HC Deb 08 May 1990 vol 172 cc91-5

`(1) The Commission shall require applicants for a licence under Part I of this Act to provide an undertaking of their commitment to an equal opportunities policy and from time to time to review its operation.

(2) The Commission shall require licence holders to obtain from independent producers used by them an undertaking of their commitment to an equal opportunities policy.'.[Mr. Fisher.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Fisher

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

With this we may take the following amendments: No. 6, in clause 1, page 1, line 13, after second 'chairman', insert, `who shall not be of the same sex as the Chairman'.

No. 1, in page 2, line 1, after 'members', insert 'at least half of whom shall be women'. No. 4, in clause 6, page 5, line 42, at end insert— `( ) that it will 'deliver a wide range of diverse programmes of particular interest to women and which provide a balanced portrayal of the lives of women.'.

Mr. Fisher

The new clause deals with equal opportunities policy. Many of our debates—both in Committee and today, on Report—have been both detailed and technical, but behind them all lies the idea of the power of broadcasting to shape values, to carry forward our beliefs in our traditions, to stretch our prejudices and try to change them and to shape the way in which we think and live—in other words, to define our culture.

One of the strongest characteristics of our culture is that it is dominated by the views of the majority, as opposed to those in minority groups such as people with disabilities and people of Asian or Afro-Caribbean descent. We can include in that category one majority of which you, Madam Deputy Speaker, will be well aware. Women represent 52 per cent. of our population, although in the House we always seem to consider their view a minority view—in a way, correctly so, because the dominant culture in our society is a male culture.

Most institutions in our society are run by men, with a male perspective on life, and that colours the values and perspective that they have. Given that broadcasting is the most powerful element in our democracy—the most powerful element in our culture—the existence of a dominant culture in broadcasting shapes the way in which we shall think in future, the way that we are carrying forward views of our society, in a narrow and unhelpful way for a wider pluralist society.

8 pm

This is an important issue that the Bill and broadcasting in the 1990s should take on board. Unless we have a wide-ranging culture—if we continue to have a partial culture—we shall do ourselves and society a disservice. Opposition Members recognise—I hope that the Minister of State does, too, because he is fair-minded—that many cultures are missing out in our society. Broadcasting has a peculiar and a particular responsibility, because it is so powerful, to put that right. We have already recognised that in some parts of the Bill.

The Minister of State has already paid tribute to the excellent work that my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) has done for the Welsh culture. I refer also to the Gaelic culture, but the Bill fails to recognise other cultures. The new clause would put a responsibility on the ITC to ensure that all holders of ITV, or Channel 3, franchises would have a responsibility to ensure that there was a wide range of views in their employment policy and in the way in which they represented the world around us. That seems to be eminently fair.

Mr. Mellor

I wonder whether it would help the hon. Gentleman if I said that I too feel that that is an eminently fair point. Although I cannot accept the new clause as it stands, I shall want to accept it in principle, with one or two little caveats about precise scope that I shall mention. However, I accept the essential thrust of what the hon. Gentleman said. That might help him in terms of how long he will speak.

Mr. Fisher

That helps me enormously. I welcome what the Minister has to say. I look forward with some apprehension to his caveats, but if he accepts the thrust of the new clause, I welcome it very much indeed. I hope that, when he is shaping his own wording, he will have in mind, as we had in mind when shaping our new clause, the experience of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, which had the same experience, particularly in relation to the views of women, that we have had in this country.

A couple of years ago, only five of the 165 top jobs in the BBC were held by women. Ten years ago, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation found that only 8 per cent. of its top jobs were held by women. It set up a monitoring unit. I am delighted to say that Mr. John Birt, the deputy director-general of the BBC, has similarly taken positive steps in the past two or three years. I pay tribute to him and to the people whom he has appointed, such as Miss Cherie Ehrlich, to develop an equal opportunities policy in training, recruitment and the representation of views.

If the Minister of State says that that is the future road for broadcasting and that he will help the ITC which, in the form of the IBA, is concerned about this matter, we shall welcome it enormously. I look forward to hearing what the Minister of State has to say. Obviously, I reserve the right to comment on any of his caveats. I am delighted that he will accept the new clause.

