Public Service Broadcasting

Commons Hansard
5 Dec 2007

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): If I speak for longer than three minutes, will you notify me, Mr. Williams? I want the Minister to have plenty of time to reply to the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan) is very knowledgeable about this matter and covered the vast majority of points that I wanted to make. I thank him for giving me some of his time - it is unusual for hon. Members to do so.

I wish to speak specifically about Border Television. It does not do only what its name suggests, because while it covers the borders between England and Scotland, it takes in a third country: the Isle of Man. To that extent, the service is unique among those for the ITV regions. It is also important to me because its studios are in my constituency and it employs nearly 100 people in well paid jobs. However, I am not concerned about only the jobs. We have a good station that is appreciated by the people in the area. No other station in the country has a higher percentage of possible viewers watching the local news, but that might be destroyed. There is a perception that if the amalgamation goes ahead, programmes will be broadcast from Newcastle, probably from the Gateshead studio. The BBC does that - its programmes are broadcast from there to Carlisle and the rest of the north of Cumbria - but it does not get such good viewing figures. In fact, they are only just about acceptable. We cannot seriously consider sending news from Newcastle to Stranraer, Douglas on the Isle of Man and the southern part of Cumbria. That is not possible and it would not be acceptable. The people in Stranraer will tut and will not accept that whatsoever.

My hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire, North (Jim Sheridan) intervened earlier about Scottish football. The worry that we have in our area is that all that we might get could be Granada and Manchester United. The people in Dumfries would much sooner be watching Queen of the South than either Rangers or Celtic. We have a unique station; it works well, and the reality is that it has always been profitable. It was profitable when it was taken over, which was not so long ago.

When I asked Michael Grade how much would be saved by getting rid of Border Television, the answer was, "I'm not going to tell you." In a further meeting, he said, "I will tell Ofcom, but I am not making this matter public." I suspect that he is saying that because the amount is very small.

There is a massive campaign in the borders to save Border Television. I attended the switching on of the Christmas lights in Carlisle, and thousands of people were signing postcards to send to Ofcom. I know that the same has happened in Dumfries and throughout the rest of the region. There will be a rolling campaign. I think that there will probably be more letters and more support from the Border television region than anywhere else in the country. We do not want to lose the uniqueness of the area. We do not want to be joined with the south, if that is the option - the people of southern Scotland certainly do not want to joined with the rest of the area - because we believe that we will never get mentioned.

For example, Barrow-in-Furness, which is in the Granada region, has been mentioned 13 times on Granada Television in the past three months. The Isle of Man, which is covered by Border Television, has been mentioned 83 times. The reality is that we have a good station, and we are going to fight for it. Ofcom should listen. ITV signed a contract, and we should keep it to that contract.

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Margaret Hodge): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan) on securing the debate. I was not here when he secured the debate three years ago, but I am delighted to respond to him today.

I want to deal with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire, North (Jim Sheridan), as I have an answer for him. I have been told that the European championship finals in 2008 will be on both BBC and ITV. The issue has been confused by Scotland's World cup qualifiers, where the home games are on Sky and the away matches are on Setanta. That is because the qualifiers are not listed as a universal sports event, but I have been told that it is our intention to review the list of sporting events around 2008-09, and we will no doubt take on board his comments.

My hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) made a strong case on behalf of his constituents and Border Television - I know that that issue is contentious. He emphasised both the popularity of the channel and the unique role that it plays for his constituents. I am sure that Ofcom will take seriously his representations, and those of his constituents, if they respond directly to Ofcom in the consultation.


The interesting thing, which I hope we all welcome, is that ITV has confirmed its continuing commitment to providing regional news. The focus of the debate is the viability of the model to deliver that. I bear in mind what my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle has said in that context: the model must retain the locality dimension, which is so important.

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On behalf of Eric Martlew, 3 Chatsworth Square Carlisle Cumbria CA1 1HB