§ Mr. Mellor
I beg to move amendment No. 315, in page 138, line 29, after 'means', insert'a director of that body corporate, or'.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
With this, it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments Nos. 316, 317, 345, 346, 349 to 353 and 318 to 320.
§ Mr. Mellor
Amendments Nos. 315, 316, 317 and 345 are minor technical amendments to part I of the schedule. The other amendments in the group deal with the undertakings which I gave in Committee about religious ownership; they allow the ITC to waive the disqualification of religious bodies, in the case of licences, to provide non-domestic satellite services and licensable programme services. We discussed the issues in detail last night on the new clause tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Alison). I hope, therefore, that the House will accept the amendments as sensible and in line with well-known principle.
§ Mr. Darling
As the Minister has said, we welcome the vast majority of these amendments, and agreed them in Committee. I should like to ask a question about 205 amendment No. 352. Quite clearly, the idea is that, when dealing with religious organisations, the commission can at its discretion waive the normal requirements about restrictions on ownership. What criteria are to apply, and where might one find them? Plainly, there is no intention of preventing an elder in the Church of Scotland or a similar officer in the Church of England from being a director of a company. However, does it go rather further?
It would be helpful if we knew the consideration that the commission would have to apply. We have no objection to the amendment, but it might lead to some difficulty. It would be as well to know the precise position, because it might be necessary to tidy up the matter in another place.
§ Mr. Mellor
I ask leave of the House to speak again. The hon. Gentleman is quite right to raise this matter, and I am happy to make the position clear. For the reasons that I gave last night, there must be some filter mechanism to prevent either religious cults or unacceptable American religious broadcasters from taking advantage of an amelioration of the rules for religious broadcasting that are designed to benefit the mainstream of religious groups in the United Kingdom. The amendment provides that mechanism, and gives the ITC unfettered discretion to use its judgment reasonably about who to accept and who to reject.
We tinkered with a whole range of ideas about how to provide criteria for the exercise of that discretion. We concluded that it would be much more sensible to rely on the good sense of the ITC to separate the sheep from the goats. The obvious intention is that the ITC would permit mainstream religious groups to take advantage of the new arrangements but would not hesitate to act against organisations such as the Unification Church.
I say again that, with a cheek that I find baffling, the director general or whatever he calls himself of the Unification Church had the temerity to write to The Times saying that Britain needed the stimulus of the religious uplift that would be provided by Moonie television or radio. I trust that I carry the House with me when I say, "No thank you very much." These arrangements, if properly carried through—as I am sure they will be by the ITC—will ensure that that does not happen.
§ Mr. Darling
I entirely agree with the Minister and, on balance, I see no alternative to giving the ITC the discretion that he wants to give it. Difficult cases which are not as clear cut as the Moonies against the Church of England may arise; it may be necessary for the ITC to publish the criteria, because it may be taken to court, and there is the possibility of judicial review. The Minister should think about that, because it may be necessary to have another look at the matter before the Bill completes all its stages.
§ Mr. Mellor
That intervention is helpful. If the hon. Gentleman or any hon. Member has the answer to the conundrum about how we could sensibly fetter the discretion, I should be interested to hear it. Such matters can be further attended to in later stages of the Bill. The ITC will have to make a whole host of difficult judgments on, for example, the rules about religious advertising and religious sponsorship. There is nothing to stop the ITC 206 publishing guidance—and every reason to think that it should—showing clearly how it intends to exercise its discretion. I think that the ITC will do that.
§ Amendment agreed to.
Amendments made: No. 316, in page 139, line 22, leave out 'taken into account as a relative or' and insert
'regarded as a relative or taken into account'.
No. 317, in page 139, line 31, at end insert—
'and, where any such reference has been amended by an order under this Schedule varying the percentage in question, this sub-paragraph shall have effect in relation to it subject to the necessary modifications.'.
No. 345, in page 140, line 5, leave out from '4' to 'House' in line 6 and insert
'An order under this Schedule shall not be made by the Secretary of State unless a draft of it has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each'.
§ No. 346, in page 140, line 32, after 'to', insert '(e) and'.—[Mr. Mellor.]
§ Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)
I beg to move amendment No. 363, in page 140, leave out lines 40 to 44.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments Nos. 347 and 348.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I move the amendment in part in preparation for an amendment on a similar and related subject—ownership and concentrated ownership which I hope we shall debate later. I move it in a spirit of inquiry rather than by way of condemnation in the hope that the Minister will explain the exact purpose of the words that I seek to delete from schedule 2.
Let us not mince words. As I understand part II of schedule 2, the words that I seek to delete would have the effect of removing from the prohibitions of part II of schedule 2 Mr. Rupert Murdoch and the companies that he owns in the United Kingdom. I mention Mr. Rupert Murdoch at the outset, because I do not think that it is right to be mealy-mouthed about these matters, and also because he plays a special part in these debates, not because of his character or political allegiance, but because of the size of his ownerships: the number of papers and publishing concerns that he owns, and his interest—specified and made public—in the ownership of other newspapers and magazines.
It is right to remind the House how great Mr. Murdoch's ownership is. As well as his substantial newspaper ownership and his continuous and expanding television aspirations, he owns media companies in other countries. In order to obtain the ownership of American television companies, he found it necessary to change his nationality from Australian to American. If the words that we seek to leave out remain in the schedule, while some persons will be allowed to have major television interests only if they are citizens of the United Kingdom, the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands or a state that is a member of the European Community, a local delivery licence or a licence to provide a non-domestic satellite service will be removed from that qualification. Perhaps I misunderstand the Minister's intention. There may be some general principle —political, philosophical, technical, astral—
§ Mr. Hattersley
—or any word that the Minister cares to invent to justify it.
207 I have no wish to discuss it ad hominem if the Minister assures me that that is inappropriate. However, why are so many broadcasting organisations, institutions and corporations to be limited to ownership by citizens of the, United Kingdom, the Isle of Man, the Channel Island and states in the European Community, or to those who are ordinarily resident in those places? If that is the case why has the licence to provide a non-domestic satellite service been excluded? Perhaps it is purely coincidental that Sky Television comes into that excluded category. I look forward to hearing the Minister explain that it is al a matter of principle and that the idea that it is done with a specific intention is an unworthy suspicion that I should banish from my mind. I have moved the amendment, so the Minister will tell us whether that is the case.
My strong preference is for broadcasting in the United Kingdom to be limited to companies that are owned by citizens of the United Kingdom or the European Community. That is not simply because EC regulations require it; if we are part of an integrated community, the opportunity should be offered to all member states. I have strong reservations about ownership outside the Community, whoever the owner may be. It was quaint that Mr. Murdoch was prepared to change his citizenship from Australian to American in order to obtain American television companies. I have no idea whether he would be prepared to do it again if our amendment is successful, a what cricket team he would then support, having beer Australian and then become British, via the United States.
Can the Minister convince us that it was not done with one specific company in mind, but that there is a principle behind it? If he can at least go some way towards doing that, we can wait for our major argument until we reach clause 110.
§ Mr. Mellor
The right hon. Member for Birmingham Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) has raised some fair points I am grateful to him for doing so, and with such vigorous good humour. I shall endeavour to satisfy him. I entirely agree with his basic proposition that it is right that British broadcasting should be owned in the main by British interests, and—as an inevitable consequence of our EC membership—by European Community interests.
We have gone to a great deal of trouble to ensure, for instance in relation to the allocation of Channel 3 franchises, not only that that restriction applies but that firm regional commitments are built into the franchise allocations that will preserve not just national but regional characteristics, so that the companies concerned are likely to be rooted in the region. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman on that basic proposition. The relevant part of the schedule that he mentioned disapplies that general rule in two instances, not one.
The first instance is local delivery operators. I recall the properly vigorous view of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling), expressed last night, that he would like to see more performance and less promise in the cable industry; I second that, and I believe that it is about to happen. There is no doubt that there has been a great deal of interest in local delivery operators —those who will be cabling the country—from north America, France and other countries.
It is as welcome that they should be involved in this as it is that they are investing in a range of other industries. 208 We should be cutting off our noses to spite our faces if w prevented them from coming in, particularly when it appears that there is no great queue of British and European entrepreneurs ready to make up the difference For that reason, we disapplied the tight rules about British or European control for local delivery operators.
§ Mr. Norman Buchan (Paisley, South)
Is it not the case that local delivery services, rather than initiating programmes, merely carry them? Is there not a difference between those who merely deliver—a commercial operation—and those who create programmes? Is this no where we should seek a national requirement?
§ Mr. Mellor
That is a further distinction that could be drawn, and if I had to justify that exception, I could use that argument. However, I should not go on to say that there is no case in which programme makers, producers or broadcasters should not, if other circumstances are right also be exempted.
The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook was interested in the second example—non-direct broadcasting by satellite services. These are international in character They are not United Kingdom-allocated frequencies. The IBA does not allocate them, and they are brought under the control of the ITC to ensure the appropriate framework for the protection of the public—for example from pornography and other inappropriate programming —that fits into the European framework. They make us of a non-British satellite, although a number of the channels are linked from within the United Kingdom Therefore, they do not arrive in our homes by virtue of any arrangement to which the British Government have see their hand.
Having regard to the international character of these services, it seems inappropriate that they should be subjected to the ownership restrictions that would be thought appropriate to United Kingdom-licensed services where one is licensing for positive requirements and not merely licensing to protect against negative programmes. That is the point of distinction. I appreciate that there are some who think that we should be wrong to do this, but I make one point clear. The best known of these non-DBS services is Sky Television, but there are plenty of others.
§ Mr. Mellor
I can certainly name them. The hon. Gentleman should not set such easy challenges. After all the months I have had to immerse myself in these matters, I should know. W. H. Smith has two channels. Mr. Maxwell—one would not expect him to be far behind Mr. Murdoch in this or any other game—has one. There is Canal Plus—I may have got that name wrong, but it is a German satellite service that is causing a little controversy.
§ Mr. Mellor
The hon. Gentleman is a truly international figure. I withdraw my reference to that, because I am obviously misleading myself and the House. There are other services, however, which can be picked up by anyone who has an Astra satellite dish. Given the capacity of that satellite, I dare say that there will be plenty of other services. The question is whether the hundreds of thousands of persons who watch these services will watch 209 services that are uplinked from the United Kingdom or those that are uplinked from countries other than the United Kingdom.
I have always taken the view—not because of any slavish subservience to the interests of Mr. Murdoch or of anyone else—that it would be an own goal of fairly spectacular proportions to require Sky Television to be uplinked from somewhere on the continent, with the loss of 1,000 jobs, which I expect Opposition Members are every bit as solicitous about retaining as I am.
That is why there seems to be no compelling reason why the national ownership requirements, which I believe in and have firmly advocated should be part of the United Kingdom directly regulated system, should find a part in what is a truly international service. I refer to non-DBS satellite services that can be uplinked from anywhere in Europe. We should remember that the Astra satellite is a Luxembourg venture, not a British one, and is open to all comers. Many more channels will become available on that satellite before very much longer.
The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook treated this issue as a trailer, as it were, for the main feature to which we are to come. I hope that I have given him an adequate explanation, but it would not surprise me if my explanation has not satisfied him. Nevertheless, I have set out our case for doing what we have done. I dare say that we can return to the matter later.
§ Mr. Buchan
I shall make a brief intervention in the debate because I accepted the offer which was made last night. I shall speak at greater length when we consider Sky.
The Minister must not believe that he has taken anyone in with his spurious excuse. We know that there is only one effective commercial satellite programme apart from Sky, and that is BSB, which is just getting off the ground, as it were. Those are the only two that matter at present. There is only one non-domestic satellite, and that is Sky. That is why some of us have regarded this measure as a de facto hybrid Bill rather than a de jure one. It seems that it has been designed to exclude Mr. Murdoch, and in the process of exclusion a complete argument has been disregarded in relation to broadcasting within Britain. Wherever it is beamed from, Sky is directed towards Britain. It does not come within the nationality requirements, which the Minister argued were useful for broadcasting within Britain, within which we are creating programmes.
Even more important is the excuse of the other disqualification, which is cross-media ownership. As it happens, Mr. Murdoch owns more than 35 per cent. of the daily and Sunday newspaper circulations. It is a power that no one has had before. Beaverbrook, for example, did not have a satellite station. It is the cross-media relationship that is the danger.
I tried to solve the problem by saying that there should be foreign station status. The Government wish to exclude because jobs are involved, but the Minister has said that we can ignore nationality and level of ownership. If he says that we cannot touch, as it were, a satellite station that is beamed from abroad, let it be treated as a foreign station. Everything else follows from that, and in that way we could proscribe such stations. We must find ways of bringing all stations within the same competitive sphere.
However beneficial the Government's proposals would be to the Tory party, we cannot allow the Government to 210 get away with them. The Minister responded with a Tory answer and I am sure that even he did not believe in it. We shall be dealing with these issues at greater length when we reach the heart of the matter with the Sky amendments.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I shall not detain the House for more than a few seconds. I accept the Minister's point. Indeed, I accept without qualification his assurance that the words to which I took temporary exception were not intended to benefit Mr. Rupert Murdoch. It so happens that he is the principal beneficiary at the moment, but I accept that they were not intended for that purpose. I thank the Minister for being kind about the spirit in which I moved the amendment. However, I do not find wholly convincing his explanation of why the satellite stations, organisations and operations should be excluded. It is the nature of satellites that they are international. The place from which they are launched is hardly the appropriate criterion on which to judge how their broadcasts should be regulated.
§ Mr. Mellor
My point was about the place from which the satellite services are uplinked. There are 650 jobs in west London with more to come. As the Labour party has a strong regional base in Scotland, perhaps of more relevance to it are the 250 jobs in Livingston. What would be the point of Parliament passing ownership restrictions that had the effect of transferring those jobs to the continent?
§ Mr. Hattersley
I did not use the word "uplinked", but I understand the Minister's point. If he is saying that things must be done in this way to protect jobs it is a partial argument that I accept. However, he also attempted to make some point of principle that it would be wrong to control these matters because of the nature of satellites. He does not believe that it would be wrong to control the content—indeed, that is his intention. There is some inconsistency in his distinction between offering ownership, some degree of control over ownership or refusing a degree of control over ownership, but nevertheless believing that, despite the international character, there can be some degree of control over the broadcasts.
