§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Mellor)
I beg to move,That this House takes note of European Community Documents Nos. 8227/84 on the establishment of the common market for broadcasting, and 6739/86 on the co-ordination of certain provisions in Member States concerning the pursuit of broadcasting activities; and supports the Government's view that the proposed Council of Europe Convention on broadcasting provides the most appropriate means of ensuring the flow of television programmes across frontiers in Europe.
§ Mr. Speaker
I have selected the amendment in the name of the right hon. Member for Taunton (Sir E. du Cann). I am prepared to allow a joint debate on the motion and on the amendment.
§ Mr. Mellor
I am pleased that today we have the opportunity to discuss this important Community initiative on the regulation of transfrontier broadcasting. I shall be brief in my introductory remarks since the Government's view on these issues is well known and the purpose of this short debate is to elicit the views of the House.
The Commission produced its Green Paper on broadcasting in June 1984, partly in response to earlier resolutions on international broadcasting that had been passed in the European Parliament. The Green Paper before us is a weighty document running to some 367 pages. It attempts at very great length to argue a case for Community competence in broadcasting matters and more specifically proposes a limited harmonisation of member states' law on broadcast advertising, on programmes that might be seen by children, and on copyright. There followed a lengthy period of discussion of the document in which the Commission proposals received a generally critical reaction. Certainly in this country the broadcasters, most of the advertisers, and the copyright interests were united in their opposition. Many other countries in Europe were highly sceptical.
In May last year the Commission brought forward the fruits of the debate on the Green Paper in the form of the draft directive which is also before us. Some adjustments had been made in response to the earlier criticisms. The Commission has dropped its proposals on the right of reply and limits those on the protection of children to one very small section. The advertising section has been improved and now falls more closely in line with the sort of formulations we are used to in our IBA code.
§ Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)
I apologise to the Minister for interrupting him so early in his speech, but my intervention may have some beneficial side effects. Is he aware that the Select Committee on European Legislation recommended in its fourth report of 12 December 1984 that this matter was so important that it called for an early debate? Does he accept that the Government have been a bit tardy in providing time for us to debate it? If we had had time to debate it, there could have been some input before the directive was drawn up.
§ Mr. Mellor
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that in no sense do we want to exclude the House from these considerations. We took a highly sceptical view about this in line with the sentiments in the House. We pressed the 842 matter and as a result it is now before us in a considerably modified form, although I suspect that it will still be subject to scepticism in the House. I do not need to be inspired because I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton—is it North or South?
§ Mr. Mellor
I knew that I had a 50 per cent. chance of being right. My hon. Friend leans ominously forward, but I can assure him that this is one of those rare occasions on European matters when the Government Front Bench will, I suspect, be wholly ad idem with the amount of scepticism that he wants to bring to bear. We thought that this was the appropriate time to deal with the matter, and I can assure hon. Members that we want the House to make known its view.
§ Sir Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington)
I am interested in what my hon. Friend says. Can he say how it gells with the proposed Council of Europe convention on broadcasting and television in which he played such an important and prominent part in Vienna just a couple of months ago?
§ Mr. Mellor
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I know the assiduousness with which he pursues his interests in the Council of Europe. The welcome agreement to which I shall come later in my speech and which was reached around a table in the Council of Europe obviates the need for Community action in almost all of the matters dilated upon in this extensive document.
I very much welcome the consensus around the table in Vienna that the more appropriate way to deal with these matters is with the lighter hand of regulation of a Council of Europe convention rather than that of a commission which—perhaps not winning myself too many friends in Brussels—was bringing to bear on sensitive issues like broadcasting the same skills used in the manufacture of pork sausages. The copyright proposals had undergone a slight change with the introduction of a delaying mechanism for triggering the operation of the statutory licence, but otherwise the basic principles of the Green Paper remained unchanged. In addition to these changes, however, the Commission had introduced a wholly new proposal for quotas on Community programming and on works by independent producers.
The broad object of these proposals is to harmonise member states' laws to overcome any current obstacles to transfrontier broadcasting. We, of course, wholeheartedly support the principle of free movement of radio and television programmes across frontiers. We place no obstacles in the way either of the reception in the United Kingdom or services from abroad or the transmission from the United Kingdom of services to other countries. We have practical evidence of the successful operation of that policy in the foreign television services that can now be viewed on our cable systems and in the growth of United Kingdom programme providers, such as Superchannel which starts its new service at the end of this month, and Sky-channel, which has been going for some considerable time.
I am sure the hon. Gentleman thinks that his former employers, by whom he might with advantage continue to be employed, perhaps should have a plug from time to time, and I am sure if I do not give him a plug he will manage it himself. While we believe that some system is 843 needed to regulate frontier broadcasting, we do not believe that a case has been made out for the Community to provide that system in terms of draft legislation of this kind.
§ Mr. Marlow
Is it my hon. Friend's view, and the view of the Government, that the Community should have competence in this issue?
§ Mr. Mellor
No. I think it is our view that the Community's competence in this issue is extremely limited and should remain so.
§ Mr. Michael Morris (Northampton, South)
Does that mean that my hon. Friend rejects that competence under article 155 of the treaty?
§ Mr. Mellor
What my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) has begun, my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris) is bound to follow. The fact of the matter is that Community competence exists—I shall mention later, if at some point permitted, matters that pertain to economic and industrial aspects—but it does not relate to the broader aspects of cultural and other matters in broadcasting, which are more properly left, we believe, to other hands to regulate. It is certainly our case that transfrontier broadcasting requires some regulation of a kind akin to that in our own broadcasting Act. As I said in answer to an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir D. Smith), it is our firm belief that that is better provided through a Council of Europe convention which applies a somewhat lighter and even more sensitive hand to these difficult issues.
Having, I hope, satisfied all the representatives of the town of Northampton, I turn to Crewe and Nantwich.
§ Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)
Surely the point is that the hon. Gentleman now has no power of veto. If that is so, may we take it that, if the rest of the European Ministers decide that they are willing to go along with the content of the existing letter, people will be forced to acquiesce?
§ Mr. Mellor
That brings us to a very important question: using the words so beloved of Foreign Office advisers, are we to isolate this issue? I am happy to say that we are not isolated on this issue. Indeed, the very comforting fact that emerged from the Council of Europe meeting last month in Vienna was the considerable scepticism expressed all round the table that the EC directive was not the appropriate way of dealing with the matter. I still remember clearly the speech of Herr Zimmerman, the Interior Minister for West Germany, on that point. Indeed, a commitment that we introduced into the conclusions of that meeting, calling for urgent action to be taken on a Council of Europe convention, was supported unanimously by all countries present in clear recognition that the consequence, as widely commented on in the broadcasting press, was to place much less emphasis on the EC draft. I believe that everyone around the table in Vienna, including all the members of the EC who were represented, took that decision in the clear knowledge of its implications.
§ Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)
If my hon. Friend thinks that It is not appropriate to deal with the matter by means of the draft directive, would it not make sense for us to vote against it?
§ Mr. Mellor
It has not come to that, but I assure my hon. Friend that we should not shrink from that. [HON. MEMBERS: "Tonight."] I should have thought that the best thing was to let matters take their course. I hope that I am making clear to the House that we are doing battle, I believe successfully, for the principle which my hon. Friend holds, that is, that the directive in its present form is not acceptable. That is very much the view of the Government. I assure my hon. Friend that we need no further encouragement in arguing that case.
§ Mr. Marlow
I am trying to help my hon. Friend, as always. In view of what he has said thus far, would it not be helpful to him if the House expressed its view according to the amendment that has been put down by my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Sir E. du Cann)? Would not that be power to my hon. Friend's elbow?
§ Mr. Mellor
I am also, believe it or not, trying to be helpful to my hon. Friend. I think that he is so inured to unhelpful answers from the Dispatch Box on European matters that he cannot recognise a helpful answer when he gets one. I am greatly encouraged by the interest in the debate; I am even shocked as one who is much more accustomed to addressing an empty Chamber at this time of night. I am glad that my reputation has not emptied the Chamber, as it usually does.
I am sure that the placing on the record in this debate of firm views supportive of the Government's strong line against this is the appropriate step. It would be unfortunate if the impression were given that there were differences between us on the issue when there are not. If my hon. Friend were to use those powers of analysis for which he is so famed, I should have thought that he would have seen that there was barely room to slip someone as sylphlike as the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) between my hon. Friend's position and mine.
§ Mr. Mellor
At some point I shall have to get on with the rest of my speech, which has been very kindly prepared for me.
§ Mr. Mellor
We would prefer the House to take cognisance of the Government's position which is in line with the sceptical view of the House on the matter. That would be a better way of proceeding than, as it were, trying to rub the matter in further when there is no need for that. If matters were to proceed beyond that, and if it appeared that our position was less popular than we believe it to be within the wider Community, there would be ample opportunity for the House to give its opinion further. I do not know why my hon. Friend feels the need to impress a case that is already accepted by the Government.
§ Mr. Mellor
Yes, if the hon. Gentleman promises not to be a pest for the rest of the evening. I am sure that that is a promise he would not lightly undertake, given it is one he would find impossible to keep.
§ Mr. Mitchell
I note the Minister's expression of confidence. My question is simply whether we have a treaty veto on this matter or whether a decision can be taken by qualified majority decision.
§ Mr. Mellor
By a qualified majority. I pointed out in answer to the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) that we have no reason to feel that our case is not compelling in the eyes of other than ourselves. We must not start from the basis of believing that we are alone in this matter. We are not. If the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) had been present in Vienna—that is not an invitation for him to be so on future occasions—he would have found no lack of enthusiasm for the case that we were putting.
Indeed, we proposed an amendment to toughen up the terms of the Council of Europe conference decision to ensure that that opinion, which was much more in favour of a Council of Europe convention than a draft EC directive had the opportunity of focusing sharply on the need for such a convention, and that is what happened. That was done unanimously by the 20 countries represented around the table.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) will agree that I have made it clear beyond doubt that I have every sympathy with the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Sir E. du Cann). Like those who support it, we are opposed to the imposition from Brussels of quotas on European programmes and we do not believe that the treaty base proposed by the Commission is relevant to the proposals that it has made. The Council itself will finally decide the appropriate treaty base, and I believe that there is a general recognition among most member states that controversial proposals of this kind merit unanimous decisions.
I made it clear to the hon. Member for Great Grimsby that even if one envisaged the alternative, which would be a majority view, I do not believe we are in a minority on this issue. But even assuming that, we have every reason to be confident. We shall certainly seek a treaty base on this matter which requires unanimity. That is a key part of our negotiating position. I hope that, with that firm assurance, my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton will support the motion and will not feel compelled to press the amendment. There cannot have been many occasions when a Minister has expressed as much scepticism about an EC document as I am doing tonight.
Having laboured that mightily in the vineyard, it would be scant reward for such pains if my right hon. Friend, who may occasionally show more perspicacity than my helpful hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North or my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle—helpfulness is not confined to Northampton, as I have discovered—did not consider it appropriate, having registered the point, not to press it.
I will explore a little further the reasons why we are sceptical of what the EC is saying. We believe, as I made clear to my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North, that some system is needed to regulate transfrontier broadcasting, but we do not believe that a case has been made out for the Community to provide that system in terms of draft legislation of this kind. There is, to begin 846 with, the question of Community competence on specific areas, such as the protection of children; we have serious doubts whether the Community can claim competence. That has nothing to do with our believing that children require protection. The question is whether the man in Brussels should be the knight in shining armour to purport to do that. Even on the general issue, we believe that the matter will need to be discussed in Brussels in more detail than it has been discussed so far.
The Commission, naturally enough, approaches these issues from the point of view of a Community which is concerned primarily with economic regulation. Industrial issues are paramount in some areas of broadcasting, and community involvement is therefore, appropriate. I hope that a good broadcasting example is the recently adopted directive on transmission standards for direct broadcasting by satellite.
However, broadcasting services in general serve cultural, social and political goals as much as economic ones. We have evidence of that in the presence on the Opposition Front bench of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) who is, at least in the opinion of the Leader of the Opposition, cultural values personified. However, it remains to be seen whether that illusion will be more widely shared once the hon. Gentleman has had a chance to settle in to his responsibilities.
In the Government's view, the concentration in both the Green Paper and the draft directive on economic objectives presented in a narrow legalistic way fails to give proper weight to the wider cultural considerations. We fear that the draft directive in its current form will put national systems of broadcasting in a straightjacket which will ultimately create more obstacles to the free flow of television programmes than it eliminates.
Therefore, our views on the specific proposals in the draft directive can be given in a very few words. We have serious reservations about the Commission's approach on copyright and we shall continue to press for the maintenance of the existing system of voluntary agreements freely negoiated, rather than a system which depends ultimately upon the imposition of a statutory licence. We do not believe that the proposals on programming quotas are relevant to the free flow of television programmes across frontiers, and in that respect they seem to be in the wrong directive, to put it at its kindest.
While we recognise that there should be a special place for European programmes and for independent production in our television schedules, we see those as essentially domestic questions for each country to decide according to the prevailing circumstances within its borders. There is certainly no case for fixed quotas imposed on everyone from Brussels. The section on the protection of children, while, as I have already said, being thoroughly praiseworthy in its general motivation, raises important questions of competence which I have already mentioned and which we are not prepared to lay on one side.
The proposals on advertising and sponsorship come closer to the system we operate in this country, but they are still too restrictive in their outlook—for example, the over-complicated article on sponsorhip. In many respects, they are far more detailed than is necessary in a framework directive of this kind. As I have said, we are back in the sausagemeat regime that I have already regretted.