Mr. Mellor

I am most grateful to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) for curtailing his remarks to allow me to say my piece. It is appropriate that we should put in a statutory arrangement for an equal opportunities policy. I envisage that the ITC will be placed under a duty to attach conditions to the relevant licences, requiring the licensees to pursue an equal opportunities policy in matters of employment and promotion and to review it from time to time. That would enable the ITC to ask applicants how they would propose to fulfil that condition. Once a licensee has been appointed, the requirement to pursue an equal opportunities policy would be enforceable in the same way as other licence conditions. That is the basic statement of intent.

The new clause should also apply to the Radio Authority in so far as national independent radio stations are concerned, because they will be national organisations. I propose that the new clause should apply to the Radio Authority in so far as national commercial radio stations are concerned.

On the limited number of derogations, we should apply the new requirement to those television licensees to whom positive obligations are already applied elsewhere in the Bill—that is to say, Channels 3, 4 and 5 and the domestic satellites services. I do not see the same strong case for applying it to those licensees who are subject only to negative consumer protection requirements—that is to say, non-domestic satellite service licensees and the licensable programme services.

That still means that we embrace all the main structures of British broadcasting, but we are adding a further positive requirement to those to whom we have already decided to attach positive requirements. I do not think hat we would be justified in adding this positive requirement to those services in which we seek only to have protective rather than positive requirements in other respects.

I am not sure that that model would carry over well to independent producers. The ITC and the Radio Authority would be in a direct regulatory relationship with their licensees and would therefore be able to monitor compliance with the equal opportunities condition. but their relationship with independent producers would be much more distant. That is why I would not propose to extend the new clause to independent producers. I do not think that that substantially derogates from my acceptance of the principle that, to those major broadcasting organisations to whom positive programming principles are attached, this will be a further additional positive requirement enforceable in exactly the same way as every other part of the obligations into which they will enter.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that that is a full-hearted response to what he has said. I am grateful to him for bringing forward the new clause. I hereby undertake to bring forward in the other place a new clause in the terms that I have described. The House will have an opportunity to monitor the accuracy of the new clause when it returns.

Mr. Fisher

The House will appreciate and applaud the terms in which the Minister has responded to the debate, and the positive way in which he has accepted the new clause. I particularly welcome the extension to national commercial radio stations and to employment and promotion. Is training included as a subsection of employment? It would be extremely difficult to push forward equal opportunities in employment and management without having it as a positive requirement in training. That is certainly the experience of the BBC.

The Minister did not mention the more difficult, contentious and less tangible subject of representation in programmes. That is an important element, certainly for groups of people such as those with disabilities. Very few of us can think of programmes that give a balanced view of what it is like to suffer from cerebral palsy or spina bifida. If such matters are included in broadcasting programmes, they are a matter of curiosity because there is a different view of the world if one has disabilities—there is a disability culture.

That is difficult for us who are lucky enough to be able-bodied to accept, but it is an important point. I appreciate that representation is difficult and intangible. but I hope that the Minister of State will think about this matter when he is drafting his response, because, good though his response on employment and promotion was, training and representation are important matters. The Minister of State did not say whether he will accept our point that, if it is to be effective, it must be monitored.

Mr. Mellor

indicated assent.

Mr. Fisher

I am glad that the Minister is nodding that that is the case.

I understand the point that the Minister of State made about the difference between positive and protective. There is a distinction. I am glad that it will carry over to Channels 3, 4 and 5 and BSB.

Again, it was a point of contention in Committee. We do not see why Sky Television, as a non-domestic carrier, should be in a different position. It is illogical that it should not have the same requirements. If it is considered important for one, the same conditions should apply to the other.

It was interesting to hear the point that the Minister made about producers. Many independent producers have, in their own production companies, been at the forefront of equal opportunities. There are several all-women independent production companies doing extremely good work. The Minister is saying, by excluding them, that 25 per cent. of production shall, in a couple of years or so, be excluded from the provisions of the imaginative move that he is about to make. I hope that he will have second thoughts about that.

Having made those small points for him and his advisers to ponder when they draft the clause, and having been delighted with the Minister's response, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the new clause.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

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