§ Mr. Mellor
The right hon. Gentleman is an experienced political figure who was in office for a number of years. Political arguments are inevitably composed of a combination of principle and practicality. The place where the satellites are uplinked within the international satellite system is very important because that is where the jobs will be. The 250 jobs in Livingston are in the constituency of the right hon. Gentleman's colleague in the shadow Cabinet. Does his colleague accept a policy that would deprive his constituency of 250 jobs?
§ Mr. Hattersley
The Minister is making it difficult for me to withdraw the amendment. I shall do that when he gives me the chance. If he allows me to speak the operative words, I shall seek permission to withdraw the amendment. I shall first make two points about his latest intervention. He well knows that every member of the shadow Cabinet agrees with every word that I say, as we all agree with every word that each of us says.
The more important point is that there is no reason to assume that if there were regulations relating to control jobs would necessarily disappear. They might go into other ownerships, but the idea that they exist only because some 211 supernatural force—satellite and Mr. Rupert Murdoch —wills them to exist is a misunderstanding of the whole industry.
That is not the main issue in the concentration of ownership. I intend to pursue the principle of the issue when we debate amendment No. 110. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Amendments made: No. 347, in page 140, line 41, leave out 'or'.
No. 348, in page 140, line 42, at end insert—
'(c) a licence to provide a licensable programme service, or
(d) a licence to provide a licensable sound programme service,'.
No. 349, in page 141, line 2, after '2', insert
'—(1) Subject to sub-paragraph (2),'.
§ No. 350, in page 141, line 11, leave out 'and'.
No. 351, in page 141, line 13, at end insert
No. 352, in page 141, line 13, at end insert—
'(2) If the Commission are satisfied that it is appropriate for a person to hold—
No. 353, in page 141, line 15, leave out
'a licence granted by the Authority'
'any licence granted by the Authority other than a licence to provide a restricted service'.
§ No. 318, in page 141, line 45, leave out 'or 2'. —[Mr. Mellor.]
§ Mr. Maclennan
I beg to move amendment No. 609, in page 142, line 40, at end insert—
'( ) community radio service'.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
With this we shall discuss the following amendments:
No. 580, in clause 78, page 60, line 38, at end insert—'( ) for a particular area or locality in the United Kingdom for a service that is for community not commercial benefit (a "community service")'.
No. 582, in clause 79, page 61, line 20, after 'services', insert
'both profit and non-profit seeking'.
No. 583, in clause 79, page 61, line 26, at end insert—
'( ) to facilitate the provision of local and community licensed services which (taken as a whole) in any area offer a wide range of programmes calculated to appeal to a variety of tastes and interests; and'.
No. 595, in clause 97, page 76, line 11, at end insert—
'(iii) involve persons or bodies both in programming and in the production of programmes and that would benefit the relevant communities; and'.
No. 596, in clause 98, page 76, line 49, at end insert—
'( ) the extent to which any such proposed services would involve persons and bodies living in the area or locality for which the service would be provided and to what extent programmes and other services would be provided for the relevant communities.'.
§ Mr. Maclennan
Our debates in Committee were productive of great change, especially in respect of television. I regret that we did not make greater progress towards reforming the provision of radio, and in particular that we did not secure the position of community radio. This batch of amendments is an attempt to deal with that issue.
The amendments start from the premise that community radio and local radio are not, as the Bill would have it, the same. They are different in structure, in finance, in their purposes and objectives, and in what they broadcast, who broadcasts and who listens. Both local and community radio are worth while and we should support both. They need not be rivals and they need not dip into the same pot for advertising revenue. They can compliment each other. However, unless the Bill provides for their separate treatment, the restrictions to regulate commercial stations will merely stifle the growth of community radio, and those that are successful will quickly fall prey to takeovers by commercial companies which regard community radio's audience, if not its service, as a threat.
We can study the experience of other countries where community radio has been protected in the manner that I propose—such as Australia, where it is thriving—but where there has been an unregulated market, as in Italy and France, community radio has been swallowed up. The French recognised the problem and after eight years of deregulation the responsible regulatory authority has designated community radio as a separate category.
Even since the publication of the Bill, there has been a better understanding of the difficulties of expanding local services. Manchester's Sunset radio has been much in the news with the sacking and then the reinstatement of its founding managing director, Mr. Mike Shaft. In that case, the trouble seemed to have been a classic example of some board members wanting a higher financial return, which required a broadening of the music appeal and cuts in certain other programmes, including the provision of news —thereby making the news team redundant.
Services such as Sunset—which is aimed at an Afro-Caribbean audience—and WNK and London Greek Radio in north London won their licences because of the services that they were offering. The market is quite limited and not necessarily attractive to advertisers. For Afro-Caribbean services, there are not sufficient numbers of business men able to subsidise those services. There is a difficulty with definition because such stations are often founded or taken over by people interested in radio as a business venture. For incremental services, the proper answer would be a radio fund of some sort—we discussed that in Committee—which could be used to enable stations to carve out an audience over a period of time and to aim their rates at small, local businesses.
For such stations, reliance on national advertising would almost certainly lead to bankruptcy. They would fail to attract such advertising. That is why I do not consider that backing community radio would be damaging to local radio. Alternatively, forcing such stations to seek wider audiences will result in their specialist task being whittled away. Building a specialist audience takes time and creditors do not wait. Copyright fees and the interest from the considerable facilities and 213 equipment that the Independent Broadcasting Authority requires stations to install is a burden that many small radio stations find hard to bear.
The market that these stations aim for and the staff who are prepared to work long hours, sometimes without reward, might best be served if the stations were set up as community stations with the limited aspirations and equipment that that requires and the protection that it would bring. Mixing outside commercial ventures and stations providing a service for a particular community, and then treating them in the same way, as the Bill does, more often than not will place intolerable burdens on the less profitable services and lead to their demise.
An interesting example of such a service, which I commend for special treatment, is the proposed Radio Heartland in Perthshire. The service is proposed because of poor reception there due to the terrain and because the cost of improving services is high and beyond the scope of commercial financing. The population is a modest 12,500 people. The radio station will be locally owned and will draw programmes from local sources to reflect the diversity of the population, it will be legally constituted as a non-profit maximising body and will involve the community through training and the use of their facilities.
In Radio Heartland's own words:In many ways it will be like campus or hospital radio (Like them, it will be low budget—no hi cost hi-tech!) made by and for a special group, the people of Highland Perthshire.The service that they intend to provide and are raising funds for could be of benefit throughout rural areas in Scotland, parts of Wales, the south-west or Northumberland and Cumbria—sparsely populated areas to which it is difficult to bring local radio. Such areas are often out of contact with the cultural possibilities offered by local broadcasting.
The amendments which have been selected do not cover finance. That is obviously crucial and we shall have to return to it if the Government accept the principle of recognising the difference between local and community radio.
The provisions that I am suggesting are in keeping with a resolution of the European Parliament passed in April 1989 which, among other things, recommended measures to safeguard and develop local broadcasting and private radio stations, which should be safeguarded at community level and not left to the mercy of market forces. Those objectives of the European Parliament seem to me to be sensible.
The amendments are more necessary than I believed them to be when we discussed the subject in Committee due to the disappointing response by the shadow Radio Authority to the Minister's request, on behalf of the Committee, for a note about how it envisaged licences would be granted following the debate in Committee on community radio.
That revealed that the incipient authority has a restricted understanding of the subject. While it talked about filling in the white areas and meeting the needs of ethnic minorities, it did not mention community radio and made no distinction between commercial and non-commercial stations. It seemed to be almost beyond its 214 comprehension that there could be broadcasting by non-commercial stations. That response to the Minister's request cannot inspire confidence for the future.
I shall describe the amendments briefly as I do not wish to take up too much time. The issue of principle is the most important matter and the one that I want to establish. Amendment No. 609 would ensure that under the ownership restrictions of schedule 2 community radio was designated separately.
Amendment No. 580 provides that community radio should be designated separately when the authority exercises its regulatory function. Amendment No. 582 would ensure that the authority had a general duty to do all that it could to secure a range of non-profit-making and profit-making services. Amendment No. 583 would ensure that it was a function of the authority that it facilitated a wide range of local community services in an area. Under the Bill the authority could consider the country as a whole when planning services. Amendment No. 584 provides for the existence of a community licence alongside other licences.
Amendments Nos. 585 and 586 are crucial because they will allow the provisions of part III to part V of schedule 2 on ownership to be waived if the authority thought it necessary to ensure the provision of a community service. It is right that there should be protection from local authorities or from political abuse of whatever persuasion. The ownership rules for commercial stations that the Government have incorporated in the Bill should reflect that. Those provisions are appropriate for local radio but they are not appropriate for non-profit-making community radio. In the case of small community stations in an inner city or rural area, the participation of a local councillor or the active involvement of a local council, whether by providing cheap finance or the use of a council building, could make the most colossal difference to a station's existence.
There should not be hard and fast rules. The authority should have wide discretion to ensure that the needs of the area come first. If a station appears to have been operating in a manner which leads to abuse, the relevant rules should be adjusted.
Amendment No. 594 requires authorities to designate between local community services when publishing a notice of grant or licence. Amendment Nos. 597 and 598 apply to local commercial stations as much as to community stations. The companies involved should be required to say how the stations will be part of the community and use the local community and so provide local employment. We have discussed the question of employment time and again in Committee. Local and regional broadcasting can give an important injection of employment. Local and community stations can help in such a way.
If we ensure community-based radio which provided a service for a specific community, it would allow a major increase in stations which are complementary rather than rivals to existing commercial stations. There is no evidence that the market will sustain a free-for-all expansion. Falling advertising revenue suggests otherwise.
Some people who speak for local radio have expressed the fear that assisted commercial radio could constitute a threat. For the reasons that I have already given, they will not be dipping into the same pot. If it were necessary to 215 ensure that they did not dip into the same pot, I should be happy to contemplate further amendments along those lines if the Minister was so disposed.
The Government want growth in community radio, but the Bill—as the Minister will acknowledge—does not make specific provision for such stations. The Minister was not persuaded earlier that it should do so. I hope that on mature reflection he is now persuaded of the virtue of the separate designation procedure that I have suggested, and that he will give the Bill a fillip by agreeing, at least in principle, to the points I have made.
§ Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North)
There is always a danger at times like these that we will re-run debates which have been rehearsed in Committee. However, in the light of the comments of the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), I feel that I should be brief.
With many other hon. Members, I have been committed to the cause of local and community radio since it was first introduced in this country in 1963. I have watched its development with great interest at local level and now I am interested in the development of community radio. We are on the threshold of tremendously exciting possibilities for local communities.
Community radio does not exist in this country at the moment, and nor does local radio. Anyone who tries to suggest that it does is misreading the true nature of local and community radio. We have good regional radio stations run by independent companies and by the BBC, but they are not truly local and they are certainly not community stations as I or the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland understand the meaning of the word.
I have a great deal of sympathy with the arguments raised by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland. I part company with him only in my firm belief that community radio can and should be commercially viable. My hon. and learned Friend the Minister is in danger of allowing a Bill to go through which in its present form might inhibit rather than assist the development of community radio by the restrictions on ownership. We have become almost paranoid about cross-media ownership and we need to examine carefully the way in which we treat local and particularly community radio stations.
There is already a network of hospital radio stations across the country, many of which are ideally poised to become genuine community stations. In effect, they are already providing part of that service, but they need to augment their power, staffing, reporting capability and air time to enable them to serve a wider community than the hospitals to which they are "narrowcasting" rather than broadcasting. That can be achieved, but I ask my hon. and learned Friend to consider carefully between now and when the Bill reaches another place an argument that I have raised before. It is a grave mistake to bar local newspapers from ownership of or major share participation in community radio stations. There are many good local newspapers throughout the country with good reporting teams providing excellent local coverage. It would be quite wrong to seek to add to that layer of local reporting expertise—which often feeds regional and national radio and television stations—another layer of local journalism.
216 Community radio stations simply would not be able to afford the journalistic expertise that would be necessary to provide a good community news service. Local newspapers have that expertise and should be allowed to harness it to good effect. My hon. and learned Friend the Minister will say that there is nothing to stop a local newspaper providing the news service for a community radio station in addition to having a 20 per cent. shareholding in that station. But that would defeat the object of the exercise. If we are so concerned about cross-media ownership, clearly we should not permit that. If we apply the free market—as I believe that we should —and freedom for community and local stations to develop in harmony with and compatible with local newspapers, surely local newspapers and other local businesses must be allowed to take a stake in the community radio stations and to harness and augment their reporting expertise to provide a better service for the community radio station and for the local newspaper.
It would also be a mistake to insist on the establishment of a separate advertising sales force. Local newspapers usually have that. We are in danger of missing an opportunity. I have a great deal of sympathy with the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland, but they need further consideration, which I hope that they will receive from my hon. and learned Friend.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. When I left the Chamber about half an hour ago, I told my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) that I would return at the beginning of the debate on his amendments, assuming that at the beginning of each new set of amendments a call would be put out by one of the attendants from the back of the Chamber into the Lobby. I was on the telephone in the Lobby. Can you confirm whether that is the case and, if so, will you ask that it be carried out on a regular basis?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I am not quite sure what the practice is, but I will certainly inquire into the point that the hon. Gentleman has raised.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
I speak in support of the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), to which I am a signatory. I wish to make a couple of substantive points in support of the general argument for community radio. Obviously I did not follow or participate in the debates in Committee in the same detail as my hon. Friend did. I am aware that the Minister has been sympathetic to the points that my hon. Friend raised, but the Bill has not yet been amended to make concessions for the existence of community radio in the way in which we and many people outside the House would wish.
The most important point, which was touched on by the hon. Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale), is whether it is always necessary for community radio to be commercially self-sustaining. Community radio cannot always be commercially viable and it is wrong to expect that. One of the problems of media ownership is that access is easily available to those who can accumulate the capital to purchase it. Obviously they have to enter competitive tendering and put together a good package. So long as they can do that, however, if they cannot buy one station they will buy another.
217 As independent radio has grown throughout the country, we have seen the gradual acquisition of shares in the opportunity to broadcast by a small minority. The other common example of access to the dissemination of information is the newspaper network. Although there may be a community of interest between local newspapers, which do a good job serving a local community, and local radio stations, we cannot expect that to be the norm. It is wrong to expect that to be the norm as it concentrates the dissemination of news locally in single hands. We want to break down that concentration and to open up access across the range of people and talent in the community and not limit it to those who already have a foot in the door or a share of the market in broadcasting or the printed word.