847 Some system of common regulation is needed between states to underpin the free flow of television programmes across frontiers, but this need be little more than the establishment of general principles in relation to such matters as programe standards and advertisements that we take for granted in our domestic broadcasting set-up. It is important that any transfrontier regulation in this area is sufficiently flexible to meet the domestic needs of individual countries, and does not contain too fine a level of detail which may lead to more restriction rather than less. We believe that the Council of Europe is the most appropriate forum for regulating these matters, because its traditional approach on cultural matters is more flexible than that shown in this draft directive, and because it provides a much larger grouping of European states than is represented by the Community. Above all, it is important that we do not split Europe on these matters between EC and non-EC countries, all of which traditionally broadcast to one another.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington reminded the House—him for his kind words—that is why, when I attended in Vienna last month the first conference that has been held of European broadcasting Ministers, I strongly supported the firm declaration, to which all the Ministers subscribed, that the Council of Europe is the most suitable institution in Europe for the eleboration and further development of a framework for transfrontier broadcasting.
§ Mr. Norman Buchan (Paisley, South)
I agree with the Minister that the Council of Europe has moved forward. The problem is that the Common Market would not allow sufficient flexibility, but would impose a straitjacket. However, that is not the problem. Professor Peacock has said that satellite broadcasting cannot be controlled by regulation, so we should proceed to a free market. In other words, not even the Council of Europe can control or regulate in that sense. How is the Minister applying his mind to that crucial cultural question?
§ Mr. Mellor
I am coming to my account of Vienna. If we were to establish a Council of Europe convention which reproduced in European commonly agreed law through a convention the arrangements that we have in our domestic broadcasting legislation, that would provide a control over satellite operators. In effect, they would not be operating from outside that regime, particularly if, as we would hope, that convention would be open for signature to non-EC countries, such as the United States, as it could be and, I hope, would be.
§ Mr. Buchan
The trouble is that, if we were to apply all the regulatory methods of all countries involved, no television would be broadcast. Is not the problem, for example, Murdoch and Maxwell buying into satellites going up from France or Luxembourg under the control of the regulations of the transmitting country? Is not that a problem with which an overall convention could not cope?
§ Mr. Mellor
With respect to the hon. Gentleman, whose interest in this matter I respect, I do not take such a pessimistic view. I certainly take the view, which was widely held around the table in Vienna, that it is no good regretting the problems that satellite broadcasting will pose. We must not be Canute-like. Satellite broadcasting will come about. The question is, under what sort of 848 regime? We must believe—I believe this and I hope that I am not being over-optimistic—that a regime can be established by agreement between civilised states which will regulate satellite broadcasting. I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman and glad to have an opportunity to deal with a crucial forward planning point with which any British Government must deal in relation to inevitable developments. The question is how that inevitable development takes place.
To return to what happened in Vienna, the council of Europe is experienced in this area and has already adopted over the past few years several recommendations which provide an appropritate measure of transfrontier regulation. I am grateful to all colleagues on both sides of the Chamber who spend a great deal of time in the Council of Europe for having broken so much ground and for establishing a common understanding of these difficulties which has made the task of Ministers easier because they can point to a large body of agreed principles which exist as a result of those efforts. I strongly commend them.
The only matter lacking in the recommendations is binding legal force. That is why I tabled in Vienna a proposal which was adopted unanimously by the conference—that the Council of Europe should proceed rapidly to draw up a binding convention on the most crucial aspects of transfrontier broadcasting for which the existing instrument provides a useful base.
The work of drafting the convention has already begun at official level. It is significant that the conference took place in December. The need for urgency was met by the arrangement that written submissions for the basis of the convention should be submitted by February—in other words, within two months—and officials should meet in March to try to break the ground. I hope that by the summer we shall be well advanced. As Mr. Ray Snoddy, the distinguished commentator on these matters, made clear in a recent article in "Media Week", if the EC Commission did not recognise what a coach and horses that was driving through its ambitions in this area, it was indeed blind to the significance of the decision taken in Vienna. I am not blind to the significance of that, and I hope that the House will not be either.
§ Mr. Richard Ottaway (Nottingham, North)
Will my hon. Friend say whether the convention deals with the question or principle of quotas which seems to have been rejected?
§ Mr. Mellor
We have not yet reached that point. No one has any objection to the idea that there should be considerable European input into what will be a European service. None of us wants to be part of some sort of cultural colonialism from across the Atlantic or elsewhere. But we cannot agree to quotas being established directly by officials, for example, in the Commission who believe that this is just an extension of the regulations on the contents of some agricultural product. Matters are more complex than that. That is what we mean by the idea of the lighter hand. None of us wants to resist the development of European co-operation to protect the European heritage by ensuring that there is a large amount of European programming available on every broadcasting medium.
I should be happy to send my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Ottaway) a full text of the conclusions of the Vienna conference in which that form of principle was written very large.
§ Mr. Mellor
Not quite as long as that. We did not have the resources of the Commission to produce a document that would be an effective doorstop in many hon. Members' homes for many years to come.
If the member states of the Council of Europe can reach agreement on the content of such a convention—and the record is good in that area; we need think only of the fundamental and important conventions such as that on human rights that have become central parts of thinking in all member countries—I am confident that the Council will be able to meet all the objectives of the draft directive in securing the free flow of television programmes across frontiers without any unnecessary restrictions that a directive, if adopted, might bring in its wake.
For that reason, the motion states the Government's view that a Council of Europe convention is the right way forward. I hope that my remarks have ensured that my right hon. Friend and his associates will accept that I need no more matches applied to fire my belly on the issue and nor do my colleagues.
§ Mr. Marlow
My hon. Friend knows the details well and he will know that section 17 of the explanatory memorandum to the draft directive states:For its part, the European Council approves the report's proposals"—I believe that that refers to the "A People's Europe" report proposal—mentioning expressly those on culture including television, and instructed the Commission and the Member States `to take the necessary implementing measures'".To what did the Council agree? If the Council has agreed, has not the pass been sold already?
§ Mr. Mellor
No. "A People's Europe" was a broad statement of principle which is now being used in evidence against us by a Commission bent on establishing competence in that area. That is part of the argumentation put forward, but we are not falling for it. I suggest that my hon. Friend follows that good example and does not fall for it himself. However, that in no way undermines our conviction that I have stated so often. I do not think that I make my point any stronger by repetition.
I hope that my comments tonight will bind all of us together in the conviction that this is not the proper way forward, that an alternative and better way has been established and that the Government are working towards that with all vigour. I hope to have the support of Members on both sides of the House tonight for the Government's actions on this issue.
§ Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)
I am certain that it will be understood in Brussels that the invitation that we have tonight from the Government to take note of the Community documents is a mark of understated British disdain and not of welcome. The Minister's comments underline that point. The Minister's right hon. and hon. Friends must be perplexed and astonished at the fact that the Government will not accept the amendments, although I do not want to make heavy weather of that.
