scrutiny committee noted the Welsh Authority's representations about the particular importance of developing digital television services in Wales to enable the provision of full Channel 4 and S4C services throughout the country and the cost implications of providing digital services. The committee recommended that the Bill should amend Section 61(4) of the 1990 Act to enable additional payments to be made to the authority to support the development of digital services.
The Government agreed that, in considering the case for an increase in the Welsh Authority's grant, the Secretary of State should be able to take into account factors broader than simply transmission costs, as she has in the past. It was noted, however, that a specific reference to the cost of digital services would restrict the considerations that could be taken into account. Clause 204(7) therefore amends Section 61(4) of the 1990 Act in such a way as to enable the Secretary of State to have regard to the cost to the authority of providing its full range of public services as defined in subsection (9) and of broadcasting or transmitting those services. These include not only S4C and S4C Digital but any new public services approved by the Secretary of State under Clause 202 of the Bill.
The Government are fully committed to the authority's role of providing high quality Welsh language television services. We acknowledge not only the authority's linguistic and cultural contribution but the important role it plays in supporting creative industries in Wales. A similar point was raised earlier in relation to England. Such industries are doing tremendously well and are, in many ways, making the Welsh economy much stronger than that of its neighbours. We also appreciate the authority's commitment to digital broadcasting and its achievements in increasing the hours of Welsh language programming and widening the availability of its services.
We understand the concerns of noble Lords and the authority about the additional financial pressures that digital broadcasting has placed on the authority. The Secretary of State will of course consider on its merits any case that may be made for an increase in the Welsh Authority's grant. However, she must also, inevitably, take into account the finances of her department. That is a fact of life that goes with the considerable advantages of direct government funding, which offers security and protection from fluctuations in the economy.
At nearly £84 million a year, the Welsh Authority's grant is a substantial amount of money. As Section 61(4) of the Broadcasting Act 1990 provides for an increase in the prescribed amount based on the annual RPI uprating, any such increase will continue into the future. It would not be right, therefore, for the Secretary of State's discretion to be circumscribed in the way proposed by the amendment. The practical effect of the amendment is difficult to judge given that the Secretary of State must be satisfied that any increase in the grant is appropriate before she is placed under a duty to take any action. Nevertheless, it is right and proper that the Secretary of State should keep the current discretion of whether or not to increase the grant having concluded any review of the authority's funding needs.
My noble friend Lord Prys-Davies rather suggested that the BBC had got a better deal. In fact, the BBC's television licence settlement was not only based on the cost of digital broadcasting. The BBC was required to raise more than £1 billion over the period of the settlement through efficiency savings, reduced bureaucracy and extra income through public-private partnerships and joint ventures.
We have raised with the authorityI hope this will be an encouragement to the Committeethe possibility of a formal review of its funding requirements. This would look at efficiency and effectiveness and other sources of funding, and might extend to a wider consideration of its operations. The authority has expressed enthusiasm for such a review and we are currently awaiting more detailed proposals from it. Whatever the outcome of such a review, any increase in the authority's grant will still depend on other spending pressures and considerations in the department.
The question of the Secretary of State's discretion to uplift moneys should she wish to do so was also raised. Exercise of the power is subject to judicial review. For example, if it were to be exercised unreasonably or irrationally, that could be held by the courts to be unlawful.
I hope that I have answered the points raised. In the light of my explanation I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
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