HC Deb 26 March 1987 vol 113 cc631-45 7.27 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Mellor)

I beg to move amendment No. 3, in page 1, leave out lines 19 to 23.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

With this it will be convenient to take Government amendments Nos. 4 and 5.

Mr. Mellor

The Committee considered this matter at some length and, falling for the blandishments of the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Freud), accepted an amendment that there should be a substantial increase in independent production on the BBC and independent television system and that that should be put on a statutory basis.

I wish to make it clear to the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East that the Government share that ambition, and it may well be that the use of the word "substantial" underplays what we have in mind. The hon. Gentleman is aware that we have suggested to the BBC and the IBA that we are looking for independent access to the ITV and BBC systems of about 25 per cent. over a four-year period. Of course if one were to get technical about the word "substantial", the increase may not be anything like that amount. The hon. Gentleman said that the word "substantial" was used in the creation of Channel 4 and that that led to independent producer access to that system of about 45 per cent. I welcomed that and it stimulated my interest, and, indeed, the hon. Gentleman's interest, in taking the matter a stage further tonight.

Our position is clear. We are negotiating with the industry and with other interested parties, including the Independent Television Contractors Association and the Independent Producers' Association. We are prepared also to see others with an interest to advance. Next week, for example, I shall be meeting a delegation that will be led by the hon. Member for Islington. South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith). We shall make ourselves available so that we can hear the views of all interested parties. In so doing we shall press what I believe to be the legitimate role of the Government—to stimulate the expansion of the independent sector. I believe that it has many advantages and I do not need to go into them tonight.

The only issue that divides us is whether legislation is necessary. We have said to the IBA and the BBC that it would he in everyone's interest if these matters could proceed consensually. We have also made it clear that we would not hesitate to legislate if we were to conclude in future that matters had not proceeded in accordance with what we believe to be the legitimate aspirations of the independent production sector, which involves a significant share of the programming of both systems.

It would appear to be an act of bad faith by the Government if we were to accept the amendment, which we fought valiantly in Committee. It would not advance the case for a number of reasons because the Bill applies only to the ITV system whereas the argument extends to the BBC and so forth.

I do not want to knock what the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East did because I believe that he sent out a clear call to those who are involved in the discussions. Other parties, apart from the Government, are keen to see the independent production sector enhanced and given a proper and appropriate share of the programming on the major channels. I gather that one or two of those who supported the hon. Gentleman in Committee may have repented. We may hear some interesting observations from the hon. Member from Islington, South and Finsbury, who will no doubt cover his tracks with his customary eloquence, which, as always, would be better utilised in a better and more honourable cause. We shall listen to him with our customary patience.

The cause of the independent producers is well known, and we have made it clear that it is important that progress be made. The amendment did nothing to damage that prospect when it was made in Committee, but I feel that it would not be appropriate for it to remain in the Bill. I welcome the valuable point that the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East has made, but I ask him to agree with me that it would be better if matters were to proceed in the way that I have outlined. I hope that he will not be too greatly offended when I advise the House to remove the amendment that he so cleverly managed to insert in Committee.

Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)

The Minister has drawn his usual crowd into the Chamber! One of these days he will attract a decent audience.

It is slightly odd that the Government, who so quickly embraced the Peacock committee's report, which called for 40 per cent. access to independent producers, should now oppose the change which was made to the Bill in Committee. It was a move to ensure that a substantial proportion of programmes would be provided by independent producers.

The Minister has referred to the various talks that are going on in and around the industry. I hope that he will not find it too offensive when I say that the Government want to help independent producers but short of doing anything. I accept that the change which was made would apply only to ITV contractors, but that was meant to be a start. The House will understand that the Bill was dealing with only that sector of the industry. Things have moved on apace in the real world meanwhile. The Minister will know, and the House will be interested to know. that the BBC, without any legislation behind it, is proposing substantially to increase the number of programme hours to be filled by independent productions from the present rather derisory 75 hours a year.

The Minister also knows that the IBA has made proposals to increase independent access to about 500 hours of ITV air time within two years. The purpose of the amendment—in this I think it was successful—was to place a marker to signal that the proposition that independent producers should have more access on both channels had all-party support in the House. That is important.

