§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call the Secretary of State, I repeat that there is great pressure to participate in the debate. I therefore propose to put a 10-minute limit on speeches between 6 and 8 o' clock. I hope that those hon. Members who are called before that, and certainly those afterwards, will bear the limit in mind as it will enable the Chair to call more of the hon. Members who wish to participate in this important debate.
§ Mr. Norman Buchan (Paisley, South)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As one who hopes to be called outside that period, may I ask whether it would not be better and fairer for all, since a large number of hon. Members wish to speak, if the limit on speeches was from 6 to 9 o'clock?
§ Mr. Speaker
As I have said before, that is perhaps a consummation devoutly to be wished, but it is not within my power.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Waddington)
I beg to move. That the Bill be now read a Second Time.
The Bill owes a great deal to the excellent report on the future of broadcasting that the Select Committee on Home Affairs published in June last year. The report recognised that British broadcasting has a rich tradition with great achievements to its credit, and so does the Bill.
One thing that the Bill does not do is mark the demise of public service broadcasting. The programming remits of BBC1, BBC2, Radios 1 to 4 and BBC local radio will not be touched in any way by the Bill. Channel 4 in addition to its public service obligations, will continue to be required, as now, to be innovative and distinctive, and to cater for tastes and interests not adequately met by Channel 3. Channel 4 will become responsible for the sale of its own advertising time, but financial underpinning will be there if necessary. The Welsh fourth channel will also continue with its successful programme remit. Three of the four terrestrial channels will thus have the same programming obligations as now. Channel 3, however, will also be expected to continue to produce good programmes, as will Channel 5. When our proposals are outlined, I do not believe for a moment that anyone will be able to argue, other than tongue in cheek, that we are creating a "philistines' charter" or "yob television".
The Bill provides a sensible regulatory framework for a new age in broadcasting in which technological change has brought vastly increased choice. It points no accusing finger at the conscientious way in which the Independent Broadcasting Authority and the Cable Authority have done their jobs under the Broadcasting Act 1981 and the Cable and Broadcasting Act 1984, but those measures are simply out of date.
Since the publication of the White Paper, we have taken account of a wide range of views. On important issues—ranging from the quality tests and the licence allocation 41 procedure to the night hours and the ownership rules—we have made substantial changes, but the basic principles on which the Bill is constructed remain.
First, we want viewers and listeners to enjoy the increased choice that is now possible. Therefore the Bill authorises Channel 5, three new national radio services, local multi-channel franchises able to use microwave as well as, or instead of, cable, and many new local and community radio stations. We do not know precisely how fast broadcasting will expand, but expansion there will certainly be—and the legislation must cater for it.
The appetite for a much wider choice of local radio stations is clear. When the IBA recently offered a further 23 local radio contracts, the scheme attracted no fewer than 540 letters of intent, with little indication that all that the promoters wanted was pop and more pop. Under the future arrangements, new stations will cater for a wide range of tastes, from jazz to classical music. They will reflect the interests of neighbourhoods, of ethnic minority groups, and of other communities of interest—and there will be three new national independent radio channels.
Secondly, the Bill fully recognises that aspects such as programme quality and diversity, regional links, healthy and widespread ownership of broadcasting companies and proper geographical coverage cannot simply be left to take care of themselves. It therefore provides sharply focused statutory safeguards for all of them. It also incorporates a wider and more flexible set of enforcement sanctions, including financial penalties and performance bonds.
Thirdly, the Bill acknowledges that television and radio are powerful media with potential—if abused—to offend, exploit and cause harm. It therefore contains safeguards for programme standards on taste, decency, accuracy and balance—and extends them to all United Kingdom based broadcasters. It removes the broadcasters' exemptions from the law of obscenity and incitement to racial hatred, and it establishes a key role for the Broadcasting Standards Council in overseeing standards of taste and decency. It also implements the Council of Europe convention and the EC directive. Those instruments contain enforcement mechanisms that the United Kingdom can activate against broadcasts originating in other European countries where programmes are pornographic or glamorise violence. The Bill also provides draconian sanctions against those who support unacceptable foreign satellite services receivable here.
Many points will arise in the debate, but there are three key matters with which I ought to deal now. They are competitive tender, ownership and quality.
Our proposal that Channel 3, Channel 5 and certain other licences should be allocated by competitive tender has two main objectives. First, we want to establish a fairer and more objective system for awarding franchises than the present one, which has few defenders, but at the same time to ensure high standards and diversity. Secondly, we have a clear duty, which some campaigners gloss over far too quickly, to ensure that the taxpayer gets a proper return for the use of the valuable and scarce national resources constitued by broadcasting rights and, in particular, the use of the frequency spectrum.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
The Home Secretary used the phrase "gloss over". Will he give one concrete example of what he means by that?
§ Mr. Waddington
I mean that if the state is to allot to certain persons a valuable legal right, the state is entitled to claim in exchange a return for the taxpayer. One is not talking about the right of individuals but about claiming for the taxpayer a return on the valuable rights allotted by Government.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
Would not the taxpayer derive more benefit from the auctioning off of those national resources if the money raised were invested in programme production and training? That would represent better value for the taxpayer than the Treasury amassing more and more money that it cannot spend for fear of inflation.
§ Mr. Waddington
I do not accept that argument for one moment. A person entering into the bidding process will have very much in mind what he can afford to pay. He will therefore pay the proper price for the valuable right that he is given. That will be fair both to him and to the taxpayer.
If we are to enjoy high standards and diversity, there must be ownership rules. The Bill includes in schedule 2 much clearer and more extensive ownership rules than anything that we have now. There is no chance whatsoever of British broadcasting falling into the hands of a bunch of tycoons or a cluster of conglomerates. To prevent that, the Bill provides the means for implementing the limits on ownership which were clearly set out by my right hon. Friend, now the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, in his announcement of 19 May.
Non-EC ownership will largely be prohibited. National newspapers will not be permitted to hold more than a 20 per cent. stake in a direct broadcasting satellite channel, Channel 3, Channel 5 or national radio licensee. Satellite channels targeted at the United Kingdom, whether based here or abroad, will be subject to a similar 20 per cent. restriction on interests in those other licensees.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
Is the Home Secretary aware that a newspaper proprietor, for example, who already owns three or four newspapers but only one football club—that is the kind of society in which we live, where the Government are more concerned about football clubs than about the media—will be able to exercise formidable power and control with 20 per cent. share ownership? That is particularly true when one considers that the Prime Minister has only a 5 per cent. interest in the Cabinet, as one of 20 members, but she still runs it.
§ Mr. Waddington
I assure the hon. Gentleman that in deciding on those restrictions the Government addressed their mind carefully to the need to ensure that national newspapers would not be subject to the degree of influence and control that he fears.
§ Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)
The Home Secretary stated categorically that all satellite broadcasters, whether based in this country or abroad, would be subject to the 20 per cent. newspaper ownership rule, but he knows very well that no such provision appears in the Bill. The Minister of State, the hon. and learned Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor), stated at his press conference that Sky Television would not be subject to such a restriction because it had already invested so much money in the United Kingdom. The Minister of State appears to rule out Sky from that criterion, but may we be clear whether or not it is subject to the 20 per cent. national newspaper ownership rule?
§ Mr. Waddington
Satellite broadcasters other than direct broadcasting satellite channels will not be able to have an investment greater than 20 per cent. in other channels. I refer to satellite broadcasters other than DBS broadcasters. I thought that that was the matter of concern to the right hon. Gentleman. Non-DBS broadcasters will not be able to make an investment of more than 20 per cent. in another broadcasting channel.
§ Mr. Hattersley
The 20 per cent. newspaper ownership rule applies also in respect of Channel 3 and Channel 5, but does it apply to satellite channels?
§ Mr. Waddington
My understanding is—[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) asked for a reply. If he does not like the reply that he gets he can pursue the matter later. If he wants the matter amplified, my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State will amplify it in his reply later today.
I have told the right hon. Gentleman what I understand to be the position—that concentration of ownership will be kept in check, and that no one will be allowed to own even the proposed maximum of two regional Channel 3 lincences if both are large or if they are contiguous. That provision can be waived only when one or two contiguous franchises become clearly unviable, and only then when separate regional programming for each of the two areas will be maintained.
§ Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle)
At a recent meeting with local authorities and an all-party delegation from the Border Television area, the Home Secretary gave an assurance that they would not be allowed two franchises which are parallel and which have common boundaries. That assurance is not in the Bill. Will the Minister clarify that today?
§ Mr. Waddington
I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he seeks. I have made it absolutely plain that it will be possible to own two franchises, but not if they are both large, or if they are contiguous.
§ Mr. Buchan
The Minister has talked about ownership percentages. Did he notice that the Minister of State, in his statement, defended the Government's position on the rules on cross-media ownership, but said that it would not apply to Rupert Murdoch's Sky Television, because that venture was already running and had cost Mr. Murdoch "vast amounts of money"? If that is the case, how will the Government cope with over-monopolisation of the media?
§ Mr. Waddington
I am beginning to understand why the right hon. Gentleman for Sparkbrook is so upset. We are talking about two different things. It is perfectly correct that there is a limit of 20 per cent. on ownership in DBS and that there is no limit of 20 per cent. in non-DBS satellite channels. That is right, because DBS channels represent the allotment of valuable rights, given to the Government by international agreement. There is enormous potential for a large number of non-DBS satellite channels, but only five DBS channels have been allowed as a result of international agreement.
I now understand what the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook was talking about. I was talking about something entirely different. I pointed out that satellite broadcasters other than DBS broadcasters cannot have more than the 20 per cent. investment in DBS or any other 44 broadcast channels. Now that we have that absolutely plain—[Interruption.] It was the right hon. Gentleman who—
§ Mr. Hattersley
As I know that the Home Secretary likes to speak in plain language—there is none plainer—I will ask him the simplest question. Is he saying that Sky Television and Mr. Murdoch are alone in not having any reservations or limitations placed on what newspapers they own?
§ Mr. Waddington
That is absolutely untrue. The Bill will apply to all satellite broadcasters other than DBS. I have explained the present situation in words of one syllable. Even if the right hon. Gentleman cannot understand it, I am sure that everyone else can.
The order-making power in schedule 2 will also be used to ensure that no one person is allowed to gain control of the six largest local radio stations. Even though there could be 200 to 300 independent stations by the end of the 1990s, control of the six largest would still give a person too much dominance—almost a network by the back door —so there will be supplementary limits.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
Is it correct that the Bill excludes church and religious bodies from having a full say on this? Will they be able to enter the television and broadcasting arena?
§ Mr. Waddington
Church bodies cannot own television channels. A similar prohibition exists today, and I think that that accords with the wishes of most people.
§ Mr. Gerald Howarth (Cannock and Burntwood)
Given the moral decline in Britain, and the considerably greater church attendance in the United States, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that there could be a case for allowing the Church to own channels so that religious broadcasting is not left entirely in the hands of a small clique?
§ Mr. Waddington
We have reached a sensible middle way, because Church organisations will be able to own radio channels. I doubt whether the majority of people wish us to go back on a system which has operated since the introduction of independent television and allow those organisations to own independent television channels.
§ Mr. Joseph Ashton (Bassetlaw)
Will the Home Secretary confirm that in the past 12 or 13 years there has been an agreement that certain national events—the cup final, the Derby and Wimbledon—should not be exclusive to one channel and would be available for widespread broadcasting? Will he give an assurance that the Bill would not allow those national events, to be bought exclusively by, for instance, Sky Television, which could charge for them?
§ Mr. Waddington
The Bill will continue to provide protection for major events, and no broadcaster will be permitted to show listed events on a pay-per-view basis.
I urge hon. Members to bear in mind the fact that it is an extraordinary view of the promoters of the events if it is believed that they will wish to sell the rights in the full knowledge that the events will be shown only to a minority of people in Britain.
§ Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, Small Heath)
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for his generosity in giving way. He will understand the importance of watching sport 45 to many people, in particular the elderly and the housebound. It is essential that they are not prevented from watching by some arrangement—not necessarily pay television, which I appreciate is ruled out—which means that ITV or the BBC, the national networks, are priced out of showing major events such as the cup final, the grand national and Wimbledon. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give an assurance that that will not happen?
§ Mr. Waddington
No doubt the right hon. Gentleman knows what Mr. David Broomfield, the press officer of the Football Association, said yesterday:However, we are conscious that the Cup final is an important international happening, and it is therefore unlikely that we will see the day whereby it was broadcast only on satellite television.
§ Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West)
Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that one of the problems is that existing broadcasters have simply been downright stingy about the amount of money that they are prepared to pay? A little competition will help them to stump up well-deserved money for national games such as football and cricket.
§ Mr. Waddington
One hears little about the rights of promoters in all these arguments. One hears only about the rights of television companies. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for restoring some balance.
The quality debate raises the most important questions of all. Here, hon. Members agree, I think, that we must take extra care to distinguish genuine argument from the voice of vested interest, especially as this voice is sometimes subtle and seductive rather than shrill. It is not unfair to point out that the present franchise holders are not there just for the love of it—they are there to make money and they are very successful in that aim. That does not mean that they do not deserve a fair hearing or that they do not wish to provide a good service—I am sure that they do—but some of the hyperbole that has been used should perhaps be discounted.
§ Mr. George Walden (Buckingham)
Earlier, my right hon. and learned Friend paid tribute to the high standard of British broadcasting. The Bill requires a "sufficient amount of time" to be given to programmes of quality. That is an expression of ardent idealism which reflects the spirit of mediocrity in which the Government are engaged. Does my right hon. and learned Friend think that such language will encourage quality, or will it feed the fears that I and many of my hon. Friends have that, when he talks of an auction and a franchise, what will come out will be not so much a quality hurdle as a limbo dancer?
§ Mr. Waddington
I cannot agree with a word of what my hon. Friend says. He seems to overlook the fact that the words of which he complains are remarkably similar to those in the present broadcasting legislation. It is also a distortion to talk as though the only requirement which has to be met to pass the quality threshold is the requirement that there must be sufficient programmes of high quality. That is only one of the requirements which have to be met. First, the plans have to cater for a wide range of tastes and interests. Secondly, there will have to be high quality news and current affairs. Thirdly, there will have to be regional programmes, and some of them will have to be made in the regions. Fourthly, 25 per cent. of the programmes will have to be made independently. 46 Fifthly, consumer protection requirements will safeguard taste, decency, accuracy and balance. That is a lot more than my hon. Friend suggested.
Before an organisation is able to bid for a Channel 3 or Channel 5 franchise, it will have to pass a quality threshold. The chairman of the IBA, and chairman-designate of the ITC, Mr. George Russell, has described that quality threshold as a Becher's brook, and he is quite right. Those who wish to be franchise holders will have to provide diverse programme services which are calculated to appeal to a wide range of tastes and interests. They will have to give the viewer high quality news and current affairs programmes. There will have to be a sufficient amount of other programmes of high quality. A proper proportion of the material must be British or from other European countries. At least 25 per cent. of qualifying programmes must be made by independent producers. Channel 3 will be required to show regional programmes, including programmes produced in the region. Between them, Channels 3, 4 and 5 must also cater adequately for schools programmes.
Furthermore, even if a company gets through the quality threshold, the ITC will have power in exceptional circumstance to accept other than the highest bid. If it were possible to spell out all the circumstances which might be considered exceptional, we would do so, but I do not believe that it is. If the ITC uses the power, however, it will have to state and justify its reasons.
§ Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)
Nowhere in that list is there any definition of children's programmes, the times at which they should be shown or the percentage of them which will be other than schools material. Television is one of the most vital ways in which children receive stimulation and it is crucial that they should continue to receive high-quality programmes. Will the Home Secretary undertake to write such a requirement into the Bill?
§ Mr. Waddington
It is almost inconceivable that a person would pass the diversity and catering for a wider range of tastes and interests requirements if he put nothing in his schedules in the way of children's programmes. [HON. MEMBERS:"Where does the Bill say that?"] There is nothing in the present legislation either. When broadcasting legislation was last considered, the House turned its back on the idea of long lists of requirements, so why should one be considered necessary now? For a bidder to pass the quality test, the ITC will have to be satisfied that his plans will cater for a wide range of tastes and interests.
§ Mrs. Ray Michie (Argyll and Bute)
The Secretary of State talks about quality requirements, but can he explain to the House and to the people of Scotland why there is no mention of Gaelic broadcasting in the Bill, especially when we have heard so many discussions about it in the past year and as his predecessor promised in June that proposals for Gaelic broadcasting would be presented? The people of Scotland are disgusted at the whole performance.
§ Mr. Waddington
I am delighted with the hon. Lady's intervention, and I have some good news for her if she will contain herself for a moment or two.
Channel 3 and Channel 5 are intended to be popular, mass audience channels. We should not try to turn them into new versions of Channel 4 and BBC2. Nevertheless, the requirements that I have outlined are exacting and are 47 hardly a prescription for yob television. Indeed, the safeguards are greater than those which exist at present. Where, for instance, are the powers now to find franchise holders, or to require them to put up substantial performance bonds as a guarantee that they will live up to their programme promises? The ITC will have far more extensive enforcement powers than the IBA, one of whose problems has been that it has had few sanctions at its disposal short of the nuclear weapon of licence revocation.
Some people hanker for a detailed definition of quality, but frankly I do not think that that is on. The ITC will be able to issue illustrative guidelines, but it will not issue a blueprint—rightly so, as there is no single right way to pass, for instance, the diversity test. The winning applicant's detailed programme promises will, however, be incorporated into the licence conditions. There will be a clear commitment to quality, capable of rigorous enforcement.
§ Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East)
Does the Home Secretary agree with the Minister of State that parts of the Bill are not set in stone? Is he prepared to reconsider the basis of Channel 5 and the suggestion made by the Select Committee on Home Affairs report of a national channel made up of local affiliates?
§ Mr. Waddington
No. I believe that our arrangements for Channel 5 are exactly right.
Already there have been demands for all sorts of additional statutory requirements for programming, but if we were to give way to all the demands of the various lobbies and special interests, the new legislation would finish up far more onerous and prescriptive than the old. As long ago as 1954, Parliament wisely rejected the list approach. Those who seek guarantees for, for instance, religious or children's programmes, can take comfort from the multiplication of outlets as channels increase and from the diversity requirement on both Channel 3 and Channel 5. I imagine that the ITC would take some convincing that a service which did not offer any programmes of that kind was genuinely diverse, but this is also where the complementary nature of Channel 4's remit comes in. In addition to its public service obligations, it will continue to be required to cater for any tastes and interests not adequately met by Channel 3 and 5.
I wish to concentrate on key topics rather than go through the Bill clause by clause, so I will give no more than a brief guide to its structure. Part I establishes the Independent Television Commission in place of the IBA and the Cable Authority. Both George Russell and I want a smooth transition and maximum continuity of expertise. If the House gives the Bill a Second Reading, I will announce shortly the setting up of the ITC and the Radio Authority in shadow form.
Part I also deals with the regulation of Channels 3, 4 and 5, Channel 4, Wales, satellite services, and services using the spare capacity of signals such as teletext. It requires the ITC, among other things, to issue codes on how the due impartiality requirement is to be applied, on programme standards more generally and on advertising and sponsorship. Part I also includes requirements for schools programmes and subtitling for the deaf.
48 Part II deals with local delivery services—local multi-channel franchises using cable and/or microwave transmission. [Interruption.]
§ Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Conservative Members are trying to listen to the excellent exposition by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. We cannot hear because of the bunch of yobboes on the Opposition Benches below the Gangway—[Interruption.] Could they please be asked to be silent?
§ Mr. Waddington
It would be a pity if they went out of here as ignorant as they came in. It might be to their advantage to listen.
Among other things, part II makes local delivery operators responsible themselves for the content of any foreign services which they carry from countries outside the EC and the Council of Europe.
Part III establishes a new Radio Authority in place of the IBA radio division, and deals with the regulation of national, local, satellite, cable and institutional radio services, and with spare capacity services using radio signals. The key requirement in this part is that radio should expand in such a way as to increase choice for the listener.
Part IV re-enacts the provisions dealing with the Broadcasting Complaints Commission, and part V puts the Broadcasting Standards Council on a statutory basis. Part VI applies the law of obscenity, incitement to racial hatred and defamation to all British broadcasting services.
Part VII substantially strengthens the powers and penalties available against pirate broadcasting. Part VIII contains the new offences of supporting an unacceptable foreign satellite service, and deals with miscellaneous matters such as listed sporting events and transfer to the BBC of responsibility for collecting the licence fee.
I am pleased to be able to tell the House the good news for which the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) was waiting. At a later stage we shall be bringing forward provisions on Gaelic broadcasting. These will be based on a Gaelic television production fund, to be paid for by the Exchequer and administered by a committee of the ITC. The fund will commission the production of programmes in the Gaelic language. We plan that the ITC should have power to require relevant Channel 3 licensees to show Gaelic programming. The programmes would be made either by broadcasters or by independent producers. We intend that the fund should be able to finance 200 hours of Gaelic programmes a year in addition to the present 100 hours, which we would expect the BBC and the relevant Channel 3 companies to maintain.
§ Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)
The Home Secretary will appreciate that many representatives of all parties have campaigned long and hard on that issue. How did he decide on the sum of £;8 million? He mentioned a committee of the ITC. What direct representation from the Gaelic community will there be on that committee? Token Gaelic representation is insufficient, as we want those people to have real clout.
§ Mr. Waddington
A number of those matters are open to discussion. The hon. Lady will hear the details later, and I do not think that anyone would bless me if I went through them all now. It is worth bearing in mind that there are 80,000 Gaelic speakers in Scotland—less than 2 49 per cent. of the Scottish population—so I should have thought that most fair-minded people would consider our proposal to be a very good deal indeed for Gaelic speakers in Scotland.
§ Mr. Waddington
I am sorry, but I must press on.
There are also some matters not now in the Bill. I should tell the House that we shall be bringing forward provisions ending the cosy duopoly of programme listings, privatising the IBA transmission system and dealing with transitional arrangements. Also on this supplementary agenda are the detail of the independent production requirement on the BBC, provisions in regard to offshore pirate broadcasters and the ending of needle-time restrictions on the playing of records by radio stations.
Finally, I remind the House that a Conservative Government introduced ITV in the early 1950s, independent local radio in the early 1970s, Channel 4 at the beginning of the 1980s, and the independent productions initiative a couple of years ago. At each stage the pessimists prophesied doom and gloom—and every time they have been confounded. On 22 May 1952, Lord Reith likened the introduction of commercial broadcasting to smallpox, bubonic plague and the black death, and on 25 March 1954 Herbert Morrison for the Opposition said:we regard the whole present scheme as objectionable and, indeed, futile … this Bill is the enemy of a reasonable culture in broadcasting and television."—[Official Report, 25 March 1954; Vol. 525, c. 1472–74.]Today's pessimists should consider how their comments may sound in 30 years' time. I commend the Bill to the House.
§ Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)
At least the Home Secretary will agree with me that today we debate fundamental changes in the organisation of broadcasting in the United Kingdom. As broadcasting has such a crucial effect on all our lives, we are also considering a major influence on the conduct and character of our country during the rest of this century and beyond.
The criteria against which the Bill must be judged are the quality of broadcasting which it encourages and the choice of programmes that it would make available to listeners and viewers. The Government claim, as the Home Secretary appeared to be doing today, that their proposals are likely to increase choice and improve quality. They are almost alone in that contention. The most distinguished and experienced figures in broadcasting are united in the belief that, if the Bill becomes law, standards will fall and choice will be diminished.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I know that the hon. Gentleman is eager, but I should like to get on a little before I give way to him.
The Bill also fails when measured against an obligation of even greater importance than choice and quality—the protection of democracy.
In Britain an increasing threat to genuine democracy is the concentration of the ownership of newspapers and 50 broadcasting companies in the hands of fewer international media companies. Some parts of the Bill might have been written with the express intention of meeting the needs and fulfilling the ambitions of one of them—Mr. Rupert Murdoch. Already the Government have allowed Mr. Murdoch to acquire two national newspapers without the scrutiny of a Monopolies and Mergers Commission inquiry. In part, the Bill might have been dictated during one of Mr. Murdoch's cosy lunches with the Prime Minister.
I take the clearest example of the favour that Mr. Murdoch and his like are to receive, and it is the clearest proof that, in the true meaning of the words, the Bill will reduce choice and not increase it. Clause 157 deals with what are called "listed events"—a subject on which the Home Secretary gave a sort of answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton). He was right to acknowledge that his predecessor had written the Bill, but we are intrigued about whether the Home Secretary has read it. It was clear that he did not understand what is meant by clause 157, which deals with listed events—great sporting occasions such as the grand national, Wimbledon and the cup final, which attract massive audiences. At present, no single company is allowed to acquire the exclusive right to screen them. We all know that the Bill prohibits them from being screened through pay television, but that is not the question.
§ Mr. Hattersley
It is exactly what the Home Secretary said but, unfortunately, it is not exactly the question that he was asked, which concerned protection against one company having the exclusive right to screen those promotions and against their being able to monopolise the screening. Under the Bill, that protection is being removed. It will be possible for a single satellite or cable company to acquire the sole right to broadcast, for example, the Grand National and to prevent national broadcasting companies from screening it at the same time or at all.
