HC Deb 09 July 1984 vol 63 cc815-24
Mr. Gale

I beg to move amendment No. 138, in page 33, line 40, at beginning insert— '(a) Every contract between the IBA and a DBS programme contractor shall contain all such provisions as the IBA think necessary or expedient to ensure that nothing shall impair the supply of programmes provided by persons who are nationals or residents of countries within the European Economic Community or companies resident within the European Economic Community and otherwise than from persons of any of the following descriptions, namely a TV or DBS programme contractor or a body corporate under the control of a TV or DBS programme contractor.'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:

No. 121, in clause 43, page 36, line 22, at end insert— `(c) contain all such provisions as the Board think necessary or expedient to ensure that a substantial proportion of the programmes provided by the programme provider shall be acquired by the programme provider from persons who are nationals or residents of countries within the European Economic Community or companies resident within the European Economic Community and otherwise than from persons of any of the following descriptions, namely a TV programme contractor or a body corporate under the control of a TV programme contractor or the BBC or a body corporate under the control of the BBC (or any other corporation participating in the programme provider.)'.

Amendment No. 131, in clause 45, page 37, line 33, after '2001', insert `, provided that, as revised, the contracts between the IBA (the Authority) and the various programme contractors for the provision of television programmes shall contain such terms as are in the opinion of the IBA necessary or expedient to ensure the supply and inclusion of a proper proportion of programmes by companies or persons resident in the United Kingdom other than a television programme contractor and (or) a body corporate under the control of a programme contractor or the BBC or a body corporate under the control of the BBC.'. Government amendments Nos. 126, 128, 132 and 188.

Mr. Gale

I apologise for the lateness of the hour at which we are discussing these amendments. I am afraid that this will take time, as I must do justice to the subject of the amendments, which was discussed in principle in Committee.

The subject relates to the authority of the IBA beyond its give date and the responsiblity which, if the extension is granted by the House, will be placed on the authority. In particular, we are concerned with the extension of the genuine independent programme-making market into markets which are closed to it at present.

Amendments Nos. 121 and 138 are complementary to amendment No. 131 and extend the provisions in amendment No. 131 and the safeguards in that amendment for satellite television.

Support for amendment No. 131 comes from most of the Conservative Members who served on the Cable and Broadcasting Bill Committee. In view of the Opposition's statements on quotas of British production, especially those of the hon. Members for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) and for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Freud), I should like to think that they, too, support these amendments.

I must make it plain that I am not asking for a quota. We are asking that access should be given to the free markets to genuinely independent producers. I shall make it plain in a moment that that falls within the remit of the clause and of the IBA.

Mr. John Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme)

If the hon. Gentleman intends to press this to a Division, it is important for him to tell us, so that we know how seriously to take the arguments.

Mr. Gale

The argument is extremely serious. Whether or not I press it to a Division depends upon the answer that I receive from my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Austin Mitchell

Can the hon. Gentleman give us a rough idea?

Mr. Gale

I shall give the hon. Gentleman a rough idea. It might depend on whether he is prepared to support the stand against restrictive practices by the trade unions, such as the one to which both he and I belong.

It has been customary in the debate to declare interests. I have no commercial interest in the Bill. I have an interest as a member of the NUJ and of the ACTT. Until my arrival in the House, I was a producer of television prgrammes and a director.

Mr. Mitchell

I am not quite sure of the hon. Gentleman's point. He began with praise the genuinely independent producer and went on to attack trade unions. What exactly is the hon. Gentleman talking about? What is the catch? If he wants our support, he must tell us what he is doing. Is he providing for the production companies which do not have a full union complement and which do not have an agreement with trade unions? Is that his intention?

Mr. Gale

If the hon. Gentleman allowed me to expand my argument for more than a minute and a half at a time, he would probably find out exactly what he wants to know.

From now on, the IBA should defend independent British production, and Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland production as well, in a way that it has not done so far. In the past, the IBA has defended the monopoly interests of the programme contractors. Those of us who have worked in television and have produced and directed programmes are aware of the unholy alliance between the ACTT and the National Association of Theatrical Television and Kine Employees, representing the craft unions, and the Independent Television Companies Association management. Those of us who worked in those industries know the industrial problems have been solved by huge pay settlements and gross manning levels.

Mr. Austin Mitchell

The hon. Gentleman is making allegations, and he made allegations in Committee as well. Will he now care to correct his statement in Committee about Yorkshire Television and its agreement with the trade unions, which was lambasted in a letter to him by the managing director of Yorkshire Television?