That said, the proposals of the BBC and the IBA will lead to a significant amount of production by independents, which will lead inevitably to the loss of staff jobs and the closure of production facilities. That is almost certain, and the BBC is considering the closure of one studio facility. We are concerned that we do not let go of the important anchor of public service broadcasting that the BBC provides. Undoubtedly we shall see swift, significant and important changes in the television industry. More independent productions imply increased production costs for the ITV companies and the BBC unless programme-making capacity is trimmed. Significant overhead and administrative costs will have to be spread over fewer productions.

The Association of Cinematograph, Television and Allied Technicians estimates that its extra costs of commissioning from independents could be between £30 million and £60 million. For example, that could adversely affect the profits of ITV, which were £107 million in 1985. Change there will be, but what matters is the management of the change. Unlike the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), Labour Members want no Wapping-style solution of the sort that he advocated. The process of change must be handled properly in full consultation and partnership with those presently employed within the industry.

Mr. Clement Freud (Cambridgeshire, North-East)

Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House to which amendment he is speaking?

Mr. Corbett

I am trying to speak to the amendment that was called. I am in no doubt that I would be stopped by the Chair if I were not doing so.

The right hon. Member for Devonport has advocated that there should be some Wapping-style sort out of the television industry. That proposition should be rejected. Change there must be, but it must be handled properly in full consultation and partnership. Those who are now employed in the industry will not be unaware of a Murdoch-style operation that is a cover-up for a lowering of conditions of work and pay. If management decides to behave in an un-Wapping-like manner, there will be no need for that. The evidence that can be derived from the development of Channel 4 is that that has happened.

Broadcasting unions are not latter-day Luddites. They have shown, for example, with Channel 4 that they welcome development and will co-operate with change when they are consulted properly. They rightly insist on being consulted, listened to and responded to.

We need to know what we mean by independent producers. Who are they? Can they be companies owned, or partially owned, by existing television franchise holders who work for whoever they can get business from, and not solely for the company or companies, or must there be no financial connection between the independent producer and the franchise holder? I do not pretend to know the answers to these questions. These issues need to be explored.

We also need to know whether the access for independents will be based on a percentage of the programme hours or whether it will be related to the budgets that are available to stations for programme making regardless of the strength of the station. Will the same percentage of cash or hours of programming apply in exactly the same way to Thames as to Border, Grampian and Ulster? There is a strong case for a company by company approach because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) has pointed out, it is vital that we do what we can to ensure that we preserve the regional character of the television network. That flavour cannot be sprinkled on like pepper and salt when the programme is made; it must be an integral part of it.

In all these changes, as in so much of our national life, there is a high risk that the independents in London and the south-east will get most of the work. There is no earthly reason why they should. We should put a marker down on that and take special care that the independent production companies in the regions are encouraged and enabled to compete for the regional access to ITV stations and the BBC. I hope that that matter will be taken on board. 1 suspect that it is not a contentious issue.

Recently, we watched an award ceremony at a London hotel in which people paid tribute to the ever-growing links between television feature film companies and the film industry. One person who was there to collect an award went out of his way to say that there had been a yawning gap between those two sectors but he was happy to note that it had narrowed. That is an important development. I hope that, as part of the process, the ITV companies will consider allocating cash to assist the United Kingdom film production industry because of the increasingly strong link between television and film productions. They can do so by making contributions through the British Screen Finance Corporation, which is a genuine independent sector through which a number of successful feature films have been produced for both television and cinema screening.

The British film industry is in no great shakes following the removal of all Government support, but the links with television hold some promise of better times. It is right that the ITV companies should encourage that process, for the benefit of television and cinema.

There is no real need to remove the amendment that was made in Committee, but I do not want to make heavy weather of that. We should be concerned about the change in the television industry and ensure that the change is sensitively and properly managed by the total involvement of those who work in the industry and their trade unions.

In all these changes, the best protection for the continuance of high quality programming remains the public service broadcasting sector in both the ITV companies and the BBC. That is what contributes so critically to the generally high standard of much of our television, and we must do nothing to put that at risk.