We must be clear about what we are asked to take note of tonight. The Commission is seeking to achieve, via our television screens, what politicians within the Community have not achieved and what the people of the 12 member 850 states have never been consulted about—Europeanisation. That is a horrible word. The intention seems to be that at the flick of a switch, through a system that interferes grossly with our editorial freedom, harmonisation will come about. Those parts of Europe included in the Common Market are rich and varied in their national cultural backgrounds. Television without frontiers should not mean television without national flavour. Programmes should properly respect and reflect the different and diverse cultural backgrounds and experiences of the nations within the Community. I believe that diversity, shared and different, is a strength not a weakness. The noble Lord speaking for the Home Office in the other place said:what most broadcasters in this country fear—and the Government agree with them—is that the Green Paper will be the first step on a road towards centralisation of control over broadcasting which will culminate in each country's broadcasting legislation and programming policies being made from a central point in Brussels rather than in each member state.He went on to say that the issue waswhether we want our broadcasting arrangements and our broadcasting legislation in the longer term to be made in Brussels rather than in London."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 3 March 1986; Vol. 472, c. 71, 72.]The Independent Broadcasting Authority put the point another way when it said:European co-operation in broadcasting matters, as in other cultural matters, is not bounded by the limits of the Community.The International Federation of Journalists, which links journalists and broadcasters in the non-Communist world, said at its conference in Elsinore that the Commission wants toregulate and influence the cultural wealth of member states".It added that it isstripping away national boundaries and imposing a cordon of the Community's own boundaries.The real merit of the objection of the International Federation of Journalists came when it said:this cordon can be breached by outside multinational interests with no time or interest in national cultural heritages.In essence, the documents propose that we volunteer to an invasion of Eurosoaps, what Jeremy Isaacs, the chief executive of Channel 4, has described as "Euro-puddings". First came the wine lakes followed quickly by the beef and butter mountains, then ideas about Euro-water, Euro-bread and Euro-beaches. We are now offered the prospect of documentary mountains and soap opera lakes simply to meet some daft and rigid quota system. There is even the prospect of the French giving up the hijacking of British lorries carrying sheep and waylaying instead those stuffed with the tapes of Eastenders or Crossroads. That is what is meant by the proposal of one-third of screen time for each channel for made in EEC programmes, rising to two thirds after three years. It has nothing to do with quality or merit but simply to do with width. Show any old rubbish as long as it is made in the EEC.
The BBC and the IBA and, to be fair, the Minister, have objected to the proposals. I share the BBC and IBA's objections on the grounds of editorial freedom. The BBC says—we should listen to it:For as long as the BBC has existed the allocation of its resources have been determined according to its own priorities. Governments of all complexions have recognised that any interference would amount to editorial interference.The Commission proposals would mean a degree of control over what is broadcast that goes well beyond 851 anything attempted or imposed by any Government. That point was made by Sir Curtis Keeble, a BBC governor, on 15 January.
§ Mr. Corbett
The hon. Gentleman may say rubbish. The Green Paper never even raised the question of quotas. When the broadcasting authorities and others were invited to comment that was not even on the horizon. It is the same with the idea of 5 per cent. of television budgets having to be spent with independent producers, rising to 10 per cent. after three years. That interferes with editorial freedom. That apart, there is no guarantee—perhaps no chance—that it would create any new employment outside of the existing broadcasting organisations. It will not automatically enhance the quality of broadcasting. Who are the independent producers likely to be? They will be the Murdochs, owners of vast media empires who have demonstrated their determination to milk the international airwaves for private gain. It will be an up-dated version of the late Lord Thomson's licence to print money.
§ Mr. Tim Brinton (Gravesham)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that he is being a little unfair by quoting Murdoch as the only potential independent producer when there are many others in this country and the rest of Europe?
§ Mr. Corbett
The hon. Gentleman has made a fair point, but I have a particular loathing for that media proprietor. That is my bias.
We then come to the important matter of copyright. I welcome what the Minister had to say about the Government's serious reservations on the proposals of the Commission. I remind the Minister that, when this matter was debated in another place, Lord Glenarthur said:The…purpose of…the…copyright proposals"—he appeared to defend them; I shall be glad if the Government have changed their position—is to ensure that copyright should not be used as a means to prevent the retransmission in one member state, normally by cable, of a broadcast made from another member state." [Official Report, House of Lords, 3 March 1986; Vol. 472, c.70.]In other words, it was said that copyright can be breached and ignored until after a programme has been broadcast, and then the copyright owner will have to try to negotiate a fee. If that fee were not agreeable, he will then have to go to arbitration. This measure is no more or less than sheer robbery. It must be the right of every copyright holder to protect his or her own intellectual property. The International Federation of Journalists put it this way:The proposal—that is the one concerning copyright—is nothing short of blackmail. It holds a pistol to the head of a copyright holder and prevents him or her from truly free negotiations or fair terms and conditions.That view is backed by the BBC the IBA, and the European TUC, and it has been criticised by the European Broadcasting Union. The Association of Cinematograph Television and Allied Technicians makes the point thatcompulsory licensing after 2 years would mean that rights holders would ultimately lose any control or ability to veto the further use of their work".It adds:the 2-year negotiating period would of course be totally prejudiced by the certain knowledge that compulsory licensing would apply at the end of the period. The negotiating position of the copyright holder would be rendered extremely weak.852 Nobody can argue with that view. The British Copyright Council has said that no evidence has been produced by the Commission to show that the present copyright rules have impeded the distribution of programmes by cable. Those rules enable the holders freely to negotiate for a fair return and to take such advantages as they can from competing applications for the use of programmes.
Any arbitration system, however it sets off, is bound, in my view, to take the "going rate" view on the basis of the lowest common denominator. At the end of the day, it must be right that the copyright holder should retain the right to say, "No, thank you," otherwise it is akin to theft. The British Copyright Council proposes an agency akin to the Performing Right Society as a possible alternative, although I much prefer to allow the copyright holder freely to negotiate the contract.
I agree that the Council of Europe route is the more promising, especially because a wider Europe is involved, and also because, through that body, thoughts, on which the documents are based, of "completing the internal market" and treating broadcasting as an economic activity akin to the making of cans of peas or motorcars can properly be left on one side.
Television without frontiers is happening. We should welcome the breaking down of barriers right across the whole of Europe. Although, as we are the heaviest television watchers among 15 European nations, I wonder where people are expected to get the extra time to watch the additional channels. We must also understand that the choice of more programmes does not necessarily mean more choice. It can simply mean more of the same—more chat shows and more inane game shows. We should seek to protect quality. If anyone has any doubts about that matter, he should spend a night in a hotel room, watching the seven channels and the constant output of pap and porn. We need regulations—minimum regulations, in my view—on cross-frontier broadcasting. We need to protect against offences to taste and the rest of it as well as properly to control advertising. We need also to try to expand access to this media to those who are denied it.
