HC Deb 02 March 1989 vol 148 cc380-2
2. Mr. McCrindle

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received concerning the participation by non-European Economic Community nationals in the ownership and operation of United Kingdom television companies.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Tim Renton)

We have received over 2,200 responses to our broadcasting White Paper, many of which touch on ownership questions. We propose to continue the prohibition on control of television and radio franchises by non-EC companies, except that we are considering further whether that restriction should apply to local delivery franchises.

Mr. McCrindle

Does my hon. Friend share my concern about the concentration in ownership of the media and, in particular, about the fact that, to a considerable extent, the printed media are in the same ownership? With the arrival of satellite broadcasting, should we not be considering the introduction of new safeguards to keep the matter under some control?

Mr. Renton

I understand very well my hon. Friend's point. In the White Paper we propose extensive and effective ownership rules against the excessive concentration of ownership. The White Paper sought comments on a set of principles on which such rules might be based and, as my hon. Friend knows, the Director-General of Fair Trading is currently considering the changes that have taken place in newspaper publishing in the past few years and the growing involvement in other media of leading newspaper groups.

Mr. Worthington

Given the wholly regrettable concentration of power in the newspaper industry, is it not clear that there should be no cross-ownership between the newspaper industry and television industries and no ownership of television companies by individuals or companies outside the EEC?

Mr. Renton

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. We are considering carefully the suggestions that have been made to us by those who say that newspaper interests in, for example, the ownership of regional Channel 3 licences, should be strictly controlled.

Mr. Harry Greenway

Can my hon. Friend assure the people of Britain that proper standards, in terms of the non-exploitation of violence and sex, will apply to the non-English channels as they come into this country?

Mr. Renton

Yes, Sir. We are, we hope, within sight of agreeing a convention in the Council of Europe and that is likely to be followed by an EC directive. The convention and the directive will set minimum standards of taste and decency and provide mechanisms for enforcing them. That will give some control over trans-frontier satellite channels not uplinked in this country.

Mr. Hattersley

Does the Minister recall that during our debate on broadcasting there was support on both sides of the House for the idea of the Government making a general reference to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission on the subject of television ownership—particularly by newspapers and foreign companies? Are the Government prepared to make such a general reference?

Mr. Renton

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, those matters are more within the remit of my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. The right hon. Gentleman should take on board the fact that the Director-General of Fair Trading is reviewing the matter, taking into account the White Paper on broadcasting and the concentration of ownership of titles, as well as recent developments in newspaper wholesaling. Clearly, that is potentially a wide-ranging review.