Satellite and cable television is currently watched by 3 per cent. of the viewing public. Let us assume that, by the time the Bill becomes law, the figure has trebled and Sky Television buys the exclusive right to screen Wimbledon, the cup final or the grand national.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Mellor)
Why does the right hon. Gentleman make that assumption?
§ Mr. Hattersley
I shall tell the Minister of State exactly why I make that assumption in a moment, but let me carry him with me on the assumption and then I shall try to justify it.
Let us assume that Sky buys the right to screen the grand national. Last week, the Football Association behaved quite reasonably about this, but on the radio the Jockey Club said that in a free market it would sell its rights to the highest bidder, whatever the company might be. Instead of every family with a television set enjoying the chance to watch that national event, the opportunity would be restricted to fewer than 10 per cent. of British families. What sort of extension of free choice is that? It is simply the freedom of Rupert Murdoch to use his wealth and power to exploit the viewer. It represents his right to 51 dictate the terms on which British families enjoy television and the Government's willingness to be an accessory to that blackmail.
§ Mr. Hattersley
The hon. Gentleman is the most vocal and active Parliamentary Private Secretary that I have ever known. I shall give way after I have dealt with the question from the Minister of State which, like the PPS, he shouted from his seat rather than asking in the normal fashion.
The Minister of State asked why I should assume that Mr. Murdoch would want to buy the rights to one of those exclusive events. The answer is that that is what he always does when developing his broadcasting systems. It is his established technique. He buys a tempting programme and uses it as a loss-leader for the rest of the rubbish that he broadcasts, such as cartoons, old movies, pre-digested news and extended advertisements dressed up as consumer magazines. His aim is not to extend choice but to reduce it.
By popular demand, I shall give way to the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) and then to the Minister of State.
§ Mr. Robert G. Hughes
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for eventually giving way. Does he understand that if any satellite broadcaster or what he would regard as a minority broadcaster were attracting the size of audience that he supposes, with no basis for his figures, they would be unable to afford to pay as much money as other broadcasters? Without attracting an audience, they would be unable to compete. Therefore it would be self-correcting. The right hon. Gentleman is trying to deny the sports that he is talking about access to money for their products.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I say only two things to the hon. Gentleman. First, his suggestion is belied by the experience of other countries, where minority satellites and cable companies have got their foot in the door and prised it open by making exclusive claims for events and saying to viewers, "Either you watch what we offer or you do not watch that programme at all."
Secondly—I shall develop the point in a moment if I get the opportunity—television, like football clubs and newspapers, has the unfortunate habit of attracting men who want to buy it not simply to make money but for prestige and political influence and as an entrée into other institutions and forms of life. They are prepared to lose to establish their position by saying, "I own this television company."
§ Mr. Mellor
Currently, if a satellite channel proprietor —there are more satellite channel proprietors than Mr. Murdoch—were to put in a bid, the right given to the BBC and ITV is to match it; they have no automatic right otherwise to show the programme. It is interesting that thus far no satellite operator has done so. The Bill makes one change, in that it says that it will be possible, although not on a pay-per-view basis, for the proprietor of a great national sporting event to sell to the highest bidder 52 In the right hon. Gentleman's pursuit of the Labour party's demonology theory about Rupert Murdoch, will he consider, first, that there is no reason why those who own a great sporting event should want to restrict its viewing to a few per cent. of the public? Secondly, the Labour party talks about money, but I wonder where the public interest lies, vis-à-vis the right of some broadcasting organisations to obtain sporting events at an undervalue or the right of the public who admire them to see them properly funded. Does the right hon. Gentleman think that it is the duty and obligation of the House, in perpetuity, to restrict the rights of individuals who promote sporting events to sell their products?
§ Mr. Hattersley
It is the duty of the Government to make great national occasions available to all the viewing public rather than a small proportion of them. That is the overwhelming view of the viewing public who have expressed an opinion.
I suspect that, like me, the Minister of State does not regard the grand national as the most important sporting occasion of the year, but, slightly to my surprise, many millions of people do. The Jockey Club and those who organise great sporting events have said on television and radio, in the Minister of State's terms, that they would sell the rights to the highest bidder. That seems to be not in the national interest but in the interests of a small number of satellite and cable broadcasters and perhaps in the interests of the Government, with their narrow view of these matters. It is not in the interests of media diversity and opportunity, which is what the Bill is supposed to be about.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I must get on. I shall give way in a moment but, like other hon. Members, I am restricted by the 6 o'clock rule. It is important that I do not forget it, as I am inclined to do.
I take this opportunity to make clear Labour Members' absolute commitment to greater diversity of media ownership. I make it clear that to us the problem of media ownership is not simply cross-promotion—newspapers plugging their own television channels, which is the subject of the inquiry that was announced last week—but cross-ownership. We should have a general reference to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission on the concentration of media ownership in fewer hands. Its terms should be the extent to which British newspapers and broadcasting companies are owned by a handful of individuals, and how the Government can best bring about disinvestment and greater diversity in the industry.
The Bill will facilitate concentration in one particular. This is the second point that I raised with the Secretary of State and I hope that the Minister of State will make this clear when he replies. Under the Bill, the proprietor of a national newspaper is not allowed to own more than 20 per cent. of a Channel 3 or Channel 5 company—that is quite right. However, why does not that prohibition apply to all satellite companies? Such an obligation could be placed on satellite companies by requiring them to relinquish ownership of British newspapers if they want to broadcast into Great Britain.
I understand that the Government—either their officials or Ministers—have told the British Satellite Broadcasting company that the membership-ownership 53 rule will be applied to it by secondary legislation—by some sort of order explicitly to prevent a satellite company that is based in Britain from being owned by or having any close connection with a British newspaper. If it is to apply to BSB, why will it not apply to Sky?
I present the Minister of State with another hypothesis. If Sky grows to the size of a Channel 3 company, why will Mr. Murdoch still be allowed to own five national newspapers—
§ Mr. Hattersley
I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment.
Once upon a time the Government pretended that it was impossible to limit the connections between newspapers and ownership of Sky because that company is registered in Luxembourg. In the House of Lords, Lord Ferrers said that it was technically impossible to apply such a limitation. That fallacy having been exposed, this Minister of State discovered another reason for letting Mr. Murdoch do what he likes—to own a television company that broadcasts into Britain and five newspapers. The Minister of State gave his reason at a press conference a week last Thursday when he stated:A vast amount of money has gone into getting this thing—"this thing" being Sky—off the ground",and implying that we should not legislate. That seems a new principle of Conservative Government—those who spend enough money can make up the laws as they go along to suit their convenience—
§ Mr. Gale
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. Does he not appreciate the difference between BSB, which is a domestic satellite licensed by the United Kingdom, and Astra which is a non-domestic satellite? Is he seriously suggesting that this control should not only be exercised over Mr. Murdoch, who happens to uplink from the United Kingdom but could just as easily uplink from anywhere else in Europe, but should be extended to every newspaper proprietor throughout Europe who uses a foreign satellite? If so, how will the right hon. Gentleman make that work under EC directives and the Council of Europe convention?
§ Mr. Hattersley
What I am suggesting—this is perfectly compatible with EC regulations and with English law—is that if someone owns a company that broadcasts into Great Britain, that person shall not be allowed to own the British newspapers that he possesses at present. The control would not require us to take any action against the satellite broadcasting company; it requires us to take action against the domestically based British newspaper. That can be done with complete ease, and should be done by anybody who does not believe in the concentration of the British media in fewer hands.
The Government's attitude towards satellite television demonstrates most graphically the misconception at the heart of the Bill. Real choice for viewers depends on a diversity of programmes, not simply on the proliferation of the number of buttons on a set that it is possible to 54 press. If pressing buttons produces no more than alternatives on the same dreary themes, choice has not been increased—it has been denied.
The Government confuse pressing buttons with making choices not least because, as the Bill demonstrates, they possess no coherent theory of broadcasting. The only attempt at a principle by which the Bill is guided is the weary old call for deregulation—an idea that clearly has not been thought through and which is not even applied with anything like consistency.
The Government preach deregulation but insist on possessing the power to veto appointments to the membership of the Channel 4 Corporation. When he replies, perhaps the Minister of State will tell us how this light-touch Government, this freedom-of-broadcasting Government, this deregulating Government, justify that little act of pointless authoritarianism. Opposition Members believe that the time has come to reduce, not increase, Government patronage. The Government appoint too many of their nominees to positions of authority and influence without check or limitation. In our view, neither the governors of the BBC nor the members of the Independent Television Commission should be appointed by the Government alone. They should be nominated by the Government and approved in office by a Committee of the House. Indeed, that rule should apply to all senior Government appointments.
A second proposal in the Bill is not so much incompatible with the claim of deregulation as in exact opposition to the notion. I refer to the whole of part V, which sets up the Broadcasting Standards Council. I admit at once that, in common with others, I was quite wrong about that institution. I feared that it was potentially sinister. I now realise that it is immediately ridiculous. It will possess no effective powers and have no real purpose, except to pretend to keep a promise that the Prime Minister gave at an unguarded moment and which she continues to repeat, although the Bill proves that what she continues to offer cannot and will not be realised.
In the debate on the Loyal Address, the Prime Minister announced that the Broadcasting Standards Council would be given the powerto keep the violence that is unacceptable off our screens." —[Official Report, 21 November 1989; Vol. 162, c. 31.]However, no such power is mentioned in the Bill. As is so often the case, I take it that the Prime Minister said what she thought convenient at the time rather than what she knew to be accurate. I maintain my surprise that Lord Rees-Mogg, for whom I have considerable respect, should be prepared to lend his name to this silly and pointless exercise, which has been made all the more silly and pointless by the Government's welcome decision to extend the obscenity and racial incitement laws to cover television. That should be the proper and only limitation on what broadcasters are allowed to broadcast.
Choice and quality in television depend in part on the way in which the franchises to broadcast are allocated and on the rules that govern that right, as well as on the price that is paid to maintain it. Companies can obtain contracts through a process which, in general, encourages a wide variety of high-quality programmes, or by a system that puts a premium on neither standards nor choice.
In their proposals for licensing satellite companies, the Government have clearly abandoned all interest in quality and diversity. They expressly absolve the satellite companies from fulfilling the minimum obligations that 55 are required of domestic companies. Clause 31 (a),(b) and (d) absolves them from that duty. However, as the minimum obligations are in themselves wholly inadequate, the idea that the Government are protecting quality, diversity and choice even in the terrestrial channels does not withstand a moment's examination. The claims for quality and diversity are based on the concept of minimum standards that a company must agree to accept before it can bid for a franchise and which must be maintained after the contract is made if a financial penalty is to be avoided. But nobody believes that the financial penalty will be large enough to act as a real deterrent.
I shall now make another of my assumptions—that the standards set out in the Bill are respected. But the question that immediately arises is, "What are those standards worth?" The answer is, "Not very much." When those standards were first set out, the then Home Secretary described them as a "threshold", but by the time the White Paper was debated, the metaphor had changed to "hurdle". I prophesied at the time that they would soon become a fence, but I had not allowed for the verbal exuberance of the new Minister of State, whom I heard on the radio two weeks ago describing them as a "Becher's brook".
§ Mr. Mellor
The right hon. Gentleman's standards of taste and accuracy are no higher than usual. It was the chairman of the ITC, Mr. Russell, who used the phrase, "Becher's brook". I merely retailed it around for him.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I compliment the Minister on his unusual modesty. I heard him use that expression in undeniable terms on the radio. If he wants to disown it now, I shall give way again.
§ Mr. Mellor
If it is the right hon. Gentleman's case that there is no quality threshold worth having, surely he should be reassured that the chairman-designate of the ITC and present chairman of the IBA says that it is to be a Becher's brook—that is, if the right hon. Gentleman is interested in reassurance rather than making cheap points.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I will come to a compact with the Minister that either we support everything that the chairman of the ITC suggests and implement everything that he proposes or, if the Minister will not accept that proposition, and pursue the metaphor, we can take a walk round the course to see how formidable an obstacle Becher's brook is.
§ Mr. Buchan
Does my right hon. Friend agree the Government are busy making Becher's brook even easier to jump?
§ Mr. Hattersley
I want to examine this barrier. Clause 16 defines the basic requirements that any company must fulfil before it can make a bid for a Channel 3 franchise. They include the requirementsthat a sufficient amount of time is given … to news programmes and current affairs programmes … of high quality … that a sufficient amount of time is given to programmes (other than news and current affairs programmes) which are of high quality … a sufficient amount of time is given to … regional programmes.The Home Secretary, not normally a conciliatory man, will agree that those are not over-precise definitions of the standards.
56 I admit that they are only the beginning. There is also an obligation to appeal to a variety of tastes and include a proper proportion of programmes made in Europe. Again, those criteria do not suffer from an excess of intellectual rigour. Certainly, clause 16 gives the new ITC the right to define the terms. The Home Secretary must not pretend that the new ITC will be able to impose standards as exact as those upon which the IBA can insist now.
We were promised a light touch, and a light touch we certainly have been given. At present the IBA can ask for —it can demand—religious programmes, children's programmes, drama and documentaries. It is no good the Home Secretary saying to the House, "Don't worry, it is not written into the Bill but trust me and the Commission to propose it." According to the Government's propaganda, the purpose of the Bill is to lay down minimum standards. To take refuge in the idea that the minimum standards can be taken for granted without being specified is a negation of all that the Government previously claimed. More importantly, the new Commission cannot negotiate with the companies for the new right to broadcast.
When he replies to the debate, I should like the Minister of State to describe what will happen in the following circumstances. Two bidding companies apply for a franchise. In their prospectuses, both demonstrate their acceptance of the minimum standard set out in the Bill. One offers a programme prospectus that is superior to the other in terms of quality and diversity but it makes a bid lower than that of its inferior competitor. In those circumstances, can the commission award the contract to the programme company that offers the best programmes but the lowest tender? We know that the Bill does not allow that to happen, yet the Government continue to claim to care about quality.
The commission cannot invite the highest bidder to improve the quality of its programmes. Nor can it invite the company with the best programmes to increase its offer. Certainly, clause 17(3) provides for the Commission to reject the highest bid in exceptional circumstances. But no one has any idea what those circumstances might be. If the Home Secretary, who has written into his Bill the right to exclude a bid in exceptional circumstances, had the faintest idea what those circumstances were, he might have revealed them to us in his speech.
§ Mr. Spearing
Did my right hon. Friend notice that in justifying the procedure the Home Secretary prayed in aid taxpayers' rights and value for money for the nation? Will he invite the Home Secretary now, or perhaps in Committee, to calculate the difference between the hypothetical high and low bids in terms of quality such as my right hon. Friend postulated, and divide that difference between the two into a weekly amount that every household in the country will have to pay? Does my right hon. Friend agree that that would be a small sum?
§ Mr. Hattersley
I have the answer to my hon. Friend's equation. The Exchequer will receive very little extra for a substantial reduction in quality.
§ Mr. Walden
The right hon. Gentleman makes a valid point that I should like to reinforce. Surely the point is that the more people are encouraged to bid for the channels, the less they will be able to put into programmes. As a result, the much-vaunted Becher's brook will decline.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I agree with that and I hope to give some examples of exactly the position that the hon. Gentleman describes.
No one has any idea what the exceptional circumstances might be in which the commission could refuse the highest bid. Clearly, the commission would be crazy to risk discovering them in court, so it will give the contract to the highest bidder. The chairman of the IBA, who will be the new chairman of the commission, does not believe that the powers granted to him by the Bill will give him the chance to choose high quality in preference to high cash offers. He has said that to me in terms. As the Minister of State hangs on his every word and repeats them with such assiduity, why does he believe that the chairman-elect of the commission is wrong to fear that the complications in choosing between a high bid and lower quality will result in a deterioration in quality? Everyone else believes that that will be the case.
I suggest that a compromise is possible when choosing between bids, and I urge it on the Government. It was originally suggested by the Peacock committee, which was set up by the Government in preparation for the Bill, and the chairman-elect of the commission also urges the Government to accept the compromise. It should be possible for the commission to accept a lower bid if, in its judgment, that bid gives the viewer better value for money in terms of the programme service provided. That was the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), and endorsed, as I understand them, by some Conservative Members. I hope that, in the spirit of ecumenism, the Minister of State will consider that genuine attempt to compromise between now and 9.30 pm or in Committee.
§ Mrs. Edwina Currie (Derbyshire, South)
We are all in favour of better value for money. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell me, on behalf of my constituents, where in the great Labour plan for quality we shall find the soap operas, game shows and murder mysteries which I and many British people thoroughly enjoy?
§ Mr. Hattersley
As my hon. Friends say, we shall find them on television. I hope that the hon. Lady accepts that I would not be party to any Bill that put "Coronation Street" in jeopardy—[Interruption.] About "EastEnders" I make no such assurance, but "Coronation Street" is absolutely sacrosanct.
I accept that the compromise that I suggest requires the Government to move away from one of their principles. It is the right of the franchising authority to negotiate with companies bidding for the right to broadcast. The IBA enjoys that power at present. If the Government denied it to the commission, they would wilfully abandon one of the principal methods of improving both quality and diversity.
It is possible to appreciate the importance of the negotiations only if we fully understand the method by which the Bill proposes to award contracts, a feat—
§ Mr. Hattersley
Not in the middle of a sentence, but I shall do so in a moment. That is a feat apparently beyond the leader writer of The Times, whose sycophantic editorial on the subject of contract procedures simply got the facts wrong.
58 The Bill does not propose an auction of television franchises—would that it did. Auctioning contracts is by no means our choice of method for awarding the right to broadcast, but it is a good deal better than the requirement to make a single blind bid in a sealed evelope. I remind the Minister that an auction of a sort was the second compromise urged on the Government by the industry. I commend it to him as an alternative way in which to assure value and quality. If the Government allowed a second bid it would be possible for a company to begin with a modest offer, committing most of their resources to programme-making, and if its bid was lower than that of another company it could make a second, larger offer, if necessary budgeting for lower-quality programmes.
From our point of view that is a far from perfect method, but it is much superior to a system that requires a bidding company to risk everything on a single tender. In consequence, that encourages the bidding company to risk everything to concentrate its resources on inflated offers rather than better programmes.
The only possible justification for the single blind bid is the calculated decision to use the allocation of television franchises as a means of raising revenue—the maximum amount of revenue. Maximising revenue and protecting quality are two mutually incompatiable objectives. Money spent on buying the franchise will not be available for the production of expensive, high-quality programmes.
§ Mr. Dykes
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the form of words relating to such changes should be agreed by all parts of the House? It is important that there is a consensus about such an important measure which transcends the different sides of the House. The form of words could be elaborated on later through a straightforward amendment tabled in Committee. That Committee stage must be an intelligent one, not the ritual to which we have become accustomed in recent years. The ITC will also construct the relevant clauses relating to its operations and it could encapsulate some suggestions about those changes. If such changes are not considered by the Government. the ITC will inevitably be a weak regulatory organisation.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I agree, and I hope that I can demonstrate that by saying that the Opposition, who want the normal—dare I say—contentious Committee, do not include in their first speech on the subject two proposals for compromise. They are not ideal to the Opposition, and the two suggestions that I have made would not naturally be introduced by us were we to have a free hand. I have suggested some areas in which quality and choice might be protected, which maintains the Government's view about how the Bill should be structured in general. My certain wish is that the Committee should improve the Bill rather than be a Committee of ritual battles over clauses, which often does not get us very far.
In not quite such an emollient tone, it is important to stress that one complicating factor of the single bid is the sort of people who will be encouraged by the nature of the system to write down a figure, put it in an envelope and send it to the franchise authority. Recently the Minister of State refused to accept that the Australian experience might be reproduced here. All the evidence suggests, however, that we might face exactly the same problems, not least because of the risk of rogue bids coming from outside the industry.
59 Discussing the prospectus with the IBA, as programme companies now do, maximises the participation of the professional broadcaster in the franchise negotiations—the man or woman who is interested in programme-making. The blind bid encourages cowboys. There is a type of individual who will bid for television companies for reasons that are only obliquely concerned with television —political influence, glamour, prestige and political connections. Newspapers and football clubs have the same attraction. The people who buy them often do so for the wrong reasons and with disastrous consequences. The Australian experience could be repeated here and we should remind ourselves what it was.
In that country three national commercial networks were bought by the highest bidders with no previous television connections. Mr. Alan Bond bought Channel 9 for 1.3 billion Australian dollars—shortly after it was valued at 0.15 billion Australian dollars. Mr. Christopher Skane bought Channel 7, but that company is now in liquidation. Mr. Frank Lowry bought Channel 10 and his company has made such immediate losses that half of them have been formally written off.
Faced with such a situation—bidding too much and making promises just to get the company—the new owner has only one option. Profit in television is a simple equation—profit equals advertising revenue minus production costs. With so much extra advertising time on offer because of the Bill it will not be possible to increase advertising revenue pounds per minute, and the only option will be to cut programme costs. Let us consider those programme costs. BBC and ITV drama costs between £;350,000 and £;400,000 an hour. Old films are available for between £;2,500 and £;5,000 an hour. If firms overbid and find themselves overstretched, their inevitable and unavoidable action will be to reduce high-quality production and high-quality broadcasts and turn towards lower, cheaper quality programmes. In one way that shift is being encouraged by the Government, as the Bill undermines the concept of public service broadcasting.
The obligation of cable or MVDS companies to carry BBC channels among their programmes will be abandoned if the Bill becomes law. The Secretary of State said that no such obligation existed in present law, but it exists in the Cable and Broadcasting Act 1984. That Act is to be repealed, however, and the obligation to carry BBC programmes on cable transmissions is not included in the Bill. As recently as September the then Home Secretary said that what is known as the "must carry" rule would be maintained. If, as I am sure the Government hope, cable prospers, an increasing proportion of people will obtain their entire viewing from such outlets. They will, as the Bill now stands, risk being denied access to public service channels—BBC 2, BBC 1 and Channel 4. The previous Home Secretary wished to protect their right to enjoy access to those channels and he promised that it would be maintained. Why was that promise broken?
In Cambridge, at the same time as promising that that access would be maintained, the right hon. Gentleman also promised the BBC would remain "the cornerstone of broadcasting", complemented by commercial channels. How can the BBC remain the cornerstone of broadcasting if it is not available to every television viewer, especially those who do not receive their signals from cable?
60 Universal availability is an essential feature of public service broadcasting. When the Minister replies I hope that he will tell us why it is to be abandoned. I hope that we will be told in turn—as the newspapers were told 10 days ago—that the Government are genuinely prepared to examine changes and amendments. They could demonstrate the good faith of that promise by agreeing that the Bill should go to a Special Standing Committee. It would therefore be subject to the expert scrutiny that a Bill of this importance deserves. I promise here and now that a Special Standing Committee will not take any longer than the normal procedures, but it will ensure that we examine the Bill more thoroughly and sensibly than going through the ritual confrontation.
If a Special Standing Committee is not possible, I hope that we will be spared the ritual rudeness during the Minister's wind-up speech and that questions will be answered calmly and contradictions in policy explained. If that is not the rule and if there is no suggestion of a willingness to amend and compromise, all the talk about open minds and doors will be demonstrated to be so much public relations guff.
In the meantime we shall, of course, vote against the Second Reading. Our vote will be cast for real diversity and genuine quality, for neither of those essential objectives is protected by the Bill.
Several hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
I remind the House that the 10-minutes limit on speeches operates from six o'clock.
§ Sir Geoffrey Pattie (Chertsey and Walton)
Many people in this debate will want to talk about the quality of programming, but there is another matter that hon. Members may well not discuss and to which I want to refer briefly: a mechanism for the provision of training. I referred to it when we discussed the White Paper earlier this year. It is extremely important to safeguard the industry's future by having some mechanism to ensure that training is properly provided.
I hope that it will be unnecessary to extol the virtues and importance of training. Certain special industries in this country, such as special effects, have produced films such as the Bond films and "Star Wars". The special technicians, who have demonstrated their expertise in this country, have, over a period, gone to Hollywood. Due to the failure to provide proper training here, we have not generated a second generation or echelon of people, and we no longer have the expert capability.
In a franchise business, which is what we are talking about today, managements frequently have recourse to the old argument that they do not have a long enough security of tenure to provide training programmes. They use that as a sort of alibi. Some mechanism should be devised that is linked to the levy, and perhaps also to the percentage of the net advertising revenue formula, to enable contractors to contribute towards a training programme.
If we consider the importance of the new technology, high-definition television, we see that if we do not spend enough time and effort on training people who are both in front of and behind the camera about the importance of high-definition television, we shall run the risk of 61 becoming a Third-world nation. This country's television and film production industry is maintained only by the expertise of the people working in it.
In talking about quality, I shall draw on my experience gained during five years in the Ministry of Defence, when I frequently adjudicated on procurement contests—if I may use that word. In those cases, we were looking for the lowest bid, not the highest, but the principle was exactly the same. We never said that we would always take the lowest bid, but that we would seek the lowest bid and then look at other criteria. I am worried that the ITC will be so completely boxed in that it will have no discretion to take account of the other essential criteria: the amount of money to be spent on programming. If that is not clearly stated and the ITC does not have the ability to take that into account, I fear that we shall be driven further towards lower programme standards.