The latest satellite venture starts on 2 February, when, via cable, ITN will start to broadcast news bulletins in English to six million people in 14 countries. That should give the Minister's right hon. Friend an even bigger monitoring job to do. Others will follow. A new world of' information, entertainment and culture opens up to us. An extremely important point was made by the BBC:The way to ensure the broadcasting culture of Europe is to ensure that there are strong national services able to compete for viewers with the cross-frontier services.If the Council of Europe document can help to ensure that as part of its regulatory proposals, we shall give the proposals, a welcome which we feel amply justified in refusing to give these EEC documents.
§ 11 pm
§ Sir Edward du Cann (Taunton)
I beg to move, to leave out from "activities" to the end of the Question and o add instead thereof:fully supports the views of the British Broadcasting Corporation and Independent Broadcasting Authority as being wholly opposed to the introduction of quotas of programmes based on national origin, which would be an unprecedented interference with broadcasting freedom: and insists, notwithstanding the provisions of the Single European853Act, that the issue should be determined within the European Economic Community by unanimity and not by majority vote.The purpose of the amendment is to endeavour to bring out more clearly the issues that a number of us regard as of substantial importance. There are two in particular. The first is maintenance of freedom of choice for British people and for people generally who live in the European Community and the second is enhancement of the principle of self-regulation, which I have learnt in other contexts is very much the in phrase today.
I should like to express my gratitude to my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the realism that was plainly evidenced in his excellent speech. A strong note of common sense ran through it, which I am sure will be of great assistance to the House in coming to a conclusion. I have one important reservation, however, about his remarks to which I shall come later.
A fine note was set by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett). I hope that the debate will enable my hon. Friend the Minister to note clearly the mood of the House, which I believe is typical of the country's mood, so that, when he makes our view clear in the Community, he need be in no doubt that he has full backing for the views that he expressed this evening. I would go further and say that the House has an important duty in effect to give him an instruction.
Irrespective of one's views about the treaty of Rome, I believe that hon. Members, broadcasting authorities and the many independent commentators who have given their views on these subjects will always be right to view radical proposals for new controls and influences of any kind on broadcasting with extreme caution.
The point at issue in the debate is whether each country's broadcasting legislation and programming policies should come from one central location—Brussels—rather than each member state. It may well be right in the long term to aim for the harmonisation of advertising practices, and so on—standardisation in matters of manufacturing practice, as the hon. Member for Erdington might say. Perhaps we would agree on that. But central control of programme content is another matter entirely. I beg to disagree with that, as, I think, would all of us.
I shall consider these proposals seriatim. The House may applaud the proposals for the protection of children, to which my hon. Friend the Minister referred. We are all against sin in the House of Commons, more or less. The House may be indifferent to harsher controls on tobacco advertising or sponsorship, although I feel that the proposal goes a good deal further than is necessary or desirable.
I loathe the fussiness and nannying attitude of some of those who would rule our lives. I view with horror the prospect of restrictions on liquor advertising. One should be able to make-up one's mind about whether or not one smokes or drinks. I do not wish to be told by some official in Brussels what I may or may not do.
The House should strongly oppose the unwelcome provision on copyright. The hon. Member for Erdington referred to that in a telling passage. It is an absurd proposal and an insult to practical people in Britain. 854 Programmes produced in Britain are a great export success and it would be folly, if not wickedness, to put that success in jeopardy.
The House must reject the obligation that broadcasting networks should be obliged to show 30 per cent. of European television, which would later rise to 60 per cent. This is the worst proposal of all and would be an absurd imposition. It would represent an unprecedented interference in the freedom of the BBC, the IBA and the networks to decide on programme content solely on the basis of quality. The Minister has admitted that that provision would bar us from wider exchanges; that was confirmed by the hon. Member for Erdington.
§ Mr. Ottaway
The proposal by the European Commission to introduce a quota is nothing more than an attempt to conserve the European culture and to keep out American soaps. It is not an attempt to impose a restriction on the operation of the BBC or the IBA.
§ Sir Edward du Cann
No, I do not accept that. I have great sympathy with the view expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Brinton)—unfortunately, he has a bad throat, or he would make the analogy himself. My hon. Friend said that he was reminded of the medieval monks who preferred to go on writing and copying, and rendering the new printing presses illegal. We are faced with precisely the same situation.
The idea that one can cherish a culture by legislation is absurd. If a culture has any strength it will speak for itself and live and thrive. To impose quotas on us and oblige us to watch second-class material is not acceptable.
Transfrontier broadcasting is an admirable objective. However, it should take place naturally and not under central direction. The Minister was absolutely right when he said that the case for Community legislation on the subject had not been made out.
Over the years, since the 2LO days, we have established adequate domestic controls and standards. We have introduced amended and improved practices that are generally acceptable to British people. Many countries envy our standards and our system of controls. It is wrong that any attempt should be made to jettison those controls overnight.
Freedom of expression, freedom of choice, quality, and the satisfaction of local tastes are fragile flowers. They should be nurtured, not sacrificed to some arrogant cause of standardisation. How do we protect ourselves? Here I come to the substance of my reservations about the Minister's speech.
The truth is that all this has become much more difficult since the passage into law of the Single European Act 1986. The House is aware that that Act provides:qualified majority voting will replace unanimity in the major areas concerned with the completion of the internal market, including policies on the right to provide services in another member state.Those are not my words but those of the Home Secretary.
If that is the case, it is not good enough that this House should be asked merely to take note of the position. The House has a duty to disapprove of these documents. That is why I am afraid that I am unable to accept my hon. Friend's suggestion that we should meekly and tamely connive at the Government's motion. That is why I think that it would be right to maintain our position on the amendment.
§ Mr. Marlow
Would it be fair to say that the difference between my right hon. Friend and the Minister is that the Minister is saying, "We are suggesting, as a Government, a different proposal from that which is being suggested by the Community", whereas in his amendment my right hon. Friend is saying that by using the word "insists" it would be done by unanimity? If the issue were decided within the Community by majority voting but the House had decided that it must be done by unanimity, that would be a requirement on Her Majesty's Government to veto whatever had been decided by majority voting.
§ Sir Edward du Cann
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The truth is that we have been placed in an impossible position, following the passage into law of the Single European Act. The only way in which the motion on the Order Paper would be acceptable to many of us would be if we had an irrevocable undertaking from my hon. Friend tonight that under no circumstances would majority voting be allowed to rule. As I understand it, that is not what he said to us in his speech.
§ Mr. Mellor
I am following with great care what my right hon. Friend is saying. I should be very sorry if, with all the agreement that there is, there should appear to be any dissension between us.
The point about the voting is that a directive has been proposed under article 57(2) and article 66. Article 57(2) provides for some degree of majority voting. However, other articles require unanimity—for example, articles 100 and 235. We think that those articles may be more appropriate for consideration of these matters. I cannot say categorically that there will not be majority voting, because I cannot say categorically what view—[Interruption.] May I deal with my right hon. Friend's point? It is late at night and it is difficult to make a coherent point with my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) sniping at me from a sedentary position.
