Andrew Bingham (High Peak) (Con): I declare an interest as the chairman of the all-party group on commercial radio. My hon. Friend is talking about setting up small-scale multiplexes on a non-commercial basis, but would such multiplexes be open to small commercial stations? For example, would High Peak Radio in my constituency be able to access one of the multiplexes, even though it is a commercial station?
Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con): My understanding is that yes, it would, although I have to be clear that the Bill will only set a framework; the exact details of a small-scale licence would be a matter for consultation with the industry and for Ofcom in considering individual licence applications. My understanding is that yes, it would be possible for very small-scale commercial operations to take advantage, but there would be processes in place to ensure that the rights of existing multiplexes were not affected unduly.
Andrew Bingham (High Peak) (Con): Actually, I was referring to the former Member for Sedgefield and the former Member for Witney, but it still works. The former Member for Witney did actually come to High Peak Radio, but more of that later.
We need to allow the likes of High Peak Radio to move into the digital age, and the Bill puts down the framework that will allow it to do that without the huge expense it would currently face. The benefits for local radio are huge, and many of them have been highlighted today.
I look at what High Peak Radio has done for High Peak in the years it has been broadcasting, and I see that it brings so many benefits. We talk about community and community charities. We have things such as Blythe House hospice in Chapel-en-le-Frith; High Peak Radio is a great supporter of that great charity, as well as many others.
I have done events in High Peak: I have walked round High Peak and golfed round High Peak—I have done everything round High Peak for charity—and High Peak Radio has been a fantastic supporter. It is not that it has enabled me to do those things—I have to do the walking or whatever it might be—but it gets the word out.
On one of the first charity walks I did, I walked round the boundary of the constituency. I was walking out of Buxton when a car pulled up. The driver opened his window and said, “There’s a tenner, Andrew.” I said, “What’s that for?” He said, “I’ve just heard on High Peak Radio that you’re walking the boundary of the constituency for charity. There’s your 10 quid.” That 10 quid went to the charity.
That is just an isolated instance of how High Peak Radio helps support so many people doing so much good work for so many charities. People cannot afford to have an advert on the big commercial radio stations, let alone the television, but High Peak Radio provides them with a vehicle and a conduit to get the word out and to encourage support. That, in turn, promotes community cohesion. We talk a lot about community cohesion in this place, and that is a great way of promoting it.
Somebody talked earlier about isolation, which affects a lot of people. We all think that, nowadays, with satellite television and all these channels, people do not listen to the radio anymore. Well, in High Peak, they do. I know lots of people who have High Peak Radio on because yes, there is music, but they also get the local news and it makes them feel part of their local communities. They are sometimes elderly people who cannot get out as often as they would like, and it makes them part of the town or village they live in. Whether it be Chapel-en-le-Frith, Charlesworth, Dove Holes or New Mills, they know what is going on in their town and area. They know, for instance, that on Christmas day an organisation did a Christmas lunch for people. It is a great way of promoting community cohesion and dealing with the social isolation that we in this place try to find many ways of dealing with.
As we sit in here, I do not know what the weather is doing, but it is probably pretty snowy in High Peak. Buxton is one of the highest towns in England, and we have the highest football ground and the highest pub in England, all of which will be covered in snow. With High Peak Radio, people can put their local radio station on. If they put a national radio station on, they would probably hear of Buxton only two or three times a year when we are snowed in. They hear about the Cat and Fiddle and the Woodhead pass, because those roads are often blocked with traffic.
At this time of year, snow is always a problem on those and on many other roads. If someone is looking to get from Glossop to Buxton this morning, they will not get that information on BBC radio news but they will get it on High Peak Radio. One of my constituents, Jamie Douglas, cannot get to work today because of the snow. For anybody in High Peak who is watching this, I am very sorry but my constituency office is closed because my staff are snowed in in Glossop. How do people work that out? How do we know where we can go and where we cannot go in High Peak on a day like this when we get more snow than anybody else? People turn to High Peak Radio because the road and traffic news goes on all the time.
My hon. Friend—an old friend—the Member for Corby (Tom Pursglove) talked about sport. I was glad he mentioned that. In fact, I was not that glad because I wanted to mention it first, but hey ho—he beat me to it. We have lots of football, cricket and rugby teams in High Peak.
Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): rose—
Andrew Bingham: Ah—my friend with the hedgehog is back.
Oliver Colvile: My hon. Friend may recall that he organised a game of cricket up in Burton which I was delighted to play in. It was a great game.
