§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hurd)
I beg to move,That this House takes note of the White Paper, Broadcasting in the '90s: Competition, Choice and Quality (Cm. 517), and endorses the Government's proposals for the future of broadcasting contained therein.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
Order. I have to announce to the House that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment standing in the name of the Leader of the Opposition. Mr. Speaker has also asked me to say that a large number of right hon. and hon. Members wish to speak in the debate. He therefore intends to impose the 10-minute limit on speeches between 7 and 9 o'clock, but hopes that those who are called before then will bear that in mind.
§ Mr. Hurd
Today the House of Commons takes its part—a leading part, of course—in the debate on the future of British broadcasting which was launched by the publication of our White Paper. The Government have asked for comments from the rest of the world by the end of this month and after that we shall begin to take decisions on the contents of a Broadcasting Bill, which we hope to submit to Parliament in the reasonably near future. In shaping our proposals we shall of course take fully into account the comments made in this debate and, a few weeks ago, in another place.
The White Paper is the Government's child, but its godparents are Professor Peacock and his fellow members, my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) and the members of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. I know that my hon. Friend is hoping to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. One of the godfathers commented in The Times today—[Interruption.]—on the whole favourably, on the progress of the infant, and possibly my hon. Friend will comment as we proceed. I pay tribute to their work as godparents, at least of this debate.
Everyone agrees that change is inevitable because of the wider choice that is now possible. That is the common ground from which all the representations that we have so far received start. The question is what the framework for such change should be. The proposals in the White Paper enable, but do not prescribe. We are not in the business of guessing in advance which of the possible new developments will come fast and which slowly—let alone of placing bets with taxpayers' money on such guesses.
Rather than describe in full the contents of a White Paper which has already been much discussed, I shall take this opportunity to talk about the philosophy that underlies it. I shall also comment on radio, because I believe that the changes now possible in radio are among the most exciting contained in the White Paper. However, for the time being I shall concentrate on television.
We are at a staging post in the history of British television. The first stage was one television service provided by the BBC. At that time, the BBC had to ensure that, as far as possible, its monopoly programme satisfied the tastes and interests of a widely varied public. Two channels followed, then three, then four.
Theoretically, we could ultimately imagine a television screen that had become more or less like a book shop. The 1007 customer in a book shop is protected against dishonesty, fraud and obscenity, but he is not tapped on the shoulder from time to time and told that he has spent long enough in the thriller department and should now go to the science department instead. Similarly, he is not greeted at the shop entrance by a gentleman telling him that he is welcome to visit all departments of the shop, but before doing so he must pay a fee that will go to benefit only part of the book shop.
We are a long way from the television screen as a book shop, but we are approaching an intermediate stage. In the next decade there will be scope not merely for four but for dozens of television channels, most of which will be delivered, not by limited UHF spectrum but by satellite, cable or microwave. The core of this debate is how much specific prescription and regulation is required as we move to this next staging post.
Most of the discussion in answering that question has been about the quality of programmes—that is at the heart of the debate. Quality must not be equated with the preservation of existing interests, and neither should we exaggerate as perfect the quality of what we already have; a certain hyperbole creeps in from time to time.
Our constituents who press the button for ITV on a Saturday evening would be surprised to learn that they were tiptoeing into a temple of our national culture—that is not how they see it. There is much that is ordinary, as well as much that is good, in British broadcasting today. It is true that both the BBC and the independent commercial sector have many jewels in their crowns. I have been re-reading Lord Reith's speeches, and the pessimists who predicted in the 1950s that independent broadcasting would ring the death knell of quality—he used some striking phrases—have been confounded. Perhaps there is a lesson here for today's pessimists.
§ Mr. Derek Conway (Shrewsbury and Atcham)
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. Does he accept that some of the comments made about his proposals, notably in television discussions by the media intelligentsia, reject the very reasonable point that he is making, which is that there is not much to be defended, particularly on the BBC, at the moment? Programmes such as "That's Life" and "Panorama" would not recognise "unbiasedness" if it smacked them on the head. There is not a great deal to brag about in the present system, and there is much scope for improvement.
§ Mr. Hurd
There is quite a lot to boast about. Personally, I do not share my hon. Friend's distaste for the two programmes that he mentioned, which I sometimes see. Sometimes we are all irritated or even angered by what we see on the television, but I hope that what I have said strikes a reasonable balance. Some interested parties speak in hyperbole about the glories of British broadcasting, but it is true that both the BBC and the commercial sector have many jewels in their crown.
The main argument advanced against the White Paper—I think that I shall carry my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Conway) with me here—is that we are proposing to hand over broadcasting to market forces that will inevitably wreck the tradition of quality. Certainly, we believe that the viewer should take an increasing hand. As choice multiplies, less regulation and detailed prescription are needed. A little fresh air does no harm in broadcasting—indeed, I welcome the good, 1008 refreshing wind that has been blowing through broadcasting in recent years, through the restrictive practices and occasional complacencies in both the BBC and the independent sector.
The White Paper clearly sets out six main safeguards for the quality of British broadcasting and—acknowledging your admonition, Mr. Deputy Speaker—I shall describe each of them briefly. When those six safeguards are added together, they provide a convincing refutation of the criticism that we propose to be rashly destructive of quality.
First, the BBC will—as the White Paper states—remaiin the cornerstone of public sector broadcasting. I do not doubt that that will still be true when in about five years' time we start the next big clearly foreseeable debate on our broadcasting system and consider the renewal of the BBC charter.
The licence fee is not immortal and we want the BBC to experiment with subscription, which provides a more direct and legitimate link between viewer and broadcaster. We have deliberately not fixed a date for the replacement of the licence fee. We believe that it will be sensible, after 1991, to take into account, when setting the licence fee, the BBC's ability to raise income from subscription and other sources. By the time that the debate about renewing the charter is under way, we shall all have more experience of the working of subscription programmes. We shall also have had time to consider other problems, such as how BBC radio might be funded if the licence fee were replaced. None of those questions has been prejudged.
I am glad of the way in which the BBC, in contrast to some of its friends, has reacted to the White Paper. It knows that it is nonsense to suggest that we are subjecting the corporation to death by a thousand cuts. In practice, the BBC now enjoys greater certainty about its income for the next few years than it has traditionally enjoyed a t many times in the past.
The second safeguard lies with Channel 4 and the Welsh S4C. The White Paper makes it clear that the remit which is the essence of Channel 4—to innovate and complement the broadcasting of others—must remain. S4C will continue with its present purpose. Under its remit, Channel 4 will provide guaranteed outlets for minority interests and high-quality programmes. For example, it will be required to devote a suitable proportion of its air time to educational programmes.
The question is not whether the Channel 4 remit should continue as it is—everyone to whom I have listened believes that it should, and that is certainly the Government's view. The question is whether the remit needs buttressing by some special financial arrangement in a world in which Channel 4 sells its own air time. We set out the options and arguments in the White Paper and I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will give the Government some guidance on this important point, which we have deliberately left open.
§ Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)
Has the Home Secretary seen the anxieties expressed about the White Paper by the Royal National Institute for the Blind and by other organisations of and for disabled people? The RN IB fears that many important specialist programmes that are now available, not least those of the BBC, may be at risk and that the development of new services will be 1009 impossible. They would benefit disabled people, but they will cost money. How does the Home Secretary respond to their anxieties?
§ Mr. Hurd
I understand the right hon. Gentleman's concern, but it is misplaced. I have already mentioned that the BBC will be continuing and I outlined the remit of Channel 4 to do things that other channels do not do, so the right hon. Gentleman's concerns will not be affected as all that remains unchanged. In addition, there will be far more space and opportunity and my hon. Friend the Minister of State will deal with that general subject in his winding-up speech. Far from being reduced, the opportunity for the programmes that the right hon. Gentleman and the Royal National Institute for the Blind have in mind should be enchanced.
The third safeguard is the quality tests that the White Paper proposes for Channel 3 and Channel 5 franchises. Both will be required to provide a diverse programme, so they are calculated to appeal to a variety of tastes. Tired and limited formats are not only boring for viewers and advertisers, but will not be acceptable to the Independent Television Commission—the successor body to the Independent Broadcasting Authority—because of the requirement for diversity. The Channel 3 regions, in addition, will have an express statutory requirement to show programmes produced within their regions. Prominence must be given to high-quality news and current affairs on Channels 3, 4 and 5 taken separately and there must be at least one body effectively equipped and financed to provide news for Channel 3. Schools programmes will have a guaranteed place on commercial television.
Those are the component parts of the quality hurdle and the height and importance of the hurdle thus constructed have been somewhat neglected in the arguments about competitive tender. Competitive tendering only comes after those concerned have got over the quality hurdle. That proposal arises from the present arrangements for awarding ITV contracts. I have always believed, since long before the debate in the country started, that they are deeply unsatisfactory. I have never blamed the IBA for the system, because it did not invent it. It seemed the best system at the time when Parliament was last reviewing those matters. But life moves on and the present system has turned out to be opaque, subjective and secretive. I have not been able to check the quotation, but I think that it was Gibbon who said that the Merovingian dynasty in France was a system of despotism, tempered by assassination. That is not an unfair description of the present system for letting ITV franchises. One moment all the franchise holders are there, the next moment one of them has disappeared down an oubliette with no particular reason given and no redress available. The White Paper proposes a straightforward approach, which could be a substantial improvement on that.
§ Mr. Hurd
I shall give way when I have finished this point.
Competitive tender, as the Peacock committee said, is an inherently fairer and more objective procedure, which would also secure a proper return for the taxpayer in the 1010 use of a scarce resource. It is wrong to describe it simply as an auctioning of licences because that ignores the quality hurdle, which I have described. I know that the new chairman of the IBA, Mr. George Russell, is looking carefully at the interaction of the two concepts of the quality hurdle and the competitive tender. We believe that both are essential—this is an important point—but the exact way in which we ask the ITC to operate them is a matter on which we shall listen carefully to the advice that he and many others may give.
§ Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin)
The Home Secretary began his remarks by being critical of the quality of some of the programmes on ITV. He is now making great play of the fact that there will be a quality hurdle. But the quality hurdle will be lower than any that exists at present and its touch will be lighter, so how can he square his view that programmes are not as good as they might be now with recommending a system with a lower quality hurdle?
§ Mr. Hurd
The accusation made against us is that we are throwing away all concern for quality, but that is not so and the quality hurdle that we prescribe, which will be an enforceable condition for the letting of franchises, is substantial compared with the way in which it is often described. I have taken the House through the different elements that make up the hurdle and if the hon. Gentleman studies what I have said, he will agree, as he is fair-minded, that it is considerably more substantial than has been supposed by the more shallow critics of the White Paper.
§ Sir Giles Shaw (Pudsey)
In dealing with that point, will my right hon. Friend recognise that the issue of tendering came through the original Peacock report? As I understand it, the Peacock committee, although not in session, has broadly altered its view and in its recent submission to my right hon. Friend it has made it clear that it considers that the ITC should have an override in relation to the concept of the highest bidder. Bearing in mind that, despite the Gibbonesque system that he has described, ITV has produced some substantially effective programming over the past 15 years, will my right hon. Friend look at the new representations from the Peacock committee?
§ Mr. Hurd
I had my hon. Friend's point in mind when I said that we believe, for the reasons that the Peacock committee gave and continues to give—which the Select Committee also gave when it reported on the matter—that both the elements of the quality hurdle and the competitive tender are good and necessary, but that the interaction between them and how the House asks the ITC to operate the new system are matters on which it is reasonable that we should listen carefully to any suggestions that George Russell or hon. Members may want to give.
I shall now turn to the fourth safeguard.
§ Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)
Before my right hon. Friend passes on to another point, I want to make a point about quality. Can my right hon. Friend reassure the House about the Government's commitment to regional programming and production? Can he say how that is to be achieved in the regions where there is little independent regional production, unless the regional ITV companies are to have a commitment to produce some of the programmes that they show.?
§ Mr. Hurd
I should like to make some progress now.
The fourth matter, which I know is on the hon. Gentleman's mind, is the necessary measures against the concentration of ownership. The White Paper makes it clear that rigorous enforcement is necessary. We should regard it as quite unacceptable if British broadcasting were allowed to be dominated by a handful of tycoons of international conglomerates. Effective rules that will safeguard diverse broadcasting ownership, editorial diversity, opportunities for new broadcasters and fair competition are key parts of our aim. We have set out a range of principles and invite suggestions on the scope and formulation of the rules that will flow from those principles. We are interested in views on the best mechanisms for enforcing the rules. Anybody who believes that he has found loopholes has failed to take into account that the White Paper deliberately did not attempt to set out at that early stage a complete set of detailed rules.
§ Mr. Hurd
No, because I want to continue this part of the argument. People should not he too quick to assume that there will be no limit on newspaper interests in the regional Channel 3 licences. The regional Channel 3 licences will, taken together, provide a major television channel which will be expected to maintain universal national coverage and which may operate national networking arrangements.
If a major national newspaper controlled a regional Channel 3 licensee, it could result in an excessive influence over communications and the flow of information. UHF television services will still be influential users of a scarce resource. Their ownership must remain diverse. We shall consider suggestions to tighten the present proposal in the White Paper that one person could control two, but not more than two, regional Channel 3 franchises. For example, there may be a case for a rule that would prevent anyone from controlling two large such franchises.
Satellite television is much in the news this week—at least in some newspapers. The White Paper is clear that the ownership of satellite television, including the use of satellite channels outside the jurisdiction of this country, will need to be taken into account, and that rules will have to be included on this in our proposals. The House may know that the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) has written to my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry about the media interests of Mr. Murdoch's organisation. My noble Friend has replied to him today, explaining that it is the Director General of Fair Trading who has the responsibility of keeping commercial activities under review and can refer them to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission if he thinks fit. My noble Friend adds that the director general is aware of public comment about the widespread media interests of some groups and is already keeping an eye on that.
1012 The fifth point concerns the safeguarding of standards. We propose no relaxation of the present requirements to protect the consumer on such matters as taste, decency and offensiveness. The White Paper proposes that that part of the legislation should be reinforced. Consumer protection requirements will be extended to all United Kingdom broadcasting services and the exemption that broadcasters have from the existing obscenity legislation will be removed. Sanctions will be provided against those who sustain unacceptable foreign satellite services.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
Does the Home Secretary recall that only last week, during our debate on the Official Secrets Bill, he stated that the Obscene Publications Act 1964 was widely disproved of? Why, therefore, is he today seeking to extend it in this fashion?
§ Mr. Buchan
Virtually the only regulation that is taken care of in the White Paper is the category of decency and taste, which the Home Secretary is mentioning. Does he agree that there is nothing either in what he has said or in the White Paper that satisfies Professor Peacock who says:This aspect of programme standards"—that is to say quality, decency and taste—distracts attention from the much more important one of ensuring that programmes of high quality which challenge the viewer and foster our national cultures continue to Ibe produced.Regulation in the Home Secretary's eyes means the suppression of dirt. Regulation in our eyes means ensuring good quality programmes.
§ Mr. Hurd
The hon. Gentleman's criticism would be just if the White Paper were proposing the abolition of the BBC and the Channel 4 remit, and the auctioning of franchises with no assurance of quality. As everything I have said so far is designed to show that that is not so, his criticism is wholly mistaken.
I am moving on to the hon. Gentleman's favourite subject which is the Broadcasting Standards Council. I am glad that he recognises its importance. It will be made statutory under the legislation. It is already fulfilling a needed role as a focus for public concern and as a watchdog across the range of services for which the individual regulatory bodies are responsible.
The BSC was established last year under the chairmanship of Lord Rees-Mogg to consider the portayal of violence and sex, and matters of taste and decency in broadcasting, cable and video works. I understand that he thinks that the council has made good progress on what he set as its priority task of drawing up with broadcasters a code of practice on these matters. It is about to undertake an extensive process of consultation on a draft code with the broadcasting organisations, the public and representatives of other interests.
The council believes that research in this area, which has certainly been fragmentary and conflicting in the past, is particularly important. It is taking steps to help that forward. In that, it is following the advice of the Home 1013 Affairs Select Committee. The council has also begun, wisely, to establish useful links with broadcasting, regulatory and other organisations in Europe.
§ Mr. George Walden (Buckingham)
Most hon. Members will welcome the functions of the BSC as described, but sex and violence are not the main problems. They can be quantified to some degree and a line can be drawn, although, thank God, I shall not have to draw it. But one cannot draw a line through vacuity. The proposals in the White Paper will lead to vacuity in our television service.
§ Mr. Hurd
The proposals will lead to diversity because clearly that will be a requirement. My hon. Friend is over-pessimistic in assuming that, provided that the standards I have mentioned remain in place, which is our clear intention, the result will be vacuity. There will certainly be a much larger range of choice, but it will have to be genuine choice. It will not be possible simply to provide a range of choice between vacuities. That is incompatible with our proposals. Much of our work was designed precisely to avoid that result. When my hon. Friend studies what I have said, I hope that he will see that that result not only can but will be avoided if Parliament eventually establishes this new framework.
§ Mr. Hurd
I should like to proceed because many wish to speak.
The sixth safeguard is the search for European agreement on standards. I have already touched on that with the BSC. We have been arguing for international agreement which, without smothering enterprise, can help transfrontier transmission to provide checks against unacceptable programme standards, particularly regarding taste and decency. My hon. Friend the Minister of State can say a bit more later about the draft Council of Europe convention which he has helped to negotiate. We are not yet home and dry, but after many hiccups I hope that we are in sight of concluding a convention which promotes these objectives without handicapping our broadcasters on something about which they are all concerned—advertising breaks.
§ Mr. Hurd
I should rather proceed. I sense that I should conclude.
I am aware that in a speech which I hope has been decently concise I cannot cover all the ground of the White Paper. I apologise to hon. Members whose main interests lie in DBS, cable, MVDS or transmission. My hon. Friend the Minister of State will pick up any points made on those subjects. I shall simply mention one principle that we tried to include in the White Paper and which runs through several of these proposals. We believe that it should be possible to separate activities that are lumped together. Channel 4 has already shown how a broadcasting organisation can be a publishing house rather than a producer of programmes. In the process it gave the first important boost to independent producers, which our policies have reinforced. The same principle applies in the development of television and radio transmission 1014 networks, cable and MVDS. Where enterprising individuals or companies believe that they can perform a service better than the present provider, they should not be excluded simply because they cannot, at the same time, provide another service which happens to be harnessed to the first.
§ Mr. John Browne
With regard to the European convention, my right hon. Friend mentioned that he wished to keep enterprise alive, yet, as drafted, article 16 of the convention will allow a receiving country to shut out the signals from a direct broadcast satellite if they do not conform to the rules in that particular receiving country. If that country does not have commercial television, it can cut out all incoming advertising in its own language. Is that really something that the British Government are prepared to sign and still say that it is going to fortify enterprise?
§ Mr. Hurd
I do not think that my hon. Friend is right in saying that that will be the effect, but as my hon. Friend the Minister of State has been directly and personally involved in that perhaps he will be able to pick up the point when he replies.
I promised to say a word about radio; it would be wrong not to do so. Radio is achieving a strong revival. The days when it was treated as a poor, and perhaps even moribund, relation of television have long since gone. Under our proposal, the BBC will continue broadcasting Radios 1, 2, 3 and 4, and it is planning two other national networks. It is also completing its chain of local stations.
We propose to provide, for the first time, for national commercial radio. At the local level there could be scope in due course for several hundred new independent stations. Independent radio is booming. Its revenue rose 24 per cent. last year, making it the fastest-growing single medium. The IBA, while waiting for the new legislation, is giving community radio a very welcome early start—a fairly early start—with its scheme for some 20 incremental radio contracts under existing legislation.
Community radio—that is to say, radio stations catering for communities of interest or for small neighbourhoods—can do much, I believe, to help social cohesion and active citizenship. I believe that that section of the White Paper, which is less controversial than the others, is going to be a very important part of the whole picture.
I hope that what I have said shows that the White Paper proposals offer a reasonable and sensible means of arriving at the next staging post of broadcasting, of which I spoke. No one who actually studies the White Paper can really believe that we are proposing to allow British broadcasting to shrivel into empty trivialities. The fact is that in a free society quality is not best preserved by restricting choice. Our proposals enlarge choice, where enlarged choice is possible, but at the same time ensure that it is a real choice and not just a choice between different brands of pap.
Although it is not a matter, thank God, for the Government, I am not personally enthusiastic about the idea of the British public actually watching more television, in terms of quantity, than it does at the moment. I think that we have just about reached the healthy limit in that regard. But, even with the relative success of broadcasting in this country, we all know that television viewing is too often a passive activity: the television set is 1015 on, and its products wash through the room without anybody necessarily deriving a great deal of interest or a great deal of sustenance from what is going on.
With greater choice, if we get it right, could come greater focus, greater sustenance, as people actually choose, and concentrate on, the programmes that fit their particular interests. It is an arid and a pessimistic doctrine that says simply that more must mean worse. It could mean worse, but if we get it right, as I believe we are proposing to do, more need not mean worse but could mean better. As every hon. Member knows, we live in a society which is richly varied in its sports and hobbies and in its cultural and intellectual interests, and we must aim for a television system—this is our aim, and I believe that the White Paper is the right way of achieving it—that will more fully reflect that richness and that variety.
§ Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)
I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:declines to support a Broadcasting White Paper which, if implemented, would encourage the concentration of cross-ownership by auctioning franchises to the highest bidder, diminish the role of public service broadcasting, threaten the future funding of the British Broadcasting Corporation, and thereby discourage a wide variety of programme choice and generally reduce the high standards and consistent quality of broadcasting in this country.".I am not sure that the Home Secretary, for all his talents, is at his best when he philosophises to the House. He began today with an analogy comparing broadcasting with a bookshop. Analogy is always a difficult way to proceed, and I was going to remind the right hon. Gentleman that he was comparing broadcasting with an industry that produces millions of books a year to choose from—let him look at the back pages of any edition of The Bookseller—has thousands of retail outlets, and has both a private and public system of borrowing. I would have mentioned all those things to the Home Secretary had he not finished his analogy by saying that, of course, it was not appropriate in the case of broadcasting.