It is important that we accept and write into the Bill the principle that there should be provision for community radio and that we do not presume that it will always be independently and commercially viable. Experiments with commercial and community radio in London have led to the development of easy music stations as the commercial arm of local radio. There have been very small community radio stations—for example, the Greek radio stations and other ethnic community radio stations. One station goes by the wonderful name of "Wicked, Neutral and Kicking". Perhaps not all Members of Parliament have listened to that station, but it is none the worse for that.
Those community radio stations broadcast for a small community. Their catchment areas tend to be small and they tend to attract a small number of listeners, so the potential financial resources available are limited. Ethnic community and local community stations will find it increasingly difficult to compete. That would be to the great disadvantage of opening up the airwaves.
If we are seeking to allow ordinary people without great capital backing to enjoy the opportunity of broadcasting —perhaps only for a short period—we must want to offer that opportunity to ethnic minority communities, particularly in urban areas. There is a whole diversity of ethnic minority communities in London. The Vietnamese community, for instance, is a refugee community but it is significant as it is the largest Vietnamese community in Britain. It has no financial resources and is unlikely ever to command any significant backing. Such communities are small but important. Their members are often isolated and do not benefit from the normal communications media because most people around them do not speak their language. They rely even more than the other people whom we always pray in aid when we stress the importance of radio—the elderly, the infirm and hospital patients—on local and community media.
I hope that the Minister understands that we cannot always expect proper community radio to be run by the big boys and girls and to secure big backing. It will need some financial support from the community. Secondly, community radio must be seen to be supported by the Government and the House and to be encouraged by the funding and other practical arrangements that the Bill provides.
I hope that the Minister will be much more positive than I understand that he has been so far and that his support will be converted into practical commitment. If 218 that happens, my hon. Friends and I will be well pleased. Many communities are awaiting the outcome of the debate with great interest.
§ Mr. Mellor
It was not my wish that debate on the Bill should focus more on television than on radio. Anticipating that that would be the likely trend, on Second Reading I deliberately concentrated on the first four paragraphs of a Home Office press notice on the expansion of radio before dealing with television.
I believe in radio as a medium of communication. The Bill's effect on it and on its development will be more profound than its effect on the development of television. There will be, I hope and believe, not only three new national independent radio stations but several hundred local and community radio stations. In 10 years' time, the most obvious and noticeable effect of the Broadcasting Act will be on radio. That is not to say that it will not have a considerable effect on television, but it will be most noticeable on radio.
I am not averse to considering changing the Bill's provisions on radio, as I was not averse to changing its provisions on television. The most substantial change in the Bill is that the internal diversity test postulated for national independent radio has become an external diversity test, with the power for the Radio Authority to state what station it wants, so that not only is each of the three stations different from the others but one is speech-based and one is not pop music; but the unavoidable consequence is that the other presumably will be a pop music station. There could have been three pop stations, but the fact that there is only one is a move in the right direction.
I take issue with a theme that ran through the speeches made by the hon. Members for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) and for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes)—that community radio is not catered for in the Bill. I am a great believer in community radio. In an earlier incarnation, I was responsible for the production of the radio Green Paper. In fairness, most of the work was done by my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Hurd), who was a firm believer in community radio.
I appreciate that the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey speaks with much enthusiasm on these matters, but he may not have had the chance to follow them as closely as those who served on the Committee. He was under the misapprehension that finance is of the essence in the ownership of radio stations. Some financial wherewithal will be necessary, but it will be limited to the amount of equipment necessary to get the station going.
To help in that process, we have removed some of the belt-and-braces technical requirements that were a feature of the old IBA system. It will be perfectly possible to run a creditable radio station without meeting some of the high Rolls-Royce specifications that previously applied. We did that to enable local radio stations to continue. Was it Radio Woody that we came to know and love? It makes me feel quite nostalgic.
§ Mr. Mellor
And Radio Cabin. My God, how could I Forget Radio Cabin?
There is no requirement to put money up front for local radio. The Government made that deliberate omission to ensure that the financial big battalions are not preferred. If there is a contest between an extremely well resourced 219 popular music station that wants to broadcast in one of our towns or cities and a community station that wants to produce programmes devoted to the community, there is an assumption, which we all too readily make, that the well moneyed station will win, but that is not how the Bill will work.
The criterion that is established is clear: when competing applications are to be considered, it is the extent to which the station would add to listener choice and reflect local audience demands. The test of extending listener choice is likely to be heavily biased in favour of community stations, because they are absent from the airwaves in most parts of the country. Most parts of the country have good regional radio, but they do not have genuine community radio. It therefore follows that a good community radio application is almost bound to be successful if the criterion is local choice, as it is under the Bill.
The extension of choice is the right criterion. We do not want radio services offering more of the same, to use the tired old American analogy—it is not true, but as so many people say it I might as well use it—where one pushes 30 buttons and gets the same thing. To set up a radio station requires not money or technical sophistication but some proof that the people concerned can run it. I do not think that that will be difficult to establish.
Much was said in praise of ethnic stations, for which there is a case in some parts of the country. We already have them under the incremental arrangements, which shows that the system is not biased against the emergence of such stations. A false assumption has flowed through the debate—I make no criticism of it because I am saying this not in a clinical sense but merely as an observation —that it is easy to define a commercial as opposed to a community station. No commercial station will be a big money earner unless it is one of the big regional stations. Equally, no community station can afford to be oblivious to commercial realities.
It would be an interesting test to ask those who think that it is an easy distinction whether the 20 incremental stations announced by the IBA should be categorised as commercial or community stations. Having sought to do that, I can assure the House that it is not a self-evident distinction. Even the ethnic station in west London that the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey mentioned plays a sufficiently high proportion of popular music for it to be criticised for not being within its remit. That is not a matter on which I would purport to comment, but I raise it simply as an issue.
The Government believe in community radio. We have provided an opportunity for the biggest expansion of radio that there has ever been. The test to be applied—broadening listener choice—is biased in favour of community stations.
I will reflect on all the points that have been made, and, to answer my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale), I certainly do not rule out further thinking on the amendments. The Bill will rightly be subject to the rigorous scrutiny of the other place, so there is still potential for revising it.
I hope that I have established that the mere fact that we do not purport—it is unnecessary to do so—to have a different defined category of community radio on the face of the Bill does not mean we do not profoundly believe in 220 it. It is of the essence of the Bill that it makes provision for community radio. That is the basis on which I commend the Government's proposals to the House, and on which I hope I have persuaded the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland that he need not press his amendment to a Division.
§ Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)
I agree with the Minister that the changes in radio will be the most significant changes in the Bill, and not least the changes that could happen in local communities if the Bill leads to a first generation of community radio. However, I still believe that the Minister has got it wrong. He needs to consult more fully on the issue.
I accept the Minister's sincerity when he says, as he said in Committee, that he is a great believer in community radio. However, his citing of the Green Paper was not convincing evidence in support of his view. He knows very well that the Green Paper was heavily criticised, not least by the enthusiasts who have done much thinking and work on community radio. The Green Paper did not understand that community radio is not just a small-scale version of regional or local radio: it is a distinct type of animal.
In comparison to what the Minister said in Committee, this afternoon he seemed to give glimpses of that realisation. This afternoon he began to use words like "non-commercial" and "widening choice". I believe that he genuinely cares and has a glimpse of community radio, but he is not prepared to accept the logic of his position. He cannot accept that there must be a specific remit and a distinct definition of community radio on the face of the Bill to make it different from local or regional radio. Unless there is a different remit and a different understanding of its non-commercial position, the future of community radio is very uncertain.
The experts and officials in the new Radio Authority —including Mr. Peter Baldwin and his colleagues—understand that point. Within the terms of their brief, they have done well with the allocation of the first 20 incremental radio licences. At least half of those have gone to stations that have some pretension to being community stations. Whether the fragile financial base of some of those stations will survive beyond the first year is extremely uncertain. The Minister and other hon. Members will join me in wishing them well, but they face difficulties.
Without a distinct remit and financial support in training, start-up costs and quality programming to which the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) referred in connection with his radio fund, the future for genuine community radio which widens the range of voices that can be heard and the range of local agenda and debates is very uncertain. Some stations may survive, but they will do so on the back of a great deal of music input to attract advertising.
The Minister is not creating a separate category for community radio in the Bill. To leave those stations to the vagaries of the commercial market will mean that the future of the stations will be uncertain. It will be difficult enough for the new generation of local radio stations. It will be even more difficult for community stations that have a different community brief arising from those communities and giving voices to those communities. That will not be commercially viable.
France and Italy have discovered that, if community stations are left to the free market, they wither and die or 221 they are taken over if they are profitable. Only Australia has managed to sustain a community station network, because community stations there have a separate understanding; they have financial support from the Government and the voluntary sector and a wide range of non-commercial organisations such as the trade unions, universities and ethnic groupings.
Without that kind of understanding of the distinct problems facing genuine community radio stations, the Government's good wishes and the Minister's sincere belief in community radio will be stillborn. That would be sad, because I do not believe that that is what the Government or the Minister intend.
In the later stages of the Bill, I urge the Minister to consult more fully with the Community Radio Association and other bodies in this country so that he may understand their problems and their particular concerns. I urge him also to consider the Australian model. I know that his officials have considered that model. If the Minister considers it fairly, he will see that there are distinct problems and opportunities in community radio that are different from low-scale, local commercial radio. Unless the Minister addresses that, his good wishes will not come to fruition. That would be sad.
§ Mr. Maclennan
I have no doubt that, in putting his confidence in the provisions in the Bill that refer to the extension of listener choice in connection with local radio and the duties of the regulatory authority, the Minister is expressing his genuine hope that community radio will be one of the benefits of the Bill. However, perhaps inadvertently, he revealed the need for my amendment in the way in which he replied to the debate and in particular when he drew attention to the difficulty of defining existing stations as either community stations or local stations.
That difficulty stems from the fact that it is proving extremely tough for genuine community stations to survive as community stations. They have necessarily become somewhat ambivalent about their role because of the financial straits in which they find themselves. The Minister referred to the example of a station in west London which began life as an ethnic community station. As he rightly said, that station has been considerably criticised for apparently going beyond its remit. It has defended its actions by asking why it should not provide pop radio to its target audience. However, it is generally recognised that commercial need has driven that station towards the provision of local rather than genuine community radio. By his example, the Minister has shown the need for a separate definition and status of community radio. We need that definition, and that need is supported strongly by many people.
I had hoped that the Minister would reveal a greater understanding of the distinctiveness of community radio. I had hoped that he would have identified the difference and the unsuitability of seeing it as an offshoot of local radio. We all pray that he will see that, but as he has not, I feel that it is right to express our commitment to the provision of community radio by inviting the House to divide on my amendment.
