HC Deb 16 February 1970 vol 796 cc18-20
31. Mr. Stratton Mills

asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications if he will now reduce the levy on independent television companies; and if he will make a statement.

47. Mr. Mawby

asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications if he has yet made a decision on the independent television levy; and if he will make a statement.

55. Mr. Robert Cooke

asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications in view of the effect of the levy upon independent television and the smaller programme companies in particular, what steps he now proposes to take to enable the programme companies to find the resources to improve their services and prepare for colour transmissions.

28. Mr. James Davidson

asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications arising from his consideration of the levy, what steps he is taking to encourage the production of a higher proportion of locally-produced television programmes by independent television contractors.

Mr. Stonehouse

I have nothing to add to my reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Ron Lewis) and to the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) on 19th January. —(Vol. 794, c. 21.]

Mr. Stratton Mills

Is the Minister aware that he has now had the Cooper Brothers report for exactly a month? This is an intolerable delay, since the independent television companies face a considerable crisis and there has been a drop in standards. Is it not clear that the Government are much slower to reduce taxation than to increase it?

Mr. Stonehouse

I do not agree at all that there has been an intolerable delay. It is a very detailed and complex report, and it is very important that my officials and I should have enough time to go into it in detail with the I.T.A. I have already met the Chairman of the I.T.A. to discuss it, and I shall see him again. There is a large number of questions that must be investigated. Nor do I agree that programme standards are being reduced.

Mr. Mawby

Will the Minister make as much haste as possible, because there is a danger that if the decision is left for a long period there will be a deterioration of programme standards or a reduction in staff, because these will be the only ways in which the companies can cover their costs?

Mr. Stonehouse

I think that the wish of the House would be that we find the right solution to the matter. It is not just a question of the actions of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The industry has been suffering from a reduction of income and increased costs at the same time.

Mr. Cooke

Will the Minister bear in mind that the present rate of levy will very soon lead to unemployment, and that as each day goes by more and more longterm damage is being done to the industry, particularly to the smaller companies? Will he also bear in mind that the Authority itself is finding that it cannot press on with improved coverage and so on because of a starvation of funds?

Mr. Stonehouse

I am very well aware of the effect that the general situation has had, but the full blame for this must not he put on the Government Front Bench.

Mr. Bryan

Is the Minister aware that it was last June that he said he would be ready to reconsider the situation if the worst fears of the television companies were realised? Those worst fears have obviously been realised. We are grateful to him for telling us the progress so far, but can the right hon. Gentleman say when the companies are likely to know the decision? Is this a Budget matter, or is it after or before the Budget that we shall know?

Mr. Stonehouse

It would be unwise for me to anticipate when a decision will be arrived at on the matter until after our consideration and the results of the further inquires we have made to the I.T.A. became known.

Mr. Stratton Mills

In view of the very unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I will raise the matter on the Adjournment.

51. Mr. Alfred Morris

asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications if he will make a statement on his discussions with the leaders of the unions organising workers in the entertainment industry with regard to the effects of the Government's levy on independent television.

Mr. Stonehouse

I had discussions with representatives of the E.T.U., A.C.T.T. and Equity on 23rd January and with representatives of the Writers' Guild on 3rd February. I was interested to have their views on the present situation in the industry, which will be taken into account.

Mr. Morris

Will my right hon. Friend say a little more about the views of these organisations and give an undertaking that he will keep in touch with them about developments?

Mr. Stonehouse

I am, of course, always pleased to meet representatives of the trade unions involved, and if they desire to see me again at another stage I will consider this request sympathetically.

Mr. Stratton Mills

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the trade unions in the industry believe that programme standards have fallen because of the levy?

Mr. Stonehouse

I would not say that that is a unanimous view; there are more than two views about this. We are anxious to ensure that there is no risk that the programme standards will be reduced. It is yet to be seen that they have been.