The point I am putting to my right hon. Friend is that we shall argue with might and main that this is such a contentious matter that it should be dealt with only by way of unanimity. I cannot wholly guarantee that the Council of Europe will accept that view. However, if my right hon. Friend and others had been present, as were my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir D. Smith) and I, and seen the mood of those same countries and the Ministers who sit around the table at the Council of Europe in Vienna, they would have been left in no doubt that nobody wanted it, and that if the way to prevent it is to change the treaty base for it, as a way of voting it down with more enthusiasm, that should be done.
I hope that my intervention has helped my right hon. Friend. I should be sad if there had to be a Division. I hope that my right hon. Friend, with whom I agree in everthing that he said, will not feel that he needs to divide the House just on that basis.
§ Sir Edward du Cann
Obviously one wants to take extremely seriously what my hon. Friend has said. The trouble is that after a number of years in this House I have become increasingly convinced that good intentions by themselves are not enough. My hon. Friend speaks with 856 great sincerity—I understand precisely what he is saying and I know that he will do his very best—but the difficulty is that he is not in a position to guarantee results. That is not his fault: we are all the prisoners of the situation in which we find ourselves. I assure my hon. Friend that I do not have the least wish to make any difficulty for him of any kind. All that I and my hon. Friends want to do is to reinforce his position, so that when he goes into the negotiating chamber he will feel that he has a very strong expression of opinion behind him, which I believe is typical not only of the House but also of the country.
§ Mr. Mellor
Of course I accept my right hon. Friend's sincerity and I understand the point that he is making. The difficulty over accepting his amendment is that it knocks out of the Government's motion the one positive point that is most likely to ensure that a clear majority of people, if not everybody around the table, reject the European Commission's ambitions. It knocks out the reference to the Council of Europe convention as being the proper way forward, and simply substitutes for that one objection of many to the draft directive—which may be a very objectionable one, but it is not the only objectionable feature of this—which is quotas and states that the issue should be determined by unanimity. That is something that I can assure my right hon. Friend we shall push for. But the mere fact that that was said—if the House accepted the amendment—would not necessarily strengthen our negotiating position one whit. We shall fight with all the resources at our disposal to ensure that the treaty base is one that requires unanimity.
I should hate the House to be forced to take the reference to the Council of Europe convention out of the motion, because that is the most appropriate, positive way of ensuring that we keep on side all those whom we need to keep on side on an issue where we all agree. Some regulation is needed, but the Council of Europe has the lighter hand.
§ Sir Edward du Cann
The more that my hon. Friend addresses the House the clearer his intentions become and the more we are reassured. My hon. Friends and I will consider carefully what he has said, and I renew my good wishes to him in his task.
What is clear is that we are all agreed about objectives, and that is satisfactory. How we achieve them is another matter. I regret that the passage of the Single European Act makes life more difficult than it might otherwise have been.
I hope that my hon. Friend and his colleagues in the Government will be successful—in alliance with our partners, or some of them, in Europe—in persuading the Commission to draw back from the perilous course that is evidenced by the documents. I hope that he will be successful in working for evolution, not uniformity by some diktat. That is the ideal prescription for making more certain hostility and lack of co-operation to the European ideal. There are alternatives. My hon. Friend has mentioned one; multinational agreements on an ad hoc basis are another, and bilateral agreements between Governments and practical people are a third. There are many ways in which we can advance.
What the House must insist upon tonight is that the traditional independence of political control which Britain's broadcasters have always had must be 857 maintained. That we shall never surrender, and I am glad that my hon. Friend and the Government, supported by the Opposition, are faithful to that point.
§ Mr. Clement Freud (Cambridgeshire, North-East)
I share the sentiment expressed by the right hon. Member for Taunton (Sir E. du Cann) in his last sentence, which reflects the views of all Members of the House.
It is better to take note of an EEC document than to be told what to do by Brussels. We would have opposed an EEC directive for a common market for broadcasting, rather as, with respect to the Minister, we continue to be opposed to the control of broadcasting by a Ministry of the Interior. I wonder what other countries control their broadcasting via the Department of the Interior or the Home Office.
Agreement and consensus are the only ways in which anything effective will be achieved. It is important that moves in this direction are made quickly, because technology will not wait for decisions to be made. We know to our cost what happens if we are dilatory about pursuing effective, modern technology. From 1987, 10 new channels will be broadcasting directly by satellite, which will be available to people with their own aerials. Cable and direct satellite broadcasting are inevitable, so there must be some regulatory regime for control. For that to be effective, we need the widest possible agreement, and hence the proposed Council of Europe convention, which includes 21 nations, seems an ideal forum for discussion.
Members in all parts of the House support the view that any agreement reached should be determined within the EEC by unanimity and not by a majority vote. That must be opposed. The difficulty of achieving a unanimous vote in the EEC is well known, and too often a good initiative is thwarted by one country pursuing its own interest to the detriment of all. Since the Government have not shown themselves to be very committed to the idea of consensus—I remember the Leader of the House saying:consensus, thank Heaven, will never reign here."—[Official Report, 18 July, 1985; Vol. 83, c. 480.]—concern must be expressed as to the possibility of agreement being reached, particularly when it is Members of the Minister's party who support the demand for unanimity.
Some particular problems arise in trying to create a common market for broadcasting. Since the idea is to break down the barriers between countries, all of which have different laws relating to the air waves, there will have to be extensive discussions, especially in relation to copyright.
§ Mr. Freud
No, I shall not give way. I shall be as quick as I can be so that the hon. Lady may make her own speech.
A system of statutory licensing has been proposed under which cable operators in one member state would be able to retransmit the broadcasts made from another without prior consent from rights owners, providing that the retransmission was simultaneous and unaltered. Copyright owners would be entitled to equitable 858 remuneration. That proposal runs contrary to present law under which all cable retransmission of broadcasts is prohibited unless agreed by the rights owners.
The intention to continue those arrangements was recently confirmed in the White Paper "Intellectual Property and Innovation". It appears that some compromise will have to be reached, but, more importantly, whatever is decided must be enforceable, which brings us back to the point that any decision made must be achieved by agreement rather than by directive.
The only way truly to protect the programme makers is to ensure that copyright regulations can be effectively enforced. The Association of Independent Radio Contractors considers that the present system of royalty payments represents a disadvantage for United Kingdom independent local radio and it welcomes the European harmonisation of national legislation which would enable a fairer balance to be struck between the interests of commercial broadcasters and copyright owners.
Consensus decisions will also be required with regard to advertising. Basically, the law of the United Kingdom at present conforms to what is being suggested in the EEC Green Paper "Television without frontiers". One notable exception is in relation to the advertising of tobacco products. The Independent Broadcasting Authority's code permits the advertising of cigar and pipe tobacco, whereas the paper provides a ban on all tobacco products.