Andrew Bingham: That is right, although I must correct my hon. Friend: it was actually in Buxton, which, by the way, saw the only case of a day’s cricket being lost due to snow in this country, in June 1975.
Yes, we organised a charity cricket game where the parliamentary cricket team played the “Emmerdale Farm” 11. My hon. Friend drove some 300 miles to play and acquitted himself exemplarily, as he always does—as he did in India, as he remarked earlier. High Peak Radio broadcast from the ground and interviewed the players. On that day we raised, I think, just over £10,000 for the air ambulance. We could not have done that with such success without the backing of our local radio station, because it introduced the coverage.
Among our local football teams, we have Buxton, where High Peak Radio often broadcasts the game live if it is a big match. Glossop North End has been in the FA Vase final twice in recent years. That is a huge event for High Peak, and it is encouraged by High Peak Radio, which sends someone down to Wembley to commentate live on the game. High Peak Radio has actually broadcast from within this building: when I was elected to this place in 2010, we managed to arrange for it to broadcast from Central Lobby. This is great because it makes people in High Peak feel connected with each other. Those who could not get to Wembley to watch Glossop North End in the final could tune into High Peak Radio and feel part of the day. You will find no greater supporter of local radio in this place than me, and that is why I take an active role in the all-party group.
Local radio stations also support local businesses. I ran a small business for many years, as have many colleagues here. We cannot afford to advertise on the television or, perhaps, Radio Manchester, but High Peak Radio provides an opportunity. Whether it be a small shop, a garage or a small trader such as a plumber, it gives them an opportunity to advertise in the local area—an area that they can serve efficiently, quickly, and, more often than not, at a lower cost than some of the national companies.
Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) (Con): My hon. Friend is talking about the fact that people can advertise on these radio stations. Has he ever considered advertising his election on local radio?
Andrew Bingham: I have considered advertising in elections on many things. I have had my name on buses, for instance, although people just said, “You look like the back of a bus—now your picture’s on the back of a bus.” As my hon. Friend the Member for Corby said, local radio stations such as High Peak Radio are politically neutral. There is no politics with local radio. High Peak Radio will broadcast what I have to say, whether from my perspective as the Member of Parliament or when I was a Conservative candidate. Whether it is the Labour candidate, the Lib Dem candidate, or whoever, it is completely politically neutral. That is one of the advantages of local radio. As has been said, it is broadcast by local people for local people. It does not have a political edge. That is why I have not considered advertising politically on the station. I do not want to compromise it or to spoil the essence of local radio.
Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con): I am very much enjoying my hon. Friend’s remarks. He will be aware that the rules for political parties on broadcast advertising still apply to small-scale licensing, just as they do to large-scale licensing. That is certainly the intention.
Andrew Bingham: Yes, and it must remain so.
If we can give local stations a low-cost option to move on to digital radio, that has to be welcomed and encouraged. The sooner we get it on the statute book, the better. We can encourage our local stations to continue. We all have our own stations and they all have their own programmes. My hon. Friend the Member for Corby has been on “Desert Island Discs”. My radio does not do that, but it does have “High Peak Insiders” and “High Peak Happenings”, on which events can be advertised.
I am a great supporter of High Peak Radio and local radio in general. We need to give it every chance and every encouragement to survive and flourish. Getting the Bill on the statute book will help them to move into the digital age without costing them a fortune. I am delighted to see the Bill before the House today. The sooner we can get it through Report stage and all the other processes, the better.
Before I sit down, on the wider subject of radio, I want to give a gentle nudge to my right hon. Friend the Minister—who is now looking somewhat startled—and ask him to please get on with the radio deregulation consultation, because it has been talked about for some time. [Interruption.] He is looking towards his officials, as am I, and everybody is nodding, so hopefully we have achieved something there.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay on bringing the Bill forward. I enthusiastically hope it will get on to the statute book as quickly as possible, and that that news can be broadcast on High Peak Radio very soon.
Andrew Bingham: Does the Minister recall that I was actually commentating for Indian television when my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) took the wicket?
The Minister for Digital and Culture (Matt Hancock): Yes, I remember that. On a slightly more serious note, I think there was a reason why 19 million people in India were watching that cricket match, and it was not due to the quality of the commentary, the bowling or the fielding. It was because there is very heavy regulation on the number of broadcast channels in India, so there was nothing else to watch. Putting ourselves in the eyes of the viewer or the ears of the listener, it is far better to have more stations, especially local ones, so that people can do something better than watching my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport and I play cricket.