HC Deb 09 May 1990 vol 172 cc319-22
Mr. Mellor

I beg to move, amendment No. 527, in page 47, line 39, leave out 'direct' and insert 'by order specify'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments:

No. 489, in page 47, line 43, at end insert '(1A) Every Channel 3 licence shall include the arrangements for charging for transmission of the service, such arrangements to be based upon the licensees's share of Channel 3 qualifying revenue, or share of population, as shall be recommended by the Commission and subject to regulation by the Office of Telecommunications for the duration of the Channel 3 licence and any extension thereof.'. Government amendments Nos. 528 to 530.

Mr. Mellor

The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer), who was a constructive member of the Committee, was concerned—very properly as he is Chairman of the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments—to ensure that parliamentary procedures were put into the Bill wherever appropriate. These amendments put arrangements for a negative resolution procedure into Clause 60. I hope that that will be welcome to the House, which I know would agree with the hon. Gentleman that wherever possible there should he parliamentary scrutiny of such activities.

Mr. Maclennan

I welcome the amendments. I only regret that the Minister—I hope that he does not think me churlish—is not in a position to be so forthcoming about the arrangements for cross-subsidisation of Channel 3 licences in the Bill as he was earlier for S4C.

However, there is a proposal in the name of the hon. Member for West Ham—amendment 489—and I hope that in response to a debate on that the Minister will give some assurance.

Mr. Steen

It is not West Ham—it is South Hams.

Mr. Maclennan

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman. At this time of night I am looking forward to my ham and eggs.

The general principle of cross-subsidy has been accepted by the Government, but there are many questions in the minds of companies about how it is to operate. I hope that we shall hear a little more about that aspect tonight.

Mr. Steen

I wish to speak to amendment 489 standing in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson). This is an important amendment and I hope that the Minister will be able to say something about transmission arrangements, to be helpful to the House, as he usually is.

The House will know that, since the origins of ITV, the IBA has been responsible for transmission and has charged ITV companies for the costs involved. The Government intend that the IBA transmission system should be privatised by 1991–92 to a single national contractor.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid Kent)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I point out that the monitor is now showing the name of my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen)?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That shows how very well served we are by our staff.

Mr. Steen

That is a very astute observation, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I was talking about transmission arrangements. It is a serious matter, and I know that my hon. and learned Friend the Minister will be listening carefully.

By 1991–92, the IBA transmission system should be privatised to a single national contractor, and the charges should be regulated by Oftel. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has stated that, until 1996, those charges will be based upon the share of the network advertising revenue, which broadly reflects the population. However, no arrangements have been specified for the period after 1996.

In the south-west, there are 81 transmitters, whereas there are two in London. As things stand, until 1996, the smaller television companies will be charged a percentage of their advertising revenue. The charges will not be based on the number of transmitters. Companies will be asked to put in for the franchise on the basis that they should be able to cost for 10 years, yet they have no idea how much they will be charged after 1996 and whether the charge will be based on advertising revenue or transmitter costs. If it is transmitter costs, areas such as the south-west, which has a hilly terrain, could be charged on the number of transmitters—81, while London has only two. I invite the Minister to consider introducing an amendment in another place extending the period from 1996 to 2002 or specifying that the charge will be based not on the number of transmitters but on the advertising revenue or the population that the companies serve.

The amendment is important. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend the Minister will realise the seriousness of going blind into franchises in some of the smaller rural areas.

Miss Emma Nicholson

I recognise the great difficulty in tying down privatised companies for 10 years. The companies will no longer be public bodies, and it is difficult to tie down public limited companies for 10 years. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) said, there will be extreme difficulties for those bidding for franchises.

In my constituency, we have had great difficulty in getting Channel 4 to all the villages, because Devon has many hills, dales and tiny villages. I am most grateful to the IBA for the service that it has provided in the past three years in bringing Channel 4 to Chagford, Taddiport and other villages that right hon. and hon. Members know only when they visit Devon on holiday. Most of those villages can now get Channel 4, although I understand that coverage is not yet total.

I should be sorry if, in the new era of untied broadcasting, which I welcome, the rural areas lost out and, perhaps because of loss of transmission due to high costs, could no longer share in the fulness and richness of the television service on offer. I recognise that it is probably an intractable problem, but I put it before my hon. and learned Friend to let him know of our concern.

Mr. Mellor

My two hon. Friends will be aware that the Government are sensitive to these matters and are making provision to take account of topographical difficulties that I well recall from my youth in the west country. My hon. Friends moved to the west country, whereas I moved from it; I do not know which of us had the better deal.

The reason for not specifying at this stage the arrangements for after 1996 is that, by that time, we intend that the BBC transmission system will be privatised. It will then be necessary to consider the future arrangements, but obviously regard will be given to transmission costs in sparsely populated areas. We have a commitment to maintain the transmission system. Our ambition is not to leave it at 99.3 per cent. but to increase it. Any arrangements in 1996 will be looked at in the light of a commitment that successive Governments will be only pleased to give—I certainly give it for this one—to the maintenance, indeed the enhancement, of a truly national system. That requires us to take account of the difficulties of rural areas and their transmission problems.

Mr. Fisher

So that the House is not misled into believing that this problem affects only west country constituencies, may I associate the Labour party with the constructive and sensible comments made by the hon. Members for South Hams (Mr. Steen) and for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson)?

Like them, we are pleased about the Minister's commitment to the maintenance of a national network.

That is a different position from the one that the Government held a few months ago. We welcome their change of heart and commitment. But that is not exactly the point that hon. Members have been making. They mentioned not only the maintenance of a national network but the method of apportioning cost. That should not be Rine on a transmission basis, because it is a problem not anly in the west country but in Wales—my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) has left the Chamber—and many parts of Scotland, where transmitters are dense on the ground, unlike London. Apportioning cost on a transmission basis would have a disproportionate effect. An assurance from the Government, perhaps in another place, would be appreciated.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 528, in page 47, line 45 leave out direct that that period shall'

and insert 'by order provide for that period to'.

No. 529, in page 47, line 46, leave out 'his direction' and nsert 'the order'.

No. 530, in page 48, line 18, at end insert— `(7) Any order under this section shall be subject to mnulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.'.

No. 480, in clause 62, in page 48, line 44, at end insert— '(3A) Subsection (1) shall not be construed as applying to my amount which is required by the Commission for the making of an adjustment in respect of an overpayment made Dy any person.'.

No. 481, in clause 114, in page 88, line 9, at end insert— '(2A) Subsection (1) shall not be construed as applying to my amount which is required by the Authority for the making of an adjustment in respect of an overpayment made Dy any person.'.

No. 142, in clause 63, in page 49, line 15, leave out, under the supervision of the Commission,'.

No. 143, in page 49, line 23, leave out `possible' and nsert Is reasonably practicable'.

No. 144, in page 49, line 25, after '(1)', insert 'or (3)'.

No. 145, in page 49, line 25, after 'out', insert ', under the supervision of the Commission,'.

No. 146, in page 49, line 28, leave out from 'is' to 'to' n line 29.—[Mr. Mellor.]

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