The right hon. Member for Taunton (Sir E. du Cann) said that he is against over-nannying. I realise that "nannying" is the popular term at the moment, but I cannot see any other way in which children of 10, 11 or 12 who are encouraged to watch television can be protected. If there is no regulation of commercials and the advertising of liquor and tobacco, infinite harm could be done and it is our duty to protect.
It is also suggested that member states should be obliged to admit advertising-based services from other countries so long as the amount of advertising does not exceed 15 per cent. of the time. That is just one of quotas which has been put forward. Quotas interfere with broadcasting freedom. It is for that reason that the BBC and the IBA oppose them and we on these Benches also believe in freedom of the air.
It cannot be denied that every country in the world has information and documents of which it does not want other countries to be aware, and because of the major opportunities for programme transmission across frontiers, which satellites and cable will bring, some time must be given to the consideration of a Bill of Rights aimed at freedom of information, or, perhaps more accurately, a limitation on concealments.
We have considered some of the issues which will arise when cable and satellites come to be used, but we should also consider which types of communication network is likely to be followed. For example, direct broadcasting by satellite has immediate attraction for broadcasting supported by advertising since there are so many potential viewers. However, cable television can cater for very limited audiences with highly specialised interests. The decision rests with the Government as to which direction cable television will take and how it will be financed. What is clear is that we need a forum of broadcasters and broadcasting companies to discuss the changes. However, the bottom line must not be forgotten—the people who 859 have a television set and will not pay for a dish, a cable, a subscription or even for a licence if it becomes legal not to have one. They, too, deserve consideration.
§ Sir Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington)
Time is short and I shall be brief.
I start by declaring a double interest. I am connected with the advertising industry, but, far more importantly, I am one of Parliament's delegates to the council of Europe and, as my hon. Friend the Minister has been good enough to mention, I was fortunate enough to be there during the proceedings of the Council of Ministers in Vienna just over a month ago when these matters were thrashed out.
I do not seek to embarass the Minister, but I should say that he was one of the younger Ministers present and that he showed a maturity far in advance of his years. It was through his guidance, cajoling and persuading that the Ministers got together in a sensible way and presented us with a convention which is almost ready and which—I accept totally what the Minister says—will lead us along the right path to a solution of this difficult problem.
I am sure that at the end of the day we will be convinced that we are taking the right course in backing the Council of Europe convention and in rejecting the EEC directive about which my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Sir E. du Cann) has spoken. My right hon. Friend exhibited his usual persuasion in saying that we should vote for the amendment, but an exanimation of the resolution shows that it would be far more sensible for the House to support the Minister's resolution which merely takes note in the usual way but specifically says that we should back the Council of Europe convention, knowing that we have serious reservations about the EEC propositions.
Like many other hon. Members, I went to the Vote Office yesterday and asked for the EEC papers on this subject. They are almost as long as Gibbon's "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire". I do not say that the EEC is dishonest about these matters, because I think it is trying to be helpful. The explanatory memorandum talks about advertising, about protection of children and about the other issues. Therefore, the EEC is trying to present a system which will be helpful and useful to Europe, but the beginning of the preamble to one of these documents talks aboutthe establishment of a common market in broadcasting".As my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton knows, when we started out on the European course we were talking about a common market in industrial products and in materials and food and other things. We were not talking about a consensus on the regulation of broadcasting and television. There is a lot of good in this EEC directive, but, to use a colloquial expression, it is musclebound compared to the suggestions in the Council of Europe convention, and the Minister was right to say that it has a much lighter touch than the EEC proposal.
I accept what the Minister says, that there is no guarantee that he will be able to get a convincing unanimous vote on this and may have to be satisfied with a majority vote. Having heard and observed the Ministers from the other nations in the Council of Europe, I cannot believe that those hon. Members who are closely connected with the EEC will blithely discard the Council of Europe convention and agree with the EEC one.
860 We need some sort of system to protect the public from pornography and bad taste. We need proper advertising standards and the right limitation on the amount of advertising that is used. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton that we do not want any stupid provision to the effect that every country must have its quota of programmes. If we did that, there would be a great turn off all over the world. As the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) said, we may be going into an era of hundreds or even thousands of channels and if there is a sufficiency of the right kind of programmes people will not be taken in by inferior programmes.
We have, as a Parliament and a nation, to face the fact that television is exploding in a number of ways through satellite and cable. In America people can now pick up several hundred channels if they subscribe to cable television. Programmisation of the television media is totally different compared to two or three years ago, let alone 10 years ago. In the circumstances, we have to regulate it in the right way. We have to be prepared to tackle situations which will develop.
I cannot see the British Parliament not reacting when things go wrong. We will react violently, and properly so. In this situation, how much better it would be to have the kind of system which my hon. Friend the Minister has proposed tonight. We should now, through our various representatives, say to the EEC, "Up with this we will not put. Please go away and rely on the Council of Europe convention". If we do that, we shall be on the right track.
§ Mr. Norman Buchan (Paisley, South)
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak briefly on this subject and to follow up the points made about the amendment.
One problem is the curious concept in the Common Market that all things can be reduced to being a service. For example, a resolution from the Committee of Culture in the Common Market said:We agree with the Commission and the Court of Justice that broadcasts of any type are also services within the meaning of the EEC treaty and freedom of movement of services therefore applies.This curious application of economic industrial merchandising somehow equates to matters of culture and civilisation and expression in this way. It goes on:Viewers and listeners in the member states are entitled to receive all broadcasts from other member states that are technically and physically receivable without restrictions on the part of domestic authorities in the form in which they are transmitted in accordance with the law of the transmitting state.Therefore, the regulation which we seek to apply to broadcasting receivers in this country from satellite cannot be controlled since the freedom is that of the transmitting state. If they are a bunch of rogues or hooligans, or whatever——
§ Mr. Buchan
Or Murdoch. Whoever they are, there is no restriction as long as it is within the law of the transmitting state. This is the problem we are facing.
The second thing that exacerbates the situation is this curious pan-Europeanism they develop, as if somehow culture can be reduced to a pan-Europeanism, that a play can somehow express a pan-Europeanism. A play expresses a single factor of a situation, of two concrete 861 people in a concrete situation in a concrete mentality. Indeed, the more localised it is, the more national it is, the more regional or personalised it is, the more international or European it becomes. Tolstoy's "War and Peace" appeals to us across the borders precisely because of its Russianism, not because of its pan-Europeanism. This is the kind of culture error which we are making which is bedevilling the situation.
This kind of unrestricted broadcasting does not become a question of freedom. The right hon. Member for Taunton (Sir E. du Cann) was quite right when he said that culture cannot be preserved by a kind of diktat, but it certainly can be destroyed by a lack of enabling power which allows that culture to be expressed and to be seen. If there is no choice, there cannot be any preservation. If we have competing channels, all of undifferentiated pattern, transatlantic, no matter whether it be beamed up from Luxembourg or France by Maxwell or Murdoch, then of course local cultures will atrophy.