7.45 pm
Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury)

As is traditional in these debates, I must first declare an interest, in that I have a close association with the Association of Cinematograph, Television and Allied Technicians—the film technicians' trade union, which numbers Members on both sides of the House.

I was minded in Committee to support the amendment that was moved by the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Freud), because the principle of an increasing and developing role for independents within our television programming is important, and I support it. However, on reflection, I believe that the amendment, which the Government are now rightly seeking to remove from the Bill, is not the best way of achieving the end that I suspect we all have in mind.

The developing role for independents must be managed properly. Merely inserting a provision in the Bill which contains the vague concept of "a substantial proportion" is not necessarily a sensible way of doing that. I have my misgivings about the Minister's earlier statement that "substantial" probably underplays what the Government have in mind. I fear for the future if that is the case, and I suspect that during the coming months we shall have many discussions about what exactly the Government have in mind.

A number of principles must be preserved when the increased role for independents comes about. First, the good facilities and expertise that have been built up, especially within the regional ITV network, must be preserved. Those facilities are a valuable place for the production of good programming for our television service.

Mr. Tim Brinton (Gravesham)

The hon. Gentleman has —rightly — referred to keeping facilities throughout the country in their superb state. Would he bar the idea that an independent could rent and use those studios and facilities to make an independent programme? Would his definition of an independent exclude that?

Mr. Smith

That possibility should be explored, subject to the second criterion that I was about to advance—the protection of employment. Many people employed in the networks fear that a forced pace towards access for independents will put their employment opportunities at risk. Natural wastage in most ITV companies is about 4 per cent. a year. If, within the limits of existing programming time, an immediate, accelerated impetus towards independent production is given, the 4 per cent. natural wastage rate will not be enough to reach, say, 25 per cent. in four years. That would clearly mean a reduction in employment opportunities for those in the industry. I am sure that the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East, who is trying to intervene, will say that, with increased possibilities for the independent sector, many of those employed in the network companies now will surely be able, and will want, to go into independent production, so there will be no loss of employment; rather, prospects will be in some way enhanced. However, I may be wrong, and he may have a different point to make.

Mr. Freud

The hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East was going to say that, as many more hours of broadcasting will be available, there need be no diminution in the output of television companies to allow independent producers a substantial share of the action.

Mr. Smith

Of course, if it can be guaranteed that programming time will be expanded and that we are discussing an allocation of that expansion—that is, if access for independents will not eat into existing programming time—it would be fruitful and sensible to discuss that. But there must, in my view, be an ability to protect the interests of those who are already employed within the industry.

The third criterion which I have suggested in one of the amendments that I have tabled is the regional character of the network. At the moment most independent production comes from London and the south-east. It is very important, if there is to be an expanding role for independents, that there should be encouragement of independent production in the rest of the country as well as in London and the south-east. There is a danger that if we simply rush for independent access come what may we shall end up with a London-dominated network, and that would be a bad thing.

The fourth criterion is the crucial, overwhelming importance of quality. One of the glories of British television at the moment is that we rejoice in a high-quality product. I hope that if we are expanding independent: access we shall make sure that we protect the quality of the programmes that are available to the British public.

Some considerable progress is already being made by both the IBA and the BBC in increasing access by independents. I understand that only a few days ago the IBA and the Minister agreed on a fairly substantial increase in independent programming access. So, clearly, movement is being made and the key point is that there must be discussions between the trade unions involved, the network companies, the Government and the independent sector to see how best we can proceed by agreement between all the parties whose interests are quite legitimately involved in the process, rather than take a legislative blunderbuss to force through something which some of those parties would not necessarily wish to see happen at quite that pace or in quite that way.

There is a point made in the issue of Broadcast magazine for 27 March—this week's issue—about the crucial need to involve the trade unions within the industry, the Association of Cinematograph, Television and Allied Technicians and the Broadcasting and Entertainment Trades Alliance in particular, in any discussions about the way in which independent access is encouraged and assisted.