I speak as someone who is not enamoured of present television programmes. Teachers in my constituency say that it is becoming impossible to persuade schoolchildren to participate in team games after class because they want to go home and watch a particular programme. I do not find that encouraging in relation to the wider use of television in society.
I am extremely anxious about the quality of television, as are many other hon. Members. I seek assurances from my hon. and learned Friend the Minister that he will be prepared to allay my concern and build into the Bill some discretionary powers of the ITC to use in the circumstances that I have described. If I am not given those assurances, I shall have to consider carefully whether I can support the Bill this evening.
§ 6.5 pm
§ Mr. Norman Buchan (Paisley, South)
I am totally surprised and delighted at being called so early in this debate.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)
I promise not to call the hon. Gentleman so early in future.
§ Mr. Buchan
I recall that the last time that somebody seemed to be totally astonished was Rupert Murdoch, although a competent written speech had been written for him. In that speech, at the television conference in Edinburgh this year, he started by saying that in economic matters, competition was always to be preferred to monopoly. From then on he talked about the economics of television to an audience of people who were artists, singers and in the theatre, and journalists concerned with news and facts. For him, it was sufficient that he could prove a case of profit coming from competition, as opposed to monopoly.
The same criterion applies once we have bids for television stations. If we have an auction bid, we are saying that we are seeing what money we can bring for the Treasury. As I understand the Home Secretary's responses to some of the earlier interventions, that was exactly his position. He seemed to suggest that we should have regard to the Treasury and the revenue coming in. However, in public service broadcasting we are not dealing with enormous figures. Advertising on commercial television will not cost the Treasury huge amounts of money. The remaining duty of public service broadcasting—which is also laid on existing commercial television, but which the Bill removes—will not be costly.
62 When we consider what television is, we should be prepared to pay a great cost. I am worried that Ministers do not seem to understand television's potential greatness. Today, man can speak to man at the same moment throughout the world. That is amazing. We can see the horrifying events in Tiananmen square and see the daily events in Wenceslaus square and know that something great and good is happening, to which we can respond. That is an amazing development in human communications and experience. We have been given an instrument with which we can expand human experience and improve communications.
The Bill is the most important piece of legislation we have had in this House for the past 10 years. Communication between man and man is what matters. All else flows from the understanding between humans. None of us questions—although the Government are trying to privatise it—the cost and devotion of time, energy and intellect to our universities and educational system. We know that our children must be educated, and we have an instrument that can enhance and develop that education. However, we are concerned only with how to maximise the money gained from this marvellous instrument.
In future, if we survive and live to see a time when we cease to have Governments with such a drab monotony of thought, we shall look back with amazement at throwing away such an opportunity. It is not enough for hon. Members to intervene and ask whether plays and games would be allowed on television. Of course television should provide entertainment, relaxation and the luxury of seeing such programmes. However, more important—people accept this—are documentaries. As soon as we commercialise broadcasting, we face the problem that there will be no means of allowing exciting, dangerous or risky experimentation.
I shall give the case which I gave to Rupert Murdoch, whose channels must make maximum profits. I asked him whether, if a man who had never been heard of, but who happened to be called Attenborough, asked him to devote much time and money to putting on a series of programmes about wildlife, he would have bought the series. The answer is that he would not. It is only because we have public service broadcasting that Attenborough has built up a mass viewing for such programmes. If someone had asked me five or 10 years ago whether I would pay for subscription broadcasting of such programmes I would have thought it nonsense—there would be no interest in them. But we who have accidentally come across these programmes have suddenly realised how marvellous and fascinating they are.
The criminality inherent in the Government's Bill is that this sort of development will not take place, because every time, the audience will have to be maximised, and that will involve two conditions.
First, a programme must be easily understood: it must not turn people off; it must not involve experimentation or anything new. Secondly, a programme must not disturb too many people: they must not switch it off; it must be fairly tranquil pap. I am no expert, but I believe there is good and bad rock music; likewise, there will be better and worse pap, but by and large it will not be experimental, it will not break new ground, it will not energise people or extend human experience. Above all, it will not offend. I think, with Hamlet, that unless there is offence not much happens.
63 I disagree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), who said that the Broadcasting Standards Council was nothing to be worried about. I foresee a double jeopardy. It might have been right to bring the Obscene Publications Act 1964 into broadcasting—in some ways it was anomalous that it should have been missing, although I greatly distrust the Government handling anything of that sort. Now, in addition, the Government are bringing in the Broadcasting Standards Council—under Rees-Mogg, of all people—and that presents the double jeopardy.
The council will not go for the sleazy, suggestive pap: it will go for the serious programmes. Writing in 1907, Bernard Shaw listed the plays that the Lord Chamberlain had banned in that year. They included "Oedipus Rex", his own "Mrs. Warren's Profession" and Ibsen's "Ghosts". As Bernard Shaw pointed out, any commercial manager in London could put on plays about brothels or adultery as long as they were fun, but as soon as they became serious—like "Ghosts"—they were banned. As long as they were light, such plays were an open sesame for profit, for sleaze-makers. Just to prove the point, hon. Members may recall that Lord Rees-Mogg's favourite programme is "'Allo 'Allo"—sleazy titillation with undertones of Gestapo bondage.
To conclude, I want to quote Nye Bevan—I have quoted Murdoch enough. Bevan said that there is no need to look at the crystal ball when you can read the book—and we can read the book. Hon. Members who read my book will discover more about the subject—
§ Mr. Buchan
The book deals with what has happened to broadcasting when it goes commercial—for instance, in Australia, where there was immediate reduction in the number of serious programmes. Channel 9 in Australia has no current affairs, arts, religious or educational programmes and no documentaries, and 20 per cent. of broadcasting time is given over to advetising. The foreign radio and television broadcasting that I know best is that of Italy, where—
§ Mr. Buchan
—the new commercialised channel 5 devotes more than 27 per cent. of its time to advertising.
§ Mr. John Gorst (Hendon, North)
the Government's plans provide a most insecure and unpromising field for investment on the part of programme contractors."—[Official Report, 25 March 1954; Vol. 525, c. 1473.]if this Bill becomes law, future historians will deem it to be one of the most irresponsible measures of modern times."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 30 June 1954; Vol. 188, c. 284.]I trust we shall reject this Bill, not only because commercial television is undesirable but also because it will not be of value."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 30 June 1954; Vol. 188, c. 303.]I reassure my right hon. Friend the Minister that those are not my words—they were spoken by Labour spokesmen on broadcasting back in 1954. I apologise for resorting to a somewhat banal and childish deception, but 64 my point is a serious one. My motive was not party political. I could equally well have quoted the late Earl of Halifax, a Conservative Peer, who said that, because the principle of public service seemed more important than the principle of commercial competition, he felt unable to support the Second Reading of the Television Bill back in 1954.
At every stage of our broadcasting history we have been nervous about taking the next step. My theme is simply that, as in the past, we tend to say that we have heard it all before—the faint hearts have always shouted louder than those who were bold, although the more enterprising may eventually have won the day. That is not to say that caution is out of place. Nor does it imply that broadcasting is unimportant. Everyone agrees that it is important. We can go further in agreement and say that innovations carry risks, so sensible precautions must be taken to avoid making mistakes. Today's debate is essentially about taking sensible precautions. Although it involves examining the facts leading to the best results, it also means ignoring the spurious cries of woe from various vested interests.
There is no shortage of special pleading. It comes from narrow-minded and enlightened people just as much as from self-interested or altruistic people. Let us examine first the cries of woe. Certain themes have constantly recurred in debates over the past 30 years. Will the change be viable? What about the quality of programmes? What about hostility to advertising? Dislike of private profit and accusations of triviality have been voiced. It has been said that ethics and morality will be debased and that changes will constitute a waste of our resources. The enemies of change are not always the upholders of the public conscience. Sometimes they are merely defenders of vested interests.
Back in the 1950s, the keynote was the defence of the BBC monopoly. The Opposition spokesman at the time said:There are … principles of our public life, one of them being that changes in great established national institutions should not be made without broad agreement."—[Official Report, 15 December 1953; Vol. 522, c. 328.]I believe that I have already heard that argument today.
There is an innate dislike of commerce, too. Speaking for the Opposition, Lord Macdonald went so far as to ask:Is it wise for this country to follow up this craze that we find growing rapidly in some countries to commercialise everything? … Surely there are some things which are too sacred to be commercialised."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 26 May 1952; Vol. 176, c. 1371.]In the 1960s, the rationalisation was that private profit could never serve the public interest. The excuse articulated by the Labour spokesman was that the language of priorities dictated that due to lack of resources we should make no progress. In the 1970s the emphasis switched again. It was then a cocktail of technical difficulties and trivialisation.
Finally, having reached the 1980s, we are virtually back at square one. We have returned to where we started, back to the dying days of Lord Reith's era, and once again one has a growing sense of having been down this road before. Lord Reith said:nothing could be more certain than that Gresham's Law will apply and dominate".With those words, the great patriach of broadcasting thundered against the breaking of the BBC monopoly and foreshadowed today's discussion about the auctioning franchises driving out the good. In ever more scathing 65 tones Lord Reith denounced even more wicked possibilities. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary spoke of Lord Reith's references to smallpox, bubonic plague and the black death, and Lord Reith ended the speech in question by saying:Somebody is minded now to introduce sponsored broadcasting into this country.andA principle absolutely fundamental and cherished is about to be scuttled."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 22 May 1952; Vol. 176, c. 1295–7.]For "sponsored broadcasting" we need only substitute the word "deregulation" and not much seems to have changed over the years.
Today we are witnessing a replay of two well-worn tunes from earlier decades. The first is that we must preserve the status quo as far as possible and at all costs, keep the BBC as it is, not upset the existing pattern of ITV contractors and freeze the formula for Channel 4. The second is an admonition that quality, standards and viability could be victims of innovation. Having listened to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) one would think that a third had been added—a threat to democracy itself.
Opposing these novel changes is an unholy alliance. Once upon a time it was the bishops in harness with the vice-chancellors and the BBC. Nowadays it is a less plausible alliance—the television entrepreneurs, safely entrenched in their citadels of power but hand in hand with the industry's creative people. Together they seem united against any invasion of their private, privileged territory.
Nothing that I have said should be taken as suggesting that I do not believe in pressing for the highest possible standards in broadcasting. The broadest spectrum of economically viable choice, not to mention economical use of technical and financial resources, is also highly desirable. Everyone admits, however, that we are moving into a new era of broadcasting and that the old methods of awarding franchises are not necessarily the best. The Government's plans must be thoroughly examined and probed in Committee, as they will be, and the Minister has already said outside the House that there will be reasonableness. That is commendable and highly desirable, but it has to be set against an equally important factor—the fact that we must put behind us for ever Lord Reith's thundering pronouncement that intellectual and ethical objectivesare here and now at stake."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 22 May 1952; Vol. 176, c. 1297.]They are not, they have not been, and they will not be.
§ Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
I followed the Home Secretary's speech with great interest. He will understand why I am opposed to the swashbuckling philosophy behind the Bill. It will make money for the Treasury at the expense of programme quality. Competition is one thing, but it is bad to have moneybags at the expense of viewing standards. I am strongly opposed to the Bill.
I should like to speak on just one aspect of the Bill, and I shall be brief. It is about the group that the Home Secretary mentioned in his speech—deaf people. He said that there is provision in the Bill for helping deaf people, and he and the Minister of State, Home Office have said that they want to help. I appreciate that. Deaf people have political significance for every hon. Member because they 66 are to be found in every constituency. They are deprived of television if they are totally deaf or very hard of hearing. They simply cannot follow it without subtitling; in some cases, they need sign language. It is sad that so many deaf people should be excluded from television in that way.
For decades, they have been excluded because there was no subtitling. After subtitling was introduced, it was slowly extended, and today there is some provison. I should like the House to look at the amount of subtitling that exists. There is subtitling on several programmes, including documentaries and wildlife programmes. There is Oracle and Ceefax subtitling for various programmes on BBC and ITV. They do a good job. Independent Television News has live subtitles on its news programmes and is to be warmly commended for that. The little misspelling and few seconds delay on the Oracle subtitling on ITN is irrelevant. What is important is that it makes ITN news meaningful to the deaf viewer, whereas BBC news programmes are meaningless pictures. I hope that the BBC will think again and provide proper subtitling for its news programmes.
The Bill says that there will be a mandatory increase of 10 per cent. in the subtitled hours of commercial television programmes. I welcome that recognition of need by the Home Secretary and the Minister of State. However, a 10 per cent. increase is lamentable. There are about two hours of subtitling per channel per day, although there are over 500 hours of television per week. A 10 per cent. increase in those two hours means an increase of 12 minutes per channel per day, and that is not good enough. The Government cannot be serious. The figures cannot be challenged. I know that the Home Secretary and the Minister of State want to help, but such an increase is not acceptable.
§ Mr. Mellor
I am anxious that the right hon. Gentleman should understand exactly what the Bill says, because we want to meet him and those who feel strongly about this issue. The 10 per cent. increase is only for the first year of the new Channel 3 franchises. Thereafter, we expect the Independent Television Commission to suggest a new target each year which will increase year on year. The precise extent by which it should increase is a matter upon which I feel sure the ITC will want to hear the views of the House as the Bill proceeds through Parliament. The 10 per cent. increase is just a start, and we see it as an increasing commitment every year.
§ Mr. Ashley
The Minister has made an important statement, which I hope the ITC will bear in mind, because the Bill does not say that. The Bill says that the Commission needs to make the increase "greater"—not greater than 10 per cent.—in successive years. What does "greater" mean? If one is trying to minimise subtitles and make profits, "greater" could mean 1 per cent. or 0.1 per cent., and that is my anxiety.
I am delighted by what the Minister has said. The spirit of his intervention must be taken on board by the ITC. That is the end of my speech. Subtitling is crucial, because it is the key for deaf people. The Minister's statement is a big advance.
§ Mr. Michael Alison (Selby)
I shall concentrate on one feature of the Bill—the provision, or lack of provision, for Christian or other religious broadcasting. The Bill is 67 deficient and unsatisfactory in this respect. However, I am encouraged by, and appreciative of, the attitude taken by my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State about religious broadcasting in the informal exchanges that I and other colleagues have had with him. It is clear that he has an open mind about this topic.
Let me highlight some of the defects of the Bill under this heading. It accentuates the negative on religious broadcasting. There is barely a word about it, except in terms of prohibition and restriction. In the very engine room of the Bill, clause 2, a positive duty is laid on the new independent television commissionto facilitate the provision of … a wide range of programmes calculated to appeal to a variety of tastes and interests.It is to provide those services by licence.
Yet clause 5 goes on to disbar and disallow any Christian body from becoming a licence holder. The so-called wide range of interests to be created for by licensees is open-ended in all sorts of directions, but in the direction of the Christian Churches and other religions, the door is conspicuously and deliberately closed. So, alongside governmental and bureaucratic bodies infinitely more limited in their appeal, Churches are disbarred from taking part as licensees. This is unreasonable and unacceptable.
I remind my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of what the Bishop of St. Albans said in his commentary on the Bill:churchgoing is still the most popular, voluntary communal activity of the British people".It far exceeds, for example, attendance at football matches, and I wonder whether my hon. Friend and the Government have really seriously thought through the desirability of specifically disbarring the most popular national communal activity from being promoted, through banning its sponsors and promoters from taking their wares on to the air as licenceholders.
Some might argue that the United States television experience, involving scandals like that of Jimmy Bakker, provide evidence enough that we should not go down that road. However, the Bill already provides adequate safeguards to prevent such abuse—for example, the quality provisions in clause 6 and the fund-raising regulatory powers in clause 7. I urge the Government to consider open-mindedly, sympathetically and carefully the possibility of removing this fundamental limitation on the future of religious broadcasting.
If the limitation is persisted with, it will have the effect of de-licensing, and thus forcing off the air, an existing excellent cable channel carrying mainstream Christian religious output to 65,000 homes in Glasgow, Coventry, Swindon, Croydon and Ealing. The material in this output was recently described by the Cable Television Authority as "worthwhile and accessible". Could anything make the point more vividly about the Bill's accentuation of the negative than its proposal to wring the neck of such programme options? In this context, the views of the Central Religious Advisory Committee for the BBC and IBA on this issue are not the views of the Church of England as a whole, nor those of the wider Christian church.
The so-called radio option provided for in the Bill is not so restrictive, but it does not meet the case. I remind my 68 hon. Friend the Minister of the point made by Mr. Clive Calver, the general director of the Evangelical Alliance in a recent letter to The Times. He said:If churches were to apply for radio licences they would be denied management control of their own output. Clause 83 (2) requires that a licensee should 'exclude from its programmes all expressions of views and opinions of the person providing the service … on religious matters'.By this caveat a radio station run by a local church could not even broadcast its own live worship to the community it serves.The religious broadcasting on sound radio option is a good start in the right direction, but it does not go far enough. The very fact of the admissibility of sound radio broadcasting should be regarded as the first chink in the curtain which could be extended to visual broadcasting.
Part of the Government's defence of their position as set out in the Bill is their declared confidence that, notwithstanding the prohibition of television station ownership, plenty of prime time will continue to be given to religious programmes under the new regime, as there is at present. The Government believe that the BBC will continue to feature religion on both channels, as it does now. Although the Government frankly acknowledge that there is no statutory requirement for religious programmes to be shown on ITV, they believe that the generalised provisions of clause 2(2)(b) about catering fora variety of tastes and interestswill be sufficient for the safeguarding of prime time religious programmes.
Who is kidding whom? Does my hon. and learned Friend really believe that the abandonment of an overt public service obligation for the new commercial services, coupled with the new franchises tendering regime, will do anything other than marginalise Christian or other religious programmes? Unfortunately, it is no answer to argue that good quality and popular religious programmes such as "Highway" and "Songs of Praise" will continue to command prime time. Admittedly, they can command up to one third of the entire population of viewers, but the harsh reality is set out in this quote from the Bishop of St. Albans in his paper from the Church of England committee for communications:Although the size of audience is important, the crucial factor is its composition. A large audience of impecunious people does not interest advertisers. Since advertising breaks are not allowed in the middle of religious programmes, they are not among the high revenue earners.It is the buying power of an audience, and not simply its size, which appeals to advertisers. Unless there are conservation safeguards in the new system, genuine audience choice will be inhibited.In 1988, some ITV programme controllers attempted to move 'Highway' from its popular slot early on Sunday evening. 'Highway' is always in the top 100 programmes, drawing up to 10m viewers each week. Its unattractiveness to programme controllers is that its audience is neither young nor wealthy, so it has little appeal for advertisers.That is the harsh reality. That is the reason that mainstream, prime-time religious programmes will go by the board and religion will be marginalised. That is not compatible with the sort of attitude that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, among others, takes towards the importance of religion in broadcasting.
I share and thoroughly advocate the views expressed by the pressure group Christian Choice in Broadcasting, which insists that it isessential that: channels committed to general programming should include religion; the wide selection of special-interest channels should include at least one with a religious emphasis.
§ Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin)
There will be plenty of time in Committee to examine the Bill clause by clause and line by line. I shall use my 10 minutes today to examine the principles behind the Bill and to explain why there is a fundamental difference in values and in approach to the Bill between Conservative Members and Opposition Members. I hope that Conservative Members will not try to excuse the Bill with the line. "There is a small part that I do not like, but I can vote against that in Committee." They should examine the values behind the Bill and decide on Second Reading whether they support or reject it.
I shall take the Government at face value and believe them, temporarily, when they say that their basic principle is to provide for greater choice. It has been demonstrated conclusively in the debates that have preceded this one that greater numbers of programmes will not provide greater choice. We have seen that demonstrated in the listed events for sport. If the free market is allowed to apply, whether for sport or anything else, there can be no argument from a Thatcherite Government point of view that if a channel can afford to pay for a national event, it should have it, and that it is up to individuals to decide whether to have a satellite dish, or whatever else is required, to receive it.
My right hon. and hon. Friends and I believe that there is a need for regulation to ensure that the nation as a whole can see national events. It is the result of skilled scheduling that areas which constitute minority interests now become majority interests. For example, who would have thought 10 or 15 years ago that snooker would be a major national event when world championships are being played? That is achieved by scheduling within a programme remit that has balance because the various events are shown during the course of an evening in a major national network programme.
Programme quality is already being affected. It is not pie in the sky to say that if franchises are auctioned programme quality will be affected in future. Any television company will say now that there is a need already to cut programme budgets because it is saving for the franchise auction. It is inevitable that companies will have to do that. My hon. Friends and I are not scaremongering when we say that the quality of programming will be affected. If cash is the first priority, quality will he affected and it is being affected now.
If there is a proliferation of channels there will not be more money to create programmes. We know that viewers spend about five hours a day watching television and that most adults watch for 25 hours a week. No one seriously suggests that when we have a proliferation of channels people will be watching more television. They will be spreading their viewing through more channels and there will be lower programme budgets to deliver the quality of programmes required by those operating the channels. That means that less money will be available for each programme.
We all know that good programming requires money. Who would have the nerve to send John Pilger to Cambodia with a film crew for a long time to make outstanding television documentaries on a restricted budget? John Pilger's programmes have demonstrated the power of television to hon. Members on both sides of the House. The response has been reflected in the letters which have reached our mailbags. There must be considerable commitment if such programmes are to be produced. As 70 my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) said, who would be able to permit film crews to make wildlife programmes over long periods with reduced budgets? Many types of programme would be at risk if budgets were cut substantially.
There is a fundamental difference between the two sides of the House because Conservative Members seem to think that the Bill is essential because of new technology. Technology is marvellous, but it is our servant and not our master. The technology of satellite and cable television enables us to make better programmes and any programme-maker who allows technology to get ahead of the story—to spin screens round, and all the other incredible things that can be done, which I can barely understand despite having made programmes in the past—will not improve the quality of the programme. The basic story line and concept must be good. If the Government have the will to regulate satellite and cable television properly to ensure that they are the servants of programme standards and that technology is not the master, they will be successful.
I fear that the real motive behind the Bill is not the stated one. I absolve a fair few Conservative Members who are in their places because I am sure that, by definition, they are those who have doubts about the Bill. I fear that the real motive is that the Government prefer to receive their news and current affairs via The Sun rather than "World in Action". They are happier in a world where the Daily Star provides the information about what is going on in the world and not "First Tuesday". They are not so interested in that outstanding documentary programme, which was the first to spell out the innocence of the Guildford Four. I wonder how many people wish that events which take place in the United Kingdom were not examined in detail by means of investigative journalism.
In 1987, the broadcasting research unit of the Home Office reported on the public's view of their sources of news and information. It stated that 67 per cent. cited television as the medium they most trust, 11 per cent. cited radio, and 8 per cent. cited newspapers. I am stunned that the percentage citing newspapers was so high, but it is clear that under the present regulatory framework the public see television as their most reliable source of news and current affairs. I am not surprised that some Conservative Members look forward to the day when newspapers and not television will be the main source of public information on news and current affairs. The House would be spending its time far more effectively if it were seeking ways whereby the press, as an important medium of current affairs, was brought up to the standards of broadcasting. Instead, however, the philosophy behind the Bill seems to be to drag broadcasting down to the standards of the press.
Behind the Bill lies a distessing philosophy. I regard television as a miraculous medium. It is one that I barely understand despite having worked in it, and one with a phenomenal capacity to communicate to peoples of all nations. How do the Government respond to the miracle of this means of communication and its miraculous extension through cable and satellite technology? They ask themselves how much money they can make out of it, how much they can get from the auctioning of franchises and whether it will satisfy the advertisers—a depressing, mean-spirited, narrow-minded response to a marvellous means of communication.
My right hon. Friends and I rejoice at what telvision can do. We do not want it reduced to musak in the lift, as 71 in the United States and most other countries where there has been deregulation. We want to see television used for what it is within a proper regulatory framework. That is the only way of guaranteeing real choice and real standards. There is a fundamental philosophical difference between the two sides of the House, and if we accept the Bill we shall be going down the road towards pap.
§ Mr. Julian Critchley (Aldershot)
If I hesitate for a moment before speaking, it is only to allow time for my aunt to come in from the garden—
§ Mr. Critchley
She has a lavatory at the bottom of the garden.
Last year I was invited by a friend in the Conservative party—[HON. MEMBERS: "Name him."] No, but he invited me to speak at a supper club in his constituency. I shall not say where, merely that if we divided the map of the United Kingdom into four quarters, it would fall in the south-western quarter. Conservative Members know what such occasions are like. If I recount the menu—half a grapefruit with one red, Cyclopian eye in the middle; rubber chicken with half a tinned apricot or peach looking rather like a fried egg—it is only to explain to the House what my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) has endured for the past four years.
The subject of my speech at the supper club in the south-western quarter was broadcasting. I chose it for a purpose, because broadcasting is one subject about which most Conservatives know absolutely nothing, but about which we hold very strong views. In the demonology of our great party—and by God, our demonology is full of candidates of one kind or another—the BBC holds a very special place. Sooty and sulphurous, the corporation has, or so it is believed, a long history of letting down the side. It is unBritish—its reporting during the Falklands war; it is snide—it makes jokes about my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister; it is limply impartial—when events call for a robust partiality.