Mr. Gale

I was coming to that point. Unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman does not have my response to that letter or the response to that response which I shall quote for him.

We can now have the crocodile tears from the Opposition who, in union terms, have sought to defend arguably the most damaging single element that hits British independent programme production—restrictive practices.

I referred in Committee to a deal done by Yorkshire television. I said: Yorkshire Television has done a deal with the union there, and given an undertaking not to finance outside production. I gather that the union members there will produce all the material financed by Yorkshire for Yorkshire Television." — [Official Report, Standing Committee D, 21 June 1984; c. 255.] I said that I would put Mr. Paul Fox's response on the record. He replied in a letter: this is not so. No undertakings of this sort have been given. Do I stand corrected? The managing director went on: As a responsible employer of television production staff, YTV has assured its employees that all Yorkshire Television programmes produced by Yorkshire Television and carrying the Yorkshire symbol are serviced by Yorkshire Television staff. That undertaking made no reference to the financing of productions. We have established that an undertaking has been given by the management of the company — I should like the House to understand that this is not a vendetta against Yorkshire television — to the unions involved in that company that it will produce all the material carrying the Yorkshire television symbol.

The managing director of Yorkshire television continued: As a matter of business policy, and unconnected with the undertaking to staff YTV does not wish to provide finance for its competitors: we are not in the business of helping others to succeed at our expense. Where is the great union between the independent television contractors and the genuinely independent television programme makers? Paul Fox, the managing director of one of the major companies in this country, described them as his "competitors". He said that he is not in the business of helping them to compete. What encouragement can there be in that statement for the genuinely independent programme producer? Paul Fox continued: Nevertheless, as a member"— I hope that the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) finds this letter interesting, because it is the one that he wanted to hear— of the ITV broadcasting system, YTV is genuinely interested in purchasing independent productions — be they British, Commonwealth or American—in a free market at the going market rate". A "free market" is the market dictated by the Independent Television Companies Association. It is a market that buys independent productions at a fifth or a tenth of production costs.

The hon. Member for Great Grimsby, who knows something about this profession, knows as well as I do that the bought-in programmes are financed not by independent television company money but by independent producers who may or may not be able to sell their products. There is no money up front because of the undertakings given to the craft unions within the television industry. The staffing levels on the studio floor are far too high and the hon. Member is aware that genuinely independent companies could not afford those gross overmanning levels.

11.30 pm

If the IBA's life is to be extended, I believe that independent producers must be able to compete on equal terms in the kind of market place to which the managing director of Yorkshire television referred. He has a position within the Independent Television Companies Association. My criticism is not directed at Yorkshire Television. The managing director of that company has at least been kind enough to put in writing and allow me to explain to the House the practices that most of the major companies pursue.

The aim of the amendment is to stimulate British independent production. As I have said before, we do not seek to dictate a quota. I do not believe that the amendment will damage the independent contractors' companies' interest in any way.

London Weekend television, TV South, Thames television, Central television and Yorkshire television have a hugh investment in modern technology. Some of it was made recently following the award of new franchises. In the case of TV South that was a brave investment in a new studio complex. Those studios should be used, but they should not be used by too many people. They should be used to make more British, independent programmes. There is no reason why—the independent companies are aware of this—they should not hire their facilities and their investment in technology to genuinely independent producers and their genuinely independent staffs.

With the advent of cable I believe that we have the opportunity to generate British independent production. The major companies have so far failed to assist that generation. The IBA has also failed, and that is why I tabled the amendment.

Mr. Brinton

Channel 4.

Mr. Gale

It has been left, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Brinton) says, to Channel 4 to give such stimulus as has been offered, but we both know that that is not enough.

Mr. Bermingham

I have listened with interest to the hon. Member, but does he agree that if the cable vision companies are buying cheap foreign material there will be no incentive for the independent producers to make home-based programmes? The way to ensure that independent producers produce what we all want is to protect their right to supply cable television.

Mr. Gale

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman because he has given me the opportunity to clarify a point. The amendment is related directly to broadcast television. As the hon. Gentleman is aware, I was the first in Committee to hammer home the fact that we are dealing with cable, but this clause deals with the extension of the life of a broadcasting authority, not the Cable Authority. I should be happy to discuss the cable aspects later, as we did in Committee. The clause deals with the extension of the life of the IBA.

I ask my right hon. Friend to accept what I believe are reasoned and reasonable amendments; and to serve notice on those who wish to restrain growth that the days of restrictive practices are numbered. We are asking not for a fixed quota but for what the managing director of Yorkshire television rightly referred to in his letter—the right to compete in the marketplace on equal terms. I ask my right hon. Friend for his support. I ask him to accept the amendments relating to DBS and to tell the IBA that it should exercise its authority and end restrictive practices within broadcast television.