It seems to me that there is a wealth of other ideas that need to be explored as well. We should not simply be focusing on the issue of independent access to a specified number of programming hours. We should, for example, be considering the possibility of insisting that ITV companies, as part of their franchise, contract to pay a regular amount each year into a special fund set up to encourage the independent production of feature films. Perhaps it could be organised through the British Screen Finance Corporation. That is something that I believe should be explored, that would provide a major boost to the feature film production industry in this country and that would be easy for network companies to involve themselves in.

Those are the sort of ideas which I believe need to be explored and the sort of considerations which I believe need to be taken into account in pushing forward the future development of the independent sector. I understand from the amendment that the Government have moved that they are seeking to delete the part of the Bill that was added at Committee stage by the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East. I support the Government in their aim. However, if by any remote chance the Government were to fail in their endeavour to encourage the House to accept their amendment, I would wish to press the amendments standing in my name. If, of course, the Government succeed, my amendments will automatically fall.

I support the Government in their intention tonight. I support the principle of independent access, but I must insist that this is dealt with in the right way, by consultation and by agreement between all the interested parties. That is the way forward that we have always had in the television industry in Britain and it is a way forward that has produced extremely good television programming to date. I do not want to lose that in the unseemly rush that I fear might ensue if the present wording of the Bill were retained.

Mr. Brinton

Before I forget, I must proudly tell the House that I have no financial interests that are relevant tonight. I have, of course, a long-lasting interest, having worked for all the broadcasting organisations, I think, in this country and hoping ultimately to do so again. Tonight, however, I am not swayed by brass or cash in any sense.

While listening to the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) I was reflecting that perhaps the BBC was not quite so whole-heartedly a party to a wonderful consensus in the past when ITV was born. I seem to remember the BBC resisting it quite strongly. I do not think that all our broadcasting innovations have come out of a pleasant, cosy consensus in which the unions, the employers and everyone else have totally agreed. There must have been some forced pace at some time. I suspect that tonight, however, not many of us are far apart on this amendment.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett), speaking from the Opposition Front Bench, made a powerful speech in support of the Government's wish to withdraw. In a sense, the hon. Gentleman voiced many of the doubts that I voiced during Committee stage. To bring legislative details within this very simple Bill which seeks to extend the contracts is wrong, because the reason for extending the contracts is to have a wide-ranging philosophical discussion on the changes that we want to make.

I supported during Committee stage the amendment of the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Freud) about the substantial proportion of independent productions because it was urgent that this was put down firmly. If we had not done so a lot of those independents might have flown the nest when the time inevitably came when the BBC and ITV as we know them today—and they may have changed somewhat in a few years' time—needed the independents, and need them they will. So I added my name with some pleasure to the marker put down by the hon. Gentleman, and it was a very significant marker.

I am sure that hon. Members who are interested in these matters have been testing the water outside during the past week or two, as I have, and have found it very interesting. I talked to the executives of one ITV company only last night and they are most enthusiastic and want very much to encourage the independents. It is not one of the biggest companies, and of course there is another one of about the same size, not too far from the constituency of the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East, which takes a most disapproving view.

At the same time, throughout the history of television there has in a sense been an independent injection. So one comes back to the hon. Member for Erdington's question: what is an independent programme? This is so significant that one has to involve all parties—I include, of course, the trade unions; I am a humble member of the ACTT and Equity, not their representative—in deciding what is an independent production. Is it one that uses the facilities of the ITV franchise house or the BBC White City, or does it have to be barred those? Does it qualify as an independent production if it is a production such as the one I performed in in the 1970s for Anglia Television? That was made by a film company which is separate from Anglia, but Anglia, I believe, has a healthy interest in the financial side of that company. The producer and the director came from outside, as did the actors, such as myself, but the facilities and the technicians were Anglia's. In a sense that could be described as an independent programme. I do not think that in our discussions on this Bill we have got near to defining exactly what an independent programme is.

We have said to industry, "We believe that the way forward is for you to look more widely than perhaps you have had to in the past." I support that view, not just because I want to encourage the independent producers who feel that they are outside the wall and want to get in. I particularly want a greater variety of programming, more talent and, above all, more quality, as the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury said, to be available on our main network screens.