I am sorry to say that, for a certain sort of Conservative, the BBC is certainly not one of us. In consequence, it has been given until 1996 and has been restricted to a licence fee that can raise no additional money—it is simply indexed—to enable it to meet the challenge of Channels 3, 4 and 5. Was not the BBC described by someone who lives not a million miles from Downing street as a nest of Marxists? If so, given the events in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, it deserves to be made a protected species.
The Bill has its origins in the White Paper, which in turn sprang from the loins of a Cabinet Sub-Committee. That Sub-Committee was presided over by the Prime Minister herself. There is nothing new in that; most of them are. However, it included the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, and it was his idea that the franchises should be auctioned to the highest bidder to raise the maximum amount of revenue for the Treasury. I understand that he is doing something like that with his memoirs.
To return to my speech at the supper club—
§ Mr. Critchley
That is my ambition.
My audience appeared to regard the BBC as the enemy—"that Robin Day"—while ITV was judged in part by the irreverence of "Spitting Image" and by what many saw as the Left-wing bias of its news and current affairs. I found that extremely disturbing. They had no wish to see their distinguished Members of Parliament on the telly. Bringing the cameras into the House would, I was told, encourage politics—by which, of course, they meant the politics of our opponents. Conservative Members, as we all know, have nothing to do with politics of any sort.
It is well known that the Home Office is in something of a fix. On the one hand it believes—or its masters believe—in deregulation. Some of them believe in the magic of the market. To a Manchester liberal, and we have far too many of them in the Tory party, more does not mean worse; it means giving the man in the street what he craves—32 buttons on his television set, each one giving him access to one form of "Neighbours" or another. Such Manchester liberals are the worst sort of elitists. As my hon. Friend "the other Walden" has written:They shelter their children in expensive preparatory schools while handing over other people's children to the forces of the markets.On the other hand—this is the fix in which the Home Office finds itself—the Home Office, or some of its masters, is worried about sex. Lord Rees-Mogg has been recalled to the colours with the sole purpose of defending the nation against the heated imagination of Mr. Dennis Potter. We live in a country in which nanny insists that we wash our hands before lunch, while she washes her hands of what we do between breakfast and lunchtime.
We should not permit the franchises to fall into the hands of the highest bidder. A channel on television is a scarce resource and must be allocated to the applicant who submits the most impressive prospectus. The Minister has already said—I think on the BBC—that nothing in the BBC is set in stone. In that case, will he consider my suggestion that his proposal on auctioneering should be stood on its head? There should be a simple rent, set by and payable to the Government. The other bid, over and above that, should be the amount of money that the rivals are prepared to spend on programmes—not on soaps, game shows or cheap Australian imports, because we already suffer from a form of Australian cultural imperialism—but on drama, news and current affairs. Unless that concession is clearly made, I do not think that I shall vote for the Bill.
§ Mr. Clifford Forsythe (Antrim, South)
The Bill gives us an opportunity to review the whole question of radio and television. The review must be used not to weaken existing standards, but to reaffirm the true role of broadcasting, which is to inform, educate and entertain. It is sad that the Government appear to be using the opportunity to sell stations to the highest bidders. The quality threshold must be regarded as a plateau, not as an obstacle to be jumped and disregarded later. The "highest bidder" concept is wrong as it cannot be in the best interests of viewers or the country to place such a powerful medium into the hands of those whose only qualification might be that they are richer than anyone else.
I welcome the establishment of the Broadcasting Standards Council and will be watching closely to see how it uses the powers given to it under part V. However, I am 73 concerned that under clause 129 certain cable and microwave transmission services seem to be excluded from the scope of the council's monitoring. If we are to have such a council, it should be responsible for examining all broadcasting services without exception. Perhaps the Minister will explain why, under part II, some licensed services are excluded from the council's responsibility?
Like the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley), I am surprised and disappointed that the Bill gives so little support to the deaf and hard of hearing. I had hoped that, with about 4 million viewers falling into that category, much more consideration would have been given to their needs. I hope that amendments will be passed in Committee to provide more facilities for the deaf, and I was pleased to hear what the Minister said earlier on that matter.
The restriction on Christian broadcasting is resented by many people, especially in Northern Ireland. People in Northern Ireland agree fully with the concerns expressed in Great Britain about religious bodies being restricted from being involved in broadcasting. Under the provisions of schedule 2, such bodies can have no involvement in holding television service licences. Clause 83 places restrictions on editorial control of radio programmes. As was said earlier, that will disadvantage an existing Christian output on a cable channel. The Cable Authority has said that it regrets that the new legislation is "unnecessarily restrictive". I know that the Minister has received many representations on that issue and I urge him to think again and to allow Christian or religious bodies to compete in the marketplace in the same way as other groups.
I draw the House's attention to how the Bill will affect Northern Ireland. Provision is made in clauses 139 and 140 to bring television and radio under the obscenity law in England, Scotland and Wales. I was surprised to see that no similar provision has been made for Northern Ireland. Citizens in Northern Ireland should enjoy the same protection from obscene material as citizens in the rest of the kingdom. Perhaps the Minister can explain how that has happened and, if necessary, ensure that an amendment to the Bill is tabled in Committee.
I support the properly controlled but urgent evolution of radio in Ulster. I ask the Minister to say what criteria will be used by the new authority to decide how many stations are desirable and where those stations will be located. How and where will those criteria be obtained?
Radio enthusiasts in Ulster think that there is room for between six and 20 new stations in Northern Ireland. At present there is general agreement that Radio Ulster, Radio Foyle and Downtown Radio provide a good service for their own section of the market. However, there is clear evidence of a large audience looking for a different format.
That evidence is the undoubted success of stations based in the Irish Republic which beam programmes into Fermanagh and Armagh, Newry and Craigavon, as far up as Belfast and in the north-west of the Province. It becomes more imperative every day that new local Northern Ireland companies are given the opportunity to cater for that obvious market and thus provide an exciting and creative radio industry in Ulster, so that in the words of the Bill they can offera wide range of programmesfor avariety of tastes and interests74 Northern Ireland has been well served for 30 years by our existing television station—Ulster Television—which, as a result of hard work, dedication and expertise, has become a success in terms of viewing figures, profitability and local esteem. It is a great compliment that Northern Ireland people know it as "our station". Ulster Television employs about 270 staff and produces 400 hours of wide-ranging and diverse programmes a year. It is committed to grant-aiding the arts and sciences and provides sponsorship for sport, education and job creation to the tune of 5 per cent. of its annual television profit. Its board and management are involved in the life of the community and most of its reporters and presenters are from the Province.
Despite 21 years of terrorism, the station has managed to overcome the problems presented by a divided society and separate cultures, to become fully accepted by the whole community. That praiseworthy position is due to the company being locally owned and controlled. It is a remarkable achievement and is made even more so when one considers the subtleties of circumstances in Northern Ireland.
We must not lose sight of the many extra disadvantages that will be faced even by a local company. Sales revenue from Channel 4 will be lost. There will be increased competition from Channel 4, Channel 5 and five satellite channels. The privatisation of transmitters will impose extra costs and, on top of that, there will be the unquantifiable burden of tendering. Sadly, the IBA's most recent financial projection is more negative than before.
Right hon. and hon. Members do not need to be reminded of the special circumstances in Northern Ireland. The presentation of sensitive material requires careful handling and the careless use of information could, in extreme circumstances, result in tragedy. The emphasis on the wrong word or the careless use of a phrase can cause anger in some sections of the community. Because of those real difficulties, it is essential that broadcasting in Northern Ireland should be controlled and manned by local people who are sensitive to local problems. It could be a disaster if control of television were to fall into the hands of people lacking the inside knowledge that it so essential to anyone involved in the media in Northern Ireland.
I make the House aware of those many problems hoping that the Minister in his reply will concede the necessity for dealing with Northern Ireland in a different but sympathetic way so that in Ulster we will have not only a truly local operation but a viable one, too.
§ 7.8 pm
§ Mr. Timothy Raison (Aylesbury)
The White Paper that heralded the Bill is entitled "Broadcasting in the '90s: Competition, Choice and Quality." I favour competition and choice, but the greatest of the three is quality. In a sense, that is the theme and essence of today's debate. It is the particular job of Government to ensure that the best of our culture is handed on from one generation to the next, and we are right to examine the Bill to see what it contributes to what I regard as the battle to preserve and enhance our civilisation.
A number of simple actions can be taken. One would be to make Radio 3 audible throughout the country. It is infuriating to drive to one's constituency, only to find that Radio 3 has disappeared from the airwaves. I would much 75 rather see Radio I converted to Radio 3 than the present situation continue to exist. Other matters are more difficult and complex to resolve. Notable among them is the way in which ITV contracts are to be allocated, and I shall deal with that aspect later.
The Government have taken a number of wise decisions. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary was right to point out that Channel 4 has been safeguarded. As he said, it was a great Tory invention. He is right also to keep the BBC basically intact. Three of the four existing channels will remain as they are; although, goodness knows, they are far from perfect, by and large they provide a reasonably good service. Those are all, in essence, decisions for achieving quality.
The most vexed question is how the ITV contracts should be allocated. When it comes to Channel 5, I hope that its boundaries will not be coterminous with those of Channel 3. In the present system, there is a strong bias in favour of the conurbations. I represent a part of the country that is commonly described as part of the home counties, and which is not a conurbation. As a result, it enjoys virtually no regional broadcasting. It is beginning to be served by local radio stations, but long after the conurbations. To be fair, Central Television has set up a Central (South) region, which goes some way to meeting the problem, and I congratulate it on that. Nevertheless, I hope that Channel 5 will not observe the same old boundaries.
Most important of all is the allocation of the contracts for Channel 3. The question of auctioning or tendering for that channel is the main problem. Of course there are vested interests, and special pleadings galore. We all know that the existing franchise holders badly want to win the contracts again, and are arguing as hard as they can that that should be so. However, the doubts go beyond that aspect, and I share some of them.
We do not know whether the Government's proposed system will drag down quality. Perhaps it would be worth reaching a compromise whereby only Channel 5 is allocated under the new tendering system. We can then see how that works out, while continuing to operate the present system of awarding franchises for Channel 3—perhaps for a shorter period than five or seven years. At the end of that period, we can make a judgment on whether the tendering system has the drawbacks that have been attributed to it, or whether it works perfectly satisfactorily. I like the idea of more competition, but we should wait to see how the tendering system works in one instance before committing ourselves to a major step, and one that could prove damaging.
Clause 33 seems to me to be unnecessary. It empowers the Independent Television Commission to require Channels 3, 4 and 5 to transmit party political broadcasts. Surely we are here presented with an opportunity to dispense with such broadcasts. We all know perfectly well that they range from the mediocre to the mendacious. Few people in our country, from whatever quarter they may come, would defend them. There is a serious reason for dispensing with party political broadcasts. The current experiment in televising this House is succeeeding and the decision to broadcast our proceedings is unlikely to be 76 reversed. It would be far better if, every day, five minutes more could be broadcast from this House, and there were no more party political broadcasts.
Perhaps the Bill should be a little more adventurous about impartiality in television programmes. Clause 6 focuses on that important aspect. I do not suggest for one moment that news programmes should be other than impartial, but perhaps we ought to accept the possibility that some programmes should be licensed to be partial rather than impartial. Mention has already been made of "World in Action", which everybody acknowledges is a radical programme with a strong political slant. Why not allow "World in Action" to come clean, but then ensure that a corresponding programme is broadcast with a bias in the opposition direction? Why should we pretend that everything is so dispassionate when that is evidently not the case?
The most important among the points I have made is that concerning the award of contracts, which I hope my right hon. and learned Friend will consider sympathetically.
§ Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)
I must admit that my poor dear aunt is no longer with me, and I am unsure how long it will take her to home in on the speech that I want to make. Nevertheless, I draw the attention of the House to one aspect that I believe is tremendously important. Most right hon. and hon. Members, when speaking about television, have in common the fact that, although they talk about television, they never watch it. Most right hon. and hon. Members do not even watch television when they are on it themselves. That is the greatest sacrifice that any politician can make. However, every day a substantial percentage of the population use television as a means of obtaining not only information and education but plain enjoyment. That is not only wonderful but something we should encourage.
The Bill fails to deal with the most important sector of the television audience, which is children. Our country has a long history of making high-quality and varied children's television programmes. Specific attempts were made, originally by the BBC and then by ITV, to programme for different age groups and to produce not only traditional stories but original material. I am deeply concerned that the Bill provides no specific safeguards for that sector.
I have for some time endeavoured to obtain from the hon. and learned Minister of State a guarantee that he is prepared to write standards for children's broadcasting into the Bill. With surprising modesty, he has not been prepared to give me a specific answer. He seems to believe that, if there is lots and lots of television, that must automatically be good for children, but that is neither my experience nor that of many parents.
In fact, there are considerable reservations about the present trend among ITV companies. Some of their original children's programmes have been cancelled, while new material has not been developed. There are clear signs that, as financial horns have been drawn in, children's programmes are suffering disproportionately. The increase in the number of television channels has not brought an automatic improvement in quality but has frequently meant observance of the lowest common denominator. That is noticeable in the BBC as well as among the ITV companies.
§ Mr. Gale
Surely the hon. Lady acknowledges that there has never been any statutory provision of any kind in respect of children's entertainment in the charter of the BBC or the IBA. The only company about which I know a great deal, Thames Television, increased its children's programme staff and produced more children's programmes last year than ever before.
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
Many considerations are not written into charters. Like many institutions, television operates not to written rules but largely to unwritten rules—for example, in respect of the transmission of foreign material.
When Doreen Stephens was head of family programmes at the BBC, she said that one of her points of principle wasthe duty and responsibility to use the medium of television to enrich and enlarge the child's experience.She felt that children should be stimulated by the programmes they watched, so that television did not serve purely as an automatic nursemaid. Her other principles were:That children should be entertained and enjoy the programmes they watch.That children should be treated with respect as people, without condescension or concession.That children should not be over-protected in the choice and presentation of the content of their programmes.We should take care to ensure that all those principles are incorporated in any future planning for the expansion of television. We must accept that, if we simply allow television to become a matter of open competition, we shall increasingly see an influx of the type of children's material which has the specific aim of selling toys, and developing particular commercial involvements.
Small children and children up to their early teens do not have sufficient experience to be automatically choosy about the quality of the material they watch. That does not mean that we should assume a certain level of censorship, but we must be careful to ensure that they are not subject to sleazy, low quality, narrowly aimed material.
I have considerable doubts about some of the programmes shown now. I do not look at children's television any more; I look at ordinary television. But I have a secret army—mostly called Dunwoody, most of whom have small children—who give me acute accounts of what is shown. They are already concerned about children's programmes that include torture chambers or that use poor English and about a number of game shows in which small children are subjected to indignities that are not in their interest and can upset them. That is already happening.
As the Bill develops, I hope that we shall have a calm understanding that children's material is not cheap to make, but is often as expensive as adult programmes, and that it takes a long time to get a return on the original material.
Children's programmes do not automatically mean cartoon films imported from America. Nor should they be a demonstration of a particular form of game show or, dare I say it, low-quality imported material from parts of the world where they manage to make a series of programmes and need to make a profit by circulating them as widely as possible, irrespective of what that does to the audience.
I want good children's programmes, and I want my children and grandchildren to be proud of an industry that 78 for a long time has put specialised programmes for children of different ages high on its list, and has been appreciated worldwide for the quality of its programmes.
I can see nothing in the Bill that will safeguard the material shown on television. I have heard nothing in what the Minister has said today that makes it clear that the Government intend to build safeguards into the Bill in Committee, and it is for precisely those reasons that I shall vote against the Bill tonight.
A country that sells its children short in culture, literature or in the material that they enjoy daily in their homes, is a pretty miserable, tatty country. We have to ensure that that is not the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North)
I declare an interest as a member of British Equity, a member of the Association of Cinematograph, Television and Allied Technicians and a member of the television branch of the National Union of Journalists.
There are 167 clauses in the Bill. Those right hon. and hon. Members who served on the Home Affairs Select Committee will be gratified to see that many of our findings are reflected in many of those clauses.
Hon. Members who hope to serve on the Standing Committee will wish to consider a number of issues. We shall want to re-examine the "must carry" provisions that will be lost with the abolition of the Cable and Broadcasting Act 1984, and we may seek to reimpose a must-carry provision for BBC1 and 2. We should reconsider the provisions currently mooted for Channel 4, to determine whether it is realistic to ask the competitor companies that operate Channel 3 to underwrite and promote Channel 4's programmes. We may need to reconsider the Secretary of State's right or need to be able to veto the non-executive directors of Channel 4.
We may need to consider cross-ownership, with particular reference to community radio. My hon. and learned Friend may like to think about the many local newspapers that might be able to provide a better service to the reading and listening public, if they were able to own community radio stations.
We may have to reconsider the provisions for Channel 5 and the network arrangements that will exist in a new Channel 3. Undoubtedly, we shall need to consider further the difference between cross-media ownership and intra-television ownership. We shall certainly want to examine the provisions for deaf viewers. The privatisation of ITV transmission systems will need detailed consideration, and the provisions for broadcasting data and teletext will need to be examined.
None of those issues has been discussed in any depth in the House this afternoon. I am particularly sad that the debate has effectively been hijacked by the self-styled Campaign for Quality Television which largely represents the huge financial interests of some huge companies.
I am a television director and producer by trade and I have produced a large number—
§ Mr. Walden
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I support the Campaign for Quality Television, 79 and I wish to make it clear, after the rather offensive remark of my hon. Friend, that, unlike him, I have absolutely no economic or financial links with television.
§ Mr. Gale
I have no doubt that my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) will endeavour to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, and will make his speech in due course. The Campaign for Quality Television has the backing of some large vested interests.
Out of 167 clauses in an important Bill, very few have received more than scant attention from the media, which has sought, or has only been able, to focus on one issue. At the moment, I am reasonably satisfied that the arrangements made by BBC1 and 2, and the provision for the remit of Channel 4, will provide quality television, as I define it, as a producer and director. I am also satisfied that the quality threshold for Channel 3 will provide a satisfactory structure for the future of that channel.
In Committee, hon. Members will need to reconsider the other provisions of the Bill, and perhaps give the ITC the right to take into account the value of quality bids made by those who enter their auction room.
The Bill sets up a framework for broadcasting into the 20th century. By the year 2020, it is likely that every household in the country will have a cinema-style screen, 1.5 in deep, hanging on the wall, that will bring a choice of 20 to 30 channels via satellite transmission, cable head end and interactive cable. A person will be able to sit in an armchair at home watching the television, see an advertisement for a product, recall it at the end of the programme, view it through a mail order catalogue or review the commercial, decide on the merits of the product, order it and pay for it through interactive cable. That is technically possible now, as is the provision of home education—I thought that that would have appealed to my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham—home shopping, home banking and home medicine.
If anyone has any doubt about whether that is possible, I quote briefly from a press release from British Telecom, dated 14 November 1989, which says:The Government has given the green light to British Telecom's trial of its pioneering communications vision for the 21st century.This will use optical fibre 'pipelines' carrying television, high fidelity stereo-radio, telephone calls, information technology and other interactive services to houses and businesses.The company has been granted a special licence … to convey into integrated voice telephony and entertainment television over a trial optical fibre network at Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire.The licence runs from October 21, 1989 to December 31, 1992.That system will probably be up and running in homes by the end of next summer. The House is confronted with a colossal potential. An enormous opportunity will be presented to programme-makers, programme-providers and everyone in the entertainment industry, and it is depressing that many right hon. and hon. Members and people outside regard the Bill not as an opportunity but as a threat.
It is vital that we seize the opportunity with both hands, that we try to prevent the waste of time and energy on warring satellite systems, that we pursue in the interests of 80 the United Kingdom the development of satellite delivery and above all, that we pursue and encourage the development of fibre-optic cable systems.
§ Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)
I shall not follow the hon. Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) into the realms of science fiction because the Bill seems to me to be essentially about ideology and interference—the Prime Minister's Meddlesome Matty syndrome—in a system which "ain't broke, is doing quite well and don't need fixing".
The Bill is not about pluralism. Pluralism and competing channels are with us already. The Bill will add only one—fifth—television channel, which has unlikely prospects in any case. We welcome pluralism. It adds excitement, interest and diversity. The problem is to provide for standards, for quality and for production in the new pluralistic environment.
Pluralism—having more channels—must weaken basic provision through the duopoly. It drains away money and viewers. On the whole, the effect on the networks in the United States has been adverse. In such circumstances, we should strengthen the basic provision. That is what people will continue to rely on. It will continue to provide the basic continuity of production and the basic quality of television in Britain. We should strengthen it in the face of the threat of more competition and more pluralism. It can survive. I am not saying that it will disappear and disintegrate, but the Government are compounding the problems caused by more competition by aiming a body blow at existing channels, the existing duopoly and the existing basic production facilities.
The Government believe that the market will provide. That just does not work in the media. Indeed, the reverse is the case. The more open and unregulated the market is, and the more intense the competition in the media, the more organisations are driven down market, the more standards fall and the more they are driven to the lowest common denominator. Anyone who wants proof of that should consider the quality of the British popular press, which is totally unregulated and in intense competition, and compare it with the American popular press, which is effectively protected by local monopolies which give it some insulation from competition.
§ Mr. Mitchell
Contrast British television, which is regulated and not that intensely competitive, with American television and its standards. Those two examples prove that the market does not provide for quality. It drives down to the lowest common denominator—
§ Mrs. Currie
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. As the hon. Gentleman is talking so fiercely about competition, would it not be in order for him to declare his personal interest in this matter?
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
If the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) has a financial or other interest in this matter, he must declare it. I am sure he will declare it.
§ Mr. Mitchell
My interests are declared in the Register of Members' Interests. I present a programme for Sky Television. If that is the only point that the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) wants to make, it is trivial and irrelevant.
The remorseless drive down market by intense competition will be compounded by the Bill. The Government are damaging the existing structures of television. They are doing that, first, by the slow strangulation of the BBC through a licence fee which has not kept up with inflation and thus reduces the pool of money available to television and weakens the BBC in the longer term. I am sorry that the BBC has stayed out of this argument, congratulating itself on coming through unscathed in the Bill, because it will suffer in the future.
Secondly, the Bill scoops out more revenue for the Treasury from the pool of money available for television production. That reduces the money available for quality. The Economist suggested that money that is siphoned out should be used for production of quality. That is an admirable solution, but it is not what will happen under these proposals. Thirdly, the Bill weakens the existing structure by the insane auction system to which the Government have stuck so obstinately that it must be the Prime Minister's baby. That is the only explanation for the obstinacy with which the Government are sticking to their ridiculous auction idea, which removes all discretion from the ITC and opens the door to the media barons and especially to the continentals, whom we cannot prevent from coming in.
While the Government may not view the prospect of Berlisconi in Barnsley with any great horror, when it comes to Bertlesman in Basildon or Hachette in Harpenden, their electors will begin to take a different view. The bidders will just not know how much to bid. They will be in competition with people who are buying contracts for status, or for other reasons. That will siphon more money out of the pool available for quality production. That clause must be altered. The Minister has suggested that we should take account of the overall interests of the viewer, and that that might be a way to alter the arrangement, because the continuity of "Coronation Street", "Emmerdale Farm" and "The Bill" will be far more important to the viewer. That might allow us a way to alter it, but the clause must be altered.
The fourth thing that the Government are doing to harm existing structures is to loosen regulations. We hear of the light touch, but they do not want the light touch when it comes to matters moral. They have Lord Rees-Mogg free to pursue his masturbatory fantasies across the screen, pursuing the nipple count or the coitus coefficient. There is no light touch there. They want a heavy hand—the sweaty, heavy hand—when it comes to regulation in that respect. The real problem is not that kind of standard, but standards of quality and of production. The Broadcasting Standards Council has no remit there—when it comes to quality, excellence and good television, the Government want a light touch.
The IBA has done a good job. The light touch has worked there. It has provided for the effective development of good production centres in the regions. It has provided for quality centres of excellence in the 82 regions, which it is important to sustain. The Bill does not adequately sustain either by insisting on local production for the regions and for the network. We have to have both. Production has to be local—in Leeds, Birmingham and Manchester—because it is more expensive to do it there than in London. It costs about £100,000 more to produce Yorkshire Television's "A Bit of a Do" in Leeds—to which it brings jobs, and where it adds to the local centre of excellence and uses local skills—than it would in London.
The Bill will undermine such regional production. I am worried about the effect of such changes on current affairs coverage. When current affairs programmes lose about a third of the audience with which they start, why should companies go to the trouble of supporting staff to inquire with the trenchant journalism of "Death on the Rock", which the Government clearly hate, when they can put on a mindless chat show or an import at far lower cost? Why should they produce culture or an arts programme? I am worried by the falling standards which I saw this year in entries to the British Petroleum arts journalism competition of which I am a judge. Why should companies bother to produce such programmes when they cost so much?
The Bill makes no provision for networking, but that is crucial when it comes to costs. How will programmes be networked? Will there be open war between different companies, as there was at the start of independent television, which would be enormously expensive?