Mr. Freud

I listened with care and sympathy to the hon. Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale), especially when he said that this was not a quota. Amendment No. 131 states: to ensure the supply and inclusion of a proper proportion of programmes. If that is not a quota, what is? The hon. Gentleman's Government no longer insist on the quota of handicapped and disabled people who used to have to be employed by industry, but pursue the economics of the market place. Yet the hon. Gentleman demands the supply and inclusion of a proper proportion of people who may not have anything worthwhile to sell. That is my only point.

Mr. Mitchell

the hon. Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) should stop foisting on the House his past experience in commercial television, and the vendettas and hatreds he accumulated while working there. The process may be of therapeutic value to him, but it has little relevance to the legislation.

If the hon. Gentleman seeks the support of the Opposition for a series of amendments to strengthen independent producers, he has gone about it in a subtle and carefully calculated fashion by launching a direct onslaught on the Opposition, trade unions and working practices, which have endured for a long time and have been found satisfactory by the companies and the unions in commercial television. I do not understand his strategy, but I offer him the opportunity, if he seriously wants our support, to tell us that it is not merely a union-bashing measure as he presented it. We have 204 Labour Members sitting around in various parts of the House and they are eager to come and vote on the amendments. If he will assure us now that it is not a union-bashing measure the word can go out and he can have their support. I suspect, however, that he will not give us that assurance.

I am aware of the unanimous vote of confidence that the ACTT shop at Thames television gave the hon. Gentleman when he stood at the Northfield by-election, which warned the electors that, from its experience of him, it might be a mistake to vote for him, and warned them of his antagonism towards unions in commercial television.

I have no great enthusiasm for Yorkshire television. I spearheaded with the hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) a workers' bid for the contract in 1980, and since then I have not been invited to appear on Yorkshire television. I feel in an anomalous position defending an organisation with which I have such a relationship.

Mr. Golding

If I could find my hon. Friend an independent producer in Yorkshire, would he co-operate?

Mr. Mitchell

These days I have a better face for radio than commercial television. As I failed disastrously as a disc jockey and as a television presenter, I doubt whether the market would be large.

The existing staffing arrangements and working relationships with the trade unions in commercial television are of long standing, have endured we and provided effectively for the maintenance of quality and good production, which would not have been available elsewhere. Although there are always niggles about whether to take this production assistant or this second lighting assistant on that overseas trip, the staffing levels are nearly always necessary, and produce better programmes and television. The annoyances are temporary and short-lived. The harmonious industrial climate in commercial television provides good, high-quality production, which is worth maintaining.

Therefore, when the managing director of Yorkshire television tells the hon. Member for Thanet, North that he does not want competitors, that is exactly what it is about. Why should Yorkshire television encourage people to compete with it to provide programmes on its network? Where is the commercial logic in that? It comes not from a desire to maintain union staffing levels or to suppress independent production, but from a desire to remain dominant in the area. It is an obvious capitalist motive.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden)

We have some respect for the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), but he must not pull our legs at this late hour and try to suggest that all is lovely, and that the only objective of the unions is to preserve the quality of broadcasting. In that context, will he help the House to understand why it took so long for Britain to have electronic news gathering?

Mr. Mitchell

Clearly because the unions wished to negotiate the best deal that they could. That is in their interests and it is an obvious thing to do. The manning levels were considerably reduced from those previously prevailing in the film industry. The unions have accepted logical manning levels. Perhaps the hon. Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) wishes to reduce manning to the level of a Japanese film crew that I saw recently, which consisted of one man carrying the camera, which had a microphone sticking out of it, and asking the questions. Fortunately, it was daylight, because in his back-pack he had a hand basher to illuminate the scene as well.

We are concerned about standards and quality of production. There is a developing scope for independent production on Channel 4, and it is welcome, but this amendment does not secure that. It offers a guaranteed quota to independent producers, provided that they can force down costs by bashing the unions, reducing manning levels to the minimum, and thereby reducing quality to the minimum, irrespective of the quality of what they produce. No sane Opposition would back such an amendment. The hon. Member for Thanet, North has gone over the top such is his peculiar hatred of trade unions in the television industry. On that ground, I offer him no support, but some hostility from the Opposition.

Mr. Golding

I was not persuaded by the speech of the hon. Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale). I was even less persuaded of his case when I read the amendment, which requires that a substantial number of programmes must be provided by the people. What if those programmes are no good and are not the sort of programmes that people wish to watch?