8 pm

The Channel 4 exercise has shown that the independents have their place, but they need a place that is slightly higher than, at best, 12 per cent. of the audience. Many of those true independents can produce programmes to go on at peak time. I hope that that marker has been noticed because I suspect that it applies as much to the BBC as to ITV. Having said that, I shall humbly accede to the request by my hon. Friend the Minister not to resist too much his desire to pull out these lines in the Bill.

Mr. Freud

It is becoming pretty lonely on this Bench. The argument is in favour of the amendment, which was passed in Committee democratically and sufficiently substantially to matter, was supported by all Opposition Members and by two Conservative Members. Alas, they seem to have changed their minds, or possibly been nobbled or got at.

I was going to begin by welcoming the three amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan), the late-lamented Front-Bench Labour spokesman on the arts. His first amendment was to leave out "substantial" and insert "appropriate". That was astonishing—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member has lost me. He is referring to amendments which I do not see on the Amendment Paper.

Mr. Freud

I shall try to find you again, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I mentioned that three amendments were tabled. They were withdrawn. Those are the three amendments about which I am speaking briefly. The first amendment was to leave out "substantial" and insert—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Hon. Members may not discuss amendments that have not been tabled or selected. They should stick to what is on the Amendment Paper.

Mr. Freud

They were tabled and not moved. A brief reference to history is surely acceptable in a short debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but perhaps I have said enough.

The hon. Member for Paisley, South said that he had certain views about the amendment which was carried in Committee and which the Government are trying to annul. I referred briefly to the fact that he now favours leaving out what in Committe he voted to put in and to the fact that the union has reared its head.

The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), who also voted in Committee for the amendment which the Government now seek to delete, has told us that, on reflection, he has decided to vote against it. I am sorry about that. I am sorry also that he feels that it is acceptable—I am sure that the Minister agrees that there will be more programming on ITV — that independent producers be restricted only to those currently off-peak hours and he would not mind, and might even support, a substantial amount of that programming being given to the independents.

I am totally in favour of not rushing anything. The amendment which was so popular a few weeks ago and which seems so unpopular now was tabled in those words, because we did not want a specific quota, which could have harmed the overall quality. Had we said to an ITV company, "You will use a certain percentage of hours of programming emanating from this or that source", it would have been impossible to retain quality. I did not do that.

I have been a Member for many years and I have heard from Ministers the same argument: "We really are in favour of what you say. We could not have said it better ourselves. We promise to abide by it. We really very much agree with it. But, if it is all the same to everyone, we would rather not have it enshrined in legislation." Here we go again. In the beginning, it was intended that 25 per cent. of the programming would be given to independent producers. We agree that 25 per cent. was a good target, but it was difficult, possibly dangerous, to quantify exactly. We therefore decided that the word in the Broadcasting Act 1980 creating Channel 4 would be "appropriate". I use the word as the hon. Member for Paisley, South did in the late-lamented amendment. As I have been deserted by so many Opposition Members, if the Government feel moved to press their amendment, I may not vote against it — I may not have anyone to assist me in the Division Lobby.

Mr. Brinton

Until we have defined what is an independent production, how can we possibly go along with the measure?

Mr. Freud

I am grateful for that intervention. The hon. Gentleman has obviously read the Peacock report, which stipulated what it meant by an independent producer. I was happy to abide by the Peacock definition. I am surprised that hon. Members now feel that they need more.

I was impressed by the letter that the Minister of State sent to Lord Thomson of Monifieth, in which he expressed the Government's view. He said: we remain, of course, fully committed to a substantial shift towards independent productions on both BBC"— which has nothing to do with the Bill— and ITV". I do not understand why, if one is fully committed to a substantial shift towards independent productions, one should resist an amendment that suggests that there shall be a substantial amount of independent production.