§ Question put, That the amendment be made:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 195, Noes 269.225
|Division No. 196]||[5.27 pm|
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Healey, Rt Hon Denis|
|Allen, Graham||Heffer, Eric S.|
|Alton, David||Hinchliffe, David|
|Anderson, Donald||Hoey, Ms Kate (Vauxhall)|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)|
|Armstrong, Hilary||Home Robertson, John|
|Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy||Hood, Jimmy|
|Ashley, Rt Hon Jack||Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)|
|Ashton, Joe||Hoyle, Doug|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Hughes, John (Coventry NE)|
|Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)|
|Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich)||Hughes, Roy (Newport E)|
|Barron, Kevin||Illsley, Eric|
|Beckett, Margaret||Ingram, Adam|
|Beggs, Roy||Janner, Greville|
|Beith, A. J.||Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Môn)|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)|
|Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)||Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Kilfedder, James|
|Blair, Tony||Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil|
|Blunkett, David||Leadbitter, Ted|
|Boyes, Roland||Leighton, Ron|
|Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)||Lestor, Joan (Eccles)|
|Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)||Lewis, Terry|
|Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)||Livingstone, Ken|
|Buchan, Norman||Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)|
|Buckley, George J.||Lofthouse, Geoffrey|
|Caborn, Richard||Loyden, Eddie|
|Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)||McAllion, John|
|Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)||McAvoy, Thomas|
|Campbell-Savours, D. N.||McCrea, Rev William|
|Canavan, Dennis||McFall, John|
|Cartwright, John||McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)|
|Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)||McKelvey, William|
|Clwyd, Mrs Ann||McLeish, Henry|
|Cohen, Harry||Maclennan, Robert|
|Cook, Robin (Livingston)||McNamara, Kevin|
|Corbett, Robin||McWilliam, John|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Madden, Max|
|Crowther, Stan||Mahon, Mrs Alice|
|Cryer, Bob||Mallon, Seamus|
|Cummings, John||Marek, Dr John|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)|
|Cunningham, Dr John||Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)|
|Darling, Alistair||Martlew, Eric|
|Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)||Maxton, John|
|Dewar, Donald||Meacher, Michael|
|Dixon, Don||Meale, Alan|
|Dobson, Frank||Michael, Alun|
|Doran, Frank||Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)|
|Dunnachie, Jimmy||Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)|
|Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth||Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)|
|Eastham, Ken||Molyneaux, Rt Hon James|
|Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)||Moonie, Dr Lewis|
|Fearn, Ronald||Morgan, Rhodri|
|Field, Frank (Birkenhead)||Morley, Elliot|
|Fisher, Mark||Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)|
|Flannery, Martin||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)|
|Flynn, Paul||Mowlam, Marjorie|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Mullin, Chris|
|Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S)||Murphy, Paul|
|Foster, Derek||Nellist, Dave|
|Foulkes, George||Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon|
|Fraser, John||O'Brien, William|
|Fyfe, Maria||O'Neill, Martin|
|Garrett, John (Norwich South)||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley|
|George, Bruce||Owen, Rt Hon Dr David|
|Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John||Paisley, Rev Ian|
|Golding, Mrs Llin||Patchett, Terry|
|Gordon, Mildred||Pendry, Tom|
|Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)||Pike, Peter L.|
|Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)||Powell, Ray (Ogmore)|
|Grocott, Bruce||Prescott, John|
|Harman, Ms Harriet||Primarolo, Dawn|
|Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy||Quin, Ms Joyce|
|Haynes, Frank||Radice, Giles|
|Heal, Mrs Sylvia||Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn|
|Reid, Dr John||Taylor, Rt Hon J. D. (S'ford)|
|Richardson, Jo||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|Robertson, George||Turner, Dennis|
|Rooker, Jeff||Walker, A. Cecil (Belfast N)|
|Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)||Wallace, James|
|Rowlands, Ted||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|Ruddock, Joan||Wareing, Robert N.|
|Sedgemore, Brian||Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)|
|Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert||Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)|
|Shore, Rt Hon Peter||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Short, Clare||Williams, Rt Hon Alan|
|Skinner, Dennis||Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)|
|Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)||Wilson, Brian|
|Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)||Winnick, David|
|Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Smith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)||Worthington, Tony|
|Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)||Wray, Jimmy|
|Snape, Peter||Young, David (Bolton SE)|
|Steel, Rt Hon Sir David||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Steinberg, Gerry||Mr. Archy Kirkwood and|
|Strang, Gavin||Mr. Simon Hughes.|
|Adley, Robert||Conway, Derek|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)|
|Alexander, Richard||Coombs, Simon (Swindon)|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Cope, Rt Hon John|
|Allason, Rupert||Cran, James|
|Amess, David||Critchley, Julian|
|Amos, Alan||Currie, Mrs Edwina|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)|
|Ashby, David||Davis, David (Boothferry)|
|Atkins, Robert||Day, Stephen|
|Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)||Devlin, Tim|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)||Dickens, Geoffrey|
|Baldry, Tony||Dorrell, Stephen|
|Banks, Robert (Harrogate)||Dunn, Bob|
|Batiste, Spencer||Durant, Tony|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Dykes, Hugh|
|Bellingham, Henry||Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)|
|Bendall, Vivian||Evennett, David|
|Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Fishburn, John Dudley|
|Benyon, W.||Fookes, Dame Janet|
|Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Forman, Nigel|
|Body, Sir Richard||Forth, Eric|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Fox, Sir Marcus|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Franks, Cecil|
|Boswell, Tim||Freeman, Roger|
|Bottomley, Mrs Virginia||French, Douglas|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Gale, Roger|
|Bowis, John||Gardiner, George|
|Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes||Garel-Jones, Tristan|
|Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard||Gill, Christopher|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian|
|Brazier, Julian||Glyn, Dr Sir Alan|
|Bright, Graham||Goodhart, Sir Philip|
|Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)||Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles|
|Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)||Gorman, Mrs Teresa|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Gorst, John|
|Budgen, Nicholas||Gow, Ian|
|Burns, Simon||Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)|
|Burt, Alistair||Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)|
|Butcher, John||Green way, John (Ryedale)|
|Butler, Chris||Gregory, Conal|
|Butterfill, John||Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Grist, Ian|
|Carrington, Matthew||Ground, Patrick|
|Carttiss, Michael||Grylls, Michael|
|Cash, William||Hague, William|
|Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda||Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)|
|Channon, Rt Hon Paul||Hanley, Jeremy|
|Chapman, Sydney||Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')|
|Chope, Christopher||Harris, David|
|Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n)||Haselhurst, Alan|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)||Hawkins, Christopher|
|Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)||Hayes, Jerry|
|Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)||Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney|
|Colvin, Michael||Hayward, Robert|
|Heathcoat-Amory, David||Patnick, Irvine|
|Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)||Patten, Rt Hon John|
|Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.||Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey|
|Hind, Kenneth||Pawsey, James|
|Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)||Porter, Barry (Wirral S)|
|Hordern, Sir Peter||Porter, David (Waveney)|
|Howard, Rt Hon Michael||Portillo, Michael|
|Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)||Powell, William (Corby)|
|Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Price, Sir David|
|Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)||Raison, Rt Hon Timothy|
|Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)||Renton, Rt Hon Tim|
|Hunter, Andrew||Rhodes James, Robert|
|Irvine, Michael||Riddick, Graham|
|Jack, Michael||Ridsdale, Sir Julian|
|Janman, Tim||Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Rossi, Sir Hugh|
|Jones, Robert B (Herts W)||Rost, Peter|
|Jopling, Rt Hon Michael||Rowe, Andrew|
|Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine||Rumbold, Mrs Angela|
|Key, Robert||Ryder, Richard|
|King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)||Sackville, Hon Tom|
|Kirkhope, Timothy||Sainsbury, Hon Tim|
|Knapman, Roger||Sayeed, Jonathan|
|Knight, Greg (Derby North)||Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas|
|Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)||Shaw, David (Dover)|
|Knowles, Michael||Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)|
|Latham, Michael||Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Lee, John (Pendle)||Shepherd, Richard (Aldridgo)|
|Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)||Shersby, Michael|
|Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark||Sims, Roger|
|Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Lightbown, David||Speller, Tony|
|Lilley, Peter||Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)|
|Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Luce, Rt Hon Richard||Squire, Robin|
|Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|McCrindle, Robert||Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Macfarlane, Sir Neil||Steen, Anthony|
|MacGregor, Rt Hon John||Stern, Michael|
|MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)||Stevens, Lewis|
|Maclean, David||Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)|
|McLoughlin, Patrick||Stewart, Rt Hon Ian (Herts N)|
|McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael||Stradling Thomas, Sir John|
|McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick||Sumberg, David|
|Madel, David||Summerson, Hugo|
|Malins, Humfrey||Tapsell, Sir Peter|
|Mans, Keith||Taylor, Ian (Esher)|
|Maples, John||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Marland, Paul||Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman|
|Marlow, Tony||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Marshall, John (Hendon S)||Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)|
|Marshall, Michael (Arundel)||Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)|
|Martin, David (Portsmouth S)||Thorne, Neil|
|Maude, Hon Francis||Thornton, Malcolm|
|Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Thurnham, Peter|
|Mellor, David||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Meyer, Sir Anthony||Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)|
|Miller, Sir Hal||Tracey, Richard|
|Mills, Iain||Trippier, David|
|Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Mitchell, Sir David||Vaughan, Sir Gerard|
|Moate, Roger||Viggers, Peter|
|Montgomery, Sir Fergus||Waddington, Rt Hon David|
|Moore, Rt Hon John||Waldegrave, Rt Hon William|
|Morrison, Sir Charles||Walden, George|
|Moss, Malcolm||Waller, Gary|
|Mudd, David||Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)|
|Nelson, Anthony||Warren, Kenneth|
|Neubert, Michael||Watts, John|
|Newton, Rt Hon Tony||Wells, Bowen|
|Nicholls, Patrick||Wheeler, Sir John|
|Nicholson, David (Taunton)||Whitney, Ray|
|Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Oppenheim, Phillip||Wilshire, David|
|Page, Richard||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Paice, James||Wolfson, Mark|
|Woodcock, Dr. Mike||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Young, Sir George (Acton)||Mr. Alastair Goodlad and|
|Mr. John M. Taylor.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
Amendments made: No. 319, in page 143, line 34, after 'participant', insert—
No. 320, in page 143, line 35, at end insert
§ Mr. Mellor
I beg to move amendment No. 321, in page 144, line 16, after '(2)', inset 'Subject to subsection (2A),'.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
With this it will be convenient to take also the following amendments: Government amendments Nos. 322 to 332.
§ No. 110, in page 146, line 35, at end insert 'or
- (c) a domestic satellite service or non-domestic satellite service.'.
No. 8, in page 146, line 35, at end insert—
'(c) a domestic satellite service or a non-domestic satellite service which in either case is a designated service.
(1A) A service shall be a designated service for the purposes of sub-paragraph (1)(c) and paragraph 3(1)(c) if the Secretary of State so directs by order and the Secretary of State shall so direct if it appears to him that the service is intended primarily for reception in the United Kingdom and is broadcast for reception in three million or more dwelling-houses in the United Kingdom.
(1B) Any order made under sub-paragraph (1A) shall be so framed as to provide that the service shall not be a designated service until the expiry of twelve months after the making of the order.'.
§ Government amendments Nos. 333 to 335.
§ No. 9, in page 147, line 8, leave out 'or (b)' and insert '(b) or (c)',
§ Government amendment No. 336.
§ No. 10, in page 147, line 17, leave out '1(2)(b) or (c) or'.
No. 111, in page 147, line 26, at end insert
No. 11, in page 147, line 26, at end insert—
'(c) a domestic satellite service or non-domestic satellite service which in either case is a designated service,'.
No. 36, in page 147, line 28, at end add
'or may hold more than a twenty per cent. interest in another Channel 3 licensee'.
§ Government amendments Nos. 337 to 339.
§ No. 13, in page 148, line 6, leave out '1(2)(b) or (c) or'.
No. 12, in page 148, line 6, after 'schedule', insert
'or within sub-paragraph (1)(c)'.'
§ Government amendments Nos. 340 to 342.
§ Mr. Mellor
The amendments reflect a further trawl through schedule 2 and deal either with commitments entered into in Committee or with further thoughts that we have had about the framing of schedule 2—a highly technical one—to make it clearer what are the arrangements in it.
The principal controversy in the debate will, I suspect, centre around not the Government amendments, but the amendments in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Mr. Watts) and others. I believe that it would be best if I listened to what he and others had to say and perhaps had the opportunity to catch your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
§ Mr. John Watts (Slough)
My hon. Friends and I have tabled amendments Nos. 8 to 13 to try to address a loophole in the Bill's safeguards against excessive cross-media control. I followed the progress of the Bill through Committee, although I was not a member of it, and I decided to raise this problem on Report because I believe that not all the issues and options available to the Government have been fully considered.
The debate should not be dominated by an argument centring on Sky Television and News International newspapers, as I believe that the public interest arguments go a long way beyond that. I have no wish to be involved in any vendetta against a particular newspaper group and one which has done a great service to the newspaper industry by its introduction of modern technology. The amendments could apply equally, now or in the future, to other non-domestic satellite broadcasters.
Should my hon. and learned Friend see fit to accept the amendments, they will provide consistent safeguards against the cross-control of the media that covers all broadcasting outlets directed at a United Kingdom audience. They will also ensure that the current state of the new and developing market of satellite broadcasting is allowed to flourish and, where successful, to provide just rewards for those who have made the investment in that high-risk area.
Satellite television services broadcasting to the United Kingdom are unchecked by the safeguards that apply to terrestrial broadcasters or to the national direct broadcasting by satellite services through their contract with the Independent Broadcasting Authority. As the Bill stands, there are no safeguards against a foreign satellite user broadcasting to the United Kingdom population while owning a powerful and significant proportion of the national daily press and having a 20 per cent. stake in the Channel 3 franchise. I believe that that loophole undermines the basis of the present controls and the integrity of the long-established separation between newspapers and television.
Keeping the control of broadcasting and the press separate has been the cardinal principle of British media policy and was firmly established to be in the public interest after the Pilkington committee report of 1962. On the question of public interest, the committee noted:The threat is thought to reside in the fact that, because two of the media of mass communication are owned in some measure by the same people, there is an excessive concentration of power to influence and persuade public opinion, and that if those same people are too few or have broadly the same political affiliations there will be an increasing one-sided presentation of affairs of public concern. There might, too, be a failure to present some of these affairs sufficiently or at all.The report concluded:The concern expressed was at the threat to democracy.The Television Act 1963, following that report, established the current framework for ownership restrictions. That framework has been endorsed by successive Governments of both political parties in the Television Act 1964, the Independent Broadcasting Authority Act 1973 and the Broadcasting Act 1981. The framework was extended to include the then new United Kingdom direct broadcasting by satellite franchise in the Cable and Broadcasting Act 1984.
In 1977, the Royal Commission on the press stated: 227We believe that it is right to maintain policies to ensure that the newspaper companies do not control broadcasting companies.The Royal Commission recommended:The existing policy of ensuring that no broadcasting company is effectively controlled by a newspaper company should be maintained and strengthened to exclude effective control by newspaper companies in combination.In June 1988, the third report of the Home Affairs Select Committee, entitled "The Future of Broadcasting", contained the following conclusions:It is an important democratic safeguard that no one should be able to control more than one major means of public information. We have no wish to stifle international investment but we can see the danger of over-concentration of ownership, both nationally and internationally … We consider that the reasons for restrictions on ownership remain valid and recommend that the provisions of the Broadcasting Act 1981, appropriately updated, should be included in the forthcoming legislation.In the section on ownership, the Government's 1988 White Paper on broadcasting said:clear rules will also be needed which impose limits on concentration of ownership and on excessive cross-media ownership, in order to keep the market open for newcomers and to prevent any tendency towards editorial uniformity or domination by a few groups.My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, when Home Secretary, said on 18 January 1989:We will propose extensive and effective rules to prevent concentration of broadcasting ownership and unhealthy cross media ownership. It is crucially important that we should have such rules. Real choice could be undermined if British broadcasting were allowed to be dominated by a handful of tycoons or international conglomerates.In a paper that it recently circulated to hon. Members, the IBA stated:The IBA believes that the case for restrictions on newspaper interests in non-DBS satellite operations is as strong in principle as it is on BDS services, since these services will be in direct competition with each other, although we see the difficulty of applying ownership controls retrospectively. We therefore support the thrust of Amendment No. 8 which proposes that the Secretary of State should be required to apply the 20 per cent. limitation on newspaper ownership of a non-DBS satellite service once the service achieves significant market share.
§ Mr. Austin Mitchell
The hon. Gentleman has rightly disavowed vindictiveness against any particular newspaper or group. Was the amendment, as worded, suggested or in any way influenced by BSB?
§ Mr. Watts
I have made it clear in speaking to a number of newspaper correspondents that the structure of the amendment standing in my name was suggested to me by BSB. As I shall continue to argue, I believe that the approach that I have adopted, and that I am suggesting to the House, is a valid and sensible solution to the problem facing the House and the Government.
§ Mr. Buchan
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that most people who are concerned with the issue are quite prepared to look at evidence put forward by any side, including BSB, if it helps to get more liberty on television, despite the points made a moment ago?
§ Mr. Watts
Yes, of course, I hope that right hon. and hon. Members would approach the issue with fairly open minds. I have discussed my proposals with representatives from Sky Television, as I felt that it was proper that I should listen to the arguments they put to me directly, not merely by using their influence through certain hon. Members.
228 In a paper on competition, diversity and cross-media ownership, News International plc said:excessive concentration of media ownership is undesirable for economic and political reasons.Diversity in the provision of information must be ensured to avoid the concentration of too much power in too few hands. Limited cross-media investment has existed for many years, and I am not suggesting that a limited stake by a newspaper in a television company will necessarily lead to mischief. Limited cross-investment does not threaten the public interest—it is cross-control that is the cause for concern.