He then went on in more typical fashion. First of all, in his mandarin way, he told us to listen to what he said and to take note of his assurances. We keep making the mistake of reading the White Paper, which is often at variance with the assurances that the Home Secretary gives us. The right hon. Gentleman then pursued his other debating technique—choosing a very limited item to criticise and then building on that limited item as though it were the whole picture. He always tells us that he is not particularly proud of what appears on television on a Saturday evening. Television on a Saturday evening is often pretty tawdry—it is usually made up of people who appear at the Prime Minister's pre-election rallies. But I suspect that if the Home Secretary could pursue broadcasting activities to Sunday evening he would share with me the view that what often starts with a classic serial and goes on to "Bread", "Wish Me Luck" and "The South Bank Show" is something to make most viewers proud of what British television produces. It is against that sort of background that we should be debating the White Paper.
I accept, of course, that changes in our broadcasting system are absolutely necessary. But those changes are not a response to failure. They are essential and inevitable not because broadcasting is bad but because, thanks to technological advance, what we broadcast in the future 1016 can be better. Listeners and viewers can be offered a wider range of channels and programmes than ever before. An increasingly discerning and sophisticated public demand that broadcasting should provide all the choices that are technologically possible. A White Paper outlining changes in broadcasting organisation is therefore very much to be welcomed, and we welcome the existence of the document, but we have to ask whether it proposes the right changes—changes which guarantee that British broadcasting will in the future, as in the past, provide the best possible programmes that the most up-to-date technology allows.
We believe that the White Paper must be measured against a number of criteria, most of them distinct but all of them related. I begin by describing what I believe to be the four major criteria. First, will the new form of organisation that the White Paper proposes provide the largest possible real choice to listeners and viewers? By "real choice" I mean more than television sets with more buttons to press than at present. Real choice requires that when different buttons are pressed programmes of quite different character appear on the screen and not, as could so easily be the case, programmes which are indistinguishable from one another.
Secondly, will the new form of organisation that the White Paper proposes ensure that the British viewer and listener are offered a variety of high-quality programmes from which to choose? Will the British industry continue to enhance our national reputation and reduce our balance of payments deficit by exporting television programmes that are bought throughout the world? As "high quality" is a subjective description, I make it clear that I include in it "Bread" as well as "Brideshead Revisited," and "Coronation Street" no less than "Jewel in the Crown".
Thirdly, will the new form of organisation that the White Paper proposes prevent concentration of television ownership and thus ensure the competition of which the White Paper speaks in general terms? The argument against concentration has important democratic implications. In a free society, no individual or organisation should have massive or major control over a medium that is so influential in the formation of opinion. The problem of concentration is often described in language which suggest that the threat is from some multinational organisation. The concentration of ownership of British television in the hands of foreign conglomerates would, in our view, be intolerable. I should make it clear, however, that in our view the concentration of ownership in the hands of two or three British companies, particularly if they also had newspaper interests, would be almost as unacceptable.
My fourth question concerns one of the real criteria of public service broadcasting. Will the new form of organisation that the White Paper proposes ensure that the high quality broadcasts and diversity of choice that are its stated aim are generally available throughout the United Kingdom? One essential feature of public service broadcasting is that it is universally available to all men and women who want to take advantage of it.
Ensuring a wider choice and maintaining the highest possible standards of broadcasting are issues which cannot be separated. The method by which independent companies obtain their franchises will crucially influence the choice and quality of programmes which they offer. Independent television companies exist as profit-making 1017 organisations. Therefore, it is right and reasonable for those who run the programme companies to try to make a profit.
At present substantial profits are made without generally imperilling the production of high quality programmes. The programme makers are explicit as to why that is so. The present system of regulation requires them at the time of franchise negotiations to demonstrate the standards that they will maintain during the period of their franchise. We all know of programmes that are made to demonstrate a company's good intentions and commitment to quality. We all know jokes about programmes which have such a small viewing audience that they would not get on the air were they not regarded as underwriting the programme company's good intentions and prepared explicitly to show the company's concern for high standards.
The best companies want a continuous regime which has, since independent television began, obliged all their rivals to produce a proportion of high quality programmes. Granada has no doubt about that. I was told explicitly that without a system of franchise negotiation which requires detailed accounts to be given of the rival companies' programme proposals there would be a general reduction in standards. I have no doubt that Granada is right. The White Paper, however, proposes to abandon the present system in which companies must prove their intentions to maintain high standards. In its place there will be what the Home Secretary describes as a greater reliance on the viewer rather than on the regulator. That new system will not, as the Home Secretary suggests, inevitably, necessarily and unavoidably widen choice. The viewer, like any consumer of any other product, can only choose the goods on offer. If a wide varietyof high quality programmes is not available, the consumer—the viewer—will have no real choice.
The White Paper gives absolutely no assurance that real choice—a choice between genuinely different types of programme—will be more available under the new scheme than at present. Standards fall without choice, in any real sense, being increased. Companies bidding for franchises will be required to meet the minimum standards laid down by paragraphs 6.10 and 6.11 of the White Paper. Those standards used to be described by the Home Secretary as the threshold. Today I see that they have increased in height and become a hurdle. No doubt by the time we see the legislation they will be a fence, but whatever word the Home Secretary proposes or uses, no one would argue that they are a very substantial barrier. There is no obligation to broadcast drama, documentaries or religious programmes. Those are all examples of what took place during specific franchise negotiations between the Independent Broadcasting Authority and the programme companies under the present regime. If the system is introduced in the proposed form, I have no doubt that some companies will abandon high-cost drama and high-cost documentaries.
We believe that the documentary, and particularly the investigative documentary, has been one of the features of British television which has enhanced its international reputation. Investigative documentary is also a form of broadcasting which displeases authority, particularly authority that is intolerant of criticism. Perhaps the documentary makers are being punished in the White 1018 Paper for their willingness to say things of which the Government disapprove. The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Conway) demonstrated in his intervention the bone-headed resentment of all opinions except his own which of is too much a feature of modern Conservatism.
§ Mr. Conway
The right hon. Gentleman should cast his mind back to the fact that I quoted "Panorama", which is noted for its bias, to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. In the recent programme in which the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) took part, about the official secrets legislation, the right hon. Gentleman was interviewed three times, but at no stage did those so-called probing documentary makers put to him the points that I put to him in the debate on the Floor of the House, namely, that under the prevention of terrorism legislation a Labour Government had imprisoned four times as many people without trial as the Tory Government. The right hon. Gentleman likes documentaries only when they are biased towards Left-wing Socialism.
§ Mr. Hattersley
The hon. Gentleman provides in terms, and quite literally, the confirmation of what I said. Unless the programmes are programmes that he would make and ask the questions that he would ask, they cannot be the right programmes.
I am sure that all my colleagues must have found things to complain about in television broadcasts. If the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham ever meets broadcasters from the BBC or from the independent channels, they will confirm that there are few people around with whom they have more private rows in green rooms or on the telephone than me. However, the fact that broadcasters do things of which we disapprove is no argument for limiting their freedom or suppressing their rights. If the hon. Gentleman does not understand that—I fear that this may sound slightly pretentious—he does not understand democracy.
I have speculated about one reason why investigative documentaries may be less a feature of the White Paper proposals than some of us might like. Whatever the reasons, if the obligation to provide such programmes were altered in such a way as to result in their reduction, that would be a tragedy, not just because the standards in television would be reduced. For the sake of democracy, we need a high output of current affairs material which acts as an antidote to the often biased and even more trivial newspapers. No one doubts that if the proposals go forward in their present form the expensive, probing documentary will be less a feature of television in the future. We know that to be true because of the cost of high quality programmes compared with the cost of broadcasting quiz shows, cartoons and imported soap operas, which are being produced in America and Australia in ever-increasing numbers and to ever-decreasing standards and are so much cheaper to show than having original programmes made by a contract company.
London Weekend Television has told me that old movies are bought for prices ranging between £500 and £5,000. For the median price of £2,500 it is possible to fill 90 minutes of television time. "Coronation Street" costs £120,000 per hour, and "Bread" costs almost £225,000 per hour. Unless companies are obliged by some form of 1019 regulation to include a proportion of original high-cost material within their schedules, there will be more cheap imports. That will produce an overall reduction—not an increase—in real choice. The extra buttons will be there to press, but they will produce an unvarying diet of cheap rubbish.
The Government intend to award each franchise to the company which, having skipped over the minimum threshold, hurdle or fence—or whatever the Home Secretary cares to call it—makes the highest bid in each prescribed area. In short, thanks to the insistence of the Department of Trade and Industry, television is to be used as a method of raising Government revenue. Nobody should be surprised if quality and choice are reduced as a consequence. London Weekend Television tells me that its judgment of the best way to win a contract is to plan to broadcast as little original material as possible and, in anticipation of years of low-cost broadcasting, make a bid that companies committed to transmitting high-cost original material cannot match.
Much of the inspiration for the White Paper, as the Home Secretary keeps telling us, was the Peacock report—prepared by a committee hand-picked to provide a private enterprise answer to all broadcasting questions. The White Paper states that the Peacock committee first proposed competitive tendering, but Peacock has now recanted and publicly urges the Government to recognise the danger of the tender or auction and to accept that there may be times when the highest bidder should not win the franchise. Only doctrinaire philistinism could induce the Government to reject that advice.
Thames Television, which knows something about the industry, has no doubts about the likely results of the Government's tendering proposals, which it describes as follows:If the franchises were auctioned to the bidder offering most money, the new owner would be bound to spend the franchise years recouping his investment with cheaper mass appeal programmes of the kind that are likely to he transmitted by the satellite broadcasters and Channel Five. There would he little room if any for expensive drama, or innovative, experimental programmes.
§ Mr. Conway
The right hon. Gentleman takes no account of advertising standards and how such a company would attract advertising. If the programmes were so appalling that nobody wanted to watch them, which is the black hole picture that the right hon. Gentleman paints, they would not attract advertising revenue.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I will try to explain the matter to the hon. Gentleman in simple terms. I urge him to concentrate his mind on the figures that I give and to see whether he can understand them. If a company broadcasts 90 minutes of programming for £2,500, it does not need to raise so much advertising revenue as it would if it broadcast programmes costing £500,000 per hour. Cost, as well as advertising income, is a crucial factor in the equation. I will allow the hon. Gentleman to cogitate on that point while I move on to another that he will not understand.
Thames Television made, albeit in passing, the following interesting observation about satellite television:If things go on like this, Channel 3 will be broadcasting the sort of material we see on satellite—cheaper material.By referring to satellite television in those terms, Thames means cheaper in quality as well as cheaper in cost. The Government claim to give quality and diversity the highest 1020 priority, but their claim is undermined by the White Paper's proposals for Channel 4. The way in which it is proposed to finance Channel 4 can only have the effect of making it more like Channel 3. Paragraph 6.23 of the White Paper asserts the importance of Channel 4 cateringfor tastes and interests not served … by other parts of the independent television sector.But by forcing Channel 4 into direct competition for advertising with Channel 3, the Government will reduce the prospect of preserving Channel 4's distinctive character. When television is directly financed by advertising, its programmes and programme schedules, inevitably, are in part advertising-led. At present, because Channel 4 obtains its revenue from other independent companies, it does not need to concern itself with the type of programmes particularly favoured by dog food manufacturers and by junk food producers, but once Channel 4 is out on its own in the advertising market it will be forced to listen to their views—as Channel 3 openly admits that it is forced to do now. The result will be a Channel 4 which is more like Channel 3. Once again, there will be less choice, not more.
On 18 January, the Home Secretary made a speech which dealt directly with my third criterion-the concentration of ownership. His press office entitled that address,Tight limits on TV and radio stations are crucial.I suppose that they meant "essential", but we can all agree with the sentiment if not with the syntax. Few outside observers see much evidence that tight rules are to be imposed as a result of the White Paper. Paragraph 6.48 comments:But clear rules will also be needed which impose limits on concentration of ownership and on excessive cross-media ownership.Paragraph 6.53 adds thatno licence holder for a particular area should control other broadcast media for that area.I assume that "cross-media ownership" is White Paper patois for simultaneous ownership of television companies and newspapers. The sentiments expressed in both paragraphs are impeccable, but paragraph 6.48, while stressing the undesirability of concentration, concludes with a pathetic anti-climax:The Government would welcome comments on the scope and formulation of such rules.The suspicion that the sub-text is the Government's unwillingness or inability to formulate effective safeguards is confirmed by events—particularly the comments of the Minister of State, Home Office, in a Channel 4 broadcast on 13 November last year. I understand that this afternoon the Home Secretary expressly repudiated his hon. Friend's comments, but as it is important to make the situation clear I will take the Home Secretary through them. Fortunately, I have a transcript of the programme which the Home Secretary may care to examine as the evening wears on.
When the Minister of State appeared on Channel 4 on 13 November to discuss the White Paper, he was asked whether Mr. Robert Maxwell would be eligible under the proposals to buy Central Television—an aim that Mr. Maxwell had stated earlier that evening. At first, the Minister said that paragraph 6.48 would prevent that, but then he changed his mind and said:National newspaper ownership is incompatible with a national television channel but not with the ownership of a local television channel.1021 He designated Central Television as a local television company, saying that Mr. Maxwell would only be prevented from owning it if he also owned a local newspaper in the midlands. The absurdity of that judgment is self-evident. If Central Television, with guaranteed network access, is not a national channel then what, according to the White Paper, is a national channel? If Mr. Maxwell—who owns two national daily newspapers and one national Sunday newspaper—can buy Central Television, who cannot buy it? According to the Minister, the owner of the "Solihull Weekly Gazette". I hope that the hon. Gentleman was simply talking gibberish, because if what he said is true there can be no limit at all on "cross-media ownership". I ask the Home Secretary in terms whether page 90 of the transcript of the Channel 4 broadcast of 13 November represents Government policy. Perhaps he will instruct his hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office how to reply at the end of the debate.
I want to ask the Home Secretary three further questions. First, what rules govern the extent of television ownership—that is, the number of companies under the control of one individual or organisation? Secondly, what rules govern the ownership by foreign companies, to which paragraph 6.50 so loosely refers? Thirdly, what rules cover overlapping ownership of television companies and newspapers? I make our position clear. No Channel 3 company should be registered by a company outside the European Community. No one individual or organisation should own or control more than one Channel 3 company. The powers of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission to prevent the concentration of newspaper ownership should be extended to embrace television. If it is against the national interest for one individual to own six newspapers, it must be against the national interest for an individual to own five newspapers and one television company.
I noted the hon. Secretary's comments concerning the initiative of my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) and the right hon. Gentleman's usual defence that it is for the Director General of Fair Trading to refer specific cases and complaints to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. While that is true, the Home Secretary surely knows that the Government have the power to make general references to the commission, to consider whole sectors of particular concern. The time has come for the Government to make such a general reference, asking the commission to examine the implications of overlapping ownership of newspapers and television broadcasting companies.
§ Mr. Buchan
My right hon. Friend will note in paragraph 10.5 that certain questions of possible restrictive labour practices had already been referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. Such justice is hardly even-handed.
§ Mr. Hattersley
That confirms my judgment that the Government can, if they wish, make a general reference. Clearly, if there was ever a case of industrial patterns changing in a way that made a general monopoly reference necessary, the circumstances brought about by new technology in television and the problems of overlapping ownership are such a case.
§ Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)
I think that that point would command some support on the Conservative Benches.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I am most grateful. Perhaps we shall hear that support articulated throughout the Conservative ranks as the debate continues.
The fourth general criterion by which the White Paper should be judged is the extent to which its proposals make a choice of high-quality television available to the whole country. That leads inevitably to the question of future financing for the BBC. The Home Secretary told the House on 7 November:The Government look forward to the gradual introduction of subscription on the BBC's television services and to the eventual replacement of the licence fee".—[Official Report, 7 November 1988; Vol. 140, c. 30.]We consider that prospect incompatible with what the White Paper describes as the BBC's central role—the provision ofhigh quality programming across the full range of public tastes and interests, including both programmes of popular appeal and programmes of minority interestcombined witheducation, information and cultural material as well as entertainment".Producing those "demanding programmes" is what the Peacock report says that the BBC should do, and what the Peacock report says is not available even in a perfectly constructed broadcasting market.
The BBC has already announced the introduction of a subscription service, which it predicts will,in the long run, make a significant contribution to the funding of the BBC".The BBC, however, has made it clear—I hope that the Government will be equally positive—that a subscription service cannot be an alternative to a comprehensive BBC I and BBC 2, and that subscription cannot fund the BBC in the absence of a licence fee.
The licence fee is a second proposal on which members of the Peacock committee have recanted. The Home Secretary, describing the committee's report as "admirable", told the House when he introduced the White Paper two months ago how much the Government had been influenced by its thinking. Now that the members of that committee favour retaining the value of the licence fee after 1991 I hope that the Government will continue to respect their logic and judgment. The Government's present intention is to index the licence fee until—but only until—1991. The Peacock committee members now judge that a reduction in the real value of the licence fee would havedamaging effects both on BBC Television and BBC Radio".The Home Secretary is in part responsible for the confusion over the licence fee and its proper role in financing broadcasting. There was a great deal of speculation about its future before the White Paper was published, and the Home Secretary encouraged the nation with the delphic, indeed mystical, comment that the licence fee was "not immortal". As things now stand, the fee is not to have its throat cut suddenly but is to be slowly strangled. We have no doubt that the end of the fee would mark the end of public broadcasting.
§ Mr. John Maples (Lewisham, West)
I share much of the right hon. Gentleman's concern about the future of the BBC without a licence fee and about how it would maintain its public service commitment, but there is one point with which I have a good deal of difficulty. In five or 1023 six years' time we may be able to watch 14 television stations. We might get 10 of them free and be able to choose whether to pay for two of them, but what can we say to people when they are told by the Government that they must pay for the remaining two whether they want them or not?
§ Mr. Hattersley
We say what Peacock said—that even in a perfect broadcasting market, which none of us thinks can be achieved, although there will be more of a broadcasting market in the future than there is now, there will be some exacting programmes that only the BBC will be able to provide. I believe that it is in the interests of the country as a whole that those programmes should be provided. I may be watching cricket on the cricket channel all day, or Hollywood musicals 1925–40 on some other channel all evening, but I believe that it would be in the interests of the community, including me, if I made a small contribution towards something better for other people to watch.
§ Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)
My right hon. Friend said that the Home Secretary was not the only person to blame for the undermining of the concept of the licence fee. It is a two-way process and I share part of the guilt, for one of the things that have led to the undermining of that concept is the sometimes hysterical outburst from both sides of the House every time the fee changes. At the margin there will always be problems, but that undermining of the concept of the licence fee has in turn undermined the concept of the BBC and of public service broadcasting.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I entirely agree, and I go a step further. I do not believe that the BBC will ever have the licence fee that it needs and deserves until we devise some method of absolving those least able to pay from paying the full fee. I have always argued that the case for helping the pensioner is based not simply on compassion but on ensuring that the fee is high enough to meet the BBC's needs, which it never would be while particular deserving groups excited the feelings to which my hon. Friend has properly drawn attention.
As I understand it, the White Paper proposed to put in place of the licence fee what the Home Secretary describes asa direct relationship between the viewer and the provider".That is a euphemism for the market mechanism operating in television. The viewer gets what the viewer pays for, and the viewer pays for what the viewer can afford. If that happens there will be a two-tier television system, with a superior service supplied to those who can take constant advantage of the subscripton channels and an inferior service for the rest. That is a negation of public service broadcasting.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I think that I must follow the Home Secretary's example and get on with my speech because many other hon. Members wish to speak. Like the Home Secretary, I gave way a good deal at the beginning.
All that being said, we believe that opportunities still exist for the Government to adjust their proposals in such a way as to ensure that the inevitable revolution in television ownership and organisation produces the high-quality programmes and greater choice that the 1024 British viewer is entitled to expect. There are already some elements in the White Paper that can be built on. The proposed powers for the new Independent Television Commission are—for all the Home Secretary's derision of regulation—in some ways far more extensive than those enjoyed by the IBA. Certainly the ability to give a formal warning to defaulting companies and the right to revoke a franchise are powers much to be welcomed, but for those powers to have any real effect the ITC must measure the performance of companies against real criteria of quality.
Similarly, I very much welcome the obligation of Channel 3 companies to provide regional programmes—including programmes produced in the regions—but on the basis of the present tendering arrangements those programmes might well be of the minimum stipulated number and the minimum specified quality. If the Home Secretary doubts that, he may care to know of a letter received recently by midlands Members of Parliament from Central Television's current affairs programme "Central Lobby". It told us that the company had discovered that it was making more local programmes than were required by its franchise, and that the number of current affairs programmes was consequently to be reduced. That phenomenon will be multiplied and duplicated when the threshold is lower than it is today.
The obsession with regulation and the determination to deregulate even undermines the White Paper's otherwise generally sensible proposals on radio broadcasting. The growing popularity of radio presented the Government with an excellent opportunity to broaden the scope of the entertainment and information that radio can provide. As with television, however, the nature of the expansion will be adversely affected by the accompanying deregulation. The introduction of the three new commercial channels is to be welcomed, but in paragraph 8.4 of the White Paper the Home Secretary insists that those stations must all provide a general service. Indeed, they are specifically and specially absolved from the requirement to make public service provision. That single-minded pursuit of deregulation can only have an adverse effect on the overall quality of radio broadcasting.
There is one area in which the Government propose to extend regulation. I refer, of course, to the Broadcasting Standards Council. In this morning's press Professor Alan Peacock—who I hope remains the figure of veneration sanctified in the White Paper—is explicit on the subject. He says:The Broadcasting Standards Council has no function in a free society".All we know about the Broadcasting Standards Council is the people or the person who will run it. Its full role has yet to be vouchsafed to us. We know that Lord Rees-Mogg wants to acquire the power to vet and veto individual programmes, but we do not know how his censorship will operate. The Home Secretary told us in November that he was working out an agreement on standards with the new chairman and that the new chairman would soon tell the Home Secretary how he would operate. Lord Rees-Mogg becomes one of the few public servants ever to be offered a job and then told that he can decide what it is after he has been appointed. I am fundamentally opposed to Lord Rees-Mogg telling me or anyone else what we can or cannot see. Such matters should be decided not by the subjective judgment of an individual but by general standards enshrined in legislation.