I risk losing the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), who stands for quality in all things. I stand for entertainment. When I switch on the television I do not want to see a "quality" programme; I want to see a programme that amuses or instructs me. I mostly want to see a programme that amuses or delights me. I am interested in programmes made for the viewer. I am the stuff that capitalist programmes are made of; I am the customer. What upsets me is that, as ever, the do-gooders say, "Perhaps the programme companies are making programmes that people want to watch. We are making programmes that we want to show and we will force them upon the IBA and the programme companies." That does not seem to be reasonable. Why, when I switch on my television, should the programmes of the hon. Member for Thanet, North and his intellectual mates be thrust upon me? That is the question of the hour, however late it may be. Why should I as a viewer have to suffer the desire of the hon. Gentleman's friends to do good on this earth?

11.45 pm
Mr. Gorst

The short answer to the hon. Gentleman is in order to give employment to him and his mates.

Mr. Golding

As so often, I fail to follow the hon. Gentleman's logic. If the hon. Gentleman is arguing that the hon. Member for Thanet, North is indulging in special pleading, I accept that.

Professionally, I always admire an argument that can bring together high principle and self-interest. That is what the hon. Gentleman seems to be doing. He and his mates want to make money, their reputations and to force their programmes upon us, but we do not necessarily want them.

One thing is certain— if the companies must take these programmes, they will have to pay for them, because the hon. Gentleman and his mates will not give them away for nothing. If the hon. Gentleman sells them, ultimately the consumer will pay through advertising.

The hon. Member for Thanet, North has tried to pull a fast one. He is asking us to accept the amendment moved in the name of freedom, when it should have been moved in the name of elitism and pecuniary self-interest.

Mr. Hurd

My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) is anxious to encourage independent production. So am I, so are the Government, and so we have proved. The independent sector is a lively, enjoyable and low-cost part of the industry. It has done well, perhaps largely because of the way in which Channel 4 and the fourth channel in Wales were established by the Government. Naturally, this sector is looking for further openings in the future. My hon. Friend's amendments open up possibilities in three areas.

Amendment No. 131 deals with terrestrial franchises. The obligation which my hon. Friend suggests is not one which the IBA could unilaterally impose on terrestrial contractors during the current terrestrial franchises. The programme balance for ITV is at present a matter for contractual agreement between the IBA and the companies. Given their success so far, we hope that opportunities will appear for independent producers to get a showing on ITV. The ITV companies have indicated to the Independent Programme Producers Association those areas of ITV programming where independent contributions might well be welcome and successful.

My hon. Friend's amendment proposes a major change in the way in which ITV operates. Such a change would need a good deal of consultation, including consultation with the IBA.

My hon. Friend, with his knowledge of the structure, will agree that the possible consequences for individual companies would vary. Each company has different characteristics. Some of the big ones would perhaps be able to give space in their schedules to independent producers. Some of the smaller ones might not be able to do so without undermining their own production base. It is an idea which would need a good deal of further thought and consultation.

The second opening which my hon. Friend proposes is in the scheme for IBA or independent commercial DBS for which we are providing in clause 37. Here there is no inside track for the ITV companies. There is no suggestion in the Bill and no thought in the Government's mind that when the time comes for the IBA to activate this part of the Bill and provide a purely commercial DBS service, there will be any reason why there should be any advantage conferred on the ITV companies. The independent producers have a strong natural position. I do not think that they have any need for a preferential position, and I do not think that they would ask for one. They would be able to compete at that stage with natural advantages. There they have an equality of opportunity, which is what my hon. Friend desires, and the Bill does nothing to preclude that.

The position of the joint DBS project, which is the third opening which the amendments discuss, is different, as the House discussed on Second Reading and in Committee. The prospective participants in the joint venture expect to purchase programmes from independents. All have said that they attach importance to the provision of British material for DBS programming, and they recognise the impressive contribution which independent producers have made to Channel 4. The BBC, the IBA and ITCA would expect the independent producers to secure a due degree of access to DBS programming provided that they were able to supply satisfactory material at competitive prices. That will be crucial for a venture as high risk as DBS will be. Therefore if my hon. Friend is right about the ability of the independent sector to produce competitive programmes, there will definitely be room for them in the joint project.

Mr. Gale

Does my right hon. Friend accept that at least one of my arguments is that at the moment there is a cartel? ITCA is buying from independent producers but not at the market rate because it has effectively a ring. It can buy in at its own price, and that is in no way the market price. It is that that we wish to prevent happening in satellite television.