The House is well aware of the problems that can arise if cross-media control is tolerated. Many of my hon. Friends will recall that, in 1989, early-day motion 434 called for ownership safeguards to apply to those broadcasting from outside the United Kingdom. That early-day motion attracted 87 signatures, of which 67 were from my hon. Friends. More recently, between 3 and 30 November last year, 141 hon. Members were contacted by Gallup—I know what great faith all of us have in opinion polls—and of those Members, 80 were Conservative, 52 were Labour and nine were from other parties. Of the Members polled, 83 per cent.—and more than 70 per cent. of Conservative Members polled—believed that the maintenance of the separation between the control of newspaper and television services was an important principle.
Significant concentrations of interest in national newspapers and national broadcasting services carries a risk of distortion and the promotion of self interest. In May 1989, the Broadcasting Research Unit carried out a case study on cross-media ownership and its impact on public opinion. The survey was supported by the IBA and noted in its report on page 2:Analysis of a recent major study on broadcasting, however, does suggest that a systematic pursuit of particular editorial themes may have a marked and measurable effect on public opinion which goes beyond the acceptable boundaries of promoting the commercial interests of proprietorsAs hon. Members will be aware, the possible promotion of self-interest through biased editorial coverage or subsidised advertising and selective coverage has become a matter of concern, and the Government have instigated the Sadler inquiry to report on those concerns. However, that inquiry will not be completed until after this Bill has become law, and its terms of reference specifically exclude the ownership issues covered by the Bill.
Currently, the Bill rightly provides that a national newspaper proprietor may not have more than a 20 per cent. stake in a company that provides a Channel 3 or Channel 5 service, and vice versa. However, those safeguards in the Bill do not automatically apply to services provided by satellite. I understand that Ministers have made clear their intention that they should, quite rightly, apply to a domestic service provider.
The Bill provides the Home Secretary with powers to prescribe restrictions on users of foreign satellites by order. I welcome the principle that underlies the Government's proposals, but I also recognise that, by refusing to extend the ownership safeguards in the Bill to include foreign satellite users, which may be exclusively directed at this country, the provision's integrity is seriously undermined.
§ Mr. Gale
Will my hon. Friend tell the House, first, whether he supports the principles of the Council of Europe transfrontier broadcasting convention, of which 229 the Government are a signatory and behind which the former Home Office Minister, now the Patronage Secretary, was the driving force? If he does support it, will he say how his proposals will be compatible with the convention when the jobs that he seeks to destroy in this country are moved to, for example, Luxembourg?
§ Mr. Norman Tebbit (Chingford)
I hardly need remind my hon. Friend that, like the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), I have the privilege and pleasure of working for Sky Television, in the same way that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) has the privilege of working for The Times.
Will my hon. Friend answer two queries that worry me and with which he has not yet dealt? First, have there yet been any abuses of the kind that he fears? Secondly, will he describe the mechanism by which he envisages this Government having the authority to control satellite broadcasting by companies not based in this kingdom, operating through satellites not controlled from this kingdom, with the uplift to the satellite not within our sovereign control?
§ 6 pm
§ Mr. Watts
On the first point, I am not suggesting that there is any proven abuse as yet, or indeed that there is likely to be abuse. Surely the principle which has always applied is not that abuse has to be proven before action is taken, but that control over the ownership of the broadcasting media is established, so that the possibility of abuse through excessive concentrations of control and cross-media control cannot arise. That principle is being carried forward in the body of the Bill and will be applied to all other means of broadcasting television services into this country. Curiously, it is not being applied to non-domestic satellite services. I look forward to hearing later from my hon. and learned Friend why such application is not intended.
On the second point—
§ Mr. Watts
May I deal with the second point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) before I give way?
I shall deal later with the way in which my amendment would operate once the trigger point was reached. The 230 connection arises when someone who owns a British newspaper also has a controlling interest in a service which is directed to the United Kingdom. Although my right hon. Friend may argue that we are not in a position to control the ownership of a foreign company which may own the television service, we certainly are in a position to control the ownership of a British newspaper company or group.
Indeed, my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench must believe that such controls are feasible, or there would be no point in including in the Bill the power which enables them to give directions, by order laid before the House, as to the ownership of such services. So there cannot be, at least in the minds of Ministers and their officials, any practical problem of application of the principle.
§ Mr. Tebbit
It appears that my hon. Friend would favour Ministers taking action against a British company in this country in respect of the actions of an allied company outside British jurisdiction. Is that not a slightly odd proposal?
§ Mr. Watts
No, not at all. We are dealing with the position in which one media company or group controls certain national newspapers and also has a controlling interest in a broadcasting service which is directed to this country. Whether one of the companies is registered abroad is irrelevant. Indeed, as I have already said, Ministers and their officials must have concluded that there is no practical obstacle to applying such controls, or it would make nonsense of one of the powers which they have included in the Bill.
§ Mr. Riddick
Is not my hon. Friend a little out of date? He referred to the Pilkington committee of 1962. Is it not the case that there were only two television stations in existence then, and that to stop cross-ownership was an important principle at that time? Is it not now the case that there are 17 television channels, that such cross-ownership controls as are necessary are already in the Bill, and that the controls suggested by my hon. Friend are unnecessary and go against all the principles of the free market in which Conservative Members believe?
§ Mr. Watts
My hon. Friend advances a respectable argument. If the Government, through the Bill, were advancing the argument that, with the development of technology, particularly satellite broadcasting, there would be such diversity and competition between broadcasters that controls over ownership and over cross-media control were no longer necessary, that would lead to another very interesting philosophical debate. If that were to be the argument, surely it would apply not just to a non-domestic satellite service but also to the domestic satellite service, to the Channel 3 franchisees, and to Channels 5 and 4. If we are dealing with the principle, as I am trying to do, I suggest that the principle should be applied across the board and that there should not be just one convenient exception.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin) also wished to intervene.
§ Mr. Devlin
I wanted to intervene earlier to ask my hon. Friend whether it would not protect the media owner if he were not to be put in the position where, because of his interest in newspapers and in broadcasting, an accusation might be made that he was a monopolist in the media 231 generally. Whether or not there had been an abuse in the past, the suspicion would arise among the consuming public that these practices might occur in future, or may even be happening now but are well concealed.
My second point concerns the longevity of the Bill. When we are framing legislation, surely it is designed to last for a considerable time, and we cannot merely take cognisance of the circumstances as they exist on the ground at the moment, and say that for these reasons we shall do something which we may change in a few years. Surely, in a Bill to cover broadcasting for the next 20 years, we should seek to establish general principles which will take us through the entire period.
§ Mr. Watts
On the first point, there could be protection for newspaper owners, although I have not seen them beating a path to my door, urging me to press hard proposals to give them protection. My suggestion would give them certainty about the way in which restrictions might be imposed upon them. As I understand it, the power now in the Bill could be exercised by the Home Secretary as he wished, subject to the consent of the House, without any guidelines for the operation of the powers being laid down in primary legislation. I believe that primary legislation is the right place to set out the rules.
As to my hon. Friend's second point, the whole thrust of the Bill and of Government policy is that controls over concentrations of media ownership and cross-media control are still important for British broadcasting. If that is the case, that principle should be applied to all who operate in the broadcasting services.
As to the reasons for the exception, in May 1989 my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton), who was Minister of State, said:No Government can stop British newspaper proprietors buying into overseas transmitters that have been linked to non-DBS services that are not controlled by this country." —[Official Report, 19 May 1989; Vol. 153, c. 634.]I went into that point in answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford. Clearly that is no longer the position of the Government, because they have taken powers which presumably they have the intention of exercising in certain circumstances.
The group of amendments that I have tabled would give much greater certainty to the provision which is already in the Bill. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) made it clear in Committee that the Opposition wished to impose, at the earliest possible date, divestment regulations upon non-domestic satellite broadcasters with newspaper interests. My approach does not seek to bring the axe down so rapidly and perhaps precipitately: it seeks to restore the integrity and commercial certainty to cross-media ownership safeguards.
Under the amendments, if a domestic or foreign satellite service that was intended primarily for reception in the United Kingdom exceeded a penetration of 3 million households, it would be made subject to cross-media ownership rules. Those rules would apply to BSB as much as to any other satellite broadcaster, and would provide a level playing field for all satellite operators. The figure of 3 million households encompasses what I understand to be the industry's view, and the financial projections of both BSB and Sky Television. The view of the City is that, at 232 that level of penetration, a satellite service becomes profitable. Some reports as recently as March have suggested that 2.5 million viewers might be a viable level.
I make it clear that I am not firmly wedded to one figure. If the principle of establishing a threshold of penetration at which satellite services would become subject to the same controls as terrestrial broadcasters were to be accepted, and if good and sound arguments could be adduced to show that another figure might be more appropriate, I would not argue at length that 3 million is necessarily the right figure.
I understand that Sky Television is only one third of the way towards the trigger point that I have suggested in my amendments. That means that there would be plenty of time for that service to continue to develop and to plan for the point at which my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State would be required to lay an order requiring the divestment of 80 per cent. of the interest.
I know that Sky Television disputes the 3 million threshold figure contained in my amendment. In a letter to one of my hon. Friends, Sky says:By the time we are received in three million homes, it is most likely that we will have recorded a cumulative deficit of some £400 million, while we may well remain unprofitable on an operating basis. You should know that the bulk of our income is from subscription fees, rather than advertising. At the time when three million homes can receive Sky, fewer than one million may in fact be subscribing to our film channel. Thus, your amendment would force us to divest ourselves of Sky at a 'distressed' price, depriving our investors of the legitimate rewards of their long standing financial support of Sky.That is certainly not my intention, and I am prepared to be flexible on the precise threshold. I intend it to be at such a level that the business is viable and profitable and divestment could take place at a profit rather than at a loss to those who have pioneered this substantial investment.
I am disappointed that the Bill fails to provide adequate safeguards against broadcasters who use foreign satellites and who also have considerable interests in the national daily press. The Minister of State's recognition of the need for safeguards is seriously undermined by this loophole. My amendments will permit the safeguards against cross-media ownership to be applied equitably and consistently without fear or favour and with due regard to this new market and its development to successful maturity. This is a proper and fair solution to a problem that the Government have apparently had difficulty in addressing.
My hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State has said that the Government have decided not to extend ownership controls to foreign satellite users, partly because they use a different frequency from that used by domestic satellite services. In Committee, my hon. and learned Friend said:There is a maximum of five DBS channels under international agreement, all of which have been allocated by the IBA to BSB, so giving it a monopoly.Speaking about the non-DBS channels, he said:There is potentially open-ended scope for … developments under diverse ownership … the case for restricting entry to the market is not remotely the same as it is for the five DBS channels under a single owner."—[Official Report, Standing Committee F, 30 January 1990; c. 383–4.]6.15 pm
I did not think that the principle on which the Government's approach was founded was the principle or monopoly but that it related to the dangers implicit in 233 concentrations of media ownership, especially of cross-media ownership. It is logically indefensible for the Government to maintain that cross-media control is generally wrong, but that it is all right if a particular technical method of broadcasting is used. Any problems that may arise from the concentration of power over the outlets of information will not arise because of the technical mechanism by which the signal arrives in the home.
It is irrational and arbitrary to base a decision on whether the ownership of the service should be regulated solely on the frequency or power of the broadcasting equipment that is being used. By analogy, if there were a proposal to regulate the printing processes that are used by different newspapers, it would be seen as preposterous. It would be ridiculous if we had one mechanism for those using hot metal and another for those who use modern technology.
It is not sensible to draw a distinction between foreign satellite users and the DBS operator on the grounds that BSB enjoys a monopoly of the United Kingdom direct broadcast by satellite services. All the broadcasters—terrestrial stations, cable and satellites—whether domestic or non-domestic, will be competing with one another, and none will enjoy a monopoly. That is one of the benefits that the greater variety of that technology and the legislation will now provide to the British people.
The question is best looked at from the point of view of the viewer. As he sits watching television, he does not see any technical distinction between the different satellite services, or even between satellite and terrestrial services. The amendments address a serious loophole in the safeguards against excessive cross-media control. The Government have recognised the need for restrictions, but have failed to apply them equally to domestic satellite and terrestrial broadcasters and to those using foreign satellites. The amendments will give integrity to the cross-media ownership safeguards and ensure that the Bill preserves the public interest. They will provide for control only when needed, once profitability and significant market penetration have been achieved, thereby ensuring that investment can be maintained in this important and developing industry.
The Bill will mark a crossroads or a turning point for safeguards against cross-media control, but if we fail to maintain the standards that have acted effectively across all media interests until now, the principle of the safeguards will be discredited.
I urge the Minister of State to give serious further consideration to the principle underlying my amendments. Even if he is unhappy about the precise trigger point of 3 million homes which I have suggested, I hope that he will look again at the principle of establishing a trigger point at which the controls over cross-media ownership will be made to apply to satellite services.
§ Mr. Hattersley
The right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) began one of his interventions, as one would expect from a man of such conspicuous honour, with an announcement about his employment by Sky Television. He then referred to my employment by The Times. The matter is absolutely trivial and I would not raise it except for the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has done so. I have not accepted work for any Murdoch paper since 234 Wapping, and I do not propose to do so. I do not ask the right hon. Gentleman to withdraw his remarks because that is not his way. I simply correct his error and am pleased that he gave me the opportunity to clarify the matter.
Although the Opposition amendment appears earlier on the list than the one moved by the hon. Member for Slough (Mr. Watts), I was happy to give precedence to him because I suspected from his amendments—a suspicion which was confirmed by his speech—that the Opposition would be happy to support him if he wished to press his amendment to a vote. We will withdraw amendment No. 110 to give him that support, for the simple reason that the principles embodied in his amendment are the same as those embodied in ours. The basic difference between his amendment and ours is that we want some instant protection written into the Bill, and he is proposing that protection should arise at what I gladly concede is the important moment—when a satellite station not now covered by the Bill achieves a number of viewers that makes it comparable with a Channel 3, Channel 4 or a Channel 5 broadcasting system.