I am worried about what is happening to television now. The latest schedules are most disappointing. They are unimaginative. There are no big projects, no interesting ideas and no innovation. Companies are instead taking on a fight with their staff to drive down wages and conditions or to sack a large number of them, thus impairing their capacity to produce programmes. If that is a sign of what is to come, it is a sign of a desire to get more money out so that they can make a bigger bid to keep the contract. It is also a sign that standards are bound to decline because resources devoted to production at regional centres of quality and excellence, where skills feed on each other, will be weakened and undermined. Independent production is no substitute.
I am worried about the basic principles of a Bill which provides for more channels, but not for more revenue, more effective maintenance of standards or close regulation to provide better quality television in Britain. It is a doctrinaire Bill which bears no relevance to the problems of production in Britain. It aims a body blow at the industry in which Britain leads the world and it offers the television viewer nothing but a debasement of standards.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
Many Christians believe that, if the Bill is not amended, the Christian voice on television and radio will be increasingly gagged in the coming years. I should like to make four points in support of that. First, the Bill denies any religious body the right to own or operate a television station. Secondly, the Bill ensures the sole right of secular ownership of all television stations. Thirdly, the Bill does not ensure that commercial radio or television will continue to include religious programmes. Fourthly, the Bill does not ensure that Christian bodies will have the freedom to sponsor programmes on television.
83 The Bill should ensure that commercial radio and television stations are required to broadcast religious programmes. It should ensure that Christian and other religious bodies are permitted to participate in broadcasting in exactly the same way as every other group in society. If political and commercial interests can present their cases on television, that right should be granted to Christian and other religious bodies. Christian bodies are permitted to publish books or newspapers. They have the right to participate in running hospices, playgroups, sheltered dwellings, rehabilitation centres, schools, unemployment projects, AIDS hospitals and community centres, so why not television stations under proper regulation? As many religious bodies aim to strengthen family relationships and encourage honesty, self-sacrifice and discipline, instead of putting up a barrier to them, the Government should encourage them.
If commercial interests alone are to control the spiritual output of commercial broadcasting, how can it be responsible and balanced? If the future of broadcasting is really to offer choice, why are viewers and listeners to be denied the choice of what Christians and other religious bodies can offer?
Northern Ireland, has been well served by the independent broadcasters. Downtown Radio has maintained a very high standard, as has Ulster Television. I agree with my colleague from Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe), that there is room and opportunity for other local radio and television broadcasters in the Province.
We are informed that the Government have set their face against a new radio station in the north-west of the Province. Perhaps the Minister will tell us what the Government have in mind for community and commercial radio in Northern Ireland. What is happening? Business interests are now busily engaged in buying up the opportunities that are afforded to them in the south of Ireland. A powerful radio station operates half a mile from the Londonderry border. Commercial interests have to go to the South of Ireland to broadcast. That opportunity should be localised, and business interests in Northern Ireland should have the right to their own broadcasting stations and the ability to present acceptable programmes to the people. I trust that the Government will give that careful consideration, because it is important that commercial and community broadcasting is developed right across the Province and not limited as it is now.
I want to place on record the fact that the two independent services—Downtown Radio and Ulster Television—have provided an excellent service and deserve the praise of the community. I am sorry that I cannot say the same for the BBC in Northern Ireland, which seems to be more interested in spending the money raised from television licences on programmes that cause an outcry across the political and religious divide because of their obscenity and blasphemy. I want to stress that in the House tonight.
It is important that community radio in Northern Ireland is ordered to present to the localities that it serves programmes that will be helpful, good for the children and good for the community. Northern Ireland has a great well of talent, and that talent should be used. How better than 84 in the new broadcasting scheme? Therefore, I trust that the Government will keep those matters in mind when they make their decision.
§ Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)
My hon. Friends have already made much of the fundamental case against the Bill, so, in the short time available, I shall concentrate on its impact on Welsh television and broadcasting.
In one sense, I felt a measure of relief in looking at the Bill, at least in regard to the provisions relating to S4C. In general, those clauses have accepted the continuing role of S4C. The road has not been easy as a difficult and delicate balance has to be struck in Welsh television. In my view, S4C has been successful in the remit that Parliament gave it when it was established—to provide a comprehensive service for the Welsh language.
I wish to draw the Minister's attention to two aspects of the Bill which might endager that success. I shall deal with one now and one later in my remarks. First, during the 1990s, S4C will be greatly dependent on the buoyancy and impact of advertising. If that advertising declines, as many forecasts suggest, there may be a financial crisis for S4C somewhere in the mid-term of its next period of service. Therefore, I hope that the Government will consider the concept of a safety net to deal with such a problem, should it arise. I shall make my second point about S4C later in my speech, as it relates to the role and relationship of Channel 5 to Welsh broadcasting and Welsh television.
Having made those few placatory remarks, on the central issue of the auctioning of franchises and the licensing of the one commercial television station in Wales—it will therefore be not only our regional but national commercial station—I share every one of the fears, worries and concerns that have been expressed, not only for the reasons given by my hon. Friends but for the further reason mentioned briefly by my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell). At least, under the current system, a television company that seeks the powerful monopolistic commercial television franchise in Wales must justify its presence in Wales. Its studios, board of directors and supervisory management must all belong to and identify with the society that they serve.
The Bill provides for programmes of a regional character, but there is not one provision that will compel the highest bidder for a regional or national franchise to have a regional or national presence in Wales or oblige its board of directors or supervisory management to identify and have roots with the region or nation that they plan to serve. I am glad to say that, under the present arrangements, because the franchise is for HTV West and HTV Wales, the IBA has insisted on dual representation at board and supervisory level and at programme and production level.
I shall no doubt continue to have many quarrels with HTV; there is bound to be creative tension in the relationship between a local politican and the local media. I have no brief to speak for HTV Wales, but I cannot deny that it is rooted in Wales, that it identifies with Wales, that its management are Welsh and that it has a major regional and national presence. I frequently quarrel with it, but I cannot deny its Welshness, its sense of identity, its sense of belonging and its roots in the society from which its money 85 comes. There is not one provision in the Bill that will ensure that the highest bidder for a franchise will have such a presence, such roots or such an identity.
The lack of identity is reflected in the watchdog arrangements. Except for one measly paragraph at the bottom of the lengthy schedule 1, there is no provision for the ITC in Wales to establish a regional or national presence. I hope that the Minister will assure us that it will have a Welsh identity. Will there be an advisory committee, or a sensitive and able directorate such as that represented by Mr. Eirion Lewis and his staff at the Welsh IBA? The Bill offers no assurance of that, merely a paragraph saying that it may be possible to establish some advisory committee structure.
The public are shut out of such operations. At least under the existing arrangements, however flawed they might be, when franchises came up for renewal there was some attempt at public consultation. The viewers served by the franchise holder were able to express their views. The system may have been flawed and may not have operated as effectively as it should have, but at least a process of public consultation was required.
The Bill makes no provision for proper public consultation on decisions about who shall hold the licence in a region or, in our case, in Wales. Therefore, a large proportion of the Welsh public will be shut out of taking part or being involved in any shape or form in the process of deciding who shall control the national commercial monopoly in Wales and what programmes and schedules it offers.
I want to bring to the attention of the House a matter that has not been discussed so far—the function and role of Channel 5. I have a map showing its predicted coverage and the fact that significant and important parts of the Principality will not receive it. I am sure that the constituency of hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas) will not be covered, but neither will most of the valley communities. Most of our television is received through relay stations, and if the proposed system for Channel 5 goes ahead, significant areas of the Principality—and, indeed, of the rest of Britain—will not be covered by it.
The figure of 70 per cent. coverage for Channel 5 covers many problems, but I want to explain to the House the impact that that may have on the delicate balance and consensus that has been achieved on broadcasting and television in Wales. At present, S4C is an alternative to Channel 4. There are many frustrations among people who want to see Channel 4 programmes in Wales, but fortunately we can say that sooner or later, Channel 4 programmes will appear on S4C. However, some of its scheduling is capricious, to say the least. If, on top of that, many people in Wales find that the fifth channel will not be available, the careful and delicate consensus that we have achieved may be destabilised. I can hear the telephone calls coming in now saying, "What is this talk about choice? I couldn't get Channel 4 and now I can't get Channel 5." Many people along the south Wales coast are turning their eyes and aerials to the Mendips to avoid S4C and to obtain Channel 4. Many communities have not done so and many will not want to do so, but if they have to turn their eyes and aerials to the Mendips to get Channel 5, their anger and frustration will rise and the careful balance that we have achieved in the Principality may be broken.
86 I should like to refer briefly to the interesting article written by the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden), in which he described the Bill as being "towards a thicker Britain". There are many variations on that, because I think that it may lead towards a duller Britain. I was reminded of one of the great 18th-century satirists, Alexander Pope. In his poem, "The Dunciad", he described the Empress of Dulness in the following terms:See now, what Dulness and her sons admire;See! what the charms, that smite the simple heartNot touch'd by Nature and not reach'd by Art.That could be an epitaph to the Bill, unless we are able to change the hearts and minds not only of the Empress of Dulness but of her sons, too.
§ Sir Giles Shaw (Pudsey)
I must disclose my interest as the independent chairman of the Broadcasters Audience Research Board, which was set up by the BBC and ITV companies as part of the Annan report's recommendations.
I say to my hon. and learned Friend the Minister that the Government are to be congratulated on providing, in this massive Bill, a wide review of all broadcasting services—terrestrial, satellite and radio. They have brought before the House contentious legislation, which is fair enough, and comprehensive legislation, which gives us the opportunity to consider the spectrum and use of the air waves which, for so long, we have been denied. The release of additional space on spectra and other airwaves was negotiated for ages in Geneva and enables us now to start planning broadcasting's future—for television and radio.
I wholly applaud much of the Bill, including the fact that at long last radio is coming out from under and making its own case. It will now have its own authority and can develop vastly, whether it be nationally, regionally, or on a multi-community basis. We welcome that. It must be of huge interest to all hon. Members and is a matter for congratulation.
It is always a pleasure to hear the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands). I welcome the Welshness of HTV, about which he waxed so eloquently. He put absolutely into context the fact that regional television in this country has grown up, flourished and will continue. I am especially grateful that the Bill's discussion of television embodies the commitment to the regional system. I am also grateful to Mr. George Russell, the current chairman of the IBA and shortly to be chairman of ITC, who has confirmed that in his view the map should remain largely unchanged.
Regionalisation is the real key to this issue. We should not be discussing anxieties about the auctioning of franchises and bids were it not for the recommendations of the Peacock committee. If my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State does not already know this, I must confess that there was nothing as surprising as the report of the Peacock committee. After all, the committee was inquiring into the financing of the BBC, but it came up with no recommendations for advertising on the BBC. That was the greatest possible surprise. Even the hon. Member for Great Gatsby—Grimms' fairy tale country as I now know it to be—accepts that it is a matter of total ignorance to many people. As one of those who was involved at the time, I must stress that it was confidently expected that the report would inevitably provide the answer to the ITV-BBC problem. It was said that there 87 would be national television advertising from another totally accepted national channel which would bring the ITV and BBC systems into clear competition. However, it was not to be.
Thus, until Channel 4 either has greater audience penetration or until Channel 5 comes along and achieves a national public—albeit of only 70 per cent. of the population—to bring about national competition, we are left with the problem of how to tackle the monopoly of the ITV companies. That is the issue that has given rise to all the fraughtness and fret. It is a duopoly in terms of audiences, but in terms of paid-for advertising space—although I admit Channel 4—we have a major monopoly.
The restraints on awarding franchises to monopolies have put my right hon. and learned Friend into such a twist. That is why we have all these little subtleties of hand, such as the ownership issue and the bearing down on co-ownership. We are saying, "You can have two, but they must not be contiguous," and, "You can have 20 per cent. if you are a newspaper magnate, but you must not touch if you are an advertising agent."
All those funny things are not at all logical. It is absurd to talk about newspapers as though they should be a protected part of the media scene. Good heavens, that was the position way back in 1955 when we first had ITV. There were some anxieties then that television would put newspapers out of business and that they must therefore be given special priority treatment. That was the genesis of this, but now we are discussing "You may or you may not". It is a far-flung thing. I can hear Lord Reith rattling in his urn as he thinks that there is a real threat that the editor of The Times—no less than its owner—might become the owner of a television channel. I can imagine what he would say about that. He would probably rely on his old dictum, "The best form of government is despotism, tempered, of course, by assassination."
We now have a great opportunity. When it comes to determining the regional concepts of the Bill, I urge my right hon. Friend to pay particular attention to rooting the new franchises in the regions. The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) was quite right—production resources must be based in the regions. Therefore, I welcome clause 16(2)(c) which seeks to specify thatregional programmes so included are made within that area".I like the sound of that, but I warn my right hon. Friend that accommodation addresses will not do. There must be no brass plates on temporary warehouses. We want regional production facilities.
The other side of clause 16 deals with the question of 25 per cent. independent production. Will it require a regional commitment to that percentage or to a proportion of that percentage? If it does not, like the hon. Member for Great Grimsby, I fear that there will be an enormous influx of trainloads of people coming up from London to provide such services, but going back and producing the material down here. In giving an accolade to the regional system, one side of the coin must be the location of the roots, in programming content and in production, in the regions concerned.
The absolute method of selection is also causing a fuss. Obviously, there is great difficulty when awarding monopoly franchises, albeit under careful restraint. Those who are to prepare bids must not only attach a tender price 88 with an annual rental over the 10 years; they will also have to face a substantial levy on the amount of profit that can be earned. Those people will have to be keen to achieve what they want to achieve, bearing in mind that the next five to 10 years of their franchise will see a steady increase in other media that are capable of carrying advertising. They will face steadily increasing competition at a time of heavily increasing costs and, I trust, a great regional commitment to quality programming.
We must trust the ITC. There can be no question from hon. Members of any party that, whatever the difficulties of the IBA to start with, it is now well accepted. The Government want lighter regulation, a heavy involvement in franchises and the auctioning of franchises—and there is, they must accept, a slight inconsistency in that. The Government should trust the commission to determine the qualitative rating of bids placed before it. Indeed, under the existing arrangement, the Government should encourage the commission to intervene in exceptional circumstances. I was glad to receive a letter from my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary stating that, becausethe ITC will have the power in exceptional circumstances to select a lower bid",the Billwill make the award of licences an altogether more open matterWe want to know just what those exceptional circumstances might be. I hope that they will not be too exceptional. I hope that the exceptional circumstance is that we shall have qualitative ratings much higher than the level of the cash put down. I hope that those ratings will allow the ITC to say, "In our best judgment, it would be wrong to proceed with the highest bid on the table because the second highest bid is worth substantially more in terms of the quality that is offered." I hope that the qualitative commitment will be sufficient to be declared an interest compatible with the provisions.
The selection process is on the periphery of this issue. The real issue is the extent to which public service broadcasting and the ITV regime, which is a proud part of public service broadcasting, may or may not conflict with the public interest. At that stage, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary must consider whether things have gone too far. I hope that public service broadcasting, as identified in the Bill, will largely follow the public interest. The public interest has supported this system of broadcasting. It has certainly supported the regional concept of broadcasting. It has supported governance by the IBA, albeit now with a slightly looser rein.
It would be tragic if the opportunity now presented for the future of broadcasting were to be lost because of an awful disagreement between the regulating body and the industry, between the industry and the advertisers who pay the industry and between the Government and all sides who will believe that they are not adequately dealing with the nitty-gritty of selection or with raising the last penny from the Treasury. That does not matter one rap compared with the glorious opportunity for seeing another chapter of properly supported, well regionalised television. I wholly commend the Bill.
§ 8.8 pm
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
The hon. Member for Pudsey (Sir G. Shaw) made an extremely agreeable speech, but he has been too optimistic 89 about the meaning of certain words. For example, "exceptional" does not mean what he would have it mean—it is exceptional. The hon. Gentleman was also too optimistic about the impact of the Bill on regional broadcasting. A system which could cause the contraction of the regions from 15 to eight through acquisition is a threat to the regional basis that we have come to accept and which we regard, as the hon. Gentleman does, as central to the attractiveness of television in this country.
The average person in this country watches television for 25½ hours per week, which is about 60 per cent. of the leisure time available to those in work. It cannot be argued that that figure reveals great dissatisfaction with the quality of television today. None the less, new technologies such as satellite, cable and MVDS delivery systems offer new opportunities to cater for specialist and local interests and to provide a wide variety of dedicated channels. As that capability opens out, the requirements of regulations will alter. Competition for advertising revenue is bound to intensify and pressure on the media to boost audience ratings will be increasingly strong. The ability of broadcasters to provide the mix of entertainment, education and information that has hitherto made up the best of British broadcasting is at risk. Most people will not thank a Government who simply multiply the number of buttons that viewers and listeners can press but subtract from the variety and quality. That is the essential threat posed by the Bill.
More than 3,000 submissions have been made since the publication of the White Paper. Most contain comments on the proposal to award licences for television and radio to the highest bidder. The Home Secretary did not show any support for the proposal in response to those submissions, and his absence for a large part of the debate suggests that he is not interested in the views of the House. The junior Minister also absented himself from the debate and is similarly uninterested in it.
§ Mr. Maclennan
The Government treat the views of those who are involved in the industry with complete contempt. The Government's views are under scrutiny. None of those who submitted an opinion in response to the White Paper have supported the proposed blind auction for franchises. Most of those directly involved in broadcasting accept that competition for franchises should be more transparent than in the past, but they have urged—so far, to no avail—that the licensing authority should be empowered to consider not only the bid price but what is offered for that price. To propose a system for auctioning services which does not allow comparisons to be made between price and quality in the name of consumer choice is simply fraudulent. The system advocated in the Bill will maximise Treasury receipts from broadcasting and minimise the funds available for programme making.
Only in respect of Channel 4 does the Bill seek to require the diverse programme content which characterises current broadcasting in Britain. Indeed, the provisions for Channel 4 highlight the weaknesses of the provisions in respect of other channels. The Bill seems to reflect the Government's hatred of the present independent broadcasters, particularly their handling of news and current affairs. The Government's reaction to "Death on the Rock" and to Lord Windlesham's report shows their 90 prejudices. How else is one to explain the decision—not yet referred to in the debate—to bar the independent television companies from the ownership and editorial control that they now have over the national news service?
The proposal to give the news service to a company or companies nominated by the friends of the Government in the shape of the licensing authorities, brings the Government altogether too close to controlling the news. Incidentally, the provision that the Radio Authority shall seek to require thatundue prominence is not given … to the views and opinions of particular persons or bodies on religious matters or matters of current political or industrial controversy or relating to current public policysmacks of institutionalised censorship. What is becoming unacceptable in eastern Europe should not become the norm in Britain. How, other than in terms of a vendetta against the media, is one to explain a bidding system which favours large conglomerates over existing specialist television companies? Not only the British conglomerates but European giants such as Hachette and Berlusconi, will be favoured by the proposed system.
The Bill contains no safeguards against takeovers of British companies comparable with the safeguards operated in European countries. It provides no reciprocity. As the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) acknowledged earlier, the Government have been accused of attacking the universities and the Churches as the repositories of independent advice, and that is so, but now it is the turn of independent television to suffer for having offered a platform for independent opinion.
§ Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)
Further to the hon. Gentleman's previous point, does he agree that the danger of using price as the only basis for tendering for new franchises will mean that any European incursion will, by definition, by irresistible because any other method would be ruled out of order by European laws and directives?
§ Mr. Maclennan
That is absolutely correct. I believe that the solution would be to limit the stake of any one company in a channel. The system of franchise allocation can be explained only in terms of a vendetta. One need go no further, but further evidence is the unbelievably favourable position of the franchisee following the award of a franchise. The franchise is virtually awarded in perpetuity. It can be re-awarded after only six years, without further submission to competition. That gives the lie to any suggestion that the Government favour competition. The arrangements whereunder a franchisee may apply at any time after six years to have the licence renewed are a mockery. All the fears expressed about the prospects of over-bidding for the initial licence are fully justified when one considers how much is at stake when acquiring the initial licence.
The Government cannot claim that the dangers are unreal. The experience in Australia is highly germane, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) explained, but it is not unique. In France the firm Bouygs recently purchased more than 50 per cent. of the major channel TF 1 for 3 billion francs, which has since been recouped by a ratings war to gain advertising revenue. Other French companies are feeling the draught. The Government are having to consider reintroducing regulations.
Further evidence of the Government's political purpose in seeking to oust those whom they distrust is to be found 91 in the provision that the Secretary of State should have the final say in the appointment of the Channel 4 directors. As Sir Richard Attenborough has said, what is at stake is not the stewardship of public money but the maintenance of independent, innovative broadcasting.
The Bill's proposals on cross-ownership and ownership by newspapers are disturbingly inadequate. They will allow a further erosion of competition, the entry of Rupert Murdoch into independent television and radio and a reduction in the number of television regions from the present 15 to eight. In the United States, under the 1955 Federal Communications Commission rules, ownership of radio plus newspapers and television in the same market is prevented. Under those rules, Mr. Murdoch has been forced to divest himself of two newspapers and a television station. We should follow that route.
The Government claim to be committed to the preservation of regional television. If that claim is to be made good, three major changes are required. First, licensees must maintain full regional production and transmission of facilities within the region. On that, the hon. Member for Pudsey (Sir G. Shaw) was right. Secondly, ownership must be confined to one ITV licence. The Government's proposition that small companies are legitimate targets for large ones is simply not acceptable.
Thirdly, the Bill must make suitable provision for a network. As the chairman-elect of the commission, Mr. George Russell has said that no independent company produces more than 30 per cent. of the programmes that it shows that its ability to transmit high quality programmes depends upon the network. Furthermore, it is desirable to secure fair access to the network for the smaller companies and to prevent the larger franchise holders from reducing competition by exercising complete control over the internal tariffs.
The arrangements allowing for multiple bidding must be changed. They may favour—no doubt the Government hope that they will—the first-time entrant to broadcasting. They would make the maintenance of a network between now and the auction wholly untenable.
Regional broadcasting offers the opportunity to bring the cultural diversions of our regions into everyone's home. The Government, however, have shown their weak commitment to such diversity by their treatment of Scotland. There is no provision for a Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish member of the ITC board—and there should be. There are provisions in the Bill to prevent the takeover of all the English regions, but there is no comparable provision for Scotland [Interruption.] The Whip on the Front Bench, the hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor) may have no interest in Scottish television. That does not surprise me in the least and that may account for the poor support for his party in Scotland. There are many people—
§ Mr. Mellor
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As the Whip cannot speak for himself I feel compelled to defend him. The point that was being made is one to which the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) should address himself. He has fallen outside the 10-minute rule. It would be a courtesy to other hon. Members waiting to speak, especially as the Front-Bench 92 spokesmen are prepared to shorten their replies, if the hon. Gentleman would keep within the reasonable confines of 10 minutes.
§ Mr. Maclennan
If the Minister had done me the courtesy of coming in to listen to my speech, his remarks might carry some weight. As he absented himself for the greater part of my speech, I shall continue in my own time. I am wholly in order and I intend to take my time. The House will not allow minority parties to be put at a disadvantage in the debate in the way that the Minister would like. The Home Secretary took three quarters of an—
§ Mr. Maclennan
Such interruptions merely take up the time of the House.
The most serious omission from the Bill for Scotland and those other parts of the country where the population is scattered over a wide area is the absence of provision to equalise transmission costs. That absence particularly threatens the future of the radio companies operating in Wales and Scotland which serve the more remote areas. The Bill is also silent about the transmission costs of television. The transmitter at Crystal Palace serves millions in London, but it takes eight transmitters and 68 relay lines to serve the northern half of Scotland. The Government have not promised that their plans to privatise the lines owned by British Telecom will not place intolerable burdens on companies in sparsely populated areas. The Bill makes no provision for Gaelic, but I welcome the step announced by the Secretary of State this afternoon. We shall look closely at the funding offered in support of it.
The Government have sought to remove the sting of the criticism that they are unconcerned about the quality of broadcasting by emphasising the importance of the so-called quality threshold in the bidding process. The only specific consumer protection provided by the Bill is defined in terms of taste and decency. The licensing authority, operating in the shadow of Lord Rees-Mogg's Broadcasting Standards Council—a wholly unnecessary quango—has a duty to codify the rules and to supervise their application.
There is no comparable obligation on the authority specifically to secure the at-risk services—children's programmes, social action programmes, programmes for the disabled and the ethnic minorities and, most notably, religious programmes. Perhaps the Government believe that all that should be left to the BBC. Perhaps those obligations are intended to compensate the BBC for the almost inevitable loss to cable and satellite broadcasters—should the Bill go through in its present form—of major sports events such as the cup final, Wimbledon and the grand national.
Those who have complained about the time taken to set out the points that the Social and Liberal Democrats wish to place before the House would do well to remember that this is the only intervention in the debate from a party which speaks for about a quarter of the electorate.
If there is intensive competition for ratings by Channel 3 and Channel 5, which are not to have any quality or 93 regional remit, the BBC will be faced with the nasty choice of either going down market or losing its audiences. Either way, the case for the retention of its licence fee will be undermined, which is no doubt what the Government intend.