Mr. Mellor

The hon. Gentleman is a man of considerable intellectual sophistication. I therefore refuse to believe that the scrupulous arguments advanced in justification of the Government's position have really eluded him. It is a simple proposition: if we can obtain what we want, which is a significant share of programming on both major systems for independent producers by consent, why go to the trouble of legislating, with all the difficulties of putting complicated definitions into statute? I have not bothered to give the hon. Gentleman all the drafting points on his amendment, but I fear that there were many. We have, as was made clear this week in well-informed press reports, already had a substantial offer from the IBA, and the BBC has brought forward other proposals which we need to pursue with it. So why rush into legislation?

Mr. Freud

I have just said to the Minister that I might. not oppose the Government amendment. I am not rushing towards legislation. I am also having considerable trouble with my braces. It is my left brace.

It would not be right to rush into legislation—ever—and in this instance companies like Border TV — that many of us consider almost to be independent producers —might be harmed or quite gravely hurt by an overall quota imposition for a substantial amount of independent production. I felt — and I may be wrong — that my amendment, which the Government are now trying to remove, was worded to avoid problems with quotas or targets.

The hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Brinton) mentioned the definition of "independent producer". Let me provide this: an independent producer is a production company registered in the United Kingdom which is not a holder of an ITV franchise, or a subsidiary of such a holder, nor is owned wholly or largely by the BBC or IBA or any international franchise holder or foreign franchise holder. In a nutshell, that is what we are talking about.

Broad guidelines laid down by legislation are needed to encourage the ITV companies to concede enough to independent producers. Provided the Minister will give that assurance — and I think he has done well and encouraged the independent producers by his words—then there is, and there has been, no great difference between us.

I am enthused by the comments of Mr. Jim Moir, the head of BBC light entertainment. He was quoted in The Independent as saying that he welcomed the pressure to use independent producers because he believed that they are a centre of excellence. He said: We are a teaching process. We hope our own staff will become independents. We will give them every patronage. That is very much what my amendment — passed in Committee, and shortly to be overturned—is about.

I am sorry that I should be left as the sole advocate of enshrining into legislation what we all feel to be desirable, but provided that we are agreed that it deserves our support and enthusiasm—remembering the wise words of the hon. Members for Islington, South and Finsbury and for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) that we must prise independent productions from the south-east and the big studios and companies and take them into the regions — I shall be content to allow the Government their amendment without opposing it.

8.15 pm
Mr. John Powley (Norwich, South)

I am not anxious to detain the House but I felt I had to retain my consistency from the Committee stage. Unlike some of the preceding speakers, I did support the Government on the amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Freud) and I continue that support. It would appear from the preceding speeches by hon. Members on both sides of the House that the further thought that they have given to the matter has resulted in wiser counsel prevailing over the heady atmosphere of the Committee stage.

There is nothing dishonourable in having further thoughts on a matter and concluding that a change of status is a wise move. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Brinton) and Labour Members on shifting their position with dignity and honour. I was concerned by the amendment that was produced.

There is in my constituency of Norwich, South the headquarters of one of the more substantial regional companies. Anglia Television can hold its head high on account of the content and the regional atmosphere of its programmes. It is much admired, not only by people in my constituency but in the whole of East Anglia, including the constituency of the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East. I would be concerned if either the word "substantial" or a quota figure of 25 per cent. were imposed. I am convinced that it is better to have a voluntary understanding or agreement for independent producers.

I was informed that arrangements for access for the independent producers are currently being discussed by the ITCA, IBA and the independent producers themselves. I understand that the initial outcome during the period of the voluntary action up to 31 December 1989 will be the controlled opening-up of the ITV schedule as independent producers take advantage of the range of opportunities. I support that and past action by independent producers. I would worry if the word "substantial" or a figure of 25 per cent. were introduced. If that was adhered to and an imposition made requiring 25 per cent. or some other interpretation of "a substantial proportion" included in the programme content, it could possibly lead to a lowering of the standards of production. I would be concerned if there was a forced change of the programme content or quota of an independent producer. Change needs to evolve. That produces better quality and a better relationship. Those were the concerns that I had in Committee. I am pleased that those who had concerns in Committee have reconsidered and will be supporting the Government.