1025 While I am worried about Lord Rees-Mogg's potential role, I am horrified by the thought of what Lord Chalfont will do—given the chance—to the IBA. I accept, with due deference to the other place, that Lord Chalfont is a bit of a joke. He is the only man in history to become a peer, a Privy Councillor, one of Her Majesty's Ministers and a member of the Labour party all on the same afternoon. Although he is a joke, he is a dangerous joke. [Interruption.] Throughout the whole debate on broadcasting there have been Conservative Back Benchers—we have heard from them today and they are shouting out now—who have argued that a body should be established with a power to make judgments about the national interest and the impartiality of programme makers. By "national interest" they mean the Government's interest and by "impartiality" they mean bias in favour of their own ideological prejudices. I have no doubt that Lord Chalfont shares their view. It might be worth asking whether, had he been at the IBA last year, he would have banned "Death on the Rock" and whether he would have sympathised with the previous Home Secretary's authoritarian insistence that the BBC should abandon the broadcasting of "Real Lives". The best that can be said about Lord Chalfont's appointment is that the Prime Minister was issuing an official warning to independent-minded broadcasters. The worst that can be said about his appointment is that he will behave in the repressive way that the Prime Minister hopes he will behave.
We shall vote for a number of principles that we have set out in the amendment. We believe that they must be the basis of broadcasting reform. The White Paper proclaims its own principles. They are different from the principles with which the Home Secretary entertained us today, and the Government are specific about a principle that the Home Secretary passed over lightly. The White Paper says:Wherever possible the Government's approach to broadcasting should be consistent with its overall deregulation policy.I suspect that secretly the Home Secretary has very little sympathy with the notion that broadcasting should be governed by the rules that Lord Young thinks are appropriate to rural bus services and private employment agencies. The dogma, we suspect, is not the Home Secretary's. The dogma is Lord Young's. He regards broadcasting as a commodity, to be bought and sold like any other commodity or, more appropriately perhaps, like property from which there might be a quick profit by means of quick, cheap development.
To use a cliche, we believe that British broadcasting is among the best in the world. The White Paper was a chance to provide a framework that would ensure that it maintained that status. The Government have missed the opportunity. I hope that they will improve between now and the introduction of the legislation.
§ Mr. John Wheeler (Westminster, North)
I am pleased to be called and to give a general welcome on behalf of the Select Committee on Home Affairs to the Government's White Paper on broadcasting. The House will have seen on the Order Paper the reference to the reports of the Committee. Our major report was published some four months before the White Paper, and the Committee must 1026 be gratified by the extent to which its recommendations and conclusions have been adopted by the Government, even if the emphasis of the White Paper is not always the same as our own. Our second special report includes a table setting out the detailed response of the Government to our proposals.
Some of the criticisms of the White Paper reflect a wish to retain a broadcasting system which has been admired throughout the world, as the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) has just said. For good or ill, the status quo is not an option in the 1990s. Under existing legislation, three British Satellite Broadcasting channels are to start broadcasting later this year. No one can have missed the publicity concerning the launch of Sky television on the Astra satellite, even if they have no means of seeing the programmes. The changes in broadcasting are borne out of technological advance. In this situation, the Government's priority must be to maintain standards in the face of the new competition.
The White Paper quotes our report in agreeing that the BBC is still and will remain for the foreseeable futurethe cornerstone of public service broadcasting.The Committee is concerned—as, I note from the press, are the members of the Peacock committee—that the income and structure of the BBC should be preserved in the medium term while the world of broadcasting is changing. The Committee's report stressed that in the new broadcasting environment there should be competition for quality as well as quantity in television programming. There will be real choice for viewers only if there is a sufficient amount of quality programming from which to choose. The White Paper looks to the BBC to provide such quality across the whole range of television programmes.
It is in the context of diverse and quality programmes that we welcome the affirmation of the remit of Channel 4, which we unanimously supported in our report. The ability of Channel 4 to fulfil its remit may be vitally affected by the eventual decision on its organisation and funding. This part of the White Paper is "green edged" and my Committee is undertaking a short inquiry to establish which, if any, of the options given in the White Paper would best secure the twin aims of preserving the remit of Channel 4 and enhancing competition between channels.
At present, the bulk of our memoranda support the second option: that Channel 4 should be a subsidiary of the new Independent Television Commission, selling its own advertising, but with a guaranteed level of income. The main problem with that approach is how to maintain some necessary linkage with Channel 3 while the two services compete for advertising revenue. As our inquiry began only on Monday of this week, I am not yet able to offer any guidance to the House.
It is right, as we recommended, that one authority should oversee all commercial television, however transmitted, but with a lighter touch than the IBA. It will be important that the ITC should have sufficient powers to enforce separation of ownership of television services from ownership of other media enterprises. I welcome the recent Home Office statements on that aspect, but they must be given force in the Bill. It will be essential, too, that the qualifying standards to enter the competitive tender for Channel 3 franchises should be a proper test of quality and commitment, and if its promised standards are not kept the ITC should have the power and the resolve, after appropriate warning, to end the contract.
1027 My Committee welcomes the research role of the Broadcasting Standards Council. Too many of the criticisms of broadcasting and broadcasters are based on reporting of television rather than on actual viewing. Pressure groups can play on exaggerated fears of declining standards. The council will be able to set such fears in the context of actual trends and genuine public reaction. In this context I am concerned that the Broadcasting Complaints Commission should retain its role so that arbitration of particular complaints does not become complicated or confused in the mind of the public with the important role that the Broadcasting Standards Council will play.
There are some matters to which the Government should perhaps give further thought before finalising their plans. In our report we supported the Eureka project for high definition television as the way to secure the benefits of HDTV as soon as possible for the viewing public and to support the future of the European electronics industry. The BBC, BSB and the IBA are keen to develop this system which is compatible with, but markedly improves upon, the present technology. I hope that the Government will press ahead with the draft European directive on HDTV and that the Department of Trade and Industry will make clear what action it will take to support the development of HDTV.
A particular matter in the White Paper which the Committee did not envisage was the proposed allocation to a commercial contractor of night time hours on one of the BBC channels. In our report we went as far as to say that this was "totally unrealistic". When we took concluding evidence in May from the Minister of State, no hint of this possibility was given to us. I am afraid that in this proposal the White Paper faces both ways at once. It exhorts the BBC to raise money through subscription and then proposes that one possible outlet for such services—the night hours on one channel—is to be removed. If we are serious about wishing the BBC to use subscription finance in support of its income and to become financially more efficient, we should allow the BBC to retain its night hours to develop subscription services such as British medical television and a "BBC Nature Club". Three other terrestrial and countless satellite channels will be available to advertisers.
§ Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)
Will the hon. Gentleman go further and ask the Minister to say categorically that the evidence that he gave to the Committee in May that the BBC will be allowed to keep its night-hour channels and to develop them as it sees fit still stands?
§ Mr. Wheeler
The hon. Gentleman is a fine ornament in the Committee. I am confident that when the Minister replies to the debate he will note the force of the argument advanced by the hon. Gentleman and by the Committee as a whole and will, perhaps, respond accordingly.
On the proposals relating to transmission, I remind the House of the excellent and reliable service that the BBC and IBA have provided for many years to a higher technical standard than that in many countries. In framing the new arrangements it will be important for the Government to establish a workable structure for competition in that area. The BBC and ITC should be able to compete for the contracts to run transmission systems. The White Paper does not envisage immediate steps in 1028 transmission, as the BBC's responsibilities are rooted in its charter which lasts until the end of 1996. I hope that the Government will allow the ITC and the new commercial services to develop before final decisions are taken.
Finally, I wish to refer to the future of the new Independent Television Commission. In the remaining period of the IBA's life many decisions affecting the role and work of the ITC will have to be taken. These decisions must not be taken in a vacuum. The Home Secretary has already appointed Mr. George Russell as chairman of the IBA and chairman-designate of the ITC. I applaud that appointment, because Mr. Russell combines business experience and acumen with a working knowledge of the world of television, having been involved in Channel 4 and ITN.
It is important that the change from the IBA to the ITC should be a watershed marking the change from detailed regulation to a looser licensing arrangement. The change is now clear. For the interim I note what the Home Secretary has said about the transition from the IBA to the ITC after the enactment of the Broadcasting Bill. A successful transition is vital if those involved are to plan properly for the future control of the independent sector. I hope that in his reply the Minister of State will take on board the issues that I have raised. They are essential to the future of broadcasting in this country.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)
Although the ten-minute rule does not come into force until 7 o'clock, I shall try to abide by it now. I shall speak about two matters—public service broadcasting and the development of the IBA companies and the new commission.
I was glad to hear the Select Committee speaking out in favour of the principles of public service broadcasting and recommending that such principles should be an integral part of the new broadcasting environment. I am worried about the future of the BBC. Although that has been said before, it is worth impressing on the Government, because they said that they would listen—breaking the habit of a lifetime—so perhaps they will listen to all hon. Members who are worried about the BBC.
The BBC often makes me angry because it never reports well on Ireland. The other night it was caught out about the Duisberg conference on developments in Ireland, and since then people in Ireland have not stopped laughing. When newspapers do such things they do not cause much worry, but the BBC screen is in many homes. Its management is not very good. Its television and radio drama, its orchestral concerts and the way that it subsidises orchestras in the interests of the public service are excellent. Whatever my views about the BBC, I have always seen it as a lantern to the world and the world's best broadcasting service. That view stems from my feelings during the war, but that was a long time ago. The BBC has maintained its standards, but it will not be able to continue to do so unless it has sufficient money.
I hope that the Government will not allow the Treasury to decide the future or size of the licence fee. I used to think that the University Grants Committee approach would be the best way to deal with the licence fee. One could compute the total amount of money likely to come in by way of licence fees, a UGC approach could be used to give a view to the Government and the money could he raised 1029 by taxation. However, I have gone off that idea because I know from being on the court of London university how the University Grants Committee works. I still feel that there is a better way to raise money, but in the meantime the licence fee must be maintained.
By itself subscription television can mean only that the BBC will have to cut its wider services. A weaker BBC will have an effect on the IBA and ITC sectors of broadcasting. Inevitably, if the BBC does not have enough money and if the Government of the day—I am looking to the foreseeable future and 1991—do not give the BBC sufficient money, we shall end up talking about having advertising on the BBC, which would change the nature of the BBC.
§ Mr. Robert G. Hughes
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the instruction given to those producing programme links on the BBC is to make them look as much like advertising as possible? What would be the difference if the BBC had advertisements?
§ Mr. Rees
My hon. Friend is right. I do not wish to rehearse the arguments of 25 years ago, but the nature of the BBC, which has an assured income and a charter that guides it, would be irrevocably altered if it had to depend on money from advertising.
I do not wish to develop my worry about the nature of appointments to the IBA and the BBC. I understand the balance that has been maintained, but what is important is that the men and women appointed to the IBA should be people of substance with an influential place in society resulting from their experience. It is not the job of a Government to appoint people because of their political sympathies or because their general views accord with those of the Government. I had to consider the appointment of a chairman of the BBC in 1979 and in the end I decided not to make a change because an election was imminent, so we asked Lord Swann to stay on. However, I did ask Edward Boyle, of Leeds university in my city, to take the job—not because of his political views but because I thought that he would be an admirable man to have in the BBC. He declined my invitation because of his health and because he valued being in university life.
Regional televison companies matter. I can see the hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Mr. Kirkhope), who is my neighbour in Leeds, agreeing to that. Yorkshire Television, Granada and the Welsh television companies matter in the regions. I want to be sure that we do nothing that will weaken such companies. I am a bit worried when I read the White Paper. Although there is talk about regional programmes, I should like to see more mention of regional companies because they ought to make the programmes in the regions in which they are based.
A number of companies have told me of their anxieties about cross-subsidy. Now the IBA has sent most Members of Parliament a paper on the subject. A particular point is summed up by the IBA document. It says:The twin principles of regional service and universality have hitherto been preserved by the significant cross-subsidies which underpin the ITV system. Currently at least £20 million is transferred annually from the major companies to the small regional companies in order to support and enhance the service to the viewers. These cross-subsidies operate via the transmission system"—1030 there has also been great concern about the problems of the transmission system and the worry that the small companies would not be able to afford the cost of it—subscription to Channel 4 and the networking arrangements, and all will disappear under Government's plans.What is the point of the Government talking about regional television if the cross-subsidisation is not available?
I sit on the Select Committee that is considering the televising of Parliament, and we have not yet come to any conclusions. I speak for myself to make a point. What will happen with televising the Chamber and the Committees is that we shall provide not a programme but a feed. Once the feed—an electronic Hansard— is out, the companies outside will decide how to make a programme out of it. What goes on in the House will be transmitted in regionally based programmes, as well as nationally based programmes afterwards, so the Select Committee has to take into account the new mode that the Government have recommended in the White Paper. There is a desire and a need for regional political programmes, and the IBA document that I have quoted points out that it will be more difficult to deal with such programmes. That is a serious problem.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) and other hon. Members have raised a number of issues. The Government will have to apply their mind to the purpose of competitive tendering. What did the Peacock committee believe that competitive tendering would achieve? I know that, in the Marks and Spencer analogy, competition means that one can get clothes and shoes that are better than they would be if they were publicly provided. But what would competitive tendering in broadcasting achieve? I have studied the White Paper carefully. It sets out two procedures for the licensing body, the ITC. What is "quality threshold"? Paragraph 6.17 guides the reader back a page or two to where it says:news should be impartial and accurate".That is probably taken from the legislation setting up the IBA and from the BBC charter. I say to hon. Members representing Northern Ireland that that reminds me of that wonderful newspaper in Tyrone, the Impartial Reporter. That made me realise that "impartial" has different definitions in different dictionaries.
What will the words "impartial and accurate" mean in practice? The White Paper links them to the "quality threshold", which is the first stage of the licence application. Will the companies write on a bit of paper what they will do, or put a price alongside each of the qualities that they have picked up from the earlier part of the White Paper? I do not understand, but I am given hope by the White Paper's reference to public scrutiny. We live in an age of open government. Once the sealed bids, from both existing and new companies are in, why should they not be published? Why should they not be of general knowledge to the community as a whole? They can be analysed in the newspapers with that objectivity for which the British press is famous. They can be analysed, too, in the television programmes which do that so well late at night, especially for Members of Parliament who get home at half-past 10.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Tim Renton)
I am listening with care to what the right hon. Gentleman is saying. In para 6.17 of the White Paper he will read that it is intended thatBoth stages of the procedure will be open to public scrutiny.
§ Mr. Rees
That is excellent. That has not been apparent in the discussions that I have had. Will it be clear that when Mr. X, with his associates, puts in his quality programme he will refer to the number of programmes that he will make in his studio and how much he will import films with stars such as the Three Stooges from the 1920s? Such films are not of great intellectual value, but I watch them avidly because they take me back to my youth. They are a great antidote to some debates in the House.
If it is all to be spelt out, that is an aspect of open government which cheers me. We will know what the companies propose and whether they are falling down on the job in the months and years ahead. When the proposals are published, the Select Committee on broadcasting can question Mr. X and Mr. Y. It is right that the Select Committee should be able to question them quickly before they are given contracts. That opens a vista that I had not thought of before.
I promised not to speak for too long. I wanted to mention the BBC and its licence fee, which I regard as important, and competitive tendering, which must be set out much more clearly than it is in the White Paper. The Government have said that they will listen. I hope that they listen sympathetically to the concern of both sides of the House on those two issues.
§ Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith (Kincardine and Deeside)
I think all of us realise the importance of the need for change in broadcasting. We realise also that the real thrust for that change comes because of the technological advances that we have seen in recent years. I did not agree with a great deal of the speech of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) but one thing which struck me most was that at least he said that change is not a response to failure. It is important to start from that position. It is not that what we have is bad; indeed, there is a great deal of good in it. My anxiety relates to the need to be careful so that we do not lose many of the good things in the present system.
I want specifically to follow what the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) said. I should like to go into it much more widely, but time does not allow. I intend to stick to the importance of the regional character of our television and particularly of Channel 3. This importance is emphasised by Peacock, by the Select Committee report and by the White Paper. When everyone pays lip service to something, I am worried that it may be overlooked in the outcome. We all pay lip service to the importance of the regional character of television. If I make no other point, I want to emphasise that we do not just pay lip service to it but that we carry it through into whatever legislation and new arrangements we make. Let us remember also that in the legislation which follows the White Paper we will set the pattern of broadcasting for many years. That is why it is so important that we get it right.
On regional broadcasting, I make no apology for speaking particularly from the Scottish viewpoint. I urge 1032 my hon. Friend the Minister of State to consider Scotland not as a whole but as a number of different parts which are not homogeneous, and which have different characteristics, different backgrounds and different histories. In Scotland we have Grampian television in the north, Border television in the south and Scottish television in the central belt. I would be bitterly disappointed to see that regional structure within Scotland destroyed or hurt in any way.
This point has been very much emphasised in Scotland. In my part of Scotland, a survey was commissioned by Grampian television, following other surveys in recent years. The survey showed that the independent channel, with its regional content, has the broadest support. Investigations showed that that was because of the regional content of its programmes, particularly the news programmes. That we must maintain. The result of the investigation is borne out by my own experience and that of others in the area. Therefore, my first point is that we must retain the regional franchise map not only in the United Kingdom as a whole but within Scotland.
My second point also follows what the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South said. If we are to have regional Channel 3 companies, and particularly if we are to maintain, as I believe we should, the small companies in the big geographic areas, transmission costs will be critical if they are to survive. One transmitter at Crystal palace serves many millions of people in London. The Grampian area in the north of Scotland has 1.13 million inhabitants and is as large as Switzerland. Eight main transmitters and 68 relay transmitters are required to reach the population.
In his opening remarks my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary paid respect to the need for the universality of our television and broadcasting. Indeed, the White Paper acknowledges the need for continuing universal coverage. Because of cross-subsidy in our national transmission, coverage is available to everyone at the same cost. That must not be undermined. If ask my hon. Friend the Minister of State to elaborate in his reply to the debate on the proposals for a privatised, regionally based transmission system. What precisely is meant by that? What will the effect be? Can he please give the House and me in particular the assurance that there will be the same cost for transmission to every person throughout the country?
My third point relates to the granting of the franchise, which is part of the amendment before us. I understand the Government's desire to use a price mechanism. I understand why they wish to avoid statutory authorities making final decisions on awards. I appreciate also the quality test proposal of which my right hon. Friend made so much in his speech. However, a pricing test is recommended by Peacock; but let us also remind ourselves that it was only by a majority of four to three. As has already been said in the debate, there has been subsequent qualification of exactly what it should be. It was questioned in the House of Lords debate. It has been strongly questioned by Lord Thomson of Monifieth, for whose experience I have great respect.
I remind my right hon. and hon. Friends that we have to watch the danger of putting profit before quality, particularly in regard to some of the smaller franchises. For example, when the cable service in Aberdeen faced financial difficulties, the first thing it axed was the local channel. That worries many of us who have had good 1033 services from small local television companies. Care has to be given to that point. If we make price the main priority, we may create financial pressures which endanger programme quality, attract outside predators and reduce the service to regional viewers and advertisers.
The White Paper acknowledges the success of the present system. Therefore, we have to be careful in case we throw out many of the good things that we have in it. If the present proposals are proceeded with and they prove to be wrong—if my fears are justified—given the fixed term of 10 years and a review in another 10 years, we could land ourselves in considerable difficulties.
I was encouraged by what my right hon. Friend said about the dual franchise, and I hope that he will take a fresh look at it. Considering the proposal from a regional viewpoint, many of us are anxious about it. It could concentrate the control of Channel 3 among seven or eight operators. When one considers the small franchise operators, one can see that that could lead to the closing down of regional stations and the loss of local identity.
If a large central and a small regional franchise were held in the same hands, I believe that there would be the greatest risk of that small regional franchise being subordinated. That would affect the quality and the regional nature of the programmes initiated from that region, and would affect, too, the staff employed, and the quality of the staff which a small regional company can attract to its area. I certainly hope that that proposal will be dropped.
I would like finally to make three important points. I am anxious about the separation of Channel 4 from Channel 3. I am again speaking about regional considerations. I believe that that would create the danger of a loss of advertising revenue and the loss of some of the access which local advertisers currently have. At the same time, it would create dangers by inhibiting the commissioning of programmes from the small regional companies. Those are points that my right hon. Friend must take into account.
I believe that there are also broader issues. Channels 3 and 4 being linked and working together provide a balance, because of a similar link between Chanels 1 and 2 of the BBC. I believe that to have Channels 3 and 4 in the commercial sector and Channels 1 and 2 of the BBC linked not only provides a better balance but, if they are not linked, we shall lose the advantages of the complementary programming in the commercial sector which I believe helps viewers' choice.
Secondly, I should like to pay tribute to the success of S4C in Wales in relation to the Welsh language. I do not want to belittle what has been done elsewhere, but a company such as Grampian must provide Gaelic programmes and also contribute financially and directly to S4C in Wales. Why can we not have the same funding for Gaelic programmes as does S4C, which the White paper has acknowledged has been a proven success? The suggestion of cable or MVDS for Gaelic programmes is highly dubious, given the scattered nature of the Gaelic communities and the topography of the west coast and the islands of Scotland.
Thirdly, I am anxious that, in the White Paper, Channel 3 is not given specifically public service responsibility, as it has at present. Public service responsibility means that 1034 there must be a proper place for, for example, religious and children's programmes, programmes for minority groups and for the disabled. Therefore, my last plea—once more I make no apology for casting all these matters in a regional context—is that the importance of public service responsibility is written into, and not just implied in, the final proposal for Channel 3.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith), especially because I agreed with every word he said and not having to repeat and re-emphasise those points will make my task easier. All hon. Members who, like the right hon. Gentleman, represent constituents who live in some of the more peripheral parts of our country and in the less-densely populated areas will agree with what he said about the importance of regional broadcasting.
The Home Secretary brought his proposals for the future of broadcasting before Parliament under pressure from two external quarters. The first impulse—which is very welcome—is the global revolution in communications technology, which will offer further possibilities of greater consumer diversity of programme choice. The second question, which has unfortunately dominated the Home Secretary's responses to the first, is ideological and entirely unwelcome. It is the simple belief that the commercialism of the market place should determine broadcasting output—terrestrial as well as by satellite. It should not be necessary to emphasise that broadcasting is for the benefit of the viewer. However, the White Paper rarely refers to the viewer and appears transfixed by two financial objectives of marginal benefit to the viewer. The first is to raise the maximum revenue for the Treasury by the sale of franchises and a levy based on income. The second is how to reduce costs to advertisers through extended competition.
In the past, there have been indefensible industrial practices in television. Substantial profits cushioned the companies from the need to change. But change was coming, and some of it was in response to the Government's pressure and nudging. For example, there was the proposal that independent producers should produce 25 per cent. of original programming. The new pressures of scarcely regulated competition and increased Government financial exaction appear unrelated to the viewers' interests. They are calculated to reduce funds for programme making and are designed to produce the result, "You simply get what you pay for".