When the Home Secretary concluded this afternoon, he said that fears about quality were voiced in this House when independent television was established in 1955, and his acolytes have echoed that thought. It is certainly true that fears were expressed, but it is also true that those criticisms were entirely justified. Their justification was made plain by the Pilkington report in 1962, the recommendations of which were acted upon in 1963 when the regulatory system—broadly, that under which our broadcasters operate today—was introduced. It was the Finance Act 1963, not the 1955 Act, which gave the television authorities specific powers over schedules and programme standards.
If the Bill is not amended in the light of our experience and that of other countries which have gone down the deregulatory road, it will deprive the British people of the enjoyment, entertainment, information and education that is at their fingertips today. Otherwise, as in 1963 so in 1993, a further Bill will be required to clean up the Government's mess.
§ Sir Geoffrey Johnson-Smith (Wealden)
I must declare that I am a non-executive director of London Weekend Television, and I do not have any shares in it.
I do not share the views of the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan). I do not know anyone who works at the sharp end of television who subscribes to the gloomy view that he has expressed. In such circles, among those who are looking forward to the change, there is no question of the Government's action being motivated by political malice and all that rubbish. That may go down well with the hon. Gentleman's constituents, but it does not count for one iota with those who are involved in television. On the contrary, they believe that the Government are right to recognise the technological changes that are taking place.
The technology associated with cable and direct broadcasting by satellite was bound to have an impact on the present structure. If the hon. Gentleman is content with the present structure, good luck to him. The British people think that it is pretty good, and they are right. I do not claim for one moment that everything in the Bill is perfect. I shall mention one or two problems briefly, as I know that a number of my hon. Friends want to participate. They have waited all afternoon to do so and they sat here with considerable patience listening to the hon. Gentleman's speech. My hon. and learned Friend the Minister has also displayed such patience while sitting here all afternoon. He disappeared for a few moments while the hon. Gentleman was galloping through a few more paragraphs.
Those who are worried should accept one simple fact—change must take place. There is no way to avoid such change, and if we tried to do so we would be invaded by those who have direct broadcasting by satellite who are not answerable to this House or to any of our regulations. If that happened, British television would be at a severe competitive and qualitative disadvantage. We have to 94 change the structure. There is much in the Bill for regional television and there is a great deal to play for in the House and in Committee.
My hon. and learned Friend the Minister has already said that the Bill is not cast in tablets of stone. There are things that can and should be changed. Following the publication of the White Paper, I welcome the Bill, which is far-reaching and which offers an interesting framework upon which we can improve the quality of British television. I do not know exactly how it will all work out. I do not know anyone in British television who knows what the future will hold.
Those who predict doom and gloom remind me far too easily of those who were anxious when the initial Bill on commercial television was presented.
I always remember Lew Grade saying to me, "Why don't you go tell your friends in the BBC"—he associated me with the BBC because I worked there—"to lay off light entertainment, because they don't know the job? We fellows in commercial television know how to do it." We all know what happened. The BBC has often outstripped ITV in quality and popular appeal with some of its programmes in light entertainment, which appeal to what some describe as the lowest common denominator of the British people. The commercial companies, through Independent Television and some of their serious programmes and documentaries, have often outstripped the BBC in audience appeal, as well as appealing to the elite.
We are in open country. Should we embrace it? Those I know in television—
§ Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith
I really must get on.
Those I know in television, knowing that something has to happen, have looked to the future because they know that it will be more competitive. They have got rid of the restrictive practices that bedevilled British television—and high time too. They also know the wide range of choice which can be achieved if more buttons are available on the set.
The range of choice in British radio and television is not good; it is extraordinarily bad. If I want to listen to a greater variety of music, I shall go to the States—San Francisco, New York, Chicago. If I want television serving a high-density audience—this country could serve a tremendous concentration of people—I would rely not on British television but on American television. In New York there is a far wider range of choice, which is not relegated to the ghetto at 11 pm, 12 pm or after 9.30 pm, but is shown at prime time.
Let us not have this false belief that British television leads the world and will continue to do so. It will not. The choice we have is so limited that people boast of programmes that Granada used to make 10 or 15 years ago. What has it made since? The time has come for a shake-up, and I am glad that the Government are taking this role.
The balance between obtaining quality and paying for the programmes is difficult to achieve. Some people would like to continue with the present arrangement. What is it? There is always some lord on the board who comes forward with a nice menu with no price tag. He would use his lobbying techniques on those on the IBA who decide to award the contracts. Hon. Members from both sides know 95 that, more than once, the proposal could not be afforded and the sums had not been properly calculated. Often, such people were not even asked to produce real figures. In the end, they did not do what they said, and nothing happened.
If we are to give people this great opportunity to make money—they do make money out of this, and if they work for the BBC they also have an interesting living—we are entitled to ask them to put a price tag on their proposals. My hon. and learned Friend the Minister must stick to the price tag proposal. But he has not got the balance right. I shall not give my reasons for thinking that, because many others have given the arguments, and no doubt many other hon. Friends of mine will do so later. I hope that he will stick to insisting that some money should be put down on deposit and some idea should be given of how much their proposals will cost. Otherwise, all sorts of fancy people will come forward with brilliant, beautiful ideas, knowing jolly well that they will not be able to deliver them.
The Economist has come forward with the interesting idea that companies should pay rent to the Government and show that they wish to spend so much money on certain programmes and have them costed. London Weekend Television and other companies have suggested that a requirement of the bidding process now advocated is that a quality hurdle should be linked to what they call a business credibility hurdle. By that they mean that the applicant would have to show signed options for the programmes in his schedules, including provisional contracts with facility companies—the independent companies.
All kinds of ideas are being kicked around; if my hon. and learned Friend the Minister would take some of them on board he could lay the ghost of the quality argument versus those trying to make a quick buck.
§ Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East)
I doubt if there is a more powerful medium available to man at the end of the 20th century than television. Its power to exercise control and to effect change in society is absolutely immense. Advertisers are prepared to pay vast sums of money for just 30-second slots of television time because they know that with that time they can help to shape, influence and ultimately control consumer demand in capitalist countries like this one.
Only yesterday I read an article in the quality press claiming that the revolutions in eastern Europe were, to a remarkable degree, television revolutions and that television images—whether of western affluence or of mass demonstrations in support of political change—were critical in loosening the grip on power of regimes which, until only a short time ago, seemed impregnable to any kind of reform or change.
We know from our own experience of powerful television documentaries such as John Pilger's on Cambodia, that they make such impact on people that it is possible not only to change attitudes within Government, but even to change Government policy in our own country. When we think about the Bill, it is absolutely essential to remember that we are dealing with a subject of awesome political, social and economic importance. That is particularly true of Scotland. Within 96 the context of the United Kingdom, Scotland has had to learn to co-exist with its much larger and more powerful and dominating neighbour, England. That has already affected the choice available to viewers and listeners in Scotland.
Some of these effects are more important than others. Of less importance is the fact that we are subjected to the blatant bias of English commentators who, when commentating on football games involving the English national team, assume that everyone watching wants England to win. That assumption cannot be made about television audiences in Scotland.
Of much greater importance is the consequence of metropolitan bias in the national news bulletins. In Scotland we are essentially offered what the metropolis believes to be of national or international importance. When the Abolition of Domestic Rates Etc. (Scotland) Act 1987 passed through the House, it did so without surfacing in any national news bulletins. However, when legislation implementing the poll tax in England and Wales passed through the House, there were almost nightly reports of the poll tax debates in this Chamber. That shows the sort of bias that we in Scotland have to suffer because of the metropolitan nature of so-called national television in our country.
In Scotland we have learnt over the years that the best way forward is to try to ensure that television in Scotland comes increasingly under the control of Scottish-based companies which produce programmes in Scotland and transmit them from Scotland for Scotland. The key question about the Bill is whether it makes more likely progress towards that desirable goal. However, I believe that it makes it less likely, not more. There are a number of reasons for that.
A number of safeguards exists within the present proposals. For example, clause 14 places a statutory obligation on the ITC to construct the new Channel 3 on a regional basis. That is fine. The Minister of State who has responsibility for broadcasting policy in the Scottish Office recently made a statement during the Scottish Grand Committee debate on broadcasting in which he made it clear that he welcomed the prospect that, under the new proposals, Scotland would continue to enjoy the benefits which the present regional structure of three ITV companies provides. That is good.
Yesterday, in The Observer, Mr. George Russell, the chairman-designate of the new ITC, confirmed that it was the commission's intention to retain the broad pattern of the ITV map. That is all welcome, but is it sufficient? Does it guarantee a continued existence for the Grampian area television service, the Border area television service or the Scottish area television service? It does not in any way guarantee it.
There is an extraordinary contradiction in the Bill. In clause 14(6), the Government have found it necessary to include a safeguard that prevents the ITC from determining that the whole of England shall be one regional area, but it has not found it necessary to include a similar safeguard for Scotland. Given the relative sizes of England and Scotland and the number of regional companies in Scotland, I should have thought it far more necessary to include a safeguard for Scotland than for England. Yet clause 14(6) makes it posssible for the whole of Scotland to be one region. The only conclusion to be drawn from that is that, somewhere down the line, the 97 Government do not rule out the merger of the existing three regional companies in Scotland into a single regional company—
§ Mr. Martlew
My hon. Friend talked about the Border Television region, which covers areas on both sides of the border. Will my hon. Friend consider the position of a television area dominated by Strathclyde and the fact that people on the Scottish border would object to that? I am glad that my hon. Friend supports the existence of a television station spanning the English and Scottish sides of the border.
§ Mr. McAllion
My hon. Friend makes a fair point. We are not raising this as a fanciful idea or as a spectre. Mr. George Russell, the new chairman of the ITC, has made it clear that the ITC is not committed to the existing map of the ITV areas—it is committed to it merely in broad terms. Mr. Russell has not ruled out the possibility of fine tuning around the fringes—we can only hope that he does not mean the Celtic fringes—of the ITV regional map.
Mr. Russell went on in yesterday's article to say that the Government have allowed for the ITV companies to bid for any—or, if they wish, for all—of the other areas. Today the Home Secretary gave an assurance that no licensee would be allowed to bid for two contiguous areas, but his predecessor made it clear in an answer last May that the restrictions on ownership of Channel 3 areas were only an initial limit. So the Government do not rule out in the long term the possibility that Scotland might be left in the same position as Wales and Northern Ireland—areas which will have single regional channels to provide their services.
There are important lessons to be drawn from commercial radio in Scotland. In the beginning, there were four independent commercial radio stations in each of the four major Scottish cities—Radio Clyde in Glasgow, Radio Forth in Edinburgh, Radio Tay in Dundee, and Radio North Sound in Aberdeen. I understand that Radio Clyde has now taken over North Sound and I know that Radio Forth has already taken over Radio Tay. I read only recently in the Financial Times that Radio Clyde is now set to take over Radio Forth, too. So, of an original four independent stations, two now dominate the Scottish scene and ultimately there may be just one. If that can happen to radio in Scotland, I see nothing to suggest that it could not happen to television.
Nothing in the Bill rules out the possibility of the concentration of ownership and control of commercial television in Scotland—and not necessarily in the hands of someone from Scotland. An outsider might come in; nothing in the Bill prevents outsiders from bidding for franchises in the regions of this country. Nothing in the Bill will prevent one of those bidders from subsequently concentrating all the franchises in Scotland under one ownership and control. Nothing in the Bill will prevent the new licensees from dismantling existing production facilities in Scotland; nor will anything in the Bill require them to establish equivalent production facilities of their own.
The Government may argue that these are the consequences of opening up the market in television and that ultimately the viewer will benefit from them, but few Opposition Members share their complacency. We believe that the consequences of the changes outlined in the Bill will be that money will be everything—enough money to 98 outbid rivals for a franchise, then enough money earned from the franchise to pay back the initial outlay for winning it. All this will mean choosing programmes with high viewing figures—programmes that are capable of producing high revenues. That means going for the cheaper option of buying in programmes from the network and not investing in locally and regionally produced television of high quality. In the end, this will mean undermining the financial basis of smaller regional companies such as Grampian and Border.
The Home Secretary said that the Bill will not mark the demise of public service broadcasting in this country, and that may or may not be true. However, it certainly marks the demise of independent, locally produced commercial television in areas such as Scotland. For that and many other reasons, I shall vote against the Bill tonight and hope to amend it later.
§ Mr. Simon Coombs (Swindon)
I hope that the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) will forgive me if I do not follow his path, although it is clearly a matter of great concern to him and his constituents.
I speak as chairman of the all-party cable and satellite TV committee, which I joined four years ago because we have in my constituency the oldest, and one of the best, of the cable companies operating in this country. Swindon Cable was established in 1984, and it provides an excellent service for a growing number of my constituents. I want to speak mostly about part II of the Bill, which refers to cable broadcasting.
Before doing so, I should comment on quality and diversity, themes which have concerned a large number of hon. Members on both sides. One of the effects of the increased diversity of available television is dear to my heart—the fact that later this winter we shall be able to watch live, ball-by-ball coverage of the English cricket games against the West Indies on Sky Television. That may not appeal to all hon. Members but it commends itself to those of us who regard cricket as one of the finest flowerings of the English character—and, to a lesser extent, of the Welsh and Scottish characters. I hope that many in this House and elsewhere are pleased at this development. Let us be prepared to accept that we have already derived great benefit from what has happened.
Cable television is predicted to reach half the population by 1995, but clause 70 constitutes a snag in its steady progress. Clause 70 proposes a percentage levy on qualifying revenue of cable companies set up and licensed by the ITC. If this levy is pitched too high, it may discourage investment in the spread of cable; indeed, it may put off future investors altogether. Do the Government want to encourage such investment? We have already heard about the inevitable growth in the provision of television in this country, but that growth could be stultified, and so I seek an assurance that that is not the Government's intention.
Will my hon. and learned Friend also consider the effects of his proposals on cross-ownership, and the prospect of foreign ownership of United Kingdom television companies? There is a real chance that the 20 per cent. maximum share ownership will mean that Yorkshire Television, for example, could become an Italian company, or that Grampian could become a West German company. I am not being xenophobic when I say that this 99 will not be in the interests of television watchers in parts of the country that are affected. Is my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State prepared to look again at his proposals, to ensure that such a situation will not arise?
§ Mr. Coombs
I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will address himself to that during this debate or in Committee. Can he also say whether he has ruled out retrospection in terms of the way in which he proposes to treat non-DBS companies? What role does he see as suitable for the Monopolies and Mergers Commisson in dealing with questions that arise in the course of the development of the legislative framework proposed by the Bill?
In the course of his excellent speech, my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) mentioned religious broadcasting. He also mentioned my constituency, because one of the religious channels in this country is available for my constituents who are viewers of Swindon Cable. Schedule 2 needs to be rethought. There is a danger that, if we allow the Bill to go forward as drafted, religious broadcasting will be severely curtailed. I do not think that the House wishes that to happen; nor do I think that it is the wish of many people in Britain. I urge my hon. and learned Friend to look carefully at what is proposed in the Bill.
Will my hon. and learned Friend tell the House when the transitional arrangements for cable companies will be announced and whether existing cable systems will continue to be required to carry the four existing terrestrial television channels? That matter is causing a great deal of concern to cable companies.
Will my hon. and learned Friend justify to the House the apparent disparity in the level of fines that can be imposed on television companies under the Bill? A maximum fine of £50,000 is proposed for the non-DBS companies, such as Sky Television, whereas Channels 3 and 5 and DBS companies would be required to pay in the first instance 3 per cent. of revenue and in the case of subsequent offences 5 per cent. That could amount to many millions of pounds, and there is a case in justice for it being looked at again. I am extremely happy to support the general framework of the Bill. There is no doubt that the changes in technology that have been developing over the past few decades make it inevitable that we should have a fresh look at the whole question of broadcasting. That makes this Bill inevitable, and I wish it well.
§ Mr. Jim Sillars (Glasgow, Govan)
The factor that has come through to me in this fascinating debate is the elitist nature of the forum. We are all political activists and that tends to make us a small minority in society. I was a bit disturbed to find proof of that elitism in the amount of exaggeration by hon. Members. They have exaggerated the role of television in human communications, especially at a higher intellectual level. No one has said that, as well as having virtues, television in terms of communication has important defects. For example, it is far too visual. The pictures presented, even in current affairs programmes of 100 so-called high quality, are far too often more important than the content. We have had good examples of that in the coverage of United States presidential elections, where television has been open to considerable manipulation by the participants.
§ Mr. Sillars
No, I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman, so he need not bother to try to intervene.
We have had the problem of perhaps one of the most vacuous presidents of the United States coming across on television to the American electorate as pretty reasonable. Television is like other methods of communication in that it has virtues and defects. It seeks to serve us in terms of entertainment, information, education and stimulation of the intellectual process. When we talk about quality we are really talking about getting the right balance between television's propensity to entertain and our perceived need for it to inform, educate and stimulate intellectually.
I should like to make two points in the time available to me and I shall be brief to allow other hon. Members to take part in the debate. The points relate to part II and especially to the proposed Channel 3. I and my hon. Friends oppose in principle the concept of blind auction licences, even though the Bill modifies them by calling for some requirement of a quality test.
Perhaps one of the most effective attacks upon Rupert Murdoch's McTaggart lecture appeared, paradoxically, in The Times of 30 August in an article by Brian Appleyard. He gave the real answer to Rupert Murdoch when he said:The BBC and ITA were established on the basis that the market was morally and socially inadequate".That is why we require tests for quality, and we cannot simply open up television or any other system of broadcasting to the marketplace.
Like other hon. Members, in recent weeks I have heard the rumours and read press speculation about the Government conceding on the question of quality tests. I had hoped that we were heading for a two-stage test and that applicants for a licence would submit programming propositions for a test of quality. Only after they passed that programming test would they proceed to the blind auction.
Leaving aside the argument about whether the money should go to the Treasury or into television for better programming, if there were a two-stage test, more hon. Members would be much happier. However, that is not the case. The cash bid and the so-called quality test are combined in clause 15 and the legislative language in clauses 16 and 17 gives additional weight to the cash bid factor over the quality factor. Clause 17(2) is the giveaway, because if says that, if two bids are equal in terms of cash, the licence is put back out for another cash bid. If quality really mattered, the bids would be tested on the quality of the programming. It is almost inconceivable that two organisations putting forward exactly the same cash bids would be absolutely equal in every respect in terms of programming.
I have heard the Government say that the quality test will be the Becher's brook. Will it be the first-time round Becher's brook or the second-time round one? As everyone who has watched the Grand National knows, on the second-time round, there are big holes in the fence because horses have fallen through it the first time. It is possible to have a test, but one full of loopholes.
101 My second point concerns the Bill's failure to give statutory recognition to the regional make-up in Scotland. Here I am at one with the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion), although I am not at one with him about what happens to the England football team. I may be in a minority in Scotland, but I supported England in the World cup in 1966 and I was pleased when it won. I cannot guarantee that I will watch every ball rolled in the cricket in the West Indies because I find cricket boring, but I am a great admirer of the skills and structures of English football.
As I said, the Bill fails to give statutory recognition to regional make-up in Scotland, and fails to ensure that a regional structure exists, not simply through publishers' contract methods but through companies with a full regional facility base, anchored in their community. As the hon. Member for Dundee, East said, clause 14 recognises that England is not a region. The point that we are making about Scotland, and this goes well outwith the ranks of the Scottish National party, is that a nation has regions in its make-up and it is important that those regions are recognised, and manifested, in a broadcasting system.
The history of independent television in Scotland shows that there is a great deal of worth in having more than one company operating within the nation. We are seeking Government recognition of the regional variations and of the need to have that reflected in statute.
I urge on the Government the need to guarantee in the Bill regional and national access to the network because there are considerable jobs implications in that. Scottish Television is a good example of the benefits of greater access to the network. STV has increased the amount devoted to programmes for network from £3 million to £15 million in the past three years. This has allowed 300 well-paid, highly skilled jobs to be retained in Scotland that might otherwise have been lost. Access is extremely important.
§ Dr. Dafydd Elis Thomas (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that one of the most positive aspects of S4C in Wales is not only that it supports the Welsh language as the minority language of half a million of our people, but that jobs in television provide an extended base from which we can take advantage of opportunities to develop the cultural industry?
§ Mr. Sillars
Yes, and we must understand that we are moving away from the old industrial revolution and metal-bashing and into a different era of human activity, in which the intellectual processes are extremely important, as is one's ability, within a region, nation or larger grouping, to add value to the intellectual processes and bring enormous economic benefits to the people so engaged. I hope that the Minister will take those points on board.
My hon. Friends and I will vote against the Bill because there is a fundamental difference in philosophy as to where the market should operate. We wish to put on far more restraints than the Government do.
§ 9.2 pm
§ Mrs. Edwina Currie (Derbyshire, South)
I am glad of the opportunity to speak on this most important Bill. Sadly, I have no financial interests to declare. I am not a consultant to anybody and I have never been an employee of any broadcasting company, but I was a member of the 102 BBC general advisory council, I gave evidence to the Peacock committee and I must have appeared on virtually every television or radio programme with any claim to serious content, and more than a few without. I support the Bill, and I should very much like to be a member of the Committee examining it.
The framework provided by the existing legislation is out of date, and reform is absolutely unavoidable. This reform seeks to widen choice, not restrict it. It will regulate with a light hand and not with endless bureaucracy, although in one or two places the heavy hand of excess bureaucracy is there.
I put it to Ministers that, as a Conservative, deregulating Government, we should start from the proposition that we should interfere as little as possible. I say that with some passion, having listened to speeches from the Opposition Benches, particularly from members and erstwhile members of the Labour party, say that Government should control the media. I think that we should always be wary of Governments who want to regulate the media, whether from the highest motives or not. It is always dangerous for politicians to start telling the press what they can or cannot do.
Let there be no mistake—the broadcast media are moving away from the narrow, tight, licensed arrangements of 30 or 40 years ago to something much closer to the print media in which there is a much wider variety and a bigger range of choice. My right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Hurd), when he was Home Secretary, likened it to a book shop in which there is a much wider range of choice. The simile probably goes too far, but there is no doubt that the kind of controls that were appropriate in the 1950s and 1960s are no longer appropriate.
It is my view, indeed, that we are bending over backwards a little too far to prevent monopoly ownership. The Bill requires all broadcasters to keep quiet about their own opinions. It provides that licence holders must not express their views on matters which are in current political or industrial dispute. I recognise that that provision has been placed in the Bill in the interest of balance, but why should licence holders not express their views? Is that not a recipe for greater blandness and not greater choice?
In the print medium, there is no such requirement. As a result, we have The Sun, which the Opposition hate, and the Daily Mirror, which Conservative Members hate. We have The Daily Telegraph, which turned me into a Tory many years ago, and The Guardian, which had exactly the same effect. Because we do not make such rules in the print medium, we have far greater diversity, and the result is a much livelier pattern of publishing. We are in danger of saying that we shall have many more television channels, but they will all produce the same bland material, the same opinionless stuff, and that is not real choice at all.
Then there is the argument about quality. I listened to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) with great care. He really talked a load of poppycock. We in this place should be careful about setting ourselves up as standard setters for the rest of the nation. We watch hardly any television at all, and when we do, the odds are that we are watching only ourselves. There are only three rooms in the House for watching—BBC 1, BBC2 and ITV. There are no facilities for watching Channel 4 and none for cable television, satellite television or regional stations—radio or television. For most of the time we do not have the foggiest idea what our 103 constituents are watching anyhow. We should be extremely wary, therefore, as we sit on these green Benches, of setting ourselves up as people who watch a lot of television when we do not, and telling those people who watch a lot of television what they should be watching. It is a very dangerous business.
Quality is like sovereignty—it means a lot, but it means different things to different people. There are those—the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook is one—who talk of the need to maintain quality. I sometimes think that what such people mean is the right to maintain the quality of the programmes that they like, preferably with public money.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) talked about Radio 3, and I appreciate that he was honest in his approach. When the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook said that maximising quality and maximising revenue were mutually exclusive, he was talking rubbish. I put it to him—he did not really answer the question—that soap operas, murder mysteries and quiz shows which we all like to see, do attract huge audiences and huge export income and win many prizes. About 11 million people watched the Ruth Rendell mystery last night, and about the same number watch ITN on a Saturday night, as I know to my cost. We should be aware of that. There is no conflict between what is good and what is popular.
We should also reject the point that has been made about "major events". There is some question-begging about what constitutes a major event. Those of us who are interested in racing might regard the Cheltenham gold cup and the Arc de Triomphe as choicer events than the grand national. The question of whose choice is a major event, the circumstances of, and arguments about opening all events to the highest bidder demonstrates to me that the Opposition do not understand how anybody ever makes money or anything, particularly in the mass media. That is not done by restricting the audience and making it as small as possible. It is done by making the audience as big as possible, especially if the finance is coming from advertising. The logic of the Opposition's argument for the wider availability for major events is that such events should all be shown on all channels simultaneously. That is such a preposterous notion that it demonstrates the paucity of their argument.
The Opposition's view that there is a conflict between quality and finance also suggests that we should look only to public service broadcasting for quality. That is nonsense. The most commercial organisation operating in the broadcasting medium is the BBC. If we are looking for who pays huge salaries to personalities on television, we should not look to Sky Television: we should look to the Wogan show and one or two others we could think of. If we are looking at who is bidding up the price and the costs of sports programmes, we should look to the BBC. It does a cracking good job, but it is doing it with our money. We should be wary of simply assuming that that is necessarily the way to do it in future.