Mr. Hurd

I understand that, and that is one reason why we believe that it is necessary to do more than simply rest on the undertakings that I have just described.

We believe that there is a legitimate public interest in monitoring the sources of programmes supplied for the joint project to see how they develop, having in mind the point made by my hon. Friend. That is why we tabled amendment No. 128, which will place the Satellite Broadcasting Board under a duty to include information in its annual report on this matter. We are even more specific, because the amendment will require the board to include in its annual report an account of the extent to which the joint project programmes have been supplied by persons other than those participating in the consortium. Clause 44 (1B) defines those participating as including holding companies, subsidiaries or associates of the participants. For the purpose of the clause, all other programme suppliers will count as independent producers.

I have been through the three openings which my hon. Friend's amendments describe. I have shown how the first requires further study and consultation, how the second is knocking at an open door because for the purely commercial DBS there is no favoured position for the ITV companies, and how, thirdly, the Government amendment makes it clear that it is not simply a matter of noting assurances which have been given but that there will be a duty on the board to report to the public and to the House on the extent to which independents get a look in in the joint project. Taken together, those steps show a realistic measure of support for the independent sector and constitute a substantial step forward.

Mr. Gale

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Minister for his assurances on DBS and the joint project. Independent producers will find a great deal of comfort in the clarification offered, particularly on the joint project. I take all the points that he has made about Government amendment No. 128. However, I am much less happy with his comments on the future of independent production within the independent programme contractors as they exist at the moment. He was good enough to say that he felt that amendment was not possible during their current terrestrial franchises. I should like to think that perhaps at the very least the IBA will take on board the attitudes of the big companies towards genuinely independent producers when called upon to renew those franchises. That at least is possible. My right hon. Friend was also good enough to say that he would give further thought and consideration and consultation to the matter and I am grateful for that.

The hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Freud) said that I was suggesting a quota system. He is right in a sense. I was trying to define the difference between a quota and a fixed quota, but I did not do so clearly enough. I take the point that was made and acknowledge it. The clause would implement a quota but not a fixed quota. That is important because the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) asked why he should be made to watch programmes that were of bad quality. It is interesting that a fellow trade unionist should assume bad quality as a result of independent production. The fact of the matter is that no company would be compelled to buy, and were it not of good enough quality it would not. We are not engaged upon special pleading. We have been seeking free access to a free market which at present is denied us.

Mr. Golding

That is the nub of the problem for the hon. Gentleman. Let us postulate that all the programmes made by independent producers are of low quality, which is possible. Under his proposal they would have to be shown whether they were bad quality, wanted by the general public, or whatever. That is the essence of a quota, whether a fixed quota or a vairable quota. That is the problem that he has. Once it is said that some have to be shown, one has to determine how to ensure that those that are made are either wanted by the public or are of a certain quality.

Mr. Gale

The hon. Gentleman is well aware that There is sufficient good independent programme production around to satisfy at the very least the meansest of quotas, and I contend that that is being bought at the moment by a cartel at a below-market price. I am seeking, and shall continue to seek, the production of that material. financed by the independent companies and bought in at a market price, not a sub-market price, and using the facilities provided by the independent companies.

The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) referred to long-term practices. It is exactly those long-term practices that I and many other programme makers have found abhorrent. I cast no aspersions whatever on the quality or ability of my former colleagues at Thames Television who were excellent and did a splendid job. Had we been allowed the opportunity to do so, given the facilities and the staff that we had, if the crewing levels had been lower, we could have made more British programmes with the same people, the same technology and the same money. It is as simple as that.

The hon. Member for Great Grimsby is well aware of the union arguments surrounding the introduction of electronic news gathering in this country years behind our competitors. He is equally well aware of the debate that is going on as to whether or not the Olympics should be shown in this country, which bears on whether or not one extra production assistant should fly to America. It is to such restrictive practices that I have been referring. The hon. Member is also aware that all the industry would benefit if such practices were eliminated. We are not looking for fewer jobs, but for more jobs, performed more efficiently, leading to more British production.

12 midnight

I have to refer to this next point because I believe that it was a personal slight. The Member — I hope honourable — for Newcastle-under-Lyme referred to pecuniary self-interest. I have already said that I have none. I find it saddening that Labour Members, who have made such play throughout the debates on the Bill on the production of British material, have chosen not to support an amendment that would, perhaps, enhance the quantity of British production in cable television. Without that support, there is no point in forcing the amendment to a Division. Therefore, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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