At the heart of this debate is the question of how far both the BBC and independent television could continue under the Government's proposals to promote, through the 1990s, quality broadcasting as we have known it. Undoubtedly, most viewers have their gripe about some aspect of television. However, in comparison with other countries, a high proportion of the population watches television for many hours each week. The figures suggest a fair amount of audience satisfaction. It is hard to envisage much scope for further viewing—which I believe the Home Secretary admitted—and it is more likely that the increase in the number of channels will in time reduce the numbers watching the existing channels.
1035 What is special about British broadcasting and what is now at risk is the universal accessibility of the rich and balanced mixture of programmes to everyone who—over 12 months—pays a still modest licence fee of £1.20 a week.
That mix will not be provided by satellite television or by the other channels. I shall use advertisements for two television channels to make my point about quality. One was an advertisement for a cable television channel called BRA, which said:Round-the-clock classic film channel showing movies from the 30s to the 70s. Titles are scheduled several times during the year, so you can't possibly miss your favourites.
Another interesting example is provided by the description of a channel called LAN, which said:A totally new concept in television. Music from the world's greatest composers fused with visual images showing the beauty of the natural world.That sounds rather like the old BBC intermissions which some of us remember seeing as children.
The mix of entertainment, information and education, of popular and minority programmes, has been the hallmark of the BBC. ITV eventually followed its lead. That it did so was due less to competition than to the threat by the IBA—sometimes made good—that, if it only chased ratings, it would lose its licence.
That quality is threatened principally by the Government's attitude to the financing of the BBC. The current linkage of the licence to the retail prices index is already squeezing out more than inefficiency. The Home Secretary's statement that the licence fee is not immortal indicates that he looks to subscription not—as he should—as a useful additional source of income to invest in programme making for the viewers, but as an alternative. The guarantee that the fee will last in its present form only until 1991 is a threat, the full consequence of which the right hon. Gentleman is plainly unwilling to reveal to the viewers.
It is hard to accept that the Home Secretary is speaking in good faith when he says that the BBC is the "cornerstone" of broadcasting, because, by his actions, he clearly intends to demolish it. He must know the limits of subscription as a means of revenue raising. Only two subscription services in the world make money—Home Box in the United States and Canal Plus in France, and both depend on feature films. British Satellite Broadcasting and Rupert Murdoch have announced their intention to go into that market. Even in respect of subscription the good faith of the Home Secretary is in doubt, because his proposal to hive off from the BBC one of its night channels will deprive it of an effective opportunity to develop what it has pioneered with its downloading night programme for doctors.
If the BBC is to rely on subscription—all the evidence suggests that it has a limited capacity as a source of revenue raising—it will have no choice but to chase ratings. In that case there is a slim prospect for the survival of documentaries, investigative current affairs, classic serials, single plays, music and visual arts programmes and children's series, not to mention religious programmes. What would happen to the great orchestras of London, Cardiff, Glasgow and Manchester which the BBC support? Under a subscription system the BBC would disappear as the country's greatest patron of the arts.
The scope for revenue earning by BBC Enterprises is real and growing, but the Home Secretary should 1036 acknowledge that sales and subscription can never be more than a useful top-up of revenues if the BBC's role as the "cornerstone" of broadcasting is to be secured.
If the range and quality of the BBC are reduced, that will, of course, diminish the competition faced currently by ITV. Viewers do not want to watch trivial programmes all the time. Current viewing patterns show people's desire to have a mixture of what is relaxing and what is more demanding. That mix is not offered by multiplying channels. Nor do the promised schedules and expected costs of satellite channels such as Sky suggest that it will be possible cheaply to purchase a combination of programmes to match the spread of our present terrestrial channels. The White Paper does not offer real choice.
On competition, too, the White Paper is gravely defective. The Government appear to be bull-headed in their determination to stick to a tendering system of franchise allocation. I think that at best that is daft and at worst it is sinister. The Government have allowed a dangerous concentration of newspaper ownership in this country, but at least in that case there is always some possibility of a new entrant spotting a new market. As television franchises will be granted for many years the dangers of cross-ownership are far more serious. Television is also a much more pervasive medium than newspapers.
The White Paper that the Government ask us to endorse contains no adequate safeguards to prevent the domination of the networks by those with deep pockets and shallow concerns for freedom of expression and the virtues of diversity. The prospect that those who pay the piper in the press will also pay the piper across the airwaves induces revulsion and fear. The impact of the tendering arrangements and the role of the proposed licensing authority on the quality of programming will not be benign, even if the Home Secretary prevents the ownership of television channels by the press moguls. I believe that such ownership should be prevented.
We are asked not to underrate the significance of the quality hurdles in the way of franchise bidders. If consideration of quality has any meaning in the process, the Home Secretary must realise the force of the plea from the reconvened Peacock committee that the new licensing authority should have the right to reject the highest bid if another company offers more value for money in terms of the public interest.
It is a sad reflection of the Government's philistine intentions that almost the only deliberate obeisance which the Home Secretary makes to programme quality in Iris proposals is the enthronement of Lord Rees-Mogg as a censor and to extend, probably impracticably, the provisions of the Obscene Publications Act 1959 to broadcasting.
The Home Secretary tells us that the one section of the White Paper that has green edges relates to Channel 4. The Government reject the current arrangements for that channel, offer three suggestions of their own and ask for others. The endorsement of the White Paper by a vole tonight will leave Channel 4 in limbo. I am glad that the Government are at least open to suggestion and that we will have the benefit of the recommendations of the Select Committee on Home Affairs before decisions are taken.
Channel 4 is a success story—in part the Government's success story. With clever scheduling and as a national channel, unlike the proposed Channel 5, which will reach only 70 per cent. of the population, it could have 1037 considerable power to draw in advertising revenue from other companies. Without some entrenched arrangements on complementary programming and without the promotion from the other channels enjoyed at present, it will be difficult for Channel 4 to draw in advertising revenue and to fulfil its remit. That remit to provide innovative programmes and cater for interests not served on other channels has not turned Channel 4 into a ghetto channel. It offers news, 15 hours of education, religious and multiracial programmes, American football, "The Business Programme" and the "Right to Reply". If Channel 4 has to compete for revenue without a concordat on scheduling with the other channels, it will have difficulty in surviving as we know it.
Most of the new channels will be national, even international, in their coverage. Regional television is largely the creation of ITV and the regional strength of the new Channel 3 must, therefore, be underpinned. The right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside drew attention to the fact that the White Paper's proposals on regional television are singularly deficient. Regional television must serve regional interests and it is not just news and current affairs programmes that are required.
Regional television is seen at its best with fine programmes of broad interest that have been networked around the country but which have been made by talented production teams that enrich the lives of the many communities where they work. The White Paper pays some lip service to the importance of regionalism, but does not offer safeguards on the quantity and quality of regional programming. It offers no definition of what a "regional" programme is likely to entail and no protection from the media bandits. Such companies could easily become the shadows of their satellite owners. I agree with the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside that cross-financing is vital for the small companies.
The present transmitter arrangements have sustained regional broadcasting in the less populous and geographically remoter areas by cross-subsidy. I hope that the Minister will fill in a blank in the White Paper concerning transmission costs. If there is no recognition in the legislation of companies' ability to pay to sustain the regional system, those remote places will not receive cable, Channel 5 or MVDS, and they will suffer the loss of access to regional broadcasting.
The prospects for broadcasting, which are again being widened by technology, could be immensely enriching for our national life, but the White Paper is singularly deficient in pointing up those possibilities. That is demonstrated by, for example, its suggestions about fibre-optics and cable. The White Paper is inadequate because it fails to recognise that cable regulation is in a mess. I think that, however, politicians should be as wary of over-reacting as of under-reacting to the opportunities.
There are many interests and enthusiasms that pay television can satisfy, but most of us have wide-ranging and general interests that are not simply the sum of particular pre-identified tastes. It is those broad requirements for which our system has provided so well, step by step, as talent has been harnessed to technology. That is in the Home Secretary's trust, but he has given 1038 almost no evidence of his awareness of that fact either today or in the White Paper. For that reason we shall not vote to endorse his proposals.
§ 7.8 pm
§ Mr. John Gorst (Hendon, North)
I have followed debates on this subject in this House since the 1950s. What is most remarkable about today's debate so far is that, although there is plenty of room for argument and disagreement, there is an enormous amount of common ground, which is evident on both sides of the House. That is a reflection on, and a compliment to, the fact that not only is our system well regarded abroad, but it is one in which we take considerable pride at home. Just as Parliament has never been keen on the divine right of kings, however, it should equally look askance at a divine right of commercial broadcasters.
While I accept a hereditary monarchy, I do not necessarily extend that to a hereditary ownership of the media. If there is to be any divinity around, it should belong not to the suppliers of programmes but to the consumers of them. Suppliers, after all, should retain their franchises on merit, and so as long as there is a quality threshold—which I welcome in the Home Secretary's proposals—I do not share the alarmist views of those who have spoken like Jeremiahs over the years since commercial television began.
This White Paper—indeed, any White Paper on broadcasting—must be judged against certain abiding criteria, and they have been forcefully spelt out by the Home Secretary as independence, choice, viability and, above all, quality. In this context, I mean by quality whatever is judged to be the best of its kind, be it sport, chat shows, drama, comedy or anything else.
But there are other considerations, and the range of programming, diversity and balance are among them. Account must also be taken of efficiency and cost-effectiveness. And somewhere in the system there must be a place for what I would call the culturally literate aspect—something that is both edifying and enhancing, not only from the past but from the contemporary scene. Without those elements, broadcasting could quickly become mediocre and ultimately sterile, and Britain's achievements, by our own or by world standards, have been prodigious.
I wish to concentrate on what a true Conservative approach should consider to be of paramount importance; and in saying that I do not claim any exclusive monopoly on these Benches. It is just that on this side of the House we place a great deal of emphasis on preserving what has been learnt from the past and not destroying the good that has been created.
Thus, when we are thinking about innovations, we must do more than pay lip service to such notions, and in this context I shall concentrate my remarks on the position of the BBC. In many ways it is the repository of much that is best in British broadcasting. When I listen to spokesmen of the BBC speaking about the White Paper I have a strong sense of deja vu.
I am reminded of what the American Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, said in the aftermath of the Suez crisis, about Britain having lost an empire and not yet found a role. The BBC may not be said to have lost an empire, but it has lost its exclusivity over the years. Its funding is in jeopardy, and the basis of its funding must cause concern.
1039 Just as, in the 1960s, Britain's role was not clear in the new order of things, so in the present new order the BBC's role is not clear. For example, the BBC's role rests at the end of the day not only on what Parliament wills but on what resources it has available. In this context, I find the White Paper disingenous. According to paragraphs 3.2 and 3.3 on page 7, great things are expected of the BBC. We read that it hasa special role. It will continue to be expected to provide high quality programming across the full range of public tastes and interestsand so on. How is that to be achieved? Even if the BBC holds its ground, it is naive to think that it could hold it beyond 1996 on the basis of what it is trying to do now.
Equally disingenous is the BBC's response to the White Paper's disingenuousness. The BBC tells us—I am guided by a note which other hon. Members will also have received from the BBC—that its main function will be to improve efficiency, to broaden its revenue base, to make subscription television work and to generate interest in sponsorship.
Unfortunately, that begs the real question. What can the BBC achieve with the resources it has and will have? The BBC admits that subscription and sponsorship will do little more than cover the cost of those innovations. There still remains the cost of running the BBC, of paying for worldwide news networks and of other important activities that it has. Meanwhile, as each year passes and 1996 gets nearer, the licence fee will buy less and less and I question whether it will go up and up. However, it is certain that competition will get more and more expensive.
Something will have to give. Will it be the range of the BBC's services, its standards or both? On its dwindling income, it will have to redefine its scope of activities and therefore its role. Parliament should have a say in this, and we should be facing up to that now. The role of the bastion of public service broadcasting is not an issue to be left to market forces. If we leave it in that way, we may have left matters too late. What we should have preserved may have been dissipated and what remains may not be what we would value most. In short, we may have to face in 1996 a fait accompli.
If these questions must be faced now, I hope the Government will think again about what is said in the White Paper on page 10, where at the end of the section on the BBC we are told baldly:It will be necessary to review the role of the BBC when the present Charter expires at the end of 1996 … Experience needs to be gained first of the progress and impact of the reforms".I fear that that could be addressing the matter too late.
I have a suggestion about what the role of the BBC should be. I do not share the view of Professor Peacock as expressed in The Times today:the major purpose we saw behind the move to subscription was to prepare the BBC for the day when it would compete on equal terms with the present independent sector.He goes on:When the BBC's charter expires in 1996 … the case for a special relationship between the BBC and the Government would disappear. It could become an independent company like any other".I do not accept that. A free market can only result in the uncommercial being bypassed and buried. But that burial does not prove what it may seem to prove; it does not follow that what the free market has killed off was worthless. Something which is unprofitable is not 1040 necessarily unrewarding or without merit and we should not be so undiscerning as to think it is. The premise on which I started is that there are and always will be—
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss. Betty Boothroyd)
Order. Will the hon. Member please bring his remarks to a close?
§ Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
I agree with the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) that the funding of the BBC is a matter for concern. It is one of the two issues that I want to raise today. I think that we all accept the need for change because of technological, international and other developments. However, the changes proposed in the White Paper would damage the BBC. Rather than opening doors, some of them will close doors and I am strongly opposed to them.
I was a television producer with the BBC for eight years and I have some experience of the problems that it faces. I have great admiration for the values, quality and output of the BBC. However, those qualities will be jeopardised by the proposals in the White Paper to end the licence fee and replace it with subscription television—that is the essence of the proposals.
The BBC has made an outstanding contribution to Britain and to the world with its quality, expertise, experience and public service standards, but those would all be slowly suffocated if the proposals in the White Paper became law. The danger signals are flying high and clear, and despite the euphemisms in the White Paper the menace is glaringly obvious. All the fine words in the White Paper about the BBC's special role and its high quality programmes cannot disguise the harsh fact that the BBC will be deprived of the cash that it needs to continue. The licence fee will be squeezed until 1991, and after that the Government clearly want to replace it with subscription television. That is like trying to run a Chieftain tank on lighter fuel—it simply will not work.
The House should be in no doubt that if the BBC is compelled to exist on money from subscriptions, sponsorship and other entrepreneurial activities, the BBC as we know it will not survive. Not only is the quality of the BBC jeopardised—its very existence is threatened by the White Paper. We should be under no illusion about that. Subscription television would devastate the BBC's finances. Anyone who doubts that should calculate how many old age pensioners could afford it, especially as 80 per cent. of old age pensioners live on or around the poverty line. How many of our millions of unemployed people or one-parent families would be able to afford subscription television? A glance at the financial problems of the many millions of poor people in Britain reveals that it is absurd to suppose that subscription television will permit the BBC to survive. It would reduce the BBC to a ghetto—a refuge for minorities—and would mean the destruction of the BBC as we know it. I urge the Government to continue to provide the BBC with an adequate licence fee so that it can continue its admirable service.
1041 As president of the Royal National Institute for the Deaf, my second point is that deaf viewers' needs are often overlooked. Television is crucial to our way of living and thinking, and to social intercourse. It does not merely provide entertainment—it plays a crucial role in society. Deaf people can easily become isolated because of their handicap. Television provides them with a means of integration by virtue of its coverage of virtually every aspect of our lives, but many deaf people cannot follow television without the help of subtitling or signing. Subtitling can be provided on a teletext service which can be watched by deaf people so it does not interfere with the picture seen by the general public. In the long term, so-called "open" subtitling or signing could be considered but I favour subtitling on teletext for deaf people so that it does not interfere with the viewing of the general public.
The technical facilities for full participation by deaf people in television are available, but the television authorities fail to provide the necessary coverage. There are 70 hours of television per day and 490 hours per week for hearing people, but deaf viewers have only 30 hours of subtitling on BBC and 25 hours on ITV. Those figures are shocking. Deaf people are being let down by both the BBC and ITV. That must change. Ministers must appreciate that deaf people will receive properly subtitled programmes only if the Government will it. There is no substitute for the will of the Government. No one can doubt that deaf people will be ignored if television is seen merely as a marketable product. It is essential for deaf people that legislation should specify that franchises be given only—I repeat only—to companies which provide an adequate number of hours of subtitled and signed programmes. The number of such programmes should be increased and a higher standard set. The cost of subtitling is now about £300 to £400 per hour—a tiny cost to television and one that could be reduced by improved methods and greater use of live subtitling.
Those who insist on perfect subtitling before it is permitted on the screen are damaging the interests of deaf people. Whatever the spelling errors, or the minor delays in subtitling, the service constitutues a phenomenal advantage for deaf people. ITN deserves the warmest congratulations from the House for pioneering live subtitling on the 6.45 pm and 7 pm news, which provides a godsend to deaf people and is warmly appreciated. The BBC's attitude of seeking perfection before providing live subtitles is lamentable and it must catch up with ITV, which has left it standing. The Government, the BBC and ITV must change their attitude towards subtitling, which is a lifeline for deaf people. The rewards for deaf people are enormous. I make a special plea for Ministers, the BBC and ITV to expand subtitling and to open television to millions of deaf people all over Britain.
§ Sir Geoffrey Pattie (Chertsey and Walton)
I am sure that the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) will forgive me if I do not follow him into that area of debate. No one is more qualified than he to speak on those matters and I am sure that every hon. Member has admired his courage and fortitude for many 1042 years and has noted with regret and sadness his announcement that he will retire at the next general election.
I declare an interest as a non-executive director of Collett, Dickenson, Pearce advertising agency. When I read the White Paper for the first time, I was amused to see that it proposed a levy because, apparently, no self-respecting White Paper is worth its salt unless it contains a levy. One must, of course, recall that the levy was introduced originally because the use of air time was deemed to bea monopoly exploitation of a scarce public resource".Now we have an infinitely wider availability of that previously scarce public resource and there will no longer be a monopoly because competition is the name of the game and we shall have lots of it. One cannot help noticing that this time the levy will be exacted on the income rather than the profits of the independent companies, which will put great pressure on them.
I believe that there is one central proposal in the White Paper that is dangerous and one major omission. Much of the criticism of the White Paper centres on the method of allocating the franchises by auction, especially when it is stated that the ITC will be required to accept the highest bid. The Government recognise that they cannot simply invite bids from all and sundry without regard to the companies' suitability and, therefore, certain preconditions are imposed, so already, at the first stage, we are moving away from the purest market force form. Pure market forces would require no screening or filtering process before the auction. There is to be a quality threshold. The question is how high the qualifying bar will be set. Will it be set at a height of 1 ft 9 in, thus enabling most to qualify, or will it be a stiffer test but one that, none the less, depends on the companies honouring their promises in later years to provide, for example, a diverse range of programmes and also to take national news networks, as they have to at present?
Once the quality threshold has been crossed, companies will proceed to the auction. The White Paper says that the ITC will be required to accept the highest bid. That cannot be sensible. If the ITC is required to accept the highest bid it can, by definition, take no notice of the fact that, for example, one company triumphantly met the quality threshold criteria and a rival company just scraped through.
I was for some considerable time the Minister in charge of procurement in the Ministry of Defence, operating a policy of competition. We were after the best price that we could obtain, but we never circumscribed ourselves by insisting that we took the lowest price—which is the same principle that we are addressing here—regardless of any other consideration that might apply. The same applies here when we are talking about the highest bid regardless of other considerations. The widespread concern is that the higher the bid, the greater the pressure on the winner to cut costs and corners and the supreme short-cut is the route being demonstrated now by Sky, with American and Australian game shows and tabloid style news services.
There is much that is good on our television. Some of the more imaginative and expensive series such as the various wildlife programmes would be under pressure if costs had to be held down. Could the wildlife programmes themselves become endangered species? There is a danger that, in the desire for choice, the Government are confusing qualitative choice with a mere proliferation in 1043 the number of channels. A large number of channels putting out American and Australian chat shows, which are largely indistinguishable from each other, do not meet my criteria for genuine choice. The provision—or at least the possibility of provision—of quality on our televisions is essential and that is much more likely to come from the selection of franchisees who meet the criteria and put in a good bid, but not necessarily the highest bid. We must remind ourselves that we and the Government act as trustees as much of our culture as of our physical environment.
There are other difficulties attached to the question of the highest bid. It is conceivable that in the first round of the auction some of the bigger players might hold back from the bidding process and wait to see whether one of the successful companies had overreached itself and had therefore made itself commercially vulnerable to a takeover. I suspect that the Home Office may already be considering some kind of moratorium on takeovers, which would be a good move and another restriction on market forces in their purest form. Perhaps when my hon. Friend the Minister of State replies he will tell us whether it is possible that if a would-be franchisee put in a bid that happened to be more than 25 per cent. of the net asset value of that company that would constitute a class I transaction which would require all the shareholders to be notified, thereby making a company's bid public at that stage—which might produce many problems.
The one major omission of the White Paper concerns training. It is one of the critically important subjects about which one does not need to say a great deal because all hon. Members apparently recognise it when we see it. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in November 1988:effective investment in training is crucial to business success.It is impossible to overemphasise the importance of training. Training must be provided by the employers, but to be absolutely blunt about it, it will be provided only if the employers are required to provide it. Such a requirement should be inserted in the process at the quality threshold stage when would-be franchisees are running about making all the appropriate noises. At that stage, some mechanism must be inserted to ensure that adequate training is made available. It will not be satisfactory to rely on the BBC to provide all the technicians and producers for the whole industry and it would be extremely unfair and unrealistic to expect that to happen.
In the White Paper, the Government correctly recognise the challenge and opportunity of new technology and they also, rightly, emphasise the importance of choice. I do not believe that the real implications of choice for the independent television companies and for the BBC licence fee have been fully thought through. There is certainly no reason to have a levy and a mandatory highest bidder auction. That is illogical. It is also somewhat disingenuous to suggest that regulation, including the Broadcasting Standards Council, will be a light touch. I give the Government five out of 10 for effort on this White Paper, adding the rider "more thought needed."
§ Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)
Ornament I may be, according to the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler), but in an excellent speech the right 1044 hon. Member for Chertsey and Walton (Sir G. Pattie) gave the Government a score of five out of 10. I am not so generous. The history of this Government and broadcasting can best be described as one of missed opportunities. They have failed to realise that there is a broadening base in the entertainment world and a difference in taste which is not based on socio-economic groupings.