Those of us who have suffered an experimental period of watching this kind of broadcasting will know. I recommend that people watch the hours of the Sky Channel programmes on Murdoch's satellite, for example, and see what is offered—control by broadcasting. Or take American cable programming. If one watches American football, where every part is continuously interspersed with advertising, one will understand the nature of that which cannot be prevented if all is opened up in that form by the future of satellite control in this country.
We are afraid of two things. One is that this Thatcherite monetarist Government will accept the Peacock recommendation which says that one cannot in any case control new technologies, that there is no means of controlling satellites and that the whole thing should be opened up to the highest bidder, as it were, or to those who can afford it, allied to Peter Jay, who is arguing for do-it-yourself broadcasting. That would lead to a tiny monopoly of producers in broadcasting. That would happen on the one hand and on the other there would be inability to control the law of the transmitting country.
There has been a step forward in relation to the Council of Europe in line with a resolution that I managed to get through in Europe two or three months ago with the Federation of Socialist Parties. Those with whom I put forward the resolution were taking it to the Council of Europe and I am delighted at what happened. Otherwise, we would be open to the cultural monopoly that I have described.
The amendment is unfortunate in some ways. I would prefer the reference to the Council of Europe to remain in the motion. The crucial point is that we must defeat the enemy that is at our gates. Therefore, we must assert to Europe a view along the lines proposed by the right hon. Member for Taunton. We must insist on unanimity and say that we will not be dicated to by the operation of the Single European Act.
If we state that boldly tonight, there is nothing to prevent us from following up the alternative which still remains—to use the Council of Europe as far as we can rather than the Common Market. We will have asserted our position as regards the one and we can follow it up as regards the other.
862 I have two questions for my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett). Does he think that regulatory powers matter? He said that the regulatory powers of the Council of Europe could achieve things. I should like him to answer yes or no to that question. Secondly, can he tell me whether in any other country, either in the Common Market or the Council of Europe, broadcasting is supervised and run by the Ministry of the Interior? I await his reply.
§ Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes)
My hon. Friend the Minister is right to have reservations about the draft directive. Those reservations are well founded. We should be grateful to him for that and for the leadership which he gave to the conference in Vienna on the matter.
I underline what my hon. Friend said in his opening speech about many member states and industry bodies being against proposals for any form of directive governing broadcast advertising control. The generally accepted understanding is that those reservations remain, so it seems that there is no consensus in support of the directive. The conclusions of the member states were against a directive. The House of Lords Select Committee on the European Communities also came out against such a directive. There seems to be a built-in body of opinion against the need for such a directive.
The major reason is that the Commission sustained its drive for harmonisation involving restrictions. If the Commission had instead stuck to its proclaimed objective of liberalisation and had gone for a directive without restrictions, those bodies of opinion might have reacted differently.
It may prove to be outside the competence of the Commission to take the direction that it has taken, because articles 59 and 62 of the treaty prohibit all restrictions on freedom to broadcast across the frontiers of member states. Even more fundamental, perhaps, is the binding obligation of article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights that the onus to prove the need for a directive must rest with the Commission. In that instance the Commission has to show that there is indeed a pressing social need for such a restriction. It is not enough for the Commission to have done what it has done and to have made so little advance in that direction.
At the end of the day the bare essentials of any directive or direction should be based on three broad principles: that the reception of broadcasts from other member states must be allowed; that the law and regulation of the originating member state must be observed; and that the material must not offend against good taste, morality, decency and religious and political beliefs. Those principles—and others could be added along the lines of the Council of Europe recommendations—represent the way in which we should be moving forward in this matter.
Radio, to which reference has been made, has been broadcast across frontiers for a long time. It does not seem to need any interference from this directive or indeed in any other direction.
Had time permitted, I would have made other points. Time is passing and I appreciate that other hon. Members wish to speak.
§ Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)
The Minister said that I would like this contentious measure 863 dealt with under Article 100. I have been long enough in this House and in the European Parliament to know that what individual Ministers and Members would like to see happen is not important. What matters is what is finally decided by the representative bodies concerned.
I have great faith in the Minister and I believe he is sincere when he tells us, in effect, "We accept your views, but we urge you not to press this amendment because we do not want it recorded that we were not prepared to accept the recommendation in relation to the Council of Europe."
Ministers leave their posts and even change their views. Governments can find themselves under enormous pressure when deals are stitched together between member states. Moves can come about which form part of a package concerning totally different aspects of legislation.
We are debating a typically Commission document. On the one hand, it is detailed and contains many facts relating to member states. On the other, it represents a collection of bizarre half-thought-out, partly prejudiced views which cannot be defended and which represent a series of non sequiturs. It is a pathetic attempt to deal with the important matter of satellite broadcasting, a subject which in due course will pose this House with some difficult political and moral questions. We have not yet decided how we shall deal with those issues.
I fear that, if the House tonight simply notes the existence of this document, we shall be told before long, "The Commons simply accepted the existence of the document. It did not express a negative view." Let us remember that we do not have the power of veto. The view of, say, the Home Office will not, in the final analysis, make all the difference. That decision will rest with the Council of Ministers.
I hope that hon. Members will not just accept the document The right hon. Member for Taunton (Sir E. du Cann) should press the amendment, even though it contains inadequacies. I want this House to say tonight, "We are tired of accepting documents which are not intelligently thought out and which are not acceptable to 864 the British people." We should reject this document in a determined manner because its standard is not up to what the Commission should produce.
§ Mr. Michael Morris (Northampton, South)
I support the remarks of my hon. Friends the Members for Warwick and Leamington (Sir D. Smith) and for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone). The relevant point at issue in the draft directive is that there is not free and open competition in Europe for manufacturing industry and advertising. One cannot advertise in Belgium, and there are restrictions in Holland, Germany and France. I hope that a Council of Europe convention will address that problem.
Another important element is that of independent producers. If according to Peacock it is right to insist on 25 per cent. independent producers, we shall have to resolve the problem of how to produce European works for television.
Finally, I advise my hon. Friend the Minister that Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights maintains freedom of speech and that that is a key element. When my hon. Friend addresses the European convention, I hope that he will not look upon that as being the lowest common denominator, but as something upon which we can build to ensure——
§ It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted Business).
§ Question, That the amendment be made, put accordingly and negatived.
§ Main Question put and agreed to.
That this House takes note of European Community Documents Nos. 8227/84 on the establishment of the common market for broadcasting, and 6739/86 on the co-ordination of certain provisions in Member States concerning the pursuit of broadcasting activities; and supports the Government's view that the proposed Council of Europe Convention on broadcasting provides the most appropriate means of ensuring the flow of television programmes across frontiers in Europe.