Although we will vote on amendment No. 110 if there is no vote on amendments Nos. 8 and 9, we will gladly withdraw our amendment in favour of his, because it seems to us that the hon. Gentleman made two essential and undeniable points: first, the concentration of ownership is bad for democracy in this country, as democracy requires a pluralistic media system almost as much as it requires a pluralistic political system; secondly, concentration of ownership is bad for every section of the economy.
The hon. Member for Slough was interrupted by his hon. Friend the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) who asked, I suppose rhetorically, whether he believed in the free-market system. The hon. Member for Colne Valley nods. If he is opposing amendments Nos. 8, 9 and 110, he is saying that the best way to preserve the free-market system is to encourage concentration. The hon. Gentleman may believe that, but Adam Smith did not: Adam Smith believed that Governments had to act to prevent concentration, which is what the amendments aim to do. Therefore, I offer the merits of our amendment No. 110, but repeat that I will gladly withdraw it if amendments Nos. 8 and 9 are pressed to the vote.
As with other amendments that have already been moved, the intention of amendment No. 110 is to limit concentration of media ownership. It aims to avoid increasing concentration—an aim that, if the White Paper is to be believed, is shared by the Government. Paragraph 6.48 of the White Paper was precise on that when it said:the Government is determined that ownership in the independent sector should be, and remain, widely spread.My only reservation about that statement is the implication that ownership of the media is widely spread now. It is not; indeed, it is so concentrated already that I look forward to the day when a Monopolies and Mergers Commission general reference examines not simply the misuse of concentration—one company promoting a sister company, or a different company within the same ownership—but the principle of media concentration, and gives the Government of the day advice on how that concentration can be ended.
In other countries, when concentration of ownership is regarded as being against the public interest, it results in Government action to split up—"disperse" is the phrase 235 used in America—the companies that form the conglomerate. I have no doubt that that is right and necessary for the media industry in Britain. No doubt a future Labour Government would want to make such a monopolies reference.
§ Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington)
I have been following the right hon. Gentleman's argument closely, and on an a priori basis I sympathise with it. However, can he enlighten the House further by giving some figures relating to the extent of present concentration and cross-ownership? One of his arguments is that the problem is already fairly severe.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I proposed to give the basic figure later, but I will give it now, and repeat it later. We all know that Mr. Rupert Murdoch owns 35 per cent. of Sunday newspaper circulation and approaching 35 per cent. of daily newspaper circulation. That is unhealthy—
§ Mr. Hattersley
I shall deal with that, if the hon. Gentleman can contain himself.
We also know that Mr. Murdoch owns a satellite station, and that he hopes that that station will have millions rather than hundreds of thousands of viewers. Hon. Members must decide whether that degree of concentration—for which the hon. Member for Slough is preparing with his trigger mechanism, which will be "ticked in" when the viewing population of Sky Television reaches a certain figure—is such a danger that it wants to support an immediate proposal to limit that concentration.
The Bill is right to provide that no proprietor of a local or national newspaper shall have more than a 20 per cent. share in the ownership of a Channel 3 or Channel 5 company. If we have a complaint about that, it is that it is not sufficiently rigorous in trying to separate the ownership of newspapers and television. The only intention in our amendment—and, I think, in the amendment of the hon. Member for Slough—is to try to apply that same principle to all types of television broadcasting.
The words that we seek to include in page 146 would apply that principle to all types of satellite broadcasting. It would technically apply to BSB, as it would apply to Sky Television. I want the Minister to tell the House where BSB stands on those matters, and how far it is governed by the present regulations.
If the right hon. Member for Chingford is interested in what advice I have had from BSB, I can tell him that I received a good deal of advice before the Bill's Second Reading. I also had some advice from Sky Television to correct my supposed errors. It is almost impossible to avoid advice from the young gentleman who represents Sky Television on such matters. I have talked to both interests, in both directions. These things are best discussed without suggestions of motives, or the suggestion that anyone who takes advice from anyone who knows about the industry is failing to fulfil his obligations as a Member of Parliament.
As I understand it, the reservations about limitations on ownership of newspapers and television do not, as the Bill stands, apply to BSB. However, BSB has told me, as it has told other hon. Members, that it believes that secondary legislation will apply limitations. That was 236 made clear by the Minister in Committee. However, Sky Television will not have any such limitations imposed on it. Ownership of 35 per cent. of British newspapers—both Sundays and weekdays—will not in any way prohibit or inhibit outright ownership of Sky Television.
In Committee, the Minister gave four reasons why he thought that Sky Television should not be caught by that provision. He said that non-domestic satellite broadcasters would remove their uplinks to the continent, and so lose jobs in Britain. He said that Astra services could not be regulated efficiently and effectively by the Independent Television Companies Association Ltd. He said that regulations should not be used to stunt the growth of an infant company. He said that he disapproved of vendettas against Mr. Rupert Murdoch.
In an earlier debate, we discussed his second point—about whether regulation is possible. I agree with the hon. Member for Slough that if we are saying it is wrong, illegal, improper and undesirable to hold simultaneously ownership of, or a controlling interest in, two institutions, the regulation can be applied at either end of the equation by saying that companies can continue to broadcast if the European convention on transfrontier broadcasting requires it, but that that requires a person to divest himself of interest in and control of British newspapers that are his personal possessions. That is said in the United States of America and in most countries with an active, efficient and effective monopolies policy, and there is no reason why it should not apply in Britain.
I must make it clear to the Minister that we have no wish to see jobs go, and no belief that they would go if the Sky organisation were required to choose between one industry and the other. The Minister was quoted in The Guardian as saying that he did not want to pull the plug on a company that was already up and running and had cost vast amounts of money. I do not believe that the plug—in his elegant phrase—would be pulled. The operation would continue, but adjustments would be made in terms of ownership. That is what happens in other countries that apply an effective monopolies policy, and there is no reason why it should not happen here.
Too often Mr. Rupert Murdoch has come to the Government and said, "Unless you do exactly what I tell you, I shall pull out and leave the company in the wilderness and throw the men on the unemployment scrap heap." He said that about buying The Times and The Sunday Times and about buying Today. On both occasions, the Government said, "Okay, if you hold the pistol at our head, we shall do what you tell us and succumb to your threats." The threats were not real then and they are not real now.
§ Mr. Mellor
I am sorry if my phraseology does not pass muster with a litterateur of the sophistication of the right hon. Gentleman. Perhaps he will come to the point underlined, however infelicitously expressed. As I understand it, hundreds of millions of pounds have been invested in Sky Television, which at the moment is one of those rare businesses that spend money but do not make any. Is the basis of his proposition that there will be a queue of investors ready to pick this up, as of now, if the House were minded to insist on divestment? The right hon. Gentleman is fully entitled to say that he thinks it wrong for Rupert Murdoch to own Sky Television, but not wilfully to mislead us about the consequences of making that change.
§ Mr. Hattersley
The experience of other countries—Australia in particular—demonstrates two things. First, a large number of investors are ready to put money into television potential rather than immediate television returns. Secondly, television companies are like football clubs in that they hold an awe for a certain sort of person —one who, for reasons such as, dare I say it, wishing to ingratiate himself with the Prime Minister and the Government, is prepared to lose money on television so as to be a television tycoon. The idea that if we tell Mr. Murdoch that he cannot do both with the present degree of ownership Sky Television will disappear from the screens is a fantasy. The Minister should do better than that in defending his proposals.
§ Mr. Tebbit
The hon. Gentleman may be right, but if he is I am puzzled to know why the sponsors of BSB have had such difficulty in raising money to launch their company. There does not seem to be a queue of investors ready and able to put in money on the scale that is required and to lose money for three, four or even five years on this scale.
§ Mr. Hattersley
My information is that they have not had anything like the difficulty that the right hon. Gentleman suggests. That is probably as accurate as what he said about me and The Times and The Sunday Times. On the other hand, I believe that BSB will prosper in spite of the restrictions placed on it, as Sky Television will prosper eventually under the Murdoch ownership or any other ownership. The idea that it would collapse without this one man owning and controlling it is a fantasy.
The Minister also suggested that our concern about this is related to, using his word, a "vendetta" against Mr. Rupert Murdoch. Let me make my position clear. I am sceptical about all newspaper proprietors. I do not like the idea of a newspaper and its policies being owned and controlled by one man, and even less do I like the idea of several newspapers and their policies being owned and controlled by one man. My concern is for concentration in general to be reduced and, wherever possible, to be avoided. Mr. Murdoch becomes the example around which I base that argument, for two reasons: first, he gets a clear advantage under the Bill; second, the extent of his newspaper holdings.
In answer to an intervention I gave only the bare bones of the extent of Mr. Murdoch's ownership. He owns two Sunday newspapers whose circulation is about 35 per cent. of all copies sold. He owns three daily newspapers whose circulation is about 35 per cent. of all copies sold. He owns seven magazines, 20 per cent. of Pearson plc, which publishes the Financial Times, and 50 per cent. of The Economist. He has now acquired the Collins Publishing Group, with its publishing and printing interests. He is the issue because he owns so much.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I am not criticising the proprietor of a newspaper. It may be that any of us, given the chance, would acquire those newspapers and use them to promote a position. I am criticising the system and a Government who allow the concentration to fall into the hands of one individual. The hon. Gentleman suggests that Mr. Murdoch's position is not a dominant one. That is in defiance of all the regulations and legislation that, on other occasions, the hon. Member will support.
According to the criterion of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, Mr. Murdoch was in such a dominant position that he should not have acquired The Times and The Sunday Times or Today without investigation. Therefore, even before he acquired those national newspapers, he was in a dominant position as defined by the legislation governing monopolies and mergers. No moral blame attaches to Mr. Murdoch. The system that the Government have allowed to continue and intensify permits him to control a vast number of newspapers. The idea that he should be allowed to move into television is dangerous in itself but also inevitable when the provisions in the Bill allow him to do so in a way not allowed to other institutions, companies and organisations.
The Minister signified agreement when I said that, while the Bill does not specify regulations over BSB, the position of that company will be qualified and changed. We are talking about Sky Television. We have to ask anybody who disagrees with amendments Nos. 110, 8 and 9 how they can justify a system that says, as the law does, that as we are worried about concentration, particularly as it applies to Channels 1 and 3, and other national terrestrial channels, there shall be a limit on cross-ownership involving such channels, but not on cross-ownership of satellite channels and newspapers, even if—Mr. Murdoch would say when—the satellite channels have a viewing figure as great as, or equivalent to, those for BBC1 or ITV.
What is the principle in saying that it is wrong for this or that newspaper to have an interest in independent television when independent television has a viewing figure of 20 million, but it is right for Mr. Murdoch to have an interest in his satellite channel even if it achieves a viewing figure just as great as that for independent television? It is impossible to make a distinction between the two. The two things are logically incompatible. If we prevent cross-ownership in one case, logic requires us to prevent cross-ownership in the other and that is all that we are asking for. We are asking that every television company shall be restricted in its relationships with newspapers, as is the case with independent television companies and Channels 1 and 3.
I hope and believe that the proposals made both by me and the hon. Member for Slough will commend themselves not only to the House but to Mr. Rupert Murdoch. One of his great achievements and contributions to life in Britain is his invention of new words. In "Sky Update" he says:One of the advantages of the Bill is a level playing field. The Bill will create a more neutral field of competition by eliminating certain preferences and privileges that previously offered advantages to certain broadcasters not available to the others.239 The Bill offers to certain broadcasters advantages that are not available to the others in that it has no prohibition on cross-ownership between satellite channels and newspapers.
Amendments Nos. 110, 8 and 9 provide the level playing field for which Mr. Rupert Murdoch calls. If any or all three are carried, we shall get not a reduction in services or employment, nor a vendetta against one man or one company, but a system under which, in a democracy, a concentration of newspaper ownership and television ownership is seen as fundamentally bad. We are standing out against such concentration in this temporary way until we can have a proper investigation into cross-ownership and multi-media ownership and a real distribution of power and influence.
§ Mr. Tebbit
I shall be brief because, as the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said, we want to make progress. I hope that he will excuse me for saying that I am disinclined to take too much of a lecture from him on the evils of the concentration of media ownership when I recollect that he is a member of a party which opposed the introduction of independent television to break the BBC monopoly. Indeed, the Labour party opposed the introduction of independent radio to break the BBC's monopoly.
§ Mr. Tebbit
If the hon. Gentleman, who sits on the Opposition Front Bench, is saying that the Labour party has learnt something over the past 20 years, that is a good thing, but I suspect that it has not learnt very much. It seems that it has not learnt that one of the consequences of publishing a successful newspaper is that that journal acquires readers. That, however, is one of the things which is understood by Mr. Robert Maxwell. After all, the circulation of the Daily Mirror is close to that of The Sun. It is understood also by the proprietors of The Independent, which was launched in the teeth of competition from dominant owners. It now has a circulation about the same as that of The Times. We should be talking about access to the market and consumer choice rather than the concentration of ownership.
It has already been said that there is vast consumer choice on the news stands. I know that it is irritating that so many consumers happen to choose newspapers published by Mr. Murdoch, but that is one of the penalties of success. So long as there is open access, however, the problem does not seem as serious as the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook pretends.
The same is true of television. If there were still only three channels, the consideration would be different—that would be so if there were only four channels—but we now have 17 channels and there are more to come. My hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Mr. Watts) put the issue neatly when he asked the House to consider the matter from the viewer's point of view. If viewers happen to enjoy watching a television station owned by an ogre who happens to own a newspaper, that is the viewers' choice. If there are many other television stations whose programmes they could watch if they wished, is it an absolute evil that they watch those shown by the station owned by the newspaper proprietor? Is it anti-democratic to give people 240 a choice and allow them to use the channels that they wish, regardless of who owns them, provided that there is adequate choice?
It seems that we have never had more choice in terms of our daily press, magazines and television than we have today. The hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) wears an expression of distaste. He should remember just how long ago it had been since a new newspaper such as The Independent was launched. He should remember, too, that The Independent was launched by a group—not by a great press baron—which has carved out a successful newspaper in remarkable style. We are now considering the possibility of newcomers entering television in a similar way.