In his recent surveys, Professor Arenburg found that a certain percentage of the best paid watched a certain percentage of serious programmes and another percentage of what might be called comedy programmes. The only trouble is that throughout the socio-economic scale the percentage watching serious programmes remained exactly the same and the percentage watching game shows and other amusing programmes was exactly the same. So it appears that human beings watch a variety of television.
Some years ago the start of new technology, new ideas and the new broadening of the entertainment media gave the Government a wonderful opportunity. We had the Cable and Broadcasting Bill. The Minister of State was not the Minister in those days. I cannot remember which Department he was in. That Bill was run by the Department of Trade and Industry. As it quietly proceeded, the then hon. Member for Gravesham, Mr. Tim Brinton—a man for whom I have infinite respect—tabled an amendment in Committee which I supported. It deregulated cable. The Department of Trade and Industry took five years to wake up to what we had done. In those five years the Department made certain that the British cable industry was strangled and did not expand.
We then had the Films Bill to get rid of the old National Film Finance Corporation. We fought against it in Committee because, in effect, it was to begin to throttle the film industry.
§ Mr. Bermingham
The hon. Gentleman says, "Oh". If we had had some of the tax and investment incentives that exist in other countries, the actors, technicians and talent that we have in this land of ours could have mass produced films which could have been made available on television and in cinemas throughout the world. We have a mass of talent and expertise which we have singularly failed to develop and use.
We should look at the television world of tomorrow and say, "This is an opportunity. It is not something to run from like scared rats leaving a sinking ship." We should face the real world and realise that there is a subtle difference between terrestrial and Sky channels. We should not seek to apply to terrestrial broadcasting what we seek to apply to Sky broadcasting. To put it bluntly, there is no way that we can stop Sky coming down. If we think that it is going to be rubbish, we must ensure that terrestrial programmes are so much better and easily available that people will choose them.
Choice is interesting. It has taken nearly eight years for Channel 4 to penetrate to 9 or 14 per cent of the market. There is a terrific market loyalty. Let us not be scared of this thing called Sky—this thing that is to come from the heavens. There are only about 1,000 dishes and the Government have ensured that we have not even started to cable anywhere yet. Therefore, Sky cannot link with cable, so most people cannot watch it for many years. Market penetration will take time.
1045 Let us put to one side this notion about Sky and take out of broadcasting the cold claw that seems to grip the Home Office from time to time as the DTI stretches its dirty little arm into the heart of the broadcasting industry. The DTI does not understand a fig about broadcasting, and the sooner we accept that and the sooner Home Office Ministers say to their DTI colleagues, "Off boys, broadcasting is our patch and we are keeping it that way", the better. The minute the Home Office starts to do that, we may begin to get some sense.
I am all in favour of the fifth and sixth channels. I accept that the fifth channel must be commercial. As I said earlier to the hon. Member for Westminster, North, I hope that the Government will keep their hands off BBCI and BBC2 night hours. I wait with great expectancy for the Minister's confirmation of that later. If those two channels are to develop a 24-hour system, they must be left their night-time hours. Those channels must be left to the BBC to develop in its own way.
The Government intend to re-franchise the ITV stations. My constituency is in Granada's territory and we have an excellent television service. If the Government are to set up a franchising system that goes to the lowest common denominator and sacrifices standards in the interests of an extra buck or two in the fee, I have to say, "For goodness' sake—don't." In effect, they will destroy local programming, local interest and local programme making. Existing ITV franchise holders have served the industry well. Let us not be frightened of saying that. Expertise and talent have been built up and should be protected.
I would not be unhappy to see existing franchise holders offered further contracts. The Government may wish to increase the amount that they pay on the contracts, but at least the companies—the nuclei, the talent teams, the production teams, the technicians and other staff—would be kept together. I do not mind if the new regulatory channels have a yellow card and red card system. If a company falls down on its quality standards, let it be shown the yellow card and make the regulatory authority strong enough to give it the red card if it continually falls down—the red card that would send it out of the business and let someone else in. There will be other franchise areas to develop in the fifth channel, for which new companies can tender, but let us not, merely for the sake of change and new ideas, throw away nearly 20 years of talent and development. That is the risk that we run.
I do not propose to take long today because what I have to say I have said many times in the past. Once upon a time we thought and it was argued that the development of the entertainment industry via the cables of the land would be the way in which this land was to be cabled. I said then, I say now, and I say to the Minister once again, that cable—the development of fibre optics and the various junction systems that come with it—is not just a march down the path to further choice in entertainment, but the basic structure for the future of an industry which is yet to be born and developed. It is an industry by which information transfer can be made readily available throughout this land. It is a way in which we can pass ideas and products. It is the industry of tomorrow.
By restricting cable, because it was tied to the concept of its being entertainment-led, the Government may well 1046 have cost us our place in that market. But it is not too late. I appeal to the Minister to look again at cable, give it a chance, give it the incentives, get the lines in and the system set up. They will find that it is not people who want to use it to watch television, but business men who want to use it to transmit information and technology. Let us not miss that boat.
§ Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden)
I agree with the last comments of the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham). As a non-executive director of London Weekend Television and a superannuated, somewhat faded television interviewer—[HON. MEMBERS: "Never."]. I am most grateful for that disagreement with my immodest statement. It was long ago and I must face reality, as others will in due course. I am sometimes asked for my views on television. On this subject I am often asked, "Why on earth are you mucking about with it?"
On the whole, people are reasonably content with the limited choice that we have. It is more limited than we sometimes realise. Nevertheless, people are content with such choice and quality as they have. Although I believe that we are capable of doing greater things, I have some sympathy for them. Why dig it all up again? One of the reasons why I welcome the White Paper is that it recognises the reality that television is technology-driven and it makes clear, most excellently I think, that changes in technology—satellite broadcasting in particular—change the environment, which means that the existing framework must change, too.
So we have got to make a good job of this, and I believe that it is perfectly possible to give a reasonably warm welcome to the White Paper for making a good fist of it. I am not going to say whether it deserves five, six or seven out of 10, but my hon. Friend the Minister of State and the Home Secretary have done as good a job as any lot I can think of around the Palace of Westminster.
Unhappily—and here comes the rub for my hon. Friend—the White Paper does not fully recognise the financial impact of its proposals on the existing ITV channels. It makes much of the need for programmes of high quality and for choice. However, in three ways, the Government, by the introduction of the new levy in 1990 and by at least two of the proposals in the White Paper, could frustrate those worthwhile objectives. It could do so, first, through the tendering system, which has some of the characteristics of an auction; secondly, through the introduction of the new levy, which comes into force in 1990 and will penalise the ITV programme-making companies; and thirdly—and this has already been referred to—by completely separating Channel 4 from the ITV companies, and thus breaking an association that has done much to ensure the success of Channel 4. Breaking up that association will further fragment the television audience.
I should like to deal with that last point first. Fragmentation will arise anyway through the creation of new advertising-financed channels such as Channel 5, as well as the numerous satellite channels, and these alone will shrink the revenue of the present terrestrial TV companies—a point that is considerably underestimated in the White Paper. So, Channel 4, which we must prize, will be on its own and will have to compete with the other channels for advertising revenue, the acquisition of 1047 programmes, artists and writers, without any further support from ITV. Its costs will go up, and separation will also end complementary scheduling of programmes, which provides the quality and the choice that are such central features of the White Paper.
I hope that the Government will, as they suggest in the White Paper that they might, look again at the future financial status of Channel 4, as well as its relationship with other companies.
On tendering, it is only right that a private company should expect to pay a price for a 10-year franchise. I do not think anyone should quarrel with that, and I do not think that anyone in the ITV world quarrels with it. However, the method proposed in the White Paper will, I have little doubt, encourage unrealistic bids, and I hope that the new ITC will be given the power to exercise its discretion to award the franchise not to the highest bidder but to the bidder offering the best value for money. I will not develop the point any further because it was most ably made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chertsey and Walton (Sir G. Pattie).
The levy, which will be introduced in 1990—three years before the new franchises—will, in fact, impose an additional financial burden on the ITV companies, a burden much heavier than that imposed by the present levy. It will be imposed at a progressive rate on turnover instead of profits as it is now. Certainly it will hit the larger companies which make most of the programmes that are networked on ITV. Furthermore, it will hit them disproportionately—and at a time when they should be making more, not fewer, programmes to face the new competition from the other channels.
Of course, a levy was originally introduced—and quite rightly so—to siphon off the excess profits made by ITV companies operating in monopoly conditions. But after 1993 the situation will change radically, and the levy should be abandoned if the Government want the ITV companies to compete with programmes that provide genuine choice and genuine quality. The ITV companies themselves do, however, have a choice to make if the Government do not heed the warnings that they have had from outside the Chamber as well as from many hon. Members who have spoken in the debate. If they do not modify the levy or the proposals in the White Paper to which I have alluded, the alternative is a simple one: the ITV companies could simply fly away, and they could take out a licence to transmit their programmes from one of the international satellites' transponders.
At a stroke, as my hon. Friend the Minister of State knows, those ITV companies—well-known companies—will not have to pay any levy, there will be no tendering costs, there will be no need to subsidise the Welsh television channel, there will be no residual public service obligation, no transmitter subsidies which would be necessary if they stayed on the ground, and no control over the time spent on advertising. Of course, with the companies would go their talent and ability to make programmes that are still of quality and are widely accepted and viewed by the British public—programmes which, as one sees from the top ten any week, beat American production hollow.
The commercial attractiveness of that option, although obviously dependent on satellite dish technology and the costs over the next four years, should not be underestimated by the Government. I hope, therefore, that when the Minister replies he will take into account the 1048 points that I have made, which I am glad to say put me in good company because they have been made from both sides of the House.
§ Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin)
I was deeply depressed by the White Paper, but I am very encouraged by some of the things that I have heard from both sides of the House in this debate.
I urge the Government, if they are in any doubt, to appreciate the tremendous significance of the course on which they are now embarking. I probably speak for most people when I say that I am almost in awe—perhaps "fear" is a better word—of the potential power of television in our lives. Let us look at the penetration of television—"penetration", I think, is an advertiser's word. Virtually every household in this country has access to television. Indeed, more than half of them now have at least two sets. The viewing figures show that the average individual watches television for between 25 and 30 hours a week, which is longer than we spend doing anything other than sleeping—or working, in the case of those lucky enough to have a job. That is an indication.
It is not just the viewing time that is significant. It is also the time that we spend discussing, in pubs and clubs and amongst ourselves, what we have seen the night before. The potential impact of television cuts across social classes and age groups. It is absolutely enormous, and the audience sizes are staggering. At peak times the audience can be 20 million. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will understand when I say that, like most politicians, I am well used to addressing mass audiences of 20 in village halls. The idea of speaking to 20 million people is quite mind-bending.
I look in vain when I try to see what kind of philosophy lies behind the Home Secretary's proposals. It was a great indication of how mistaken his present view is, and of how distorted is his picture of the future, when he described his philosophy in a speech on 18 January this year in these words:Increasingly, the viewer and listener should feel like someone browsing in a good bookshop rather than someone kicking their heels in a ration queue.All I can say is that if his image of the 20 million who watch at peak times is an image of people kicking their heels in a ration queue he has a profoundly distorted picture of the present situation. If the Home Secretary's view of what he has in store for us is browsing in a good. bookshop, he must go into very different book shops from those that I visit. Hon. Members should not take my speculative word for this. As the great saying goes, we should look not in the crystal ball, but in the history books.
Let us consider what the deregulated system is providing at the moment. In The Independent on 1 February, Michael Grade referred to Sky's entertainment channel as follows:Sky's Entertainment channel looks like yet more re-runs and failed American and Australian series … It looks like endless cheap buy-ins from abroad … I don't see where the new choice is. So much of their schedules are junk, fast-food takeaway telly which programmers put on in the hope that viewers will not notice … This is less a broadcasting revolution than all our yesterdays.Mr. Grade was talking about the system that operates now.
1049 We know what is in store for us. We are in store for deregulated television on the American model. The Home Secretary is becoming sensitive about that. I have not heard anyone from the United States say, "My word, I wish our television was like your television." Our television is incomparably better than American television and I will explain why.
We have regulation in our system and we should not fall for the idea that regulation means restriction. Anyone who has worked in commercial television will confirm that the regulatory powers of the Independent Broadcasting Authority extend programme choice. The IBA constantly tells programme makers to do this or that. There is no dead hand of bureaucracy present. Lord Ferrers may refer in the other place to the bureaucratic control of the IBA, but that is not the experience of people working in the system. A degree of regulation extends programme quality.
The same is true of news coverage. Can we really say that the IBA's programme guidelines restrict the quality of news coverage in broadcasting? My goodness, I wish that there were some programme guidelines for newspapers in their news rooms which would put sense into the way in which they cover the news. Regulations of various kinds can extend quality and choice.
Our system is programme-maker-led. It is not led by advertisers. The depressing philosophy of the White Paper is that somehow the advertisers must lead the way. By and large, people work in television because they like making programmes. The Government should ask themselves why people working in the industry object to the White Paper. We would think that everyone would be in favour of it because it extends job opportunities, provides more channels and there will be no shortage of work, but people in the industry oppose it because they know that it will mean a lower standard of programme.
An extremely important factor about our television system is its universality. At a very simple level for people who, like me, are interested in sport the great national sporting events such as test matches, cup finals, snooker finals and the Grand National are available to all nation wide. They are not on subscription or available only to the few. We should be taking a terrible step in the wrong direction if we made those sporting events available only on subscription channels so that they were not available universally.
I strongly welcome more channels, but they should be subject to regulation to guarantee more choice than we risk having under this proposal. It is ironic that the title of the White Paper is:Broadcasting in the '90s: Competition, Choice and Quality.'If the Government are honest with themsleves, they will accept that the competition is phoney, the choice will increasingly be choice for a few—it will be restricted—and quality will deteriorate.
The Home Secretary believes that the new system will be like browsing through a good book shop. We shall refer to that phrase again and again as the new system evolves, but I fear that it will be far less like browsing through a good book shop and more like browsing through a tatty newsagent's.
§ 8.4 pm
§ Sir Peter Blaker (Blackpool, South)
Anyone reading this debate in five years' time is likely to be struck by the small amount of attention that has been devoted to cable. I am glad that the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) did something to put that right, and I am sorry to see that he is not in the Chamber at the moment.
I declare an interest as I am the chairman of a cable television company which has a franchise. I hope that when my hon. Friend the Minister of State replies he will refer to cable; in particular I hope that he will say that those parts of the White Paper which deal with cable are particularly green.
I believe that there should be two changes in the White Paper. First, it is odd that there should be a proposal for a levy for cable and microwave, or MVDS as it is called. Cable does not use a scarce resource and it is not making a profit. It is not a monopoly. The more sensible approach for the Government would be to wait and see whether it makes the super profits which might justify a levy.
I surmise that the reason for the proposal is that the Government are suffering from a misconception about what the operators of those technology-neutral franchises will do. Cable operators want to construct cable. They regard microwave as an adjunct which can be useful in less populated areas. The same misconception may account for the reference in the White Paper to the separation of the functions of delivery and retailing.
If separation is put into force, it will damage the success of the cable television industry. I favour cable because it can do anything that any other system can do, do more and do it as well, if not better. It can provide a virtually unlimited number of entertainment channels and the interactive services to which the hon. Member for St. Helens, South referred, and competitive telecommunications, which are very important for Britain's technological and industrial future. It can also provide local programming to which the Government used, a few years ago at any rate, to attach a great deal of importance.
Cable can do all those things at an economic cost that is competitive with other systems. It also does away with aerials, "squarials", dishes and any other impedimenta that we may otherwise see on our roofs in great abundance. The White Paper states that delivery and retailing must be separated and that the same company may not conduct both functions. What is more, the White Paper appears to contemplate that there will be several retailers.
That proposal appears to have been put forward for fear of a monopoly. I believe that the cable television industry is not a monopoly. It is competing with BBC and ITV. It will be competing with the fifth channel and the video recorder. Anyone can hire a tape for a night for £1 or less, and that is certainly competition for cable. There is also competition from satellite television.
So it is entirely unrealistic to refer to cable as a monopoly. I wonder whether hon. Members have any idea of the cost of constructing a cable system. We know the estimated cost of constructing the cable system in Birmingham for which a franchise was awarded recently. For 450,000 homes, the cost is estimated to be £160 million. Companies will not apply for cable franchises or the new technology-neutral franchises unless they are 1051 fairly confident of getting a fair return on their investment. They will not be confident unless they have a sufficient degree of control over the marketing and retailing process.
Suppose that, when our railways were being built 150 years ago, the Government had said, "Gentlemen, you may lay the tracks and build railway stations, but you cannot run any trains or sell any tickets." Would that have been an attractive or sensible proposition to put before people who wanted to build railways and thus carry Britain forward into the new industrial age? There is an analogy to be drawn between that and the White Paper's proposals. The Government are asking potential applicants for technology-neutral franchises to buy a pig in a poke, and they thus risk losing the technological and industrial advantages that they sought a few years ago.
Separation between the service providers and retailers of the kind contemplated was tried by the cable industry in recent years in respect of three franchises obtained by British Telecom. In the two cases in which British Telecom was able to move away from separation and merge the delivery and retailing functions, it did so very quickly, because it was found that separation did not work. In France, those systems that have separation achieve a penetration of 6 per cent. of homes passed, whereas those that merge the two functions have a penetration of about 15 per cent.—more than double. That confirms the argument I make. The White Paper has gone astray because it assumes that operators will go heavily for microwave transmission and not cable. Microwave is much less expensive to build, so the disincentive effect of compulsory separation is less onerous.
We must also consider matters from the customer's point of view, as well as from that of the potential operator. The viewer will he offered about 32 channels, with several retailers going to knock on potential customers' doors. As I read the proposal, it is possible that a customer will have a retailer knocking on his door on Monday, offering a sports channel; on Tuesday, offering an arts channel; on Wednesday, offering a pop music channel—and so on. That cannot be good for customers, and certainly not for the marketing and retailing of the product.
I hope that my hon. Friend will say something about the management of the marketing and retailing function. How will it be seen from the customer's point of view? How many bills will the viewer receive every month—particularly if he subscribes to a series of channels or channel packages? How will the customer make complaints about the service he receives? Will he address the retailer, who provides the programming, when the person who must put right any faults is the deliverer—yet there is no contractual link between the deliverer and the customer that I can see. Who will provide local channels? Where they are provided by cable, it is done by cross-subsidy, because the operator realises that local channels do not make a profit.
I hope that the Government will re-examine the problems I have explained, and especially the question of separation. It is essential that the system gives confidence to those who will be expected to invest large sums of money. The consumer, for whose benefit the White Paper was presumably prepared, requires a coherent, convenient and simple system of retailing. I hope that the Government will make the changes necessary to give cable an opportunity to achieve success.
§ Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge)
Television in Britain has developed much more slowly than in many other countries. We know from experience that the result is acknowledged superiority in transmission quality and production standards. Can that record be maintained and improved in the coming era of television? It is acknowledged by the Government, albeit reluctantly, that, left entirely to the mercy of the free market, quality and standards will suffer.
Television's basic public service obligation should remain a prominent and integral part of the new television environment. That was the view of the Select Committee on Home Affairs of which I was a member, together with my hon. and ornamental Friend the Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham). The White Paper seeks to remove or dilute public service obligations in respect of all but the BBC, drastically reducing quality and standards in order to open the door to profiteers and mind-manipulators. That is the wrong way, and the White Paper is flawed on that ground alone.
As to the introduction of new services and technology, if the public want satellite television, I have no objection. I might even avail myself of it eventually, when its quality and standards are better. However, that option should not be at the expense of viewers who prefer a broader choice of programmes than will be available if the White Paper is translated as an Act of Parliament. It makes much of the increased choice envisaged in the new environment, but we know from experience of other countries, where the choice of the number of buttons to press often greatly exceeds our own, that the variation of programmes across 20 channels is seldom as wide ranging as that available from our four channels. Choice is not about the number of channels but about the variety of programmes available. Without sensible regulation, the free market will be compelled to go for viewing numbers to accommodate advertisers. It is a sad fact of life that the viewing figures for "Panorama" of about 3.7 million will never compete with the 10.5 million for "The Price is Right".
If there are to be new services—to which I have no objection—while preserving the best of what we already have, we must find a way of ensuring that the new does not damage the old. That can be achieved, but the White Paper does not offer the solution. It is neither necessary nor desirable that all services should carry full public service obligations. There is scope for some specialist channels covering interests such as movies, sport and perhaps even full coverage of the House in session—which might remove the objections that some right hon. and hon. Members have to the current proposals. Such specialist channels could be financed by subscription, advertising, or by other means.
I agree that the BBC's principal source of finance should be, at least in the medium term, the licence fee. agree with Professor Peacock that the White Paper envisages too early a move away from that fee, but I pant company with him, and with the White Paper, over the suggested alternative. If the BBC had to rely entirely or mostly on subscriptions, that would be disastrous, and would inevitably lead to reduced standards in competing for audiences. And if the BBC had to continue carrying full public service obligations. as I believe it should, it would be placed in an impossible situation.
1053 Despite the fact that the licence fee is low, it is unpopular. Certainly it is a burden on many pensioners and on the low paid. Nevertheless, subscription would be worse, as it could certainly amount to much more than the present annual licence fee of £62. A better method must be found in the long term. Meanwhile, perhaps a levy can be imposed on all the new television companies established under the new system, and instead of that money being paid to the Exchequer, it could be given to companies carrying statutory public service obligations. That would provide some additional finance for BBC1 and BBC2 and some subsidy for ITV. If the 20 or more commercial channels are as successful as they expect to be, such an arrangement could facilitate a reduction in the licence fee or even its eventual abolition. That would also offset the cost of the new systems to the consumer, so everyone could benefit. That might mean, ironically perhaps, that the new 20-plus channel environment would help to protect our public service broadcasting and the high standards associated with it.
While the White Paper acknowledges the importance of continuing the regional basis of ITV 1 or Channel 3, there is no stipulation that the contractors should be regionally based. That leaves the door open for carpetbaggers whose only interest is profit—with no obligation to regional programming and no real connection with or commitment to the regions concerned—and I hope that the Minister will address that glaring anomaly when he replies. There is also no definition in the White Paper of what a region actually is.
I am concerned about the content and quality of programming on ITV. The White Paper lays much emphasis on market forces and on the consumer influencing diversity and quality, but how will that be measured? If it is to be measured purely by viewer numbers or by product sales as a result of advertising, what will be the effect on religious, drama and children's programming under a lighter-touch regime?