BBC Enterprises Limited is the world's largest exporter of television programmes, with a turnover of more than £150 million last year. Like others of my hon. Friends, I have sat in hotel rooms in San Francisco and turned on the public service broadcasting channel, paid for by subscription, and watched "To the Manor Born", "Yes, 104 Prime Minister" and the BBC wildlife programmes. They earn a mint overseas, and they were all made with our licence fee money in this country.
§ Mr. Buchan
Will the hon. Lady concede the obvious fact that the programmes that she is praising, and which are praised in America, are often the products of regulated broadcasting?
§ Mrs. Currie
On the contrary: the kind of programmes I am talking about are the product of mass marketing media. They are designed to attract millions of people—[Interruption.] They, like the hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.] I intend to pay the hon. Gentleman a compliment, if he will only shut up long enough to listen to me.
§ Mrs. Currie
Programmes like "Yes, Prime Minister" are designed in a commercial world by mass media for a mass audience of people with the taste and intelligence of the hon. Gentleman. There are millions like him. It does not need to be done with taxpayers' money.
I have one suggestion to make. Much of the argument about the sale of franchises arises because the money is to go to the Treasury. I suggest that a proportion of that money, which goes to the Treasury from the highest bidder —and I think it should be from the highest bidder—should be allocated to what we currently call public service broadcasting. We already give money to schools broadcasting and Open university broadcasting—indeed, we have just allocated a chunk of money to Gaelic broadcasting—and it is all tremendously popular. If we did a little more of that, the Opposition would not be screaming at us for choosing the highest bidder—they would be urging us to choose the highest bidder and would then be arguing about where the money should go to. Then there could be some public service broadcasting on all the channels, the importance of the licence fee to the BBC would be reduced, and people would be more interested in and favourable to the system.
The proposed changes are in good Tory tradition. We introduced ITV in the 1950s, independent local radio in the 1970s and channel 4 in the 1980s. Armageddon was threatened each time, but it did not happen. I support the Bill.
§ Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East)
Broadcasting is the most influential medium of mass communication; no more effective means of communication has been devised. Even before the Bill was published, members of the Home Affairs Select Committee and others recognised the great changes in the technology of broadcasting and its management.
It is a great pity that the Bill, which was the Government's great opportunity to introduce landmark legislation, does not put excellence and quality at the top of the agenda. There is no doubt that the auctioning of the franchises to the highest bidders will affect quality. At the heart of the Bill is not a commitment to excellence or quality, but a desire for money.
We do not need a crystal ball to see what the future holds for broadcasting; we need only look at what has happened in America since deregulation. I and other members of the Select Committee were transported, on 105 taxpayers' money, to America to watch television. We saw the experience of programme makers. The 14 channels that I sampled on New York television all consisted of game shows and advertisements. We looked forward to returning to Britain to watch "The Sooty Show" and other programmes made here.
I oppose the suggestion that companies should be able to bid for more than one franchise at a time. I believe that that will be a recipe for chaos and will destroy the network of independent television companies at a time when there needs to be stability. I do not accept the proposals and the schedule concerning cross-ownership. It is sufficient for a legal person to own one franchise, but he should not be allowed to own any other franchises in the network or any newspapers.
I welcome the proposals for the establishment of Channel 5 but regret that it will be received by only 70 per cent. of the country. I do not accept the basis on which the channel is to be scheduled. It would be more appropriate to provide for mega-regions in the franchise or to allow the affiliation of local television stations on a citywide basis to a national channel. I disagree with the proposals that will allow the channel to be sold off to the highest bidder. If the Minister is looking for a home outside London for Channel 5, there is no better place than the quiet midlands city of Leicester, which lies modestly in the heart of England.
I regret that there has not been greater emphasis on regional broadcasting. The current franchise areas are too big. The east midlands—Leicester, Nottingham and Derby in particular—lose out to competition from the west midlands. Although I accept that people in Leicester and the east midlands identify with midland personalities and issues, when awarding the franchise it will be necessary to be more certain that the local nature of regional broadcasting is reviewed.
I accept that there was a need to create a separate radio authority. However, I do not believe that it is right for the franchises to go to the highest bidder. I commend the proposals of the Independent Broadcasting Authority in its recent granting of 23 commercial stations. I visited one of those commercial stations—Sunrise Radio which covers the whole of west London,—and I consider that the targeting of the audience had been extremely important.
I welcome what the Minister said about access to television for deaf people. There are 4 million deaf viewers and I accept the need to increase subtitling and sign language. The Minister should make it clear what he means by "greater access" to broadcasting. A specific percentage should be mentioned above the 10 per cent.
I regret that nothing in the Bill will help those who will not be able to afford the benefits of the technological changes that have occurred. I am thinking particularly of the pensioners in my constituency. I had hoped that there would have been a clause in the Bill—I accept that it is not necessarily to do with the BBC—to exempt pensioners from the payment of television licences. With the arrival of cable, pensioners in Leicester will have to pay roughly £10 a month to obtain the benefit of cable television. In addition to the television licence, they will have to pay an additional £120 a year. For many pensioners, television and radio are their only forms of entertainment. If we are serious about extending the choice available to all sections of our community, we should ensure that pensioners have greater access.
106 No one denies the Government's desire to open up the airways to improve broadcasting. We support that, but we do not support the proposals before the House, which will put the interests of the Treasury, advertisers and the television companies above those of the listeners and the viewers who know exactly what they want from good television and radio. The Bill is guaranteed a stormy passage. With the threats of a rebellion by Conservative Members, there is a danger of it becoming a soap opera in its own right, with the Minister of State cast as Jason Donovan and the Prime Minister as the Finchley version of Mrs. Mangle.
The Government say, "Never mind the quality, feel the bank balance." I say that the values of a nation can be judged by the quality of its broadcasting. Let us give our people the best, and create the climate and conditions that will allow broadcasting talents in our country to flourish.
§ Mr. David Shaw (Dover)
I begin by declaring an interest as a director of a local independent radio station. I welcome the Bill because it will provide more choice in radio and television, and more choice will always be good news.
This country's commercial radio industry was slow to develop because of restrictions and unrealistic demands by an IBA backed by a Government system which did not encourage the development of commercial radio. I do not blame the IBA for the difficulties and restrictions under which it was compelled to work, in the form of the legislation that founded commercial radio. The IBA also achieved many good things, and it should be congratulated on the quality that it introduced into commercial television and radio.
Commercial radio had a difficult time establishing itself in this country because the services that the public wanted proved to be very different from the proposals contained in the original franchise applications. As a consequence, many applications promised a lot but had to be amended when the radio stations began broadcasting and needed to meet the needs of the market. Today, people enjoy listening to commercial radio, and the number of hours that it broadcasts has increased steadily. That change has come about through the passage of time and by people in the marketplace correcting the faults of the original concepts.
The new light touch Radio Authority will be good news for radio and should enable the expansion that the Bill foretells. Over the past few years, listening hours have climbed steadily, and that will continue as new stations go on the air. In the years from 1974 to 1979, under a Labour Government, commercial radio had a difficult time. It was not encouraged to expand, and the system established by a Conservative Government in 1973 was capable of being stifled. However, commercial radio has expanded considerably in recent years and now provides a much better service.
I turn to the problems that television may face as it expands under the Bill's proposals. The danger is that the number of violent and sexually explicit programmes could increase unless there is proper control. A proper Broadcasting Standards Council will be necessary to achieve that, and to ensure that the right sort of people end up in control of our television stations. It would be a major 107 mistake if the standards that we see in newspaper journalism today are mirrored by the television companies of the future.
More and more newspaper journalists are contemplating joining the new TV stations. Already, we have seen the fabrication of news programmes on existing TV stations. Will the Bill be able to handle that type of situation? Does the journalist who organised the Jeffrey Archer frame-up, for example, and who is currently a director of a television station, represent the type of journalism that the Government will allow on television in future? Should someone found to be a liar in open court or to have committed perjury be a director of a TV station broadcasting to children and others? Should someone who has twice been guilty of contempt of court or who has been involved in tax evasion through Netherlands Antilles and Cayman Islands companies be permitted to become involved in providing television services in this country?
Such problems can easily arise in the case of satellite television broadcasting, because in that instance the fiscal control and management of revenues is impossible to achieve. When people direct revenue through Netherlands Antilles and Cayman Islands companies, the Government, through the Home Office and the Treasury, must consider legislation to ensure that the Finance Bill covers that.
I hope that the Government will realise that maintaining television standards also means maintaining the standards of the directors of television companies. High standards are required.
In America, Rupert Murdoch's station, Fox Television, had a consumer revolt. Violence in their programmes was so bad that people got together and boycotted the advertisers' products in the supermarkets. It was an extremely effective revolt because the advertisers contacted the television station and said, "We do not want our products boycotted. We will not advertise on your station unless you stop violent programmes." Ultimately, violent programmes were stopped.
Perhaps viewers in Britain who are not satisfield with the standards of new television broadcasters—for example, Sky—will have to envisage boycotts of the advertisers' products. It is effective. If we find that the Broadcasting Standards Council has become a toothless wonder like the Press Council, and that it is not effective, we must introduce powers for fines through the right legislation.
Advertising revenue pays for programmes and supports the stations. Therefore, that revenue is the best thing to withdraw, as it will ensure that the providers of programmes stand up and say, "We must have better quality programmes". If they do not provide better quality programmes, legislation will ensure that their revenue is withdrawn. Withdrawal of advertising revenue is the only effective sanction on the provision of bad programmes.
We want high-quality television programmes produced by the right people—people who do not fabricate news programmes. We do not want some of the present standards of newspaper journalism in television programmes. The best way to ensure that programme standards are maintained is to ensure that there are lavish penalties on providers of television programmes that do not reach the right quality and standards.
§ Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)
I thank the Home Secretary for what he was able to say at the beginning of the debate about the provision of extra subtitles for people whose hearing is impaired. That is a great tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), who has led a campaign with support from right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House.
I was very pleased that the Minister was able to spell out that the Bill is a first year target, and that it is expected that it will be built on year by year. Naturally, we want the period of progress to be spelt out, properly to enfranchise those people whose hearing is impaired and to give them more access to television.
I also thank the Home Secretary for what he said about Gaelic broadcasting, which is not just of interest in Scotland. We want to ensure that the body will be generally representative of the Gaelic community, and that it will be properly independent when it makes decisions on commissioning and scheduling. I also welcome the extra-terrestrial and satellite channels that new technology has made possible, but, unlike the Government, the Opposition are not mesmerised by the prospect. We want to try to ensure that it will be used to widen real choice and diversity, to protect and promote quality and to stretch interest.
There has rightly been praise for much of our television system. Across and between four channels, it has achieved a programme mix, variety, range and quality which has two essential features. First, it enables us to talk to each other, to think aloud and to be heard, to be tempted and teased into new interests, whether about the environment and nature or about snooker and darts, and to be entertained and reminded of our distinctive culture and —yes—our Britishness. Secondly, it has, by and large, kept a balance between the broad and varied interests of viewers and the demands of advertisers. All this has been achieved on the basis of sensible regulation. It was not delivered by the naked market forces that the Bill would unleash and which have so damaged television elsewhere in Europe.
Regulation was recognition of television's special nature and powerful influence in the shaping of minds and opinions. We should also remember that the commercial network grew and developed beside standards set by the BBC. Most important of all, at peak viewing hours it was required to screen a mix of programmes in specified areas —news and current affairs to inform and educate, and drama, arts, children's religious programmes to entertain and reflect our cultural beliefs and values. True, too many voices and views remained unheard or not heard enough, especially among disadvantaged groups and our ethnic communities. True, the voices and cultures of our nations and regions are inadequately heard on the network. True, too, under the present Government there has been too much Government interference with the broadcasters.
Let us consider the following:Any community must have some settled purpose",wrote Mr. Robin Harris, a new policy adviser to the Prime Minister in a remarkable post dated job application published in the Evening Standard on 11 December. It seems that his job is to cloak the iron lady in a velvet dress 109 while she deals with the problems of society and community, the existence of which she earlier denied. With a whiff of perestroika, Mr. Harris added:I believe it possible in general terms to state the kind of life people should lead"—wait for it—and which the state should encourage and help them to lead.Not social engineering—perish the thought—but wise words in regard to the Bill and what it will allow us to watch on our screens. He continued, perhaps with children's programmes in mind:should not the state publicly and systematically discriminate positively in favour of families?To underscore the point, he added:Education is above all the way in which one generation introduces the next into their common culture.He then singled out religion as most important, and described it asthe single most important continuing influence on society.Mr. Harris has clearly not read the Bill in which his employer, the Prime Minister, had such a large hand. It rejects the idea of any settled purpose and relieves commercial television of any obligation, in or out of peak hours, to carry programmes about current affairs which help to shape our society, or to carry children's programmes or religious programmes. It abandons any notion that commercial television has a role in offering a guide to the kind of life which Mr. Harris says thatthe state should encourage and help".Far be it from me to cause any dissension between a No. 10 policy adviser and the Prime Minister, especially as the two senior Home Office Ministers here owe their present jobs to such a dispute, but instead of the approach advocated by Mr. Harris, the Government propose that commercial television should be advertiser-pushed rather than viewer-led. That is what the preposterous system of blind auctioning will mean.
As one experienced television producer told me,There is more to making a programme than simply filling screen hours.Those who make programmes decide when to show them and those who watch them are entitled to ask, "What did that add to my quality of life? Did it make me laugh or cry? Did it tell me something that I did not know? Did it excite or stimulate me? Did it entertain or astonish me, or was it a mixture of all or some of those?" If a programme—any programme—cannot meet such a quality test, we might as well as watch a moving roll of wallpaper.
Let us be clear that the argument is not about snobbery or elitism. Research shows that, despite the groups into which advertisers divide us according to how much we have to spend, there is very little difference between what we watch on any evening. Readers of The Guardian or The Independent are just as likely to watch a games show or a soap as readers of the Daily Mirror or the Daily Mail are to watch a factual programme.
Under the Bill, it is certain that Christmas television 1989 will be better than Christmas television 1993, which will be poorer, less varied and more of the money-making same than now. As advertisers demand the largest audiences for their particular products, quality will be pushed down and real choice and variety in peak hours will be restricted. That is not guesswork—it is the inevitable consequence of the idea that what we watch on our television screens will be decided by a blind auction among those with access to the largest amount of cash and, as has been said several times in the debate, extra cash spent off screen will mean less cash on screen. Television is to be 110 sold in the same way as second-hand cars or unwanted household items. Buyers of such articles make a quick quality check before they bid, often with the same disappointing results as the Bill will ensure.
We know from France, Italy and West Germany what deregulation has meant—not what it might mean, but what has actually happened since deregulation. It has lessened real choice for viewers and served up more of the same with fewer factual programmes and more soaps usually foreign—and game shows. In France there is a move to restore some regulation due to the poorer quality television.
The Government say, "It will not happen here because we are different—we have the so-called quality threshold." But the quality assurances in the Bill are worthless. For example, the Government say nothing about what the IBA calls "streams" of programmes to be shown in peak hours. They are totaly silent on the matter of networking, on which the federal ITV system is built. Networking—how much and when it will be available to smaller stations—is essential, as it will give them a bite at higher audiences and often more costly programmes.
§ Mr. Corbett
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for confirming my point. The Bill contains nothing about networking. No one can make a sensible bid for a franchise without knowing what networking there will be. The proportion of factual and entertainment-based programmes on the new Channel 3 and Channel 5 is critical to make a reality of choice in peak and non-peak viewing hours.
Now on the ITV stations, about one third of the screen time is devoted to factual programmes, inviting viewers to see and better understand what is going on around us. An impressive 84 of every 100 people rely on television as their main source of information about the developing world and the environment. In part, those programmes are made because the present rules say that they must be. Without those obligations, there will be fewer of them because they are expensive to make and they will probably not get as much peak-time showing when they are pushed down or off the schedules.
An important point is illustrated by the fact that Third-world and environmental programmes shown at peak hours on ITV and BBC have an average audience of 4 million to 5 million. When they are shown off peak, they have an audience of between 1 million and 1.5 million. When they are shown at peak time on Channel 4, the audience is about 1 million to 1.5 million—about the same as the off-peak audience for BBC1 and ITV. The new Independent Television Commission needs powers to influence programme range and diversity during peak-hour viewing if the Government are to fulfil their stated ambition to protect choice and variety. Otherwise, as we have seen in Europe, advertisers will try to grab those slots and design programmes to attract more viewers or the viewers whom they think they need to buy their products.
Audiences are more loyal to commercial radio than to television. It is essential that commercial radio is able to continue and to expand social action broadcasting and citizen broadcasting, which offer help to those who need it 111 and encourage others to give it, and to promote speech-based programmes. Radio has an important educational role to play which is of value to people from childhood to old age.
In Committee, we shall try to give the Independent Television Commission those and other extra powers, and to enable the new Channel 5 to be set up in the north and to be based on a regional mix of networking and home-made regional programmes.
So much of the future of what will be on our screens is left open in the Bill, which is perhaps why the Minister of State has said that he will listen and respond. He can do so tonight by joining us in giving the Committee that will consider the Bill the power to hear evidence before decisions are taken which will last into the next century.
Instead of building and developing our broadcasting best—especially in the face of new competition from satellite, which will take years to become of more than marginal viewing and will not be available to all—the Government want to demolish the foundations of much of the broadcasting system. They put cash ahead of quality and they invite the promotion of the trivial as they treat viewers and listeners as no more than parcels of people to be sold to advertisers. That insults the range of their tastes and their intelligence.
Under the Bill, viewers and television stations are for sale to the highest bidder—choice, diversity and variety can go hang. The viewers and listeners should be in the driving seat, but the Government want the advertisers to reign. That is why we shall oppose the Bill.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Mellor)
Notwithstanding the valiant efforts of many hon. Members, I am disappointed that a number of hon. Members had to sit through the debate without being able to participate in it. Despite the efforts of Front-Bench spokesmen to shorten wind-up speeches, I am sorry that that happened because it is a deeply frustrating experience. I single out one hon. Member who I suspect may have been mildly critical of the Bill, but I am particularly sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) did not catch your eye, Mr. Speaker.
Apart from a few minutes, I sat through the debate and regret that I will be unable to deal with all the points made. I shall try to deal with as many as I can.
It is appropriate to recollect the excellent speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Sir G. Shaw). He began by saying—[Interruption.] Ah, here he comes, making an entrance like a real trouper. He said that it was a matter for congratulation that the Government have introduced such a comprehensive Bill.
Before I deal with the detail—a lot of which, I acknowledge, is very important and which will give the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) and his team and myself a great deal to talk about in Committee—it is right that we should recognise that this is a truly comprehensive Bill. It represents a great leap forward for British broadcasting. It contains many issues on which we all agree. No one has thought to challenge the desirability of a major expansion of radio, with three new 112 national independent radio channels and a host of local radio channels to cater for the wide range of tastes that we know exists out there.
Already, the IBA has been able to grant 23 additional radio licences under its existing powers, for which it received over 500 expressions of interest. The announcement made just a day or two ago that another licence in London had been awarded showed the range of groups applying. For instance, no fewer than eight groups wanted to run a classical radio station in London. In fact, the winner was an "easy listening" franchise, whatever that may mean. The fact that the IBA had to discriminate between one lot of music and another is a sign of how invidious is the task of picking between one group and another.
These matters of quality do not speak for themselves. I have have heard some hon. Members refer to "quality" as though it were a "speak your weight" machine that would automatically register a precise quality rating so that one could make relative quality judgments between different bids. Beyond a certain point, it is difficult. I should not have chosen to have to make a distinction between any of those classical musical applications or to put all of them on one side and choose "easy listening" instead.
The other point on which we all agree is that the framework of public service broadcasting should remain around the BBC, as it does, and that the Bill should take the opportunity to make Channel 4 even more secure in its remit. To those who make unduly pessimistic assertions about the future of television, even if—it is a very big "if—one accepts the pessimism about Channel 3, which of course I do not, it must be relevant to our consideration of the future of British broadcasting that three of the four main terrestrial channels remain exactly as they always did—
§ Mr. Mellor
I am afraid that I do not have time to give way. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have been allowed only 15 minutes to reply. That being so, I think that I should be allowed to answer the debate.
It is interesting that only one point can be challenged about the way in which we have dealt with Channel 4, and with respect to those who hold those views, their point seems a little wide of the mark. At the moment Channel 4 is entirely the creature of the IBA. The authority broadcasts its programmes, approves its schedules and decides its income. Under the new arrangements, for the first time Channel 4 will broadcast its own programmes, decide its own schedules and, to the extent that its advertising sales are successful, fix the level of its income. With the greatest respect to those who hold contrary views, I believe that for the Government to have the right to approve nominations put forward by the ITC is not excessive, having regard to the prime desire and requirement of Channel 4 not to be privatised, but to remain as a public corporation, which it will.
Another thing with which hon. Members agree is the enhancement that we have given to Gaelic broadcasting and to the maintenance of S4C, about which the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) spoke. I had a meeting with the managing director of S4C the other day and he is well satisfied with the remit that he has been given.
113 Interestingly, there has been no challenge to the fact that for the first time we shall regulate what appears on satellite television. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) suggested that the Bill was about deregulation. With the greatest respect, we could not have produced a Bill with 167 clauses and 12 schedules if it had been about deregulation. It may be about modifying the manner in which we regulate but, for example, it extends regulation for the first time, to non-DBS low-powered satellite channels which at present are outside any direct United Kingdom regulatory control.
The regulation in the Bill goes beyond matters of taste and decency. Channels will be required not to editorialise on political or controversial matters, to preserve due impartiality in dealing with such matters, to present news accurately and impartially and to control advertisements. That is far from a move towards deregulation. We assume that we have the right to stop innovations. We do not. They will happen anyway and it is sensible to set them within a framework of regulation. That is what the Bill does.
I understand that there is a good deal of anxiety about our proposals for Channel 3. Having established that, there is a great deal in the Bill on which hon. Members of whatever party affiliation agree. That is why I regret that there will be a Division on the Bill tonight. I acknowledge that serious issues will need to be addressed in dealing with Channel 3 franchises.
I was sad that the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell)—who is pointing towards me but not listening—said complacently, "If it ain't broke, don't mend it." I should have thought that we were all agreed on one matter in this debate, wherever else we may part company. There is precious little about which to be complacent when we consider the performance of Channel 3. That is no fault of the IBA. We have set the statutory framework.
§ Mr. Mellor
No, I shall not give way. I shall deal with the hon. Gentleman's point.
Many of the people who apply for franchises will have to consider seriously the performance of Channel 3. If it is to be a worthwhile business to be in, they will have to improve the performance. In 1984, ITV 1—Channel 3, as it will now be called—had on average 48.7 per cent. of the audience. That has fallen in the space of five years to 41.7 per cent. in the first three-quarters of this year. Channel 3 is supposed to be a mass audience channel.
The figures become even more striking when we consider the percentage of families who own a television who watch a channel at peak times. In 1984, on average 15 per cent. of families with a television watched BBC 1 at peak times. That remains the case in 1989. For ITV Channel 3 the figure was 21 per cent. in 1984 and 16 per cent. in 1989. If we are worried about quality, the first thing that we should ask ourselves is whether—I believe that there is a strong case for it—the quality of Channel 3 should be improved. Viewers are voting with their feet in increasing numbers. Or do we believe that Channel 3 is a monument of our culture—touch not a hair of its head? I hope that we shall be able to explore the reasons behind that thinking.
§ Mr. Mellor
No. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is persisting when I have given up 15 minutes of the time for my reply. The hon. Gentleman spoke for almost as long as I have to reply. I am trying to reply to the debate.
In the Bill we have sought sincerely to set out the basis upon which we can more sensibly allocate Channel 3 franchises. We have sought to find the basis on which a quality threshold can be erected which George Russell, chairman of the IBA, described as a Becher's brook. Only those who are able not only to satisfy the ITC as to the credibility of their programming, but, as my hon. Friend for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) said, able as never before to produce business plans and show the financial wherewithal to undertake such programming, will he able to participate in the tendering procedure that will allow a bid to determine the issue.
It is not envisaged that the quality threshold will be anything other than a high fence to jump. It is not envisaged that those who jump it will display the wide range of quality bids suggested. The purpose of that threshold is that it should pose a genuine obstacle and a lot of people should not be able to get over it.
I understand and appreciate the anxieties that have been expressed by hon. Members and I appreciate that the question of quality goes to the heart of the Bill. The balance between quality and money is a matter of great significance. In clause 16 we believe that we have set forth a basis upon which the ITC can properly regulate the system. The fact that in "exceptional circumstances" the ITC will not be obliged to accept the highest bidder means that we have provided an important area of discretion.
I repeat that the wording of the Bill as it presently stands is not set in concrete. There will be plenty of opportunity in Committee to consider the wording as it relates to the quality threshold and to consider whether the discretion given to the ITC is adequate. I take up the offer made by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook of sensible debates in Committee on this issue.
§ Mr. Hattersley
Will the Minister tell us the answer to the question that intrigues us all—what are the possible exceptional circumstances in which the highest bidder might be turned down?