The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook chided me for suggesting that BSB had had difficulty in raising the money to launch its satellite. All right, I accept that he is correct and that it is not difficult to raise the money to start a new satellite television station. I will take his word for that, withdraw what I said and accept his argument. Let us assume that there will be many satellites in the sky. According to the right hon. Gentleman's argument, it will not be difficult to find people to finance satellite television stations. As my hon. Friend the Member for Slough said, all that we have to do is to consider these matters from the viewer's point of view. Those who are responsible for television stations must show programmes which viewers like. I do not accept that there is a problem as great as the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook suggests. I know that it is unworthy of me, but I suspect that any problem might have something to do with the same events which caused the right hon. Gentleman to cease to write for Mr. Murdoch and The Times.
§ Mr. Austin Mitchell
I declare an interest as someone who is involved in programmes twice a week for Sky Television, as the humble assistant to the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit). I clean up the blood afterwards in the studio. I represent freedom, truth and justice. I am still not sure what the right hon. Gentleman represents. That ends the commercial break.
I am not here to defend Mr. Murdoch. He owns so many national newspapers that he does not need me to do that job. I am not here to defend Sky either. It does not need my defence because it has been an extremely successful set of channels. It is filling a need and adding variety to viewing. It is providing what I find to be a most attractive public service, a good news service. If this short debate allows me to say nothing else, I am at least able to say that. Unfortunately, I do not think that the debate will achieve much else.
I question the motives of amendments Nos. 110 and 8. It is clear that on the Opposition Benches there is an overwhelming dislike of Rupert Murdoch. That dislike is so strong that it is irrational and distorts judgment. The Australian and New Zealand Labour parties have seen the virtues of working with someone who owns powerful communication media so that they can put over their case. Here in the United Kingdom, however, the Labour party's irrationality has distorted its judgment.
Secondly, there is the Labour party's dislike of the events which took place at Wapping. In my view, that dislike is justified. Those events were monstrous, but they related to the newspaper medium. If we are still carrying 241 on the argument over Wapping, it is incumbent on us all not to co-operate with or write for The Times, The Sun or other Murdoch newspapers. Instead, we should continue the struggle. It would be incumbent upon us all also to bring forward proposals that the Labour party can implement when it forms the next Government. I shall be interested to hear what proposals we have to right the wrongs of Wapping. If we do not have any, hitting out is irrelevant, and in a way that is damaging to the Labour party's case. We are talking about a powerful medium of communication and we need to put over our case on all the channels that are available to us. That is essential.
As I have said, our motive is an irrational dislike, while amendment No. 8 deals with commercial rivalry. It has been admitted that amendment No. 8 springs from BSB. It is surely incumbent upon us to legislate neither for simple vindictiveness nor for commercial rivalry.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
I agree with my hon. Friend that Sky News is very good. I have been willing to appear on it, when I have been asked, because it is a platform. It is surely important that we should seek out platforms. My hon. Friend does his own side a grave injustice, however, when he suggests that the Labour party's approach is part of a Murdoch vendetta. I do not like the man, and I have no reason to like him, but we are talking about cross-media ownership and concentration of power. If my hon. Friend misses that point, he should sit down and not bother to continue.
§ Mr. Mitchell
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I remind him that I am standing on my side of the Chamber, that the Labour party is my party, and that I am advancing my case. I shall take up the substance of my hon. Friend's argument when I have advanced a little further in my speech.
Do not mistake the side on whose behalf I am speaking. I am speaking on the side of the Labour party and in support of communicating my party's ideals, policies and ambitions to the wider electorate. I suggest that the Labour party's irrational dislike—this applies to both amendments—distorts judgment. If the aim is to restrict monopolistic ownership and overlapping cross-ownership, irrational dislike is not the right approach. That is not the sensible way to approach these issues. We are lashing out without having made any rational calculation of how to achieve our objectives. That is about as sensible as using an incinerator to improve standards on The Sun.
Sky Television is here. We are not legislating for something that is to come, like Channel 5. Sky is a fait accompli, and a successful one. I hope that those of my colleagues who are involved in programmes for BSB will be successful and will not face some of the consequences that have had to be borne by those who have been involved with Sky Television. I hope that they will work for a channel that is a success story. Sky Television is interesting and it is successful, and the Labour party should not be opposed to pluralism. Viewers want it. It increases choice and diversity, and it is good in itself.
What we should be doing, and what our opposition to this Bill attempts to do, is to defend the basis of viewing —the duopoly that has provided such high quality throughout the years. That should be our aim—not to outlaw pluralism, which is what my party is seeking to do. 242 The service is there; it is on Astra. Rupert Murdoch saw an opportunity, as an entrepreneur would, and took it. I ask my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley): if there is so much money around, why did no one else do that? Why was it left to Murdoch? Where were all the British entrepreneurs rushing forward wanting to spend £2 million to £3 million a week in losses?
An entrepreneur like Murdoch does not need the permission of the Labour party to set up his station. Indeed, he does not really need the permission of the Government, other than that it is on cable. The station has given an undertaking to abide by the same rules of impartiality and standards as the terrestrial channels. I am as inclined to trust that as to trust the impartiality of a news service provided by the Daily Mail on BSB. The station is there and it is no use sulking about it. Initially, I dreaded it. I thought that it would debase standards. It has not done so, partly because standards on the terrestrial channels are so high. It has not been the disaster that I thought it would be; on the contrary, it has been very successful. It will have to continue to be if it is to pay off its enormous debt and sustain employment. It will need a period of profit to be viable.
With Sky facing that decision, what should we do through this legislation? Should we be vindictive, as the amendments are? Should we say, "Let us get at Murdoch"? Should we sulk and try to get our own back for the wrongs of Wapping—kick it or close it? Or should we try to deal with it in a way that will sustain a business that adds variety to people's viewing, that provides jobs, and that provides diversity and competition in news services? That is what it should be about.
The amendments would effectively close the station. The Opposition's amendment No. 110 says that he must divest now, which effectively means its collapse. No one will rush forward to sustain losses of £2 million a week. Amendment No. 8 is a time bomb—divest at some future stage, to be determined by BSB the commercial competitor. That is what is so monstrous about that amendment. There is no point in getting at Rupert Murdoch by endangering 1,000 jobs and four or five new channels. It would be daft to do that. The station will eventually be successful. As the principle of the Labour party's policy review is, "For heaven's sake, don't frighten anybody", why are we rushing in with such draconian penalties for one medium, one channel, one television system and one person? It does not make sense to do that. We are just saying, "Boo."
There is a case for stopping cross-ownership. That is a basic principle of the legislation. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North West (Mr. Banks) should not accuse me of selling out. I want to achieve the case in a sensible, coherent way, not by simple vindictiveness. That was our approach to Channel 3, the ITV companies, and it is sensible to sustain that approach. We cannot achieve that by the suicide method, by immediate destruction. We must allow the ITC, at its discretion, at a time when it will not be disruptive to employment, at a time when it will sustain the variety for viewers, to take that decision. If we were serious about the legislation, if we were serious about its objectives, we would do it in that way and not through the two amendments, which are silly gestures that will achieve nothing. We must first take a decision on "whether" and then decide the how and the when. If we do not do it that way, we are not being serious.
243 We would be indulging in gesture politics—schoolground politics—"Yaboo, sucks to Murdoch, we are going to get you." Frankly, that is a game I do not want to play.
§ Mr. Aitken
The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) made a courageous speech. It certainly illustrated the difficulties in which he sometimes finds himself within his party. His at least was a speech which looked forward. He understands what television in the 1990s is all about. The speech by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) showed that he understood only what the newspapers of the 1920s were all about. His was a curiously old-fashioned speech, although it contained all the contemporary characters. It was full of Murdoch-bashing. I had a touch of sympathy with some of the right hon. Gentleman's comments because I, too, have been a Murdoch-basher. The House may recall that, almost alone on the Conservative Benches, I opposed Mr. Murdoch's takeover of the Sunday Times and The Times when some of those who appear to be supporting the amendments today—which will restrict ownership of television stations—were curiously silent. The defects in the Fair Trading Act 1973 and the way in which it applied to the concentration of newspapers which then existed were far more relevant to what was happening then than the amendments are to what is happening today.
As I listened to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Mr. Watts) on amendment No. 8, I recalled John Betjeman's famous line:Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough.That is what should happen to my hon. Friend's amendment, which attacks an imaginary monopoly that does not and is not likely to exist. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook harked back to yesteryear—an era when dominant newspaper proprietors issued edicts to their editors such as "Praise this man" or "Attack that political party" and their edicts were carried out. That does not happen in the modern, pluralistic world of television. It hardly exists even in newspapers, although they still retain some vestiges of that old-fashioned control because editors can spike stories, print leaders and write whatever headlines they like. There is a great myth about proprietorial control in television.
The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook attacked Mr. Murdoch largely on his newspaper interests. Mr. Murdoch has been given a bum rap by Opposition Members, with the exception of the hon. Member for Great Grimsby. Mr. Murdoch—whose unqualified admirer I am not—is a media mogul whose virtues outweigh his imaginary vices as a media monster. He has done a great deal of good for the British newspaper industry by creating a new climate of opportunity. He has been a brave investor, investing more than £500 million in the print industry. He has liberated the entire national newspaper industry from the fetters imposed on it by the print unions and the quicksands of soft management. Other newspapers do not like admitting it, but it was only because Mr. Murdoch blazed the trail in changing the labour structure and labour costs of the newspaper industry that it was possible for newspapers such asThe Independent to be born and for a whole range of newspapers to become profitable and viable once again. There is now a whole new range of printing practices, including colour printing. On the whole, the good that Mr. Murdoch has done for the 244 newspaper industry is much greater than the harm that he has done with the bad standards that he has allowed to creep into his tabloid newspapers.
On the newspaper argument alone, the contention that Mr. Murdoch is a dangerous animal with too much power concentrated in his hands is obsolete. The argument of obsolescence becomes much greater with regard to what is happening in television. We are now entering an era of evolution almost equivalent to the printing revolution in the time of John Caxton several centuries ago. A completely new scene is emerging. One has only to stop for a moment to realise that by the time the Bill becomes law there will be 41 television channels available in this country, of which Mr. Murdoch will own four.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument closely, as one always says on these occasions, but will he take it a step further? If he believes that concentration of ownership no longer matters—partly because newspaper owners no longer give instructions to editors and partly, as I suppose that he may say in a moment, because technology in newspapers and television means that new industries develop and new companies come into the market—does he believe in any restriction at all? Does the 20 per cent. rule embodied in the Bill have any validity for independent television channels—for instance, for Channel 3? Does it make any sense? The hon. Gentleman's stance is logical only if he says that he wants no restrictions at all. Will he explain why he seems to support restrictions in general, but not restrictions on Mr. Murdoch?
§ 7 pm
§ Mr. Aitken
The age of the regulator in television is passing. In a few years' time the Bill will look old fashioned. The restriction to 20 per cent. Ownership—although it placates the political community, which needs to reassure the public—will seem unnecessary and foolish in a few years' time.
Just as there has been an expansion of diversity and plurality in newwspapers, so there is a greater expansion of diversity in the world of television. If Mr. Murdoch owns only four of the 41 channels which will exist by the end of the year, that cannot be said to be a dangerous concentration. He has taken on four channels with tremendous financial risk. I agree with the hon. Member for Great Grimsby who said that to attack Mr. Murdoch for what he has done is to attack the essence of pluralism and diversity.
There is a myth about proprietorial control in television. I have some experience of television and I do not believe that the proprietor of a television station will be able to sit in his castle, counting his doubloons, with his fingertips on the levers of power and get results. In reality, a modern television station is a honeycomb of power cells that one cannot control. When I was briefly a chief executive with power over a television station in this country I found that it was absolutely impossible to control the 500 journalists, every one of whom was a prima donna, or the five famous presenters who were more trouble than the 500 journalists, or the whole regiment of temperamental graphic artists and producers. Even the unions—usually a bastion of conservatism in television stations—for the technical staff and journalists, were wild gazelles out of control. The hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott), who I see is in 245 her place, was shop steward of the journalists' union at TV-am. She was scarcely susceptible to control, and nor were old uncle Rowland rat and all—none of them could be controlled.
If Mr. Murdoch is better at controlling my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) or the hon. Member for Great Grimsby than I was at controlling the galére at TV-am, he may be a better man than I. The idea that such old-fashioned, 19th-century political control exists is a virtual myth and an impossibility. Yet Mr. Murdoch's enemies believe that it will still exist in television companies in future. That is all nonsense.
The only argument made by the deputy Leader of the Opposition with which I have some sympathy was in relation to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. That safeguard still exists. It can always be called into play by any Government against any commercial organisation in this country. I do not think that Mr. Murdoch, or any other television mogul, has anything to fear from the Monopolies and Mergers Commission because of the expanding diversity of television in this country.
On the ground that Mr. Murdoch has four channels out of 41, the argument about political control looks like nonsense. Therefore, the amendment is misplaced and, despite some reservations that we all feel about Mr. Murdoch, it is wrong and I hope that we shall vote it down.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
The hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) took us back to TV-am and he said that things have moved on since then. They have not moved on. He referred to one of his former employees with whom he had had some difficulties. Clearly the situation remains the same—the bosses are over there on the Conservative Benches and the workers are over here.
I say to the hon. Member for Thanet, South and to my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) that this is not an argument about Rupert Murdoch. I have no brief for Rupert Murdoch. As I said in an intervention, Sky News is very good and I wish it well. In many ways, it is a professional set-up staffed by some ex-BBC employees whom I knew previously and who are first-rate workers. They make a good product.
The debate is about the concentration of media power. That is what this part of the Bill is all about and that is what the amendments try to prevent. Obviously there will be some arguments about when we do it, but clearly there is a feeling that yet again there will be concentrations of power in an area where there is potential for abuse. We know that broadcasting, and television broadcasting in particular, is the most powerful communications medium in the country. Hon. Members must express concern and interest about how the ownership of such a powerful medium is used.
In our society, whoever controls the channels of communication has real power. One does not need power from guns, bullets and tanks in our society. In many ways real power comes from the control of the channels of communication. We must be wary that there is no great concentration of ownership in the channels of communication because there is always the potential for power abuse.
From experiences overseas we know what happens if there is a coup. The first thing that they rush to get hold 246 of is the radio and television station. They know that the person who controls the channels of communication has real power.
Market forces cannot be allowed free rein in such a sensitive area. In theory, it may be very well to suggest that we are all able to print newspapers and open television or radio stations, but in reality we know that that freedom does not exist on an equal basis and so it is nonsense to suggest it.