I am also anxious about the control of television and the way in which standards and impartiality can be protected. The Home Secretary said that the Government would legislate to prevent the concentration of ownership—although it was difficult to determine from what he said whether Mr. Rupert Murdoch is in conflict with the principles set out in paragraph 6.48 of the White Paper. I believe that the Broadcasting Standards Council should be abolished and Lord Rees-Mogg sent off to do missionary work in the offices of News International, where his particular talents would no doubt be appreciated. It should be the duty and responsibility of the BBC board and the Independent Television Commission to monitor and regulate standards, and to ensure quality and political impartiality on television. Given the present constitution of the BBC and IBA, however, it is, to say the least, unlikely that they could match up to the task.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) suggested a system of election for the boards. While I applaud the principle of his suggestion, I remain unconvinced of the practicalities. I am also unconvinced that a satisfactory outcome would be guaranteed, given the power of the press to influence voting and to blacken character.
1054 What we must do, however, is take the power of patronage currently with, and abused by, the Government off the scene altogether. I am not of the school that says that when we have the power we should do as the Tories now do and, having sacked all their appointments, replace them with ours. To do that would be to show ourselves as corrupt as they are. If the broadcasting media are to be as impartial as possible, the first thing to do is to remove from the Government the power to pick and choose board members.
I propose, perhaps as a stepping stone to what my right hon. Friend wants in the long term, that the board should be made up of people nominated by identifiable groups within society—business, trade unions, consumers, political parties and so forth. If the resulting BBC and ITC boards were then to elect their own chairpersons, it would be a great improvement on the current system, providing boards representative—to some degree at least—of society as a whole, as well as ensuring at least a degree more impartiality than the existing system can guarantee or, indeed, deliver.
§ Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North)
My sparring partner, the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), said recently in The House Magazine:British TV ain't broke—so why fix it?In saying that, he managed, as many have, to miss the entire point of the debate. As my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) said earlier, to do nothing is not an option. The Astra satellite is flying, Sky Television is with us, British Satellite Broadcasting is coming and transfrontier broadcasting is with us now. The four-channel cartel is over, and we need a new framework for new circumstances.
It saddens me that so many see those new circumstances as a threat. I see them as a tremendous opportunity for programme makers—as a programme maker myself—and for specialist channels showing education, religion, children's programmes, sport and films. The faint-hearted say that there is not the revenue to support all that—that we have an audience of only 50 million people—but we are looking at a potential audience for tomorrow's television companies of more than 500 million people throughout Europe. That is the audience that we should pitch at.
My hon. Friend the Minister of State has done a great deal of work in seeking to secure a European transfrontier broadcasting convention. He will, I hope, have noticed that at last week's parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe—of which I happen to be a member—a unanimous desire was expressed and a unanimous decision made, across parties and nationalities, that such a convention should be put in place. We need that convention now: we must not let the Italians, the French or the Luxembourgeois delay it any longer by reopening old arguments. The Minister should tell his deputies to get on with it.
I welcome the White Paper as a formidable piece of work. I believe, and am delighted, that it reflects much of the unanimous report of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, and much of the sterling work done by Professor Sir Alan Peacock. I particularly welcome the commitment to public service broadcasting which I believe the White Paper contains.
In the short time available, I should like to raise a few relatively minor matters that have not yet been touched 1055 on. First, there is the subject of programme listings. The Government have said that they must pay attention to domestic copyright law and to international copyright obligations, and behind that smokescreen hides the BBC-ITV duopoly of programme listing. We have imposed on cable a "must carry" clause. Cable must carry ITV 1, ITV 2, BBC 1 and BBC 2, but it is not allowed in its own programme magazine to tell its potential viewers what they can watch. In December, the European Commission described that as an abuse of article 88 of the treaty of Rome. It is time that we opened the doors and let some fresh air into the dusty world of Radio Times and TV Times.
I hope that the BBC will be allowed to collect its own licence fee, and that the Government will address very seriously the possibility of failure to pay the fee becoming a civil debt and not a criminal offence. I do not believe that a magistrates court in the country will not heave a sigh of relief if that happens.
I believe that the franchise auction has been widely misunderstood and deliberately misrepresented. It is clear that, before any company is allowed into the auction rooms, it will have to make a commitment to regional programmes, high-quality news and current affairs programmes, and news coverage in the main viewing periods. There is an omission: local news is not mentioned specifically in the White Paper, and I hope that that will be rectified.
The right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) said that in Yorkshire, as in all the regions, very few independent companies were making programmes. The reason is the historic agreements between the union to which I belong, the Association of Cinematograph, Television and Allied Technicians, and management. Those in-house agreements have kept the independent companies out, but happily the position is now changing, and I believe that those companies can thrive.
I should like a strong franchise charter and a free market in shares, but if we are wedded to the franchise auction I hope that we shall give the authority the right to refuse the highest bidder if—as Sir Alan Peacock suggested today—it is prepared to show public cause why it is doing so. I hope that my right hon. Friend will write that into the Bill. If he does so, he may save us much late-at-night grief next year.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker) referred to the separation between carrier and retailer in cable television. It looks as though we are about to impose on cable television the cumbersome machinery of licence per service. It is like saying that Sainsbury's can build shops but that it cannot sell own-brand groceries in them. That does not make sense, and I gravely fear that it will deter investment.
The Government say that they will consider the ownership of local delivery operators and they are considering allowing non-EEC companies to invest. That finance is needed now. United States investors are queuing up. Please let them in. I hope that my right hon. Friend will reconsider what appears in the White Paper to be a decision not to allow MVDS to be used by cable companies to pull through cable.
The most important aspect of the White Paper—in a sense, it is an aspect by omission—concerns what the Select Committee saw as possibilities for cable systems to carry voice telephony, and for British Telecom and 1056 Mercury to carry programmes. It also called for the introduction of closed user groups to allow for data services in broadcast television. The White Paper said:The Government will examine telecommunications matters, including the use of optical fibre as a means of transmission of entertainment as well as telephony and data … at the time of the review of the telecommunications duopoly policy.That, as we all know, is in November 1990. The White Paper continued:The Government proposes to put in place a contingent provision which would permit services to be offered without prejudice to decisions of the review.That reflects the difficulty of having two cooks—the Home Office and the Department of Trade and Industry—in the same kitchen. The Select Committee said:It is vital that industry in the United Kingdom is well placed to take advantage of the development of digital television as it occurs.The development of digital television transmission will be the most important factor in the development of communications in the 21st century. To prevent British Telecom from carrying entertainment, to prevent cable from carrying voice or to prevent the BBC from carrying closed user data is absolutely ridiculous. We are moving into a no-turnstile world. From the moment that we have digital television transmission, television entertainment and telephony and data will speak the same language. When that happens, the potential for home education, home medicine, home shopping, home entertainment and other inter-active services will be tremendous.
The White Paper has created a framework that is all right for terrestrial broadcasting. It meets some of the needs for transfrontier satellite entertainment and news. However, the White Paper falls short of creating a framework for total communications systems in the 21st century. I urge the Government to reconsider their decision to introduce a television authority and instead to introduce a total telecommunications authority that would embrace every sector. If we had that, I believe that we could beat the world.
§ Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)
I reassure the hon. Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) that those who have expressed reservations about the contents of the White Paper have not done so because they are afraid of the changes in broadcasting but because they are concerned about the framework within which those changes will take place. Many views have been expressed in this House and in the other place and by many organisations who are about to submit a response to the White Paper, or who have already done so, about that framework.
Centralisation, control and the recognition of the needs of minority groups are key aspects that we must address if we are to ensure that broadcasting takes account of the needs of society. A number of hon. Members have already referred to centralisation. There is genuine concern about the definition of a region. Many Scottish Members are offended when Scotland is referred to as a region. Scotland is a nation. However, it contains regional variations, stretching from the Shetlands in the far north to the Borders in the south. It would be wrong to assume that the interests of all communities in Scotland are exactly the same.
1057 Scotland is served by three ITV companies—Grampian, Scottish and Border. They reflect regional interests. There is deep concern that we may lose the opportunity to have a genuinely home-based industry in Scotland that would not just serve specialist needs and industries but would ensure that Scotland is outward looking. We want to be able to produce our own material that can be sold abroad and that can therefore become a dollar earner. It is interesting to note that Scottish Television's briefing refers to the fact that it has moved from almost total dependence on advertising revenue to obtaining income from the sale of programmes—£15 million in 1989 compared with £2 million in 1986. The money earned by our television companies can help to generate the income that is necessary to ensure that we meet regional needs. Scotland wants to speak to the rest of Britain, Europe and the world and not to be inward looking. We want to maintain our home-based industry.
I was disappointed when the Home Secretary referred only vaguely to the requirement to produce programmes within the regions. Channel 4 has 10 per cent. of Scottish viewers, but it gives us only 2 per cent. of the production. We are worried that that trend may continue because of the White Paper's proposals. There are many television production jobs in Scotland, but they are under threat. That applies, too, to production centres in Birmingham, Norwich, Manchester and elsewhere. If production centres are abolished, job opportunities will be lost. The talented men and women who work in production may find other opportunities in London or elsewhere. However, many of the people who are involved in network production at regional centres are committed to living and working there. They wish to stay in the regions. We do not want local skills to be lost. The ability to produce programmes locally means that Scottish actors are employed. That is important for repertory theatres. Local productions also employ musicians, which is important. It would be very sad if, at best, Scotland retained only one independent company and if, at worst, all control were to be removed from Scotland. I hope that the Home Office will respond positively to what I have said.
That leads me to one of the defined minority interests—the Gaelic language. I do not speak Gaelic but I regard it as part of my Scottish heritage. I do not want the language to die. The White Paper makes scant reference to the Gaelic language. In paragraph 6.37 the Government claim to recognise the importance of broadcasts in the Gaelic language and the importance of the Gaelic culture and its future development. However, all that the White Paper does is to offer the prospect of a new local franchise through cable or MVDS. It admits in paragraph 5.9 that within each area covered a substantial majority of households will be unable to receive the signal. In those areas where the Gaelic language is thriving—the Highlands and Islands—we need desperately to ensure that people do not have to rely on cable or MVDS. The equipment required to receive the services would cost much more than the terrestrial channels that are referred to in paragraph 5.13. There is a great deal of contradiction in the Government's commitment to the Gaelic population. The Scottish National party looks with envy on S4C in Wales and at what that has achieved for the 1058 Welsh language. If we had even a fraction of the money that is allocated to that channel, we could lay a sound foundation for our language and culture in Scotland.
Perhaps I could point the Minister to an article in Scotland on Sunday on 22 January. It deals with the problems of satellite television which has been suggested as a possible franchise area for the Gaelic language. The Sky television dishes of 60 cm in diameter are offered for sale at about £199 and will be suitable in Scotland as far north as Glasgow. Beyond that range a 75 cm dish would be needed and would cost £260. In Orkney and Shetland the dish required would probably cost about £350. I hope that we will have some discussion about how the Government see the Gaelic language being served in areas where it is live and vibrant.
At a recent meeting, the Scottish Association for the Deaf passed a unanimous resolution calling on the Government to introduce a clause to a broadcasting Billto make it mandatory and enforceable to provide services for Scottish viewers who are deaf or hard of hearing, providing them with equal opportunity of access to television on all Channels, whether cable, satellite or terrestrial.The right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) dealt with the issue of the deaf. I hope that we will get a commitment from the Government, because if the highest bidder and the profit motive are to define our broadcasting services, minority interests, such as those of the deaf, may well be left out because it is costly to provide subtitles and sign language. Like many people, I should be upset if cost denied the deaf access to broadcasts.
What is meant by night hours? The White Paper seems to suggest the separation of night hours and a separate franchise. That means that we would lose the control or availability of minority programmes that can be recorded and used for education purposes, especially in our schools. Scottish Television is forward-looking and has included programmes on Scottish books, poetry, paintings, traditional music, Gaelic, minority sports and other subjects. Those programmes are used effectively by our schools. I hope that we will see keen recognition by the Government before the production of a Bill of the issue of universality of access and assurances that production will not be centralised and that full account will be taken of all minority interests in the United Kingdom. Those are vital matters.
§ Mr. George Walden (Buckingham)
Listening to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), I had a nasty turn because I found myself nodding at some of the things that he said. I am a little unhappy to see him in his place now as he may give me another nasty turn by nodding at some of the things that I say.
I am a relatively new Member, having been here just six years. During that time I have voted for most if not all of the Government's major legislation—for some with enthusiasm and for some with a twinge of doubt. But I feel neither doubt nor enthusiasm in relation to the White Paper. I cannot support it. It is usually thought that anyone who is critical of the Government's views on the BBC must be some sort of stooge of the comfortable duopoly. I do not suffer from that problem. If one judges the BBC by the volume of its own self-congratulation there is obviously something wrong with the organisation. 1059 Clearly, much mediocrity masquerading as quality is put out by the BBC, so I do not start from the premise that everything is fine as it is.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary talked about the amount of viewing in Britain and I shall put that in perspective. We are talking about average viewing of 22 hours per week. In the case of children, the average may be higher—perhaps five hours per day. That means that children spend about as much time watching television as they spend in the classroom. We are not dealing with purely mechanistic factors, such as the raising or lowering of the tax rate or the management of water resources, but with something far more important—the minds of the population. What we do in this debate will have a significant impact in one way or another on the way in which people think, and especially on education.
I begin from the premise that there will be a decline in the standards of broadcasting almost—and this is important—irrespective of what the Government do. That is an important assumption on my part and it will not be shared by many hon. Members. Nevertheless, it is realistic and stems from a combination of "technological progress" and commercial imperatives. If we put those two together with all the bland and rather tinny assumptions in the White Paper we shall get an accelerated decline of television.
Important implications flow from that. The White Paper shows a total lack of social imagination, of what it means to be faced in one of our inner cities with a combination of low education provision and expectations and bad to mediocre teachers. On top of that, we propose to give people low expectations in broadcasting. Children who spend five hours a day in school with low expectations from teachers will go home to another five hours of low expectations from television. I hope that those expectations will not be lowered, but evidence from the Government suggests otherwise.
What sort of incentive is that for people trapped in cultural poverty to climb out of it? I see some Opposition Members nodding. People used to climb out of cultural poverty by way of local libraries but, sadly, those facilities no longer exist or are unused. The White Paper runs the risk of hastening the inevitable. Because of a whole series of circumstances too complicated to discuss in 10 minutes, decline is inevitable. I say that for technological and commercial reasons. That is sad. It will be a domino effect. Satellite broadcasting will put pressure on ITV and, through the rating system, that will put pressure on the BBC. The decline may be slow but it will come. There will he a downward spiral in standards. The pace may be sedate or almost imperceptible, but standards will go down.
If we start from that realistic premise, certain conclusions follow. If we have such a decline in standards—I am willing to bet that we shall—we must think radically. The White Paper pretends to be radical, but in fact it is conventional. It thinks conventionally about market forces, it is simple-minded and goes with the air of the time. It is not really thinking at all. One cannot compare market forces in the car industry and in shipbuilding, which we all favour—God knows we make so many speeches about it that I bore myself silly with them—with market forces in broadcasting. We cannot make a simple-minded transfer from industrial considerations to broadcasting. We cannot have an indiscriminate application of the idea.
1060 There is a great danger in this country that when we get an idea we go on and on with it. We did that with egalitarianism and caused the damage that we now all know about. Now we have a new idea called market forces, and like children with a pot of paint we daub it all over the damned place. If we do that in broadcasting or in education, we shall cause infinite damage to the people least well placed to support it.
If anyone feels tempted, as I suspect that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary may be, to think that this is an elitist or patronising approach, he should bear in mind that real elitism is a good thing. The worst sort of elitism and the most patronising attitude is taken by those who are well educated and well placed in society, but who feel that they can swill cultural bilgewater through the homes of those less educated than they are, which will prevent those people from making their way up the social ladder. I have no time for that form of elitism, which seems to dominate the thinking, or non-thinking, behind this White Paper.
It is not good enough to stand here and say that things will get worse and that there is nothing that we can do about it. We need radical thinking, so in the few minutes that I have left I will set out what I would so. The Government should think about this. Unfortunately, they will not, but I wish that they would.
We should think about the future role of the BBC. The answer to this difficult problem is to say to the BBC, "Times are changing, the whole thing is going to wind down and you will have to wind down with it almost irrespective of what we do, so we must do everything possible not just to preserve but to improve your public service broadcasting." In the real world, that means stopping competition for audiences. The BBC should give up its pop function. There is no reason why old ladies and gentlemen should pay through the licence fee for pop on television. That pop will be provided adequately by the commercial sector—Sky and the rest—where there will be oodles of it. The BBC should not retreat, but retrench and concentrate on public service broadcasting, raising its standards and going for the biggest market that it can get, but not through the ratings game.
Such a policy would give people real choice because they would be able to choose between old-fashioned British quality at its best—although much improved by these means—or the satellite stuff, which we cannot stop unless we import some of the old disused Soviet jammers, which I do not recommend. We cannot stop it coming down from the sky. The heavens will open, and the drivel will pour forth. Mr. Murdoch has told us that his news programmes will be pitched at the level of a 10-year-old Martian. That is where we shall start. If people want to watch that, they will be able to do so. There will also be choice through the commercial terrestrial sector.
I am suggesting that quality be included in this choice, quality for ordinary people—the sort of people who, 30 or 50 years ago, had the chance to go a to grammar school, but who now do not have that chance.
§ Mr. Walden
There are only 130 or so grammar schools left. Fifty years ago, people had the chance to climb out of the Welsh valleys because there were libraries there, many of which have now been sold off. Children in such areas now spend five hours a day watching television.
1061 I could say a great deal more, but I will finish on one important point. After all the struggles to improve our economic and material welfare, in 10 years' time people may look back and say that while the standard of living has improved the cultural level is lower. I do not care if that sounds pompous. I see hon. Members nodding. They know what I mean. There may be a sort of "Clockwork Orange" society, which will have been brought about unnecessarily by the Government. It would be a dismal comment on a liberal Home Secretary to be seen in 10 years' time as the man who introduced this tawdry debasement of our broadcasting system, with all the impact that it may have on social values of every kind.
§ Mr. Norman Buchan (Paisley, South)
I have waited all day, and perhaps for the past three years, to hear a speech like that given by the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden). It should be both applauded and burned in gold letters on the Government Front Bench. We are faced with a tawdry White Paper reflecting a seriously dangerous situation, and the hon. Member has said what many of us have been feeling for a long time but have often had to couch in a partisan fashion. He has managed to broaden it out by removing himself from a politically partisan attitude.
I prepared the Labour party evidence given to the Peacock committee, so I have lived with the Peacock report, and all the controversy and discussions after its publication, for the past three years. Sometimes, as we ventured on to these arguments, we were seen as attacking the policy, merely because it was "capitalist", but the truth is that the problem is a great deal more universal. Major human problems are involved and this tawdry White Paper shows that we have failed to understand, to take on board and to learn from one of the most important advances in the expanding of the human experience.
It is rather as if somebody had invented writing and then said, "How can we sell off the letter A?", or somebody had invented the alphabet and said, "How can we make money out of it?" The purpose of the White Paper concerns the messenger rather than the message. What techniques shall we use? Is it to be cable or satellite? What is the profit direction? It is almost as if we sat down and asked ourselves how we can produce a form of television in which Murdoch and Murdochism can succeed. Partly, it is because the Tory party detests and even fears public service broadcasting as it detests, distrusts and fears the public sector generally. That is the basis of its attitude.
These issues are too important for narrow market concepts. The Government had a glorious chance with the White Paper, and they have blown it. They have failed to understand what we are dealing with. They have ushered in the crippling exigencies of the market economy as if this is the solution to the techniques that we have been handed for expanding human experiences, for communicating with one another and for teaching. We never thought when we started schools that they would be narrowed and crippled or that facilities would always have to be paid for.
The problem with subscription is not merely the payment aspect. The Government have got the payment aspect wrong. Ironically, subscription arose because Government supporters wanted free television and so 1062 suggested getting rid of the licence. I agree that we should get rid of the licence. Television, like the alphabet and writing, should be free. It should be paid for out of national resources. Every time I say this I am accused of seeking to put television under the control of Government by allowing the money for it to come out of taxation, but that is not so. Education is free in that sense, but it is paid for from national resources.
Ironically, those who have said that we should have free television, by which they have meant advertising revenue supporting television, are now pushing subscription. I was looking at some of the figures for subscription. We are told that specialist services such as children's programmes, sports, film coverage and minority languages, could be privatised for no more than between £10 and £20 a month. But that is between double and four times the present licence fee. So the irony is that subscription will mean that television will be even dearer. The hon. Member for Buckingham understands better than most hon. Members that that is not the problem. Thank heavens he spoke, because he salved the soul of the Conservative party.
The problem with subscription television is that we cannot through that expand people's understanding and experience. If a television company had proposed 10 years ago subscription broadcasting for a programme showing beetles on the water, insects in British grasses or bats in caves, no one would have subscribed to see such a programme. But now David Attenborough and David Bellamy have created mass audiences for nature programmes. The point is that as soon as we remove the possibility of people viewing something accidentally or merely on a whim, we compress people; we shove kids into a narrow cell and say, "You will stay there." It is only when there is straightforward universality of access that viewing such programmes can be triggered.
For none of us knows how young people's ideas are triggered. It is the same as charging an entrance fee to museums and art galleries. I remember Lord Eccles—Lord Shekels as Lord Crawford used to call him—complaining that I would be happy for people simply to go into art galleries to get out of the rain. "Too bloody true," I said, "I cannot think of any better place for people to shelter." As soon as there are charges, only those who are already educated towards it and who understand art go into galleries, and the people who have not been introduced to art are not touched by it accidentally. Therefore, we are compressing human experience with the very tool that could enlarge and expand that experience.
Peacock understood that. I love Alan Peacock dearly, but I have to say that although he recognised that his proposals would have that effect he still went ahead with his report. He thought that because we could not control satellites we had to lie back, close our eyes and think of England. He made clear what he expected to be missing from the generality of television programmes under his committee's proposals. He expected that certain things would not happen unless there were special precautions. The committee suggested that the omissions would be covered by four key words—knowledge, culture, criticism and experiment. Therefore, the committee had to create a public patronage sector. One reason why Peacock objects to the Government White Paper is that this minority ghetto patronage is missing. The Peacock committee said:
- "(i) There should be news, current affairs, documentaries, programmes about science, nature and other parts of the world, as well as avowedly educational
1063 programmes, all of which require active and not passive attention and which may also contribute to responsible citizenship.