§ Mr. Mellor
It is interesting that George Russell has also refused to deal with that—[Interruption.] The reason is simple; he does not want to bind his hands in advance of seeing the bids as they come in. The right hon. Gentleman asked me the question and, having answered for George Russell, I shall answer for me. If it were possible to define what we meant by "exceptional circumstances" we would not need an exceptional circumstance provision—[Laughter.] One would have a list, but a list is restrictive and does not give one scope for the exercise of discretion. One would be tied down unnecessarily. Opposition Members laughed more loudly than I suspect many of the Channel 3 comedy shows would have allowed them to do. If they can come up with a sensible alternative I put them on notice to do so. It is not as easy as all that.
In the end we assume that it is up to us to save our British broadcasting, but in reality it is up to us to allow British broadcasting to develop. It is up to us to put the minimum number of problems in the way of viewers and listeners getting the choice that they want. In our enthusiasm to do good we should be careful of patronising 115 the public. I believe that the public are infinitely more sophisticated than we give them credit for. When given the opportunity the public will not settle for the lowest level of pap. I do not believe that most of us, if we are sensible, say when we meet our constituents in the high street, "Because you are only capable of settling for the lowest level of pap we have to spend hours in this place saving you from yourselves."
Some people have complacently said that all we need do is retain the status quo. The IBA carried out a survey, however, and asked the public about their viewing preferences—49 per cent. said that there was nothing on the television that they wanted to watch at the time they wanted to watch it.
The Bill stands in the great tradition of developments in broadcasting, all of which took place under a Conservative Government. I commend it to the House.
§ Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 310, Noes 238.118
|Division No. 23]||[at 10.00 pm|
|Adley, Robert||Carrington, Matthew|
|Alexander, Richard||Carttiss, Michael|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Cartwright, John|
|Allason, Rupert||Cash, William|
|Amery, Rt Hon Julian||Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda|
|Amess, David||Channon, Rt Hon Paul|
|Amos, Alan||Chapman, Sydney|
|Arbuthnot, James||Chope, Christopher|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Churchill, Mr|
|Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)||Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n)|
|Ashby, David||Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)|
|Atkins, Robert||Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)|
|Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)||Colvin, Michael|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)||Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)|
|Baldry, Tony||Coombs, Simon (Swindon)|
|Banks, Robert (Harrogate)||Couchman, James|
|Batiste, Spencer||Gran, James|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Currie, Mrs Edwina|
|Bellingham, Henry||Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)|
|Bendall, Vivian||Davis, David (Boothferry)|
|Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Day, Stephen|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Devlin, Tim|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Dicks, Terry|
|Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Dorrell, Stephen|
|Body, Sir Richard||Eggar, Tim|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Emery, Sir Peter|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)|
|Boswell, Tim||Evennett, David|
|Bottomley, Peter||Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas|
|Bottomley, Mrs Virginia||Fallon, Michael|
|Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)||Favell, Tony|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Fenner, Dame Peggy|
|Bowis, John||Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey|
|Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard||Fishburn, John Dudley|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Fookes, Dame Janet|
|Brazier, Julian||Forman, Nigel|
|Bright, Graham||Forth, Eric|
|Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)||Fowler, Rt Hon Norman|
|Browne, John (Winchester)||Fox, Sir Marcus|
|Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)||Franks, Cecil|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Freeman, Roger|
|Budgen, Nicholas||French, Douglas|
|Burns, Simon||Gale, Roger|
|Burt, Alistair||Gardiner, George|
|Butcher, John||Garel-Jones, Tristan|
|Butler, Chris||Gill, Christopher|
|Butterfill, John||Glyn, Dr Alan|
|Carlisle, John, (Luton N)||Goodhart, Sir Philip|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles|
|Gorman, Mrs Teresa||McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick|
|Gorst, John||Madel, David|
|Gow, Ian||Malins, Humfrey|
|Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)||Mans, Keith|
|Greenway, Harry (Baling N)||Maples, John|
|Greenway, John (Ryedale)||Marlow, Tony|
|Gregory, Conal||Marshall, John (Hendon S)|
|Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E')||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)||Martin, David (Portsmouth S)|
|Grist, Ian||Mates, Michael|
|Grylls, Michael||Maude, Hon Francis|
|Hague, William||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin|
|Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)||Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick|
|Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)||Mellor, David|
|Hampson, Dr Keith||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Hanley, Jeremy||Mills, Iain|
|Hannam, John||Miscampbell, Norman|
|Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')||Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)|
|Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)||Mitchell, Sir David|
|Harris, David||Moate, Roger|
|Haselhurst, Alan||Monro, Sir Hector|
|Hawkins, Christopher||Morris, M (N'hampton S)|
|Hayes, Jerry||Morrison, Rt Hon P (Chester)|
|Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney||Moss, Malcolm|
|Hayward, Robert||Mudd, David|
|Heathcoat-Amory, David||Neale, Gerrard|
|Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael||Nelson, Anthony|
|Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)||Neubert, Michael|
|Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.||Newton, Rt Hon Tony|
|Hill, James||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Hind, Kenneth||Nicholson, David (Taunton)|
|Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)||Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)|
|Hordern, Sir Peter||Norris, Steve|
|Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)||Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley|
|Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)||Oppenheim, Phillip|
|Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Owen, Rt Hon Dr David|
|Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)||Page, Richard|
|Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)||Paice, James|
|Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)||Patnick, Irvine|
|Hunt, David (Wirral W)||Patten, Rt Hon Chris (Bath)|
|Hunter, Andrew||Patten, John (Oxford W)|
|Irvine, Michael||Pawsey, James|
|Irving, Charles||Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth|
|Jack, Michael||Porter, Barry (Wirral S)|
|Jackson, Robert||Porter, David (Waveney)|
|Janman, Tim||Portillo, Michael|
|Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey||Raison, Rt Hon Timothy|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Rathbone, Tim|
|Jones, Robert B (Herts W)||Renton, Rt Hon Tim|
|Jopling, Rt Hon Michael||Riddick, Graham|
|Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine||Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas|
|Key, Robert||Ridsdale, Sir Julian|
|Kilfedder, James||Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)|
|King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)||Roe, Mrs Marion|
|King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)||Rossi, Sir Hugh|
|Kirkhope, Timothy||Rost, Peter|
|Knapman, Roger||Rowe, Andrew|
|Knight, Greg (Derby North)||Rumbold, Mrs Angela|
|Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)||Sackville, Hon Tom|
|Knowles, Michael||Sayeed, Jonathan|
|Knox, David||Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas|
|Lamont, Rt Hon Norman||Shaw, David (Dover)|
|Lang, Ian||Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)|
|Latham, Michael||Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Shelton, Sir William|
|Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel||Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)|
|Lee, John (Pendle)||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)||Shersby, Michael|
|Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark||Sims, Roger|
|Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)||Skeet, Sir Trevor|
|Lightbown, David||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Lilley, Peter||Soames, Hon Nicholas|
|Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)||Speed, Keith|
|Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Speller, Tony|
|Lord, Michael||Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)|
|Luce, Rt Hon Richard||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Lyell, Sir Nicholas||Squire, Robin|
|MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|McLoughlin, Patrick||Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John|
|McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael||Steen, Anthony|
|Stern, Michael||wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Stevens, Lewis||Waldegrave, Hon William|
|Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)||Walker, Bill (T'side North)|
|Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)||Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)|
|Stewart, Rt Hon Ian (Herts N)||Waller, Gary|
|Stokes, Sir John||Walters, Sir Dennis|
|Sumberg, David||Ward, John|
|Summerson, Hugo||Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)|
|Tapsell, Sir Peter||Warren, Kenneth|
|Taylor, Ian (Esher)||Watts, John|
|Taylor, John M (Solihull)||Wells, Bowen|
|Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)||Wheeler, John|
|Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman||Whitney, Ray|
|Temple-Morris, Peter||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)||Wilkinson, John|
|Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)||Wilshire, David|
|Thorne, Neil||Winterton, Mrs Ann|
|Thurnham, Peter||Wolfson, Mark|
|Townend, John (Bridlington)||Wood, Timothy|
|Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)||Woodcock, Dr. Mike|
|Tracey, Richard||Yeo, Tim|
|Tredinnick, David||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Twinn, Dr Ian||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Vaughan, Sir Gerard||Mr. Alastair Goodlad and|
|Viggers, Peter||Mr. Tony Durant.|
|Waddington, Rt Hon David|
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Corbyn, Jeremy|
|Adams, Allen (Paisley N)||Cousins, Jim|
|Allen, Graham||Cox, Tom|
|Alton, David||Crowther, Stan|
|Anderson, Donald||Cryer, Bob|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Cunliffe, Lawrence|
|Armstrong, Hilary||Cunningham, Dr John|
|Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy||Dalyell, Tam|
|Ashley, Rt Hon Jack||Darling, Alistair|
|Ashton, Joe||Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)|
|Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)||Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)|
|Barron, Kevin||Dewar, Donald|
|Battle, John||Dixon, Don|
|Beckett, Margaret||Dobson, Frank|
|Beggs, Roy||Doran, Frank|
|Bell, Stuart||Douglas, Dick|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Duffy, A. E. P.|
|Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)||Dunnachie, Jimmy|
|Benyon, W.||Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Eadie, Alexander|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Eastham, Ken|
|Blair, Tony||Evans, John (St Helens N)|
|Blunkett, David||Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)|
|Boateng, Paul||Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)|
|Boyes, Roland||Fatchett, Derek|
|Bradley, Keith||Fearn, Ronald|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Field, Frank (Birkenhead)|
|Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)||Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)|
|Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)||Fisher, Mark|
|Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)||Flannery, Martin|
|Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)||Flynn, Paul|
|Buchan, Norman||Foot, Rt Hon Michael|
|Buckley, George J.||Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S)|
|Caborn, Richard||Foster, Derek|
|Callaghan, Jim||Foulkes, George|
|Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)||Fraser, John|
|Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)||Fyfe, Maria|
|Campbell-Savours, D. N.||Galloway, George|
|Canavan, Dennis||Garrett, John (Norwich South)|
|Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)||Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)|
|Clark, Dr David (S Shields)||George, Bruce|
|Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)||Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John|
|Clay, Bob||Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian|
|Clelland, David||Godman, Dr Norman A.|
|Clwyd, Mrs Ann||Golding, Mrs Llin|
|Cohen, Harry||Gordon, Mildred|
|Coleman, Donald||Gould, Bryan|
|Cook, Robin (Livingston)||Graham, Thomas|
|Corbett, Robin||Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)|
|Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)|
|Grocott, Bruce||Mowlam, Marjorie|
|Hardy, Peter||Mullin, Chris|
|Harman, Ms Harriet||Murphy, Paul|
|Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy||Nellist, Dave|
|Healey, Rt Hon Denis||O'Brien, William|
|Heffer, Eric S.||O'Neill, Martin|
|Henderson, Doug||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley|
|Hinchliffe, David||Paisley, Rev Ian|
|Hoey, Ms Kate (Vauxhall)||Pendry, Tom|
|Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)||Pike, Peter L.|
|Home Robertson, John||Powell, Ray (Ogmore)|
|Howarth, George (Knowsley N)||Prescott, John|
|Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)||Quin, Ms Joyce|
|Howells, Geraint||Radice, Giles|
|Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)||Randall, Stuart|
|Hoyle, Doug||Reid, Dr John|
|Hughes, John (Coventry NE)||Roberts, Allan (Bootle)|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Robertson, George|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport E)||Robinson, Geoffrey|
|Hughes, Simon (Soulhwark)||Rogers, Allan|
|Illsley, Eric||Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)|
|Ingram, Adam||Ross, William (Londonderry E)|
|Janner, Greville||Rowlands, Ted|
|Johnston, Sir Russell||Ruddock, Joan|
|Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)||Sheerman, Barry|
|Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert|
|Kennedy, Charles||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Kirkwood, Archy||Short, Clare|
|Lambie, David||Sillars, Jim|
|Lamond, James||Skinner, Dennis|
|Leadbitter, Ted||Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)|
|Leighton, Ron||Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)|
|Lestor, Joan (Eccles)||Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)|
|Lewis, Terry||Smith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)|
|Litherland, Robert||Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)|
|Livingstone, Ken||Snape, Peter|
|Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)||Soley, Clive|
|Lofthouse, Geoffrey||Spearing, Nigel|
|Loyden, Eddie||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|McAllion, John||Stott, Roger|
|McAvoy, Thomas||Strang, Gavin|
|McCartney, Ian||Straw, Jack|
|Macdonald, Calum A.||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)|
|McFall, John||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|McGrady, Eddie||Thomas, Dr Dafydd Elis|
|McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)||Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)|
|McKelvey, William||Turner, Dennis|
|McLeish, Henry||Vaz, Keith|
|Maclennan, Robert||Walden, George|
|McNamara, Kevin||Walker, A. Cecil (Belfast N)|
|McWilliam, John||Wall, Pat|
|Madden, Max||Wallace, James|
|Mahon, Mrs Alice||Walley, Joan|
|Marek, Dr John||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|Marshall, David (Shettleston)||Wareing, Robert N.|
|Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)|
|Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Martlew, Eric||Williams, Rt Hon Alan|
|Maxton, John||Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)|
|Meacher, Michael||Wilson, Brian|
|Meale, Alan||Winnick, David|
|Michael, Alun||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)||Worthington, Tony|
|Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)||Wray, Jimmy|
|Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)||Young, David (Bolton SE)|
|Molyneaux, Rt Hon James|
|Moonie, Dr Lewis||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Morgan, Rhodri||Mr. Frank Cook and|
|Morley, Elliot||Mr. Frank Haynes|
|Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be committed to a Special Standing Committee.—[Mr. Corbett.]
§ Question put:-
§ The House divided: Ayes 237, Noes 303.120
|Division No. 24]||[10.15|
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Flannery, Martin|
|Adams, Allen (Paisley N)||Flynn, Paul|
|Allen, Graham||Foot, Rt Hon Michael|
|Alton, David||Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S)|
|Anderson, Donald||Foster, Derek|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Foulkes, George|
|Armstrong, Hilary||Fraser, John|
|Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy||Fyfe, Maria|
|Ashley, Rt Hon Jack||Galloway, George|
|Ashton, Joe||Garrett, John (Norwich South)|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)|
|Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)||George, Bruce|
|Barron, Kevin||Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John|
|Battle, John||Godman, Dr Norman A.|
|Beckett, Margaret||Golding, Mrs Llin|
|Beggs, Roy||Gordon, Mildred|
|Bell, Stuart||Gould, Bryan|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Graham, Thomas|
|Bennett, A. F. (D'nfn & R'dish)||Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Grocott, Bruce|
|Blair, Tony||Hardy, Peter|
|Boateng, Paul||Harman, Ms Harriet|
|Boyes, Roland||Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy|
|Bradley, Keith||Healey, Rt Hon Denis|
|Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)||Heffer, Eric S.|
|Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)||Henderson, Doug|
|Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)||Hinchliffe, David|
|Buchan, Norman||Hoey, Ms Kate (Vauxhall)|
|Buckley, George J.||Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)|
|Caborn, Richard||Home Robertson, John|
|Callaghan, Jim||Hood, Jimmy|
|Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)||Howarth, George (Knowsley N)|
|Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)||Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)|
|Campbell-Savours, D. N.||Howells, Geraint|
|Canavan, Dennis||Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)|
|Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)||Hoyle, Doug|
|Cartwright, John||Hughes, John (Coventry NE)|
|Clark, Dr David (S Shields)||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)|
|Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)||Hughes, Roy (Newport E)|
|Clay, Bob||Hughes, Simon (Southwark)|
|Clelland, David||Illsley, Eric|
|Clwyd, Mrs Ann||Ingram, Adam|
|Cohen, Harry||Janner, Greville|
|Coleman, Donald||Johnston, Sir Russell|
|Cook, Robin (Livingston)||Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)|
|Corbett, Robin||Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald|
|Cousins, Jim||Kennedy, Charles|
|Cox, Tom||Kirkwood, Archy|
|Crowther, Stan||Lambie, David|
|Cryer, Bob||Lamond, James|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||Leadbitter, Ted|
|Cunningham, Dr John||Leighton, Ron|
|Dalyell, Tam||Lestor, Joan (Eccles)|
|Darling, Alistair||Lewis, Terry|
|Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)||Litherland, Robert|
|Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)||Livingstone, Ken|
|Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)||Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)|
|Dewar, Donald||Lofthouse, Geoffrey|
|Dixon, Don||Loyden, Eddie|
|Dobson, Frank||McAllion, John|
|Doran, Frank||McAvoy, Thomas|
|Douglas, Dick||McCartney, Ian|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Macdonald, Calum A.|
|Dunnachie, Jimmy||McFall, John|
|Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth||McGrady, Eddie|
|Eadie, Alexander||McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)|
|Eastham, Ken||McKelvey, William|
|Evans, John (St Helens N)||McLeish, Henry|
|Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)||Maclennan, Robert|
|Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)||McNamara, Kevin|
|Fatchett, Derek||McWilliam, John|
|Fearn, Ronald||Madden, Max|
|Field, Frank (Birkenhead)||Mahon, Mrs Alice|
|Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)||Marek, Dr John|
|Fisher, Mark||Marshall, David (Shettleston)|
|Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert|
|Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Martlew, Eric||Short, Clare|
|Maxton, John||Sillars, Jim|
|Meacher, Michael||Skinner, Dennis|
|Meale, Alan||Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)|
|Michael, Alun||Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)|
|Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)||Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)|
|Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)||Smith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)|
|Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)||Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)|
|Molyneaux, Rt Hon James||Snape, Peter|
|Moonie, Dr Lewis||Soley, Clive|
|Morgan, Rhodri||Spearing, Nigel|
|Morley, Elliot||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)||Stott, Roger|
|Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)||Strang, Gavin|
|Mowlam, Marjorie||Straw, Jack|
|Mullin, Chris||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)|
|Murphy, Paul||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|Nellist, Dave||Thomas, Dr Dafydd Elis|
|O'Brien, William||Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)|
|O'Neill, Martin||Turner, Dennis|
|Orme, Rt Hon Stanley||Vaz, Keith|
|Owen, Rt Hon Dr David||Walden, George|
|Paisley, Rev Ian||Wall, Pat|
|Pendry, Tom||Wallace, James|
|Pike, Peter L.||Walley, Joan|
|Powell, Ray (Ogmore)||Warden, Gareth (Gower)|
|Prescott, John||Wareing, Robert N.|
|Quin, Ms Joyce||Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)|
|Radice, Giles||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Randall, Stuart||Williams, Rt Hon Alan|
|Reid, Dr John||Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)|
|Roberts, Allan (Bootle)||Wilson, Brian|
|Robertson, George||Winnick, David|
|Robinson, Geoffrey||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Rogers, Allan||Worthington, Tony|
|Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)||Wray, Jimmy|
|Ross, William (Londonderry E)||Young, David (Bolton SE)|
|Ruddock, Joan||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Sedgemore, Brian||Mr. Frank Cook and|
|Sheerman, Barry||Mr. Frank Haynes.|
|Adley, Robert||Brazier, Julian|
|Alexander, Richard||Bright, Graham|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)|
|Allason, Rupert||Browne, John (Winchester)|
|Amery, Rt Hon Julian||Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)|
|Amess, David||Buck, Sir Antony|
|Amos, Alan||Budgen, Nicholas|
|Arbuthnot, James||Burns, Simon|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Burt, Alistair|
|Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)||Butcher, John|
|Ashby, David||Butler, Chris|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Butterfill, John|
|Atkins, Robert||Carlisle, John, (Luton N)|
|Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)||Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)||Carrington, Matthew|
|Baldry, Tony||Carttiss, Michael|
|Banks, Robert (Harrogate)||Cash, William|
|Batiste, Spencer||Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Channon, Rt Hon Paul|
|Bellingham, Henry||Chapman, Sydney|
|Bendall, Vivian||Chope, Christopher|
|Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Churchill, Mr|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n)|
|Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)|
|Body, Sir Richard||Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Colvin, Michael|
|Boswell, Tim||Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)|
|Bottomley, Peter||Coombs, Simon (Swindon)|
|Bottomley, Mrs Virginia||Cormack, Patrick|
|Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)||Couchman, James|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Cran, James|
|Bowis, John||Currie, Mrs Edwina|
|Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard||Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Davis, David (Boothferry)|
|Day, Stephen||Hunter, Andrew|
|Devlin, Tim||Irvine, Michael|
|Dykes, Hugh||Jack, Michael|
|Eggar, Tim||Jackson, Robert|
|Emery, Sir Peter||Janman, Tim|
|Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)||Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey|
|Evennett, David||Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)|
|Fallon, Michael||Jones, Robert B (Herts W)|
|Favell, Tony||Jopling, Rt Hon Michael|
|Fenner, Dame Peggy||Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine|
|Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey||Key, Robert|
|Fishburn, John Dudley||Kilfedder, James|
|Fookes, Dame Janet||King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)|
|Forman, Nigel||King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)|
|Forth, Eric||Kirkhope, Timothy|
|Fowler, Rt Hon Norman||Knapman, Roger|
|Fox, Sir Marcus||Knight, Greg (Derby North)|
|Franks, Cecil||Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)|
|Freeman, Roger||Knowles, Michael|
|French, Douglas||Knox, David|
|Gale, Roger||Lamont, Rt Hon Norman|
|Gardiner, George||Lang, Ian|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Latham, Michael|
|Gill, Christopher||Lawrence, Ivan|
|Glyn, Dr Alan||Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel|
|Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles||Lee, John (Pendle)|
|Gorman, Mrs Teresa||Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)|
|Gorst, John||Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark|
|Gow, Ian||Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)|
|Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)||Lightbown, David|
|Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)||Lilley, Peter|
|Greenway, John (Ryedale)||Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)|
|Gregory, Conal||Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)|
|Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E')||Lord, Michael|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)||Luce, Rt Hon Richard|
|Grist, Ian||Lyell, Sir Nicholas|
|Grylls, Michael||Macfarlane, Sir Neil|
|Hague, William||MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire|
|Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)||McLoughlin, Patrick|
|Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)||McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael|
|Hampson, Dr Keith||McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick|
|Hanley, Jeremy||Madel, David|
|Hannam, John||Malins, Humfrey|
|Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')||Mans, Keith|
|Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)||Maples, John|
|Harris, David||Marlow, Tony|
|Haselhurst, Alan||Marshall, John (Hendon S)|
|Hawkins, Christopher||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)|
|Hayes, Jerry||Martin, David (Portsmouth S)|
|Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney||Mates, Michael|
|Hayward, Robert||Maude, Hon Francis|
|Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin|
|Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)||Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick|
|Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.||Mellor, David|
|Hill, James||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Hind, Kenneth||Mills, Iain|
|Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)||Miscampbell, Norman|
|Hordern, Sir Peter||Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)|
|Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)||Mitchell, Sir David|
|Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)||Moate, Roger|
|Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Monro, Sir Hector|
|Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)||Morris, M (N'hampton S)|
|Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)||Morrison, Rt Hon P (Chester)|
|Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)||Moss, Malcolm|
|Hunt, David (Wirral W)||Neale, Gerrard|
|Nelson, Anthony||Stevens, Lewis|
|Neubert, Michael||Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)|
|Newton, Rt Hon Tony||Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)|
|Nicholls, Patrick||Stewart, Rt Hon Ian (Herts N)|
|Nicholson, David (Taunton)||Stokes, Sir John|
|Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)||Stradling Thomas, Sir John|
|Norris, Steve||Sumberg, David|
|Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley||Summerson, Hugo|
|Oppenheim, Phillip||Tapsell, Sir Peter|
|Page, Richard||Taylor, Ian (Esher)|
|Paice, James||Taylor, John M (Solihull)|
|Patnick, Irvine||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Patten, Rt Hon Chris (Bath)||Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman|
|Patten, John (Oxford W)||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret|
|Pawsey, James||Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)|
|Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth||Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)|
|Porter, Barry (Wirral S)||Thorne, Neil|
|Porter, David (Waveney)||Thurnham, Peter|
|Portillo, Michael||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Raison, Rt Hon Timothy||Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)|
|Rathbone, Tim||Tracey, Richard|
|Renton, Rt Hon Tim||Tredinnick, David|
|Riddick, Graham||Trotter, Neville|
|Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Ridsdale, Sir Julian||Vaughan, Sir Gerard|
|Roberts, Wyn (CONWY)||Viggers, Peter|
|Roe, Mrs Marion||Waddington, Rt Hon David|
|Rossi, Sir Hugh||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Rowe, Andrew||Waldegrave, Hon William|
|Rumbold, Mrs Angela||Walker, Bill (T'side North)|
|Sackville, Hon Tom||Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)|
|Sayeed, Jonathan||Waller, Gary|
|Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas||Ward, John|
|Shaw, David (Dover)||Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)|
|Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)||Warren, Kenneth|
|Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')||Watts, John|
|Shelton, Sir William||Wells, Bowen|
|Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)||Wheeler, John|
|Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)||Whitney, Ray|
|Shersby, Michael||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Sims, Roger||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Skeet, Sir Trevor||Wilkinson, John|
|Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)||Wilshire, David|
|Soames, Hon Nicholas||Winterton, Mrs Ann|
|Speed, Keith||Wolfson, Mark|
|Speller, Tony||Wood, Timothy|
|Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)||Woodcock, Dr. Mike|
|Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)||Yeo, Tim|
|Squire, Robin||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Steen, Anthony||Mr. Alastair Goodlad and|
|Stern, Michael||Mr. Tony Durant.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).