Mr. Norman Buchan (Paisley, South)

I had not intended to take part in discussion on the amendment because we have to reserve most of our time for weighty pronouncements during Third Reading. I am compelled to take part now because of the reference to the withdrawal of my own amendment. For greater accuracy I looked up what I had to say. The only time I spoke, I think, was on this amendment. That was unusual, because I spoke frequently during the rest of the Committee—

Mr. Freud

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Why is it out of order for me to mention the hon. Member's withdrawn amendment while he is allowed to talk about it?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North East, (Mr. Freud) was talking about amendments which were not on the Amendment Paper. I am most concerned to hear how the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) relates his remarks to the Amendment Paper.

Mr. Buchan

I will tread with immense care, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I said, in reference to my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), I completely accept the dangers that my hon. Friend describes. The danger is there because the companies now have the ideological framework in which to operate. The Peacock report will be used by elements who are not on the side of the hon. Members who support the Bill and those who have spoken today. The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) and I were anxious that we should open no door which could be used by those who care little about the value of good independent production but who care greatly to smash up the whole of public service broadcasting.

Therefore, I said: While I approve of the amendment we must ensure that in future safeguards are written into the conditions —including employment conditions — for continuation of production." — [Official Report, Standing Committee B, 3 March 1987; c. 94.] By the future, I meant the present Report stage. For that reason, as I said, I tabled an amendment, but it is not before us, so I cannot refer to it in detail. If it had been, it would have stressed the importance of involving the trade unions.

My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury approached the same problem in a different way. We were concerned about the word "substantial", especially when left in the hands of the Government. If I understood correctly what the Minister said, perhaps the word "substantial" was an understatement. So we were right to be anxious and to table amendments. My hon. Friend tabled an amendment that approached my problem in a different way. I thought that the solution was to make sure that nothing happened without the agreement of the trade unions. I forgot that the trade unions are perfectly capable of making sure that nothing happens; they can use their own wisdom to deal with the matter.

My hon. Friend set out what we would regard as necessary in the nature of production in the independent sector, that is, quality, and agreement by the parties to the contract, having due regard to the quality of programmes to be produced and to the preservation of the regional character of the television network. That at least goes some way towards establishing some care. My original amendment attempted to do that in another way.

It is unlikely, but if the Government amendment were defeated, we would support amendment No. 5 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury.

There are other reasons why I thought I should comment on the amendment. The conditions that I described have not been spelt out with much care by the Minister. He did not tell us how much care the Government intend to apply to the contracts. We were not helped by the comments—I regret that he is not here—of the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Freud), who had some trouble with his braces. He had particular trouble with his left brace, which seems to be an appropriate metaphor for the alliance — it has a left brace and a right brace, and the left is in trouble.

I do not trust the Government. I prefer it when they are withdrawing rather than introducing legislation. I see that the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East has now returned. I am sorry that I referred to his braces in his absence. That was indiscreet.

Mr. Freud

The hon. Gentleman was not speaking in my absence—I was listening carefully. But lest he makes any great issue of it, the reason was that my trousers were falling down— everything to do with the inefficacy of the braces; nothing to do with the alliance.

Mr. Buchan

No, but it extends the metaphor to cover the alliance even more thoroughly.

I was saying that I prefer to support the Government when they are withdrawing rather than introducing legislation, which is when we must watch them. At least the withdrawal of the amendment that was passed is keeping the status quo instead of plunging further into change. On that basis, we shall listen with care to the Minister's reply and act accordingly.

Amendment agreed to.

Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.—[Mr. Mellor.]

8.25 pm
Mr. Buchan

We are entitled to say a word or two on Third Reading. There are deep issues behind the Bill. It is one thing when important issues are discussed in Committee, but, as everyone knows, Committee stages are rarely reported in the media and these matters should not be kept hidden. There are things happening in the television and media world, and the Government are responsible for some of them, which should be made known. Problems are facing us. We are dealing with a challenge of values, as I said continually in Committee, and no part of the media took that up, so we have to make some of the same comments again in the House—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. The hon. Gentleman has been a Member of the House for a long time. He knows that on Third Reading we discuss what is in the Bill. I hope very much that he will confine his remarks to the contents of the Bill.