- (ii) There should be high quality programmes on the Arts (music, drama, literature etc.) covering not only performance but also presentation of and comment on the process of artistic creation.
- (iii) There should be critical and controversial programmes, covering everything from the appraisal of commercial products to politics ideology, philosophy and religion."
But all those are now missing from this White Paper. Hon. Members may wonder what is left of good broadcasting when all that goes. It is only the generality of television that the White Paper will produce.
Who produced the White Paper? It has been produced by civil servants and Ministers, all of whom have had the opportunity of the highest education. The hon. Member for Buckingham was right when he said that this was another kind of patronising. They have got their little niche. They will create a minority ghetto for themselves but the universality of the rest of mankind will not be touched by it. By definition, subscription broadcasting will compress the possibility of expanding human consciousness and experience. That is why the White Paper is nasty, reactionary and tawdry; that is why it should be withdrawn.
The hon. Member for Buckingham used the word "culture". It is a hell of a long time since I have heard that word from the Conservative Benches. Every time Goering heard the word "culture" he reached for his revolver. The same is true of the Government Front Bench. We know what the hon. Gentleman meant by culture; it is not only high culture but general civilisation. That is what we should be trying to achieve, but we are not. We are discussing profit, competition, money making and methods of delivery. There is not a word about what is actually to be shown on television.
It is not true that it is only a small group who want so-called culture. All the figures show the opposite. If we examine the viewing figures for light entertainment, light drama, films, sport, dramatic art, information, news, children's and miscellaneous programmes, we find that all classes, high and low alike, look at serious programmes and at light programmes. Viewing is not based on class concepts, but it will be if we introduce subscription television. We do not need to read a crystal ball therefore; we can read the book.
Let us consider what has happened in other countries. I shall cite as an example what has happened to Italian television—which I know well—since deregulation. If one compares the RAI, the public service station, with the new fifth channel, Canale 5, one sees that 84 per cent. of the fifth channel's programming is light entertainment, serials and advertisements. Indeed, advertising accounts for 27 per cent. of its broadcasts. The fifth channel is missing in art, religion, education, news, current affairs and documentary programmes, which presents a terrible picture.
We already know what happened in America. Sixty six per cent. of the programmes on ABC consist of advertisements and serials. Again, art, religion, education, plays, films, current affairs and documentaries are missing.
We know what will happen. We have a tawdry document in front of us. I hope that it will get its come-uppance from some other bored souls in the Opposition. It is a prescription not for progress, but for narrow vicious reaction.
§ 9.5 pm
§ Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West)
What we have just heard from the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) is the frustration of the elitist, who simply cannot bear to think that people will have a choice and that they will be able to make that choice for themselves. Elitists believe that they are so clever that they can make everybody's choices for them. They cannot cope in a modern world. It is not the Government who are deregulating broadcasting or the White Paper that is deregulating television; it is the technology and the choices that will be freely made by the people. Surely the purpose of taking part in this debate—[Interruption.] If hon. Gentlemen had the courtesy to listen, they would understand the argument.
Surely the purpose of taking part in this debate is to understand the fundamentals that we want to preserve in television and to bring forward into the new era. I feel genuine disappointment with the speech of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), because he talked about the problems—I did not disagree with some of what he said—but he did not say a word about what he and his party would do and what he believed were the important matters to bring forward.
There are two stages in the auctioning of franchises. It is important that we go through the quality threshold, but is it seriously suggested—as the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook did—that the current system of franchise allocation works well? I do not believe it does.
We should look at the successful application which was originally made by Harlech Television and what happened in the outturn. One could hardly say that that was a success for the current system, because Harlech Television's application never transpired. It made promises that it knew it could not fulfill. The same happened with the original London Weekend Television. I believe that London Weekend Television was baled out by Rupert Murdoch. I am not saying that that is a good thing, but the fact is that London Weekend Television could not keep its promises. Then, of course, there was TV-am Limited run by the "famous five". Anybody working in television, as I was at that time, knew that putting presenters in charge of a television station was like putting lunatics in charge of an asylum. They knew that would not work, and it did not work. The old system must stand condemned for some of the situations it has created. A new system is needed, and I welcome the auctioning of franchises.
The BBC circulated a briefing on the White Paper which is extremely good. One line, which is important, says:The BBC will need to adapt within this more competitive environment. But we are also the fixed point in an expanding market.I agree with that. The solid attacks that were made on the BBC by Rupert Murdoch's newspapers, notably The Times, represented a deliberate pre-emptive strike against it. Rupert Murdoch recognised that without the BBC and its standards of quality, Sky would not have to offer anything like the same quality or spend similar sums as the BBC on its programmes.
The BBC is important and we must ensure that it continues to be a high-quality source of programming and, as has been said, the cornerstone of broadcasting. It must, of course, adapt, but it must remain the benchmark of quality. It must widen its source of funding, however, 1065 because there will be a genuine difficulty as the licence fee becomes less and less acceptable to people. If there is a broad range of satellite channels, cable and MVDS, people will not want to pay a licence fee for channels that they may not watch often.
§ Mr. Hughes
The hon. Gentleman may agree with my next argument so he should be cautious of heckling. We need a new lease of life for the licence fee, because I believe that it is important to continue it. I urge the Minister to consider what we should do to ensure that quality and diversity are offered by the new multi-market and to ensure that the BBC continues to offer quality programmes.
We should consider a proposal that was originally made by Alan Peacock in his report—we should have an arts council of the air. When the proceeds of the licence fee start to be phased away from the BBC, a substantial proportion of it should be paid to a new body that would act in the same way as the Arts Council. We cannot second guess how good or bad television programmes will be, but that new council would be able to consider the available programmes across the broad range of broadcasting. That council could have a productive role by highlighting the shortage of experimental comedy, certain drama or the type of social programming that we want at peak times. Such programmes could be paid for out of the substantial sums available from the licence fee. That would give us an absolute guarantee of the choice and diversity that is genuinely desired by all hon. Members.
It is easy to lampoon the Broadcasting Standards Council as the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook did when he discussed the chairman, but I suspect that he would be rather uncomfortable if he sought to lampoon the deputy chairman of that council. Anyone who knows Jocelyn Barrow knows that she is fiercely independent, hardly a poodle of the Government—she is a black educationist who is respected by both sides of the House—and that she is doing a magnificent job to ensure that the BSC is able to make a contribution.
I believe that Jocelyn Barrow recognises, as we all should, that parents think that there is something wrong with some television programmes. Parents know what is needed. When one goes to the cinema the certificate of the film gives a guarantee of the broad content of it. If the film carries a U certificate one knows that it is reasonable and safe for children to see. Why not have a certification system for television? I accept that it should not involve previewing, as that would give far too much power to the BSC and it would be too cumbersome to operate. I believe that the television companies should operate a self-certification system. Therefore, parents and others, need only look at the newspaper to know what sort of programmes will be on and whether they want to watch them. I believe that the system, in common with the system in Canada, should also include a guide to the sort of language used in the programmes. I urge the Minister to consider such a system.
The system could be enforced and policed by the Broadcasting Standards Council, which in addition could consider the watersheds of when programmes should be 1066 shown. The BBC 9 o'clock watershed—although it is breached on many occasions—is important and is taken seriously by the BBC. We need watersheds to ensure that programmes with an entirely family content are shown until 7, 8 or perhaps 9 o'clock in the evening so that parents may know that what is on television at certain times is suitable for their children to watch.
The chairman of the BBC said on 24 February last year:I have given the Home Secretary an undertaking that the BBC will take firm steps to eradicate unnecessary and gratuitous violence, sex and bad language.It is unfortunate that he celebrated almost the anniversary of making that statement with last night's edition of EastEnders, which was peppered with unnecessary and gratuitous bad language. One of the main characters carried a knife and threatened violence—gratuitous violence, one might say—against people, and I am not sure whether I use an unparliamentary expression when I say that the programme ended with an unnecessary and gratuitous gang bang that, in my view, added hardly at all to the story.
It is important to protect people who want family viewing but who at present do not have any idea of what will appear on television. That is not to say that adult programming and various types of wide-ranging programmes should not be shown late at night. But at family viewing times people have a right to be protected and to be given some information about what will appear on their screens.
The White Paper makes sense of the changes that will take place. It will make the future work in a way that Labour Members have not even comprehended, because they have not looked seriously at the problems involved. One cannot pick winners with certainty in this business. It is not clear who the winners will be.
The paranoid fantasies that we have heard have a long tradition. People said that Edison's light would not work and would never be popular and that Stevenson's Rocket would have people suffocating at over 20 mph. Labour Members are saying much the same today about television. Indeed, one need only recall the speeches that they made when ITV and local radio were introduced to realise that they are as wrong now as they were then. I congratulate the Government on the White Paper.
§ Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)
It is a privilege for me to wind up the debate on behalf of the Opposition. We have had an exceptionally intelligent debate and I hope that as well as listening the Government will learn from what has been said by hon. Members in all parts of the House.
There has been a great measure of cross-party agreement on subjects such as the future quality of programmes and the need to ensure the preservation of regional programmes, and doubts have been expressed about the system of tendering. My right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) referred to the need for better levels of sub-titling throughout television programming. The level of cross-party support is such that it is almost guaranteed that when the Bill comes before the House in the next Session the Government will impose the guillotine on our discussions.
When the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) was advancing the proposition that in the next few years the licence fee would become less acceptable as, 1067 by his thesis, the popularity of satellite viewing grew, I wanted to remind him that the set, not the BBC, was licensed. The BBC gets the licence money, and it would be most surprising if the Government did anything which resulted in their forgoing that money in their coffers.
I repeat our welcome for the chance of a greater real choice of diverse and quality television and radio programmes which advancing technology makes possible, nationally, within the regions and in Scotland and Wales. Used sensibly, change can widen access for citizens, including those in our ethnic communities who now have only a small voice. It can also open eyes and ears to worlds as yet unknown. The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) took us in an exceptionally able way into that important matter. The White Paper, however, will not achieve this.
This issue is simple—will more broadcasting mean better broadcasting which expands the standards set by the BBC and ITV companies, or will it, as many inside and beyond broadcasting fear, lead to financial pressures which will push down quality, limit diversity and lead to the sameness that typifies most of our tabloid press?
There has, at least, been a frankness about the free market future that the Government aim to establish. Mr. Leslie Hill, managing director of Central Television, told me in reply to a complaint about a cut of one third in the number of "Central Lobby" current affairs programmes:Programme-making decisions will increasingly be commercially led. I believe this to be the inevitable result of the enormous financial and, ultimately, competitive pressures to be applied to ITV.
There was another dreadful warning from Mr. Andrew Neil, executive chairman of Mr. Murdoch's Sky television and sometime editor of his Sunday Times. On 15 January Mr. Neil told The Observer:The entertainment channel will be like ITV without the public service broadcasting hits.The bits of which Mr. Neil was so scornful are those that form the foundations of our present broadcasting system. They lay down an obligation to broadcast "information, education and entertainment" and tomaintain a high general standardtogether witha proper balance and wide range in their subject matter.No wonder that Mr. Murdoch wants nothing to do with them.
Those clear obligations are replaced in the White Paper with a mealy-mouthedrequirement to show regional programmingand to showhigh quality news and current affairsand, as an afterthought,possibly also current affairs in the main viewing periods.In the White Paper, any specific obligation of public service goes out of the window. That is because the Government simply want to hand over ITV to the men with the deepest pockets who will meet a so-called quality threshold no higher than a pile of £50 notes.
Why do the Government not learn? Do they not remember that a previous Conservative Home Secretary, Lord Whitelaw, recognised when Channel 4 began that, while financial resources without talent cannot provide quality television, neither can talent without financial resources? Lord Whitelaw built upon what was already in place. The present Home Secretary wants to do a demolition job.
It is not just the broadcasters who are apprehensive. What about the viewers and listeners whom the 1068 Government claim are at the centre of their broadcasting policy? What has happened to their views and voices in this debate? As Mrs. Jocelyn Hay. chairman of the Voice of the Listener, said in the winter edition of Airwaves, the IBA's magazine:When the Government wants to involve Sid in its privatisation plans it begins years in advance and embarks upon advertising campaigns costing tens of millions of pounds. It offers financial lures and free telephone calls so that Sid can learn how a shareholding democracy works. But what has it done when planning to change the nature and structure of our broadcasting services?She goes on to recall that the Government's contribution has been a Green Paper on radio at £5 a time, the White Paper that we are discussing today at £7.20 and—wait for it—a free 12-page summary of the main proposals of the White Paper, stocks of which, incidentally, were exhausted in less than three weeks. That is how much viewers arid listeners have been involved.
Mrs. Hay goes on to make the following points, upon which I hope the Minister of State will comment. She says:the Green and White Papers are full of references to the Government's desire to serve the consumer, but neither contains any sign of any actual intent to strengthen the position of listeners and viewers. There is no mention, for example, of the new 'light touch' authorities having advisory councils, the one means by which listeners and viewers can currently make a positive input to broadcasting policy. Nor is there any sign that the Government intends to rectify the situation in which broadcasting is the only national service without a statutory consumer body positively charged with supporting the public interest.
The White Paper also threatens the Home Secretary's personal drive to encourage active citizens. As Community Service Volunteers say:Every year approximately 10,000 hours of air time are devoted to community programming. 30,000 voluntary or charitable organisations are involved. As many as five million people phone the helplines for information and advice. Three million volunteers are recruited annually. Vital information on issues like health, education and employment opportunities is conveyed to the public.But the Government plan to destroy that essential public service. On behalf of nine charities, Miss Viv Taylor Gee, the producer of the Thames Television "Help" programme, warns:The many educational and community programmes to which large and small charities have access now will have little chance of survival. ITV companies are to be auctioned off to the highest bidder, and the massive explosion of new channels will make it very unlikely that educational and community broadcasting can compete in companies that have to go fiat out for high ratings and advertising revenue.When talking of the rights of viewers and listeners, the White Paper floats the idea of merging the Broadcasting Complaints Commission, which deals with complaints about unfair treatment and the invasion of privacy, with the preposterous Broadcasting Standards Council. The House will remember that Professor Alan Peacock said in The Times today that the councilhas no function in a free society.If that merger takes place, it is important that matters of unfair treatment and privacy should be dealt with separately from complaints about sex, violence and standards of taste and decency. It is important, in the. upheaval, that viewers and listeners who feel wronged and whose privacy has been invaded can know that there is an independent body which can handle their complaints properly. The Government might see virtue in encouraging and enabling the present commission to make its work more widely known as these are important rights for viewers and listeners.
1069 The community programmes are some of the "bits" that Mr. Neil may be glad to see the back of, but their absence demonstrates that for all the Government's fine words it will be the men with money who decide what we shall see or not see. It reminds me of an ITV programme some years ago called "Never mind the quality, feel the width". With the so-called "positive programme requirements," how is the proposed ITC to apply the Government's threshold? If the intention was serious, bidders would first have to put money on the table conditionally until they had demonstrated exactly in terms of the proposed budget how the quality of programmes and variety would be ensured. If the Government were prudent in selling off this powerful national asset, they would insist that those making bids should have to specify the number of hours that they planned to make and show for the arts, education, religion, drama, documentaries, children's programmess and current affairs and they would be required to identify in the budget how much they proposed to spend on each of those categories. I hope that the Minister and the Government will think about that. Otherwise, the so-called "quality threshold" will be meaningless. Bidders must have money for the assurances given at the time of bidding to be brought into reality. As the Campaign for Quality Television argues, that is the only way in which the ITC can properly assess how franchise promises are to be carried out.
With regard to Channel 4, I hope that the Government have been impressed by the evidence given to the Select Committee by Mr. Michael Grade, who called for an income safety net to guarantee the future and independence of Channel 4. He said:The greatest threat would be shareholder pressure, an economic downturn in advertising revenues and an all-out full frontal attack from ITV on our audiences and revenue.Even this Government agree that Channel 4 has been a big success. Yet in the White Paper they toy with the idea of threatening that very success.
Under direct threat are some of our smaller regional stations, as the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) mentioned. S4C, which provides a Welsh language service, has a doubtful financial base after 1992 although, again, the White Paper says that it is a striking success. As the Campaign for Quality Television warns, that has implications both for independent producers and for the ITV company in Wales. S4C is now funded through a subscription on all 15 ITV companies and its future must be in jeopardy.
It is exactly that sort of cross-subsidy which has expanded the base of our television network. Its ending would threaten small regional stations. When I told the Minister of State that this would put some stations at real risk, he replied in a letter of 1 February:It will, of course, be for the Independent Television Commission to draw the regional map and there might, as a result, be fewer or different regions than at present.The Minister knows that to step aside from an insistence on proper regional television coverage is bound to mean fewer regional companies and fewer separate regions. The Home Secretary looks puzzled. I will explain the reason for that.
Who will bid for a regional television company which, because of its location and population, can make ends meet only through the present subsidy system? Who will 1070 buy a franchise which is guaranteed to lose money? Under the White Paper proposals, its only hope to continue in some form—[Horn. MEMBERS: "Which one?"] I am not naming stations—is to be swallowed up into larger areas covering larger regions, thus losing much of the regional variety that we now have. That is what the market place will mean to millions of viewers in the regions. There is no way that the BBC can make that up.
§ Mr. Wilson
I fully appreciate why my hon. Friend is not mentioning names. Will he acknowledge the real fear that we shall be left with one commercial station for the whole of Scotland? Will he further acknowledge that if market forces are left to determine the interests of minorities, such as linguistic groups, there will be no place for Gaelic speakers on television?
§ Mr. Corbett
I absolutely accept what my hon. Friend has said. I do not want to mention names because it would be unfair to the companies concerned.
The Government's approach throughout the White Paper is careless. Not for them any attempt to build on the basis of success, as would have been sensible for terrestrial broadcasting faced with massive competition from satellites. Not for them a planned advance adding to our present mix. No—they prefer the bulldozer to the bricklayer. What they plan will turn broadcasting inside out for no better reason than that it is a way to make a few quid for the Treasury.
It is not the so-called market value of a franchise which should guide the Government if they have the genuine interests of viewers and listeners at heart. It should be the quality and diversity of the content, and the need to ensure that what happened in the United States of America, and lately in France and Italy, will not be allowed to happen here.
Do the Government want to run an even risk of millions of people having to rely for information on sewer sheets such as The Sun? Do they want what Murdoch has done to much of journalism to happen to television? That is the prospect of their proposals. This White Paper is all about the Prime Minister's vendetta against certain broadcasters. From the smash-and-grab raid on BBC Scotland to the clumsy attempt to stop the showing of "Death on the Rock", she is a Prime Minister who brooks no dissent. She has a client press, with one daily exception. There is a huge deaf majority in this place. Now it is the turn of the broadcasters to be brought to heel, though not directly. The idea is to get the men with the money—those who get the knighthoods and the accolades from the Prime Minister—to sort them out. A Government who can dismiss as whitewash the report of the inquiry into "Death on the Rock", written by a former Conservative Cabinet Minister, and who can do so within 40 minutes of its publication and without having read it, are a Government who cannot be trusted to look after the real interests of viewers and listeners.
Perhaps the best comment on what the Government propose comes from the much-lauded Professor Alan Peacock who in The Times today said that the main aim of change should beensuring that programmes of high quality which challenge the viewer and foster our national cultures continue to be produced.He added:This hope is expressed in the White Paper but it offers precious little guidance on how this is to be achieved.1071 That says it all, and it encourages us to ask the House to decline to take note of this destructive White Paper.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Tim Renton)
What a lot of rubbish the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) talked in his last few sentences, and what a pity it was, because, that apart, I agree with him that this has been a fascinating debate, ranging from culture, through distribution systems, to Gaelic broadcasts. Points have been made by Members on both sides—by the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden)—with which I profoundly disagree, but there have also been contributions from both sides that I found fascinating and interesting and with which I had a lot of agreement. I could gladly take two hours to answer this debate, but as I have only 24 minutes I will save the polemics and get straight down to answering some of the many points that have been raised.
First, I can assure the hon. Member for Erdington that the stocks of our leaflet—the small-size version of the White Paper on broadcasting—are not exhausted. They have never been exhausted. We are still sending them out. Indeed, we have sent out several thousand, including those sent to the Voice of the Listener organisation, to which he referred.
I think that we should all like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) and all the other members of the Home Affairs Select Committee for the excellent report they produced on the future of broadcasting.
In his concise and excellent speech my hon. Friend raised a number of points, two or three of which I should like to deal with straightaway. I join him in applauding and endorsing the appointment of George Russell as the new chairman of the IBA. We hope that George Russell will continue as the chairman of the ITC. I agree that it is very important that he presides over the transition between the IBA and the ITC. Indeed, the White Paper stresses the importance of a smooth transition to the new regulative structure, and I should like to tell the House that, after discussion with the IBA and the Cable Authority, we envisage—
§ Mr. Renton
I should be delighted to tell the hon. Gentleman about Lord Chalfont. In fact, his name was not raised in this debate, but it was an excellent appointment and the deputy chairman of the IBA has very wide knowledge of broadcasting, apart, of course, from his recommendation of being an ex-Labour Minister.
We envisage, subject to parliamentary approval, that the responsibilities of the IBA and the Cable Authority during the transition period should be merged within the proposed new Independent Television Commission at the earliest opportunity, and that the proposed Radio Authority should take over the responsibilities of the IBA radio division on broadly the same time scale. Such an approach, as the House will appreciate, will give the staff greater certainty about what future options will be open to them and will ensure continued effective regulation of the ITV system, independent radio and cable in the period before the new regulatory regimes come into force.
1072 I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North that it is our intention, and I am sure it will be the intention of the ITC, that if the quality standards are not observed by the independent television companies, the winners of either the Channel 3 or the Channel 5 franchise, the franchise can, and indeed must, be ended after the issue of appropriate warnings.
I hope that I can have the attention of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North that it is essential for our policies against the concentration of ownership to be in the broadcasting Bill that we will bring before the House. 1 remind the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook that we said clearly in the White Paper that we were laying down principles on which the full set of rules would be based. We invited consultation and comment on how more flesh should be put on those principles as we formulate the clear rules.
§ Mr. Hattersley
Can we have the clear answer that we were promised to a very simple question? Was the Minister right when he said on television that Mr. Robert Maxwell, the owner of three national papers, would be free to buy Central Television, because the Minister did not regard it as a national set-up?
§ Mr. Renton
No, it is not. I have the text here. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made it absolutely plain earlier and I will repeat this point for the right hon. Gentleman who seems to have difficulty getting it into his head, I am not quite certain why. People should not be too quick to assume that there will be no limit on newspaper interests in regional Channel 3 licences. That is the position.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) said—[Interruption.] It is a great pity that Opposition Members are having such problems about this issue. We have said clearly, and this is in the White Paper, that we welcome comments on the forming of the full set of rules.
§ Mr. Renton
That is precisely what I said. I was very pleased that the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook gave me a copy of the transcript because it endorses what I said.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside raised particular points about the regional basis of privatised transmission. He will be aware that we recently appointed Price Waterhouse to carry out a study of transmission once it has been privatised. It is clear that the different costs of transmission in different areas of the United Kingdom will be taken into account in the tender price. I shall be visiting Grampian, Border and Scottish Television in the next few weeks and I will listen very carefully to what they have to say about the differential costs for transmission once privatisation has taken place.
§ Mr. Renton
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman has not misunderstood what I said. We all accept that Grampian is heavily subsidised in its transmission costs at the moment. That is a well-known fact. Price Waterhouse's terms of reference include looking at the means of effecting privatisation most effectively and the likely effect of that on transmission costs.
I make the point to my right hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside that if transmission costs increase in a non-subsidised situation for one particular regional company, that will be taken into account by the bidders for that franchise. They will know that future transmission costs will be considerably more.
§ Mr. Buchan
There may be no possibility of any profit in the Highlands of Scotland, and, therefore, the whole of the transmission costs will have to be subsidised by the Government.
§ Mr. Renton
I do not need the hon. Gentleman to tell me that. I read the submissions, and I know about the position of Grampian Television. That is why I decided to spend time talking personally to Grampian, Scottish Television, and Border Television. I wanted to learn first hand of their concerns.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) was one of the relatively few hon. Members who mentioned the BBC's situation. He made the interesting comment that the BBC will have to redefine its role because of dwindling resources. There is a lot of confidence in the BBC at the moment, and that is emphasised in its submissions to the Government in the response to the White Paper. No doubt the BBC is re-examining its role for the 1990s, when there will be a possibility that, as subscriptions grow, the licence fee after 1991 will increase by less than the rate of inflation. In four or five years' time, the Government of the day will have to consider what must happen to the licence fee, once the BBC's charter comes up for renewal at the end of 1996.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith), that ever-young television star, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Chertsey and Walton (Sir G. Pattie) asked about a final objective element for the Independent Television Commission in the competitive tendering process. I realise that there is much feeling on that subject, but I cannot do better than remind the House of the words of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who said that the new ITC chairman is looking carefully at the interaction between the two concepts of the quality hurdle and the competitive tender.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker) apologised for not being present to hear the winding-up speeches. He and my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) raised the question of cable and its relationship with microwave distribution systems, and of the separation of the delivery and retailing functions. We said in the White Paper that we welcome specific comments, and that we will present our proposals by the end of April.
The objective behind the separation of delivery and retailing is to provide scope for competition in local services. We regard that as being an important objective and one from which we shall not be deflected. We are receptive to advice and comments by the end of February on the best way of ensuring competition. That is a particularly green part of the White Paper. We aim to 1074 announce our proposals in firmer form by the end of April so that companies interested in bidding for further cable franchises—and there is much interest in them—may have a clearer picture of the ecology into which they will be bidding.
My hon. Friends the Members for Winchester (Mr. Browne) and for Thanet, North spoke of the Council of Europe's draft convention. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North for his kind remarks about the part that I played in that draft convention, and I also thank Home Office officials for the great deal of work that they did in that context. Successful completion of the convention is almost in sight. We hope that it will be concluded at the meeting of Ministers' deputies in Strasbourg at the end of February, and we shall do everything that we can to bring about that outcome.
My hon. Friend the Member for Winchester is particularly anxious about article 16 of the draft convention which, as he well knows, is expressly intended to avoid a situation where a broadcaster sets up outside the borders of a particular country specifically to circumvent that country's normal domestic rules. I understand my hon. Friend's concern that that provision is protectionist and is incompatible with our aim of promoting transfrontier services. As my hon. Friend knows, we argued at length against it, but we recognise that a number of countries attach great importance to it and would not have signed a convention that lacked that safeguard.
We believe that, on balance, the potential damage to British interests posed by that provision is not so serious as to outweigh the clear advantages that we see in securing the convention, which will provide minimal rules of regulation for the world of transfrontier broadcasting that is just about to burst upon us in this country.
§ Mr. Bermingham
The Minister will recall that the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) and I both raised with him the night hours on BBC2. Will he confirm that BBC1 and BBC2 night hours will remain with the BBC and will not be taken away into private franchise?
§ Mr. Renton
Of course I will not, and the hon. Gentleman does not expect me to. I have read the BBC submission. Obviously the BBC would like to be certain that it will have both night hours channels, but we have made it clear in the White Paper that we think it appropriate to consider giving others an opportunity to bid for that time.
Every hon. Member who has spoken has talked, rightly, about the need to maintain quality in British broadcasting. I assure the House that few, if any, issues have so exercised all the Ministers considering the White Paper over the past 18 months. That is why we decided to maintain the remit of Channel 4, and why we left the BBC precisely in place as the cornerstone of public service broadcasting. Quality, however, is subjective; it means different things to different people. To one it will mean more "EastEnders" or "Neighbours", to another more snooker, to a third more American football and to a fourth more opera or ballet. Arguably, a reasonable definition would be programmes that are better of their kind—good soap rather than bad soap; "Hamlet" rather than "Titus Andronicus."
§ Mr. Renton
With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I have said that I will not give way again. I have quite a bit more to say and very little time in which to say it.
We started from the basic premise that the thesis of some Opposition Members as we have heard today—and certainly that of John Mortimer—that quality can be sustained only through a restriction in choice is essentially wrong—[Interruption.] I remember what the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook said when the White Paper was announced.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has already gone through the many detailed quality hurdles in the White Paper. It was said earlier that thresholds had already turned into hurdles and that soon it would be fences. There is no harm in that. In the White Paper we see a reinforcement of quality in carefully chosen areas, not a running away from it.
We could add almost indefinitely to the requirements of the White Paper—specific broadcasting for charities and social action, children's programmes, religious programmes and so on. Let me say to the right hon. Members for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) and for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley), and to the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing), that that does not mean that we do not recognise the needs of particular groups in society and share the concerns expressed by them about provision for those with disabilities such as impairment of hearing. We shall consider carefully the comments of the Royal National Institute for the Blind and other societies representing such groups. We recognise, for example, the importance of teletext to those with hearing impairments, and we shall take full account of it as we work up paragraph 6.45 of the White Paper, which says:It will provide a regulatory structure designed to facilitate the development of new services.Our proposals are essentially for an enabling framework that gives viewers and listeners a greater choice and a greater say, and gives broadcasters more freedom to respond to their wishes. New stations, be they radio or television, will add to listener choice. In community radio or local television they will be a dynamic and beneficial force, strengthening community ties and community values.
Jeremiahs such as the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) and for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) say that more must mean worse. My answer is that television will continue to change, be it towards high definition television on wide screens in the home or towards local microwave television. We cannot predict the ways in which it will change, but the public will certainly continue to demand a wide range of programmes—varied, different and good. If a channel does not produce such programmes, it will lose its audience, go out of business and somebody else will come along to fill the gap.
The gloomy messages that we have heard today were heard in 1953 and 1954 during the debate on the Bill that introduced commercial television for the first time, but the last 35 years have shown the gloomy prophecies of 1953 to be wrong. I suspect that the coming years will show that the prophecies of the Jeremiahs of today are wrong, too. The British public have shown an increasing appetite to enlarge their sphere of interest by watching wildlife, travel and American football in addition to "EastEnders", "Bread" and "Neighbours". That may be because they switched on the set to watch one programme and stayed to 1076 watch another. The halo of a very popular programme benefits succeeding offerings, but it is worth remembering the words of the Peacock committee:Do not think of consumers as having only known and static wants. The competitive market is a discovery mechanism for finding out what the consumer might be enticed to accept and for trying out new and challenging ideas.That is surely the right approach to the birth of the new channels and of the new opportunities in broadcasting that lie ahead of us.
We shall listen very carefully to the observations that are made to us during the consultation period. We believe that we have got the mix about right in our White Paper. I remind the House of the words at a conference at London Weekend Television on 18 January of John Ranelagh, a member of the founding team that established Channel 4 and who worked with Channel 4 from 1981 to 1987. He said:The quality programme makers of the United Kingdom inside and outside the institutions are better placed than anyone else to succeed. The only obstacles to the British broadcasting industry's success are the negative attitude and assumptions of too many of its senior people about the future. They undervalue the viewers they claim to serve, they undervalue themselves and they undervalue their companies.The Government do not make that undervaluation. The Labour party apparently does.
I found that there were moments at the beginning of the speech of the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook when I was positively agreeing with him, but then it turned into the speech of what I can only call that most difficult of animals, an ambivalent dinosaur. He is unclear about whether more regulation is needed. In the early days he was all against change. There should be more soap, more quiz shows, more game shows. Now he is in a muddle. He does not want to have anything to do with the Broadcasting Standards Council, he does not want anyone to tell him what he is to see, yet he talked of the need for more regulation. He specifically called for high-cost, original drama. He is a dinosaur who has been fed on the briefs of the ITV companies and watered at their table. He harks back to the cosy monopoly of past entrenched interests when he, and not the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), was regularly interviewed. Those days are gone. The hon. Member for Great Grimsby has gone to Sky television. Doubtless he will be followed by many others who sit on the Opposition Front Bench.
Of course we shall listen carefully to what is said. More variety of channels means more variety of good programmes. Ownership should he spread over many companies and many people. At the heart of our philosophy is the clear message that people should be able to choose, for that is their right.
§ Question put, That the amendment be made:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 203, Noes 275.
|Division No. 36]||[10 pm|
|Abbott. Ms Olane||Beckett, Margaret|
|Adams. Allan (Paisley N)||Beggs. Roy|
|Allon, David||Beith. A. J.|
|Anderson. Donald||Bell. Stuart|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Benn, Rt Hon Tony|
|Armstrong. Hilary||Bennett. A. f. (D'nf'n & R'dish)|
|Ashley, Rt Hon Jack||Bermingham, Gerald|
|Ashton, JOB||Blair, Tony|
|Barnes. Harry (Derbyshire NE)||Blunkett. David|
|Barren, Kevin||Boatsng, Paul|
|Battle. John||Boyes, Roland|
|Bradley. Keith||Illsley, Eric|
|Bray. Dr Jeremy||Janner, Greville|
|Brown, Gordon (D'miine E)||Jones, leuan (Ynys MCn)|
|Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)||Jones. Msrtyn (Clwyd S W)|
|Brown. Ron (Edinburgh Leith)||Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald|
|Buchan. Norman||Kinnock. Rt Hon Neil|
|Buckley, George J.||Lambie, Oavid|
|Caborn. Richard||Lamond, James|
|Callaghan, Jim||Lead bitter. Ted|
|Campbell. Meniies (File NE)||Leigtiton, Ron|
|Cam obeli. Ron (Blyth Valley)||Lestor. Joan (Eccles)|
|Campbell-Savours, D. N||Lewis, Terry|
|Canavan. Dennis||Litherland. Robert|
|Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)||Livingstone, Ken|
|Clark. Dr David (S Shields)||Livsey, Richard|
|Clarke. Tom (Monklands W)||Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)|
|Clay. Sob||Lofthouse, Geoffrey|
|Clelland. David||Loyden, Eddie|
|Clwyd, Mrs Ann||Me All ion. John|
|Cohen, Harry||McAvoy, Thomas|
|Cook. Robin (Livingston)||McCartney. Ian|
|Corbett. Robin||Macdonald. Calum A.|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Mcraii. John|
|Cousins, Jim||McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)|
|Cox. Tom||McKelvey. William|
|Cryer, Bob||McLeish. Henry|
|Cummings. John||Maclennan, Robert|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||McNamara, Kevin|
|Dalyell. Tarn||McTaggart, Bob|
|Darling. Alistflir||McWilliam, John|
|Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)||Madden, Mai|
|Davls. Terry (Bham Hodge H't)||Mahon, Mrs Alice|
|Dewar, Donald||Marek, Dr John|
|Dixon, Don||Marshall. David (Shettleston)|
|Dobson. Frank||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)|
|Doran, Frank||Marl lew. Eric|
|Douglas. Dick||Maiton. John|
|Dufly. A. E. P.||Meacher. Michael|
|Dunnachie. Jimmy||Meals, Alan|
|Ewing. Harry (Falkirk E)||Michael, Alun|
|Ewing. Mrs Margaret (Moray)||Michie. Bill (Sheffield Heeley)|
|Fatehett. Derek||Mlchie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)|
|Faults. Andrew||Mitchell. Austin (G't Grlmsby)|
|Field, Frank(Birkenhead)||Molyneaux, Rt Hon James|
|Fisher. Mark||Moonie, Dr Lewis|
|Flannery, Martin||Morgan, Rhodri|
|Flynn. Paul||Marie y. Elliott|
|Foot. Rt Hon Michael||Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)|
|Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S)||Mullin, Chris|
|Foster, Derek||Murphy. Paul|
|Fraser. John||Nellist, Dave|
|Fyfe, Maria||Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon|
|Galbraith. Sam||O'Brien. William|
|Galloway, George||O'Neill. Martin|
|Garrett, John (Norwich South)||Orme. fit Hon Stanley|
|George. Bruce||Parry, Robert|
|Gilbert, Rl Hon Dr John||Pen dry, Tom|
|Godman, Dr Norman A.||Pike, Peter L.|
|Golding, Mrs Llin||Powell, Ray (Ogmore)|
|Gordon, Mildred||Prescott, John|
|Graham, Thomas||Ouin, Ms Joyce|
|Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)||Radice, Giles|
|Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)||Randall, Stuart|
|Grocott, Bruce||Redmond, Martin|
|Hardy, Peter||Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn|
|Harman, Ms Harriet||Fleid, Dr John|
|Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy||Richardson, Jo|
|Heffer. Eric S.||Roberts, Allan (Bootle)|
|Henderson. Doug||Robinson, Geoffrey|
|Hinchlitfe. David||Rooker. Jeff|
|Hogg, N. (C'neuld & Kilsyth)||Ross, William (Londonderry E)|
|Holland, Siuart||Ruddock, Joan|
|Home Robertson, John||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Howells, Geraint||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert|
|Hoyle. Doug||Shore. Rt Hon Peter|
|Hughes. John (Coventry NE)||Short, Clare|
|Hughes. Robert (Aberdeen N)||Skinner, Dennis|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport E)||Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)|
|Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)||Smith, C (Isl'ton & F'bury)|
|Hughes. Simon (Southward)||Smith. RtHon J. (Monk'ds E)|
|Snape. Peter||Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)|
|Soley, Clive||Williams, RlHon Alan|
|Spearing. Nigel||Wilson. Brian|
|Steel, Rt Kon David||Winnick, David|
|Sirang, Gavin||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Straw, Jack||Worthington, Tony|
|Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)||Wray, Jimmy|
|Turner. Dennis||Young. David (Bolton SE)|
|Wallace. James||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Walley, Joan||Mr. Frank Hayncs and|
|Warden. Gareth (Gowar)||Mr. Nigel Griffiths.|
|Wareing. Robert N.|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Day, Stephen|
|Alexander, Richard||Dickens, Geoffrey|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Dicks, Terry|
|Amess, David||Dorrell. Stephen|
|Amos. Alan||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James|
|Arbuthnot, James||Dover, Den|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Dunn, Bob|
|Arnold. Tom (Hazel Grovs)||Durant, Tony|
|Ash by, David||Dykes, Hugh|
|Aspinwall. Jack||Emery. Sir Peter|
|Atkins, Robert||Evans. David (Walwyn Hatf'd)|
|Atkinson, David||Evennelt, David|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset H)||Fairbairn. Sir Nicholas|
|Baldry. Tony||Favell, Tony|
|Banks. Robert (Harroyate)||Fenner, Dame Peggy|
|Batiste, Spencer||Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)|
|Bellingham, Henry||Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey|
|Bendall, Vivian||Fishburn. John Dudley|
|Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Fookes, Dame Janet|
|Benyon. W.||Forman, Nigel|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)|
|Biffen. Rt Hon John||Forth. Eric|
|Blackburn, Dr John G.||Fowler. Rt Hon Norman|
|Blaker, Rl Hon Sir Peter||Fox, Sir Marcus|
|Body, Sir Richard||Franks, Cecil|
|Bonsor. Sir Nicholas||Freeman, Roger|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||French, Douglas|
|Boswell, Tim||Fry, Peter|
|Bottomley, Peter||Gale. Roger|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Gardiner, George|
|Bowis. John||Garel-Jones. Tristan|
|Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes||Gill, Christopher|
|Braine, Rl Hon Sir Bernard||Glyn. Dr Alan|
|Brazier, Julian||Goodhart, Sir Philip|
|Brown. Michael (Brlgg & Cl't's)||Good lad, Alastair|
|Browne. John (Winchester)||Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles|
|Bruce. Ian (Dorset South)||Gorman, Mrs Teresa|
|Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick||Gow, Ian|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Grant. Sir Anthony (CambsSW)|
|Burns, Simon||Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)|
|Burt, Alistair||Greenway. John (Ryedale)|
|Butcher, John||Gregory, Conal|
|Butler. Chris||Griffiths. Peter (Portsmouth N)|
|Buttertill, John||Ground, Patrick|
|Carlisle, John. (Luton N)||Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn|
|Carrington, Matthew||Hamilton. Hon Archie (Epsom)|
|Carltiss, Michael||Hamilton. Neil (Tatton)|
|Cash. William||Han ley. Jeremy|
|Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda||Hannam. John|
|Channon. Rt Hon Paul||Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')|
|Chapman, Sydney||Hargraaves, Ken (Hyndburn)|
|Chope, Christopher||Harris, David|
|Churchill, Mr||Haselhurst. Alan|
|Clark. Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n)||Hayes, Jerry|
|Clark. Dr Michael (Rochford)||Hayhoe. Rl Hon Sir Barney|
|Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushciffe)||Hay ward, Robert|
|Conway, Derek||Heathcoat-Amory, David|
|Coombs. Anthony (Wyre F'rest)||Heddle. John|
|Coombs, Simon (Swindon)||Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)|
|Cope, Rt Hon John||Hicks. Robert (Cornwall SE)|
|Couch man, James||Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.|
|Cran, James||Hill, James|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina||Hind. Kenneth|
|Davies. Q. (Stemt'd & Speld'g)||Hogg. Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)|
|Davis. David (Boolhferry)||Holt, Richard|
|Hordern, Sir Peler||McCrindle, Robert|
|Howard, Michael||Macferlane, Sir Neil|
|Howarlh, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)||Maclean, David|
|Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)||McLoughlin, Patrick|
|Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)||MeNair-Wilson, Sir Michael|
|Hughes. Robert G. (Harrow W)||MeNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)|
|Hunt, David (Wirral W)||Madel. David|
|Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)||Malins. Humlrey|
|Hunter, Andrew||Mans. Keith|
|Hurd. Fit Han Douglas||Maples. John|
|Irvine, Michael||Marland, Paul|
|Irving. Charles||Marshall, John (Hendon S)|
|Jack. Michael||Marshall. Michael (Arundel)|
|Jackson, Robert||Martin, David (Portsmouth S)|
|Janmai. Tim||Males, Michael|
|Jessel, Toby||Maude, Hon Francis|
|Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey||Maxweli-Hyslop, Robin|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Pal rick|
|Kelletl-Bowman, Dame Elaine||Mel lor. David|
|Key, Robert||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|KMtedder, James||Miller. Sir Hal|
|Kino. Roger (B'ham N'th'field)||Miscampbeil. Norman|
|King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)||Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)|
|Kirk hope, Timothy||Monro, Sir Hector|
|Knaprman, Rooer||Morris. M (N'hampton S)|
|Knight. Greg (Derby North)||Morrison, Sir Charles|
|Knowles, Michael||Neale. Gerrard|
|Knox, David||Newton, Rt Hon Tony|
|Lamont, Rt Hon Norman||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Lang, Ian||Page, Richard|
|Latham, Michael||Paice. James|
|Lawrence. Ivan||Parkinson, HI Hon Cecil|
|Lee, John (Pandle)||Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth|
|Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)||Powell, William (Corby)|
|Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)||Rertton, Tim|
|Lightbown. Lavd||Rid dick. Graham|
|Lilley, Peter||Ridsdale. Sir Julian|
|Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)||Rlfklnd. Rt Hon Malcolm|
|Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)|
|Lord, Michael||Roe. Mrs Marion|
|Luce, Rt Hon Richard||Rossi, Sir Hugh|
|Lyell. Sir Nicholas||Rost, Peter|
|Rowe, Andrew||Th urn ham. Peter|
|Rumbold. Mrs Angela||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Ryder, Richard||Tracey, Richard|
|Sackville. Hon Tom||Trippier, David|
|Sayeed, Jonatnan||Twlnn, Or Ian|
|Shaw, David (Dover)||Vaughan, Sir Gerard|
|Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)||Viggers, Peter|
|Shaw. Sir Michael (Scerb')||WaatJinglon. Rt Hon David|
|Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)||Walker, Bill (T'side North)|
|Shersby, Michael||Waller, Gary|
|Skeet. Sir Trevor||Ward, John|
|Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)||Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)|
|Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)||Warren, Kenneth|
|Soames. Hon Nicholas||Watts, John|
|Speed. Keith||Wells, Bow en|
|Speller, Tony||Wheeler. John|
|Squire. Robin||Whitney, Ray|
|Stan brook, Ivor||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Stanley. Rt Hon Sir John||Wilshire. David|
|Stern, Michael||Winterton, Mrs Ann|
|Stevens, Lewis||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)||Wolf son. Mark|
|Stradling Thomas, Sir John||Wood, Timothy|
|Sumberg. David||Woodcock. Mike|
|Summerson, Hugo||Yso. Tim|
|Taylor, Ian (Esher)||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Taylor, John M (Solihull)||Younger, Rt Hon George|
|Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Thompson. Patrick (Norwich N)||Mr. Kenneth Carlisle and|
|Thome. Neil Thornlon. Malcnlm||Mr. Michael Fallon.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ Main Question put and agreed to.
That this House takes note of the White Paper, Broadcasting in the '90s: Competition, Choice and Quality (Cm. 517), and endorses the Government's proposals for the future of broadcasting contained therein.