Mr. Buchan

Absolutely. I was thinking that we must concentrate on what is in the Bill. which is concerned with contracts for those who will enter or remain in the independent sector, the commercial sector, of broadcasting. We have some guidance as to the Government's thinking on what they will do with such contracts during the three-year extension. We are anxious about what the Government have in mind. That is in line with what the Bill is concerned about. We are talking not only about time. We can say that the time equals three times 12 months. We are concerned with the contracts that will be established after that time.

There are two things showing us what the Government's intentions are. One is the Peacock report. The Government, far from rejecting the report, are now beginning to accept the concept in it—that one should move towards a free market. They cite the example in the Peacock report of what has happened to the press since 1694. When they look at a contract, they will have to take into consideration what has happened to the press since 1694. It has devolved into the hands of three monopolies. The popular press is controlled by three basic—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must bear in mind my earlier advice to him. I draw to his attention the fact that the Bill alters the maximum period for which programmes may be provided under contracts with the Independent Broadcasting Authority. I hope that we shall confine our remarks to that.

Mr. Buchan

Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am trying to suggest that, because we have a three-year extension, gives us some time in which we can examine the nature of the contracts—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

But not on this occasion.

Mr. Buchan

I absolutely agree, as always. I was outlining the things which, during the three years, people might have to consider. They will have to consider recommendations such as those in the Peacock report, which argues for a free market and the removal of regulation and control, with a world of undiluted pap, and people coining in the money on the way. The satellites will whirl and buzz round the globe while people are on their way to the bank.

Apparently that is on the basis of freedom—freedom for the entrepreneur. However, in fact, the freedom of the good programme-makers is being removed. The argument in the Peacock report that freedom means freedom for the entrepreneur is buttressed by the Government's Green Paper on radio, which was produced while we were discussing the Bill in Committee. Contracts are also involved in commercial radio, although not necessarily under the three—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. This is interesting, but it has nothing to do with the Bill. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not pursue that line and will return to this narrow, limited Bill.

Mr. Buchan

I am thinking hard so that I can try to follow that path.

I say merely that, during the three years when people will discuss the nature of the contracts, inevitably they will be guided by the Peacock report and the principles embodied in it, in relation to commercial television. No doubt that will be affected by the Green Paper, in which the removal of regulation and control in radio is also advocated. That buttresses my questioning of the intentions during the three-year extension of the contracts. I am concerned about the removal of controls from commercial radio and the imposition of the obligation to —I fear that you are rising again, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Not yet.

Mr. Buchan

Only part of what I said is out of order, however.

If the obligations on the BBC are retained, at the same time, a sort of ghetto in our broadcasting will be created. The public service sector will be expected to serve the proper need to inform, educate and entertain while the commercial sector will be free to make money. Indeed, broadcasting will be regulated, but because of the presence of the BBC it will not matter. The BBC will continue to provide programmes of high quality. Therefore, we do not need to impose that obligation upon the commercial sector. That is the background to the contracts.

There has been an accretion of power and wealth within the popular press. Those who are likely to be involved in the contracts will include two of the three main monopolies that I described, to wit Murdoch and Maxwell. They will have enormous control over the—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The Bill has nothing to do with people named Maxwell or Murdoch. It is concerned with the Independent Broadcasting Authority. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will either resume his seat or discuss that matter.

Mr. Buchan

I agree that the Bill does not refer to Mr. Maxwell or Mr. Murdoch, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Therefore, I shall say that two unnamed people control that part of the press. Within that context, such people will be parties to the contract.

We want the Minister to establish some ground rules to ensure that contracts will properly reflect the interests and needs of Parliament. It must be in order to refer to Parliament. It represents the community and the public. Therefore, it will endorse the principles of public service broadcasting. We would be remiss, even within this narrow Bill, if we did not hear such issues. I hope that the Minister, when the time comes to consider the nature of the contracts, will bear in mind the survival of public service broadcasting, diversity of opinion and diversity of programmes. The Home Secretary and that rather superior being, the Prime Minister, disturb me in relation to their attitudes towards a free market and placing the jewel in the crown of British civilisation — the broadcasting service—into the hands of two, three or, at the most, four entrepreneurs.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed, with amendments.

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