There is far too much concentration of ownership in the media in this country already. I no more like Mr. Robert Maxwell's approach to the media than I like Mr. Rupert Murdoch's. I do not want to see millionaire moguls strutting around with so much of the power in our society concentrated in their hands.
I shall quote from statistics which appeared in some Labour research earlier this year which makes it quite clear that:seven national newspaper owners have widespread media interests … Rupert Murdoch, Robert Maxwell, 'Tiny' Rowland, Lord Stevens, Viscount Rothermere, Viscount Blakenham and the Scott Trust which owns The Guardian.The report particularly highlights the position of Mr. Rupert Murdoch and Mr. Robert Maxwell.
I do not come with a brief from British Satellite Broadcasting, although I have done some work for it. I am an occasional presenter of an excellent programme produced by BSB called, "Left, Right and Centre".
§ Mr. Banks
I shall bear that stricture in mind. I wish that the programme was seen by more than half a dozen people, but I am sure that the quality arguments will eventually emerge. However, we are not treating BSB and Sky Television in an even-handed fashion. News International UK's newspaper and other publishing interests and its control of Sky Television are in direct conflict with the standards of cross-media ownership applied, in the public interest, to other media groups, including the equally fledgling British Satellite Broadcasting.
The Government have defended what we consider to be an inconsistent approach by arguing that the public interest inherent in Sky Television's role in opening up broadcasting outweighs the public interest in preventing over-concentrations of influence. That is nonsense. The Bill, which has been even handed in other respects, has been drafted in such a way as to exclude Sky Television and Rupert Murdoch from regulations that apply to other stations, including BSB. It is not the case that the Labour party wants to take some revenge on Rupert Murdoch for what happened at Wapping. We have no reason to love the man, but we are far more concerned about the concentration of the media in his hands and in the hands of people such as Robert Maxwell.
Therefore, it is necessary for the Government to be aware that such concentrations are unhealthy in our society. Even if they do not like the amendmens, they must be prepared to introduce provisions that ensure that there is no development of concentration that would undermine the democracy for which we all stand.
§ Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West)
Those of us who served on the Committee considering the Bill have witnessed an interesting metamorphosis within the Labour party. At first, whenever Sky Television was mentioned, 247 there was laughter among Labour Members, on the basis that nobody watched it and that it had no chance of success. As we spent hundreds of hours discussing the Bill, the attitude of the Labour party changed, as Labour Members realised that, at a relatively fast rate compared with other new media, people were equipping themselves with satellite dishes and the audience was growing.
The culmination of that metamorphosis has occurred in today's debate. The Labour party now takes Sky Television so seriously that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) devoted his entire speech to Rupert Murdoch. He protested that he was not interested in Rupert Murdoch and was concerned only with the principle, so why did he devote virtually his entire speech to him?
The reason was made quite clear by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) in a remarkable and excellent speech. Of course, it is simply a Labour vendetta against Rupert Murdoch and News International because of what happened at Wapping and because the Labour movement wants to do down Rupert Murdoch and News International. That causes me immense anxiety about the way in which the Bill is drafted, but not in the same direction as my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Mr. Watts) and some Opposition Members.
As the Bill is drafted, in the unlikely event of a Labour Government, they would be able to put Sky Television out of business overnight. They would not even need an affirmative order of the House. They could use a negative resolution by pretending that there had been an offence against the rules of cross-media ownership laid down in the Bill. They would not even have to come to the House, although I think that they should have to.
The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook screws up his face and nods from side to side, but perhaps he should have read the Bill; he would then know what it says. A Labour Government would not need to come to the House for an affirmative order to enable the Home Secretary to take action against a satellite channel. I urge my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary to examine whether there should be further protection in the Bill for the satellite operators.
The other side of the debate has been an attempt by British Satellite Broadcasting to knock out the competition. That is reasonable. BSB sees an opportunity to knock out Sky Channel, but I do not think that it will succeed. It is rather odd that it should try, because it was clear in the trade press to those of us following the issue that, under the former Home Secretary, BSB was offered exactly the same cross-media rules as now apply to Sky Channel, Astra and non-terrestrial satellites. BSB cannot complain if something that it rejected is being allowed for Sky Channel and other non-terrestrial satellite stations. Therefore, it is important that we reject both arguments.
Compared with other television outlets, Astra is not limited. The DBS channels have been allocated to BSB; that is fair enough. The terrestrial channels have been allocated, and franchises come up from time to time. However, Astra, Astra 2, and possibly Astra 3 in future are not so limited. Anyone who can raise the money could set up in competition with the existing channels.
The exchange drawn out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) was interesting. Either the Labour party believes that the money is 248 available and that it is easy for anyone to compete, or it believes that it is difficult to raise the money. It seemed to me that the Labour party wanted the best of both worlds.
If the amendments are carried, there will be one of two possible effects on Rupert Murdoch and News International. Either Sky Channel will have to move out of Britain and beyond the jurisdiction of the Bill, and the jobs and the technological advances made by Sky Channel would leave the country, surely to the detriment of Great Britain, or Sky Channel will have to be sold. The only people who could afford to buy Sky Channel and keep it going would be foreign media interests. Either the Labour party wants to lose jobs from Britain or it wants foreign people to take over those interests.
§ Mr. Cryer
I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman is concerned about jobs. Has he made any representations to HTV, which is to sack more than 100 television workers next Monday because it needs to build up money for the war chest engendered by the Bill? It has plans in the pipeline to get rid of more jobs. The hon. Gentleman should do something about those jobs instead of defending Rupert Murdoch.
§ Mr. Hughes
The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) or anyone who has worked in television knows that there has been substantial overmanning in the television industry, as there has been in the newspaper industry, so a shake-out is likely. If the hon. Gentleman knew what he was talking about, he would know that the administrative jobs and the jobs in Livingston in Scotland are particularly sensitive and would be at risk.
My hon. and learned Friend has got the balance between principle and practicality exactly right. I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to support that. Otherwise, we shall simply be backing a vendetta by the Labour party, and I want no part of it.
§ Mr. Buchan
I very much regret the tone that the protagonists of Mr. Murdoch have taken in today's debate. If there is an axe being ground, it is pro-Murdoch rather than anti-Murdoch. The hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) has been on the Committee with me for the past three months and I resent totally any suggestion that my attitude towards the freedom of the press and television and the safeguarding of the rights of the British people has something to do with a personal dislike of Mr. Murdoch. I have encountered Mr. Murdoch only once and I felt sorry for him—he is not a particularly impressive character.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent)
He has the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) as a friend.
§ Mr. Buchan
If he has the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) as a supporter, that is the final indictment. He is not a very impressive character. Like one or two others, he has great ability to read a balance sheet, which I have not, but I do not consider that that makes him particularly bright. I do not think that he is even particularly interested in what his papers and broadcasting interests say. It is most curious. The hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) was involved with the Daily Express when Beaverbrook ran it. At least Beaverbrook had something to say. He had some odd views, and I may have disagreed with his values, but he had some values.
249 The curious aspect is the valuelessness of Murdoch—the fact that money has become the only criterion and he measures his success by money.
I do not want a marvellous instrument such as television and broadcasting, which allows us to speak to humanity throughout the globe, to be left in the hands of anyone who is concerned only with making money. When the alphabet was invented, it was not flogged off letter by letter. Yet the Government, with such an instrument in their hands, are flogging it off not for the purpose of educating or entertaining—they have dropped the need to educate, inform and entertain—but to make money. I regret that that is what the right hon. Member for Chingford and the hon. Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) are defending.
§ Mr. Tebbit
I am defending not Mr. Murdoch's ability to make money, but the right of viewers and readers to choose to watch his channels or read his newspapers rather than somebody else's if they so wish and if there are plenty of other channels and newspapers. It may irritate the hon. Gentleman that they choose to read Mr. Murdoch's newspapers and to watch his channels, but that is the way it is. If Mr. Murdoch is interested in money, that is perhaps better than some of those who have used the media solely for the purpose of politics. We can see the evils of that in many countries east of the iron curtain.
§ Mr. Buchan
My hon. Friend is right. Beaverbrook frequently used his newspapers for propaganda.
The right hon. Member for Chingford is wrong. He is not very bright or knowledgeable. He talks about the number of new newspapers and The Independent. I remember when there were three evening papers in Glasgow, but now there is only one. Twenty or 30 years ago there were more newspapers. We on the Left know how many newspapers have been lost. The right hon. Member for Chingford boasts about the number of new newspapers. Five people control more than 93 per cent. of the entire daily and Sunday press circulation. Does the right hon. Gentleman call that breadth of choice? Where is the choice between The Sun and the Daily Mirror? No great popular paper is breaking new ground.
Under the Bill, there will be a choice between a series of money-making, pap-producing television programmes. There is nothing wrong with football—it is my favourite sport—but there is something wrong with only football. There is nothing wrong with quiz games and pap, but there is something wrong with only quiz games and pap. The competition under the Bill will not expand people's ideas to gain credit even from a man like the right hon. Member for Chingford—it will seek to maximise its audience. The purpose is not to broadcast minority programmes to 3 million or 4 million people, but to maximise profit. That is what the right hon. Member for Chingford wants to do with this marvellous instrument.
The argument is more serious than the monopoly that I have described. Hitherto, even the monopoly of the press has been balanced because we have had regulated broadcasting. The commercial companies and the BBC have had the duty to inform, entertain and educate and to ensure diversity of opinion and of programmes. Despite all the weaknesses of the press, at least it was balanced by a 250 broadcasting system which had relative objectivity, breadth and diversity. That will no longer be so. Instead of a balance being achieved by the broadcasting system, it will reinforce the effects of the popular press. Murdoch and Maxwell will be reinforced, not balanced, by their broadcasting systems. That is the menace of cross-media ownership. Even the Government have established a committee to consider certain effects of cross-media ownership. They recognise the problem, but they are taking no means to deal with it.
Why the concentration on Murdoch? Any Member who served on the Committee with me will know that if it had been Maxwell or anyone else I would still be seeking diversity and not a cramping but an opening up of broadcasting. Labour Members see the commercial undertaking as a cramping of quality and censorship. Five people control 93.9 per cent. of the entire daily and Sunday press circulation. Broadcasting is being released to the people who own, have shares in and monopolise it. That is a tremendous danger to human freedoms and liberties. Labour Members are concerned about that, but it does not enter the consciousness of Conservative Members because they equate success and diversity with the making of pap. That is why we are anxious and concerned. To call that a simple vendetta is disgraceful.
I have spoken frequently on this subject in the past two months.
§ Mr. Buchan
Ad nauseam, indeed.
The problem that we face is dangerous because there is only one final security for our people—that each man's truth can be known and expressed. We have seen the worst expression of censorship in the case of Salman Rushdie. We must say to people that the answer to a book is to write an alternative book, that the answer to a speech is to make an alternative speech, and the answer to a monopoly in broadcasting is to ensure diversity. That will not happen if we allow untrammelled cross-media reinforcement of the attitudes of the providers.
That is why we are opposed to the clause and why we say that it is not to do with the individual but to do with the fact that one group controls more than 35 per cent. of the daily and Sunday press and a plethora of publishing companies. Collins—the main publisher of the Bible, God help us—is also owned by Murdoch. We must take a stand against that huge monopoly on human ideas and expression. I hope that the Labour party will give a pledge that when it is returned to office it will not allow anyone to develop whatever monopoly he likes in television.
We know that the purpose of the amendment was to exclude Murdoch's group—that is why so much of the argument has centred around him—but it would have been the same if it had been someone else. The Government's proposal is dangerous. The limitation of freedom in this country has been increasing when it should have been decreasing.
§ Mr. Simon Coombs (Swindon)
I am always delighted to follow the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) because it is fascinating to hear him develop his arguments. His suggestion that newspaper producers should cease to concentrate on making money leads me to suggest that, if they were to do that, they might soon cease to be newspaper producers. That is like suggesting to 251 politicians that they should not concentrate so much on winning votes because they would be much better people if they did that. I am sure that that argument would not hold much sway among hon. Members on either side of the House.
§ Mr. Coombs
No. I want to make my speech.
I speak as the chairman of the all-party cable and satellite television committee. More importantly, I speak as a viewer of and subscriber to Swindon Cable. I can watch 27 channels if I so choose. Four of those channels are provided by Sky. I am delighted to say that as of a few days ago five channels are provided by BSB. Other channels come from overseas and some are provided by the BBC and by independent television companies. I believe that that is diversity, and that is what the debate should he about. I reject any amendment which in any way offers the possibility of a reduction in that diversity.
I am not violently keen on the idea of restrictions on cross-media ownership. I said that on Second Reading and I repeat it today. I would be far happier if the Office of Fair Trading and the Monopolies and Mergers Commission between them could deal with abuse instead of the question of ownership. If this Bill had come from the Department of Trade and Industry rather than from the Home Office, the debate would have gone in that direction instead of towards arbitrary restrictions on ownership. I hope that we can get away from that idea.
§ Mr. Maclennan
The hon. Gentleman must recognise that the Monopolies and Mergers Commission operates by similar yardsticks of ownership. There is a share of market test.
§ Mr. Coombs
I appreciate that.
We should not be concentrating on ownership which of itself may be neutral or beneficial. However, that is not the point. We should be concerned with what abuse, if any, springs from the ability to control sections of the media.
I do not believe that the additional ownership of four channels out of 27—and some have said that there may be more than 40 in a while—is likely to lead to a reduction in the freedom of choice. If anything, freedom of choice will be increased. Since the introduction of Sky and BSB, my particular loves of watching cricket and listening to classical music have been attended to, one by Sky and the other by BSB. Where is the reduction in standards of quality which many Opposition Members have suggested would be inherent in the introduction of new channels provided either by satellite or by cable?
I want to encourage entrepreneurial investment in this country; I do not want to depress it. Anyone who seriously suggested that we should send a signal to News International that as from today it had a limited lease of life with regard to the ownership of the Sky Television network channels would clearly be off his head. There would be no more investment and that would mean a loss of £2 million a week for Sky Television from the day that that signal left the House. That would occur under the Opposition's proposal to cut off the operation at the knees as of tomorrow or as soon as possible. Similarly it would occur if the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for 252 Slough (Mr. Watts) in his amendment that there should be a period of grace of perhaps two or three years and a limit of 3 million homes were to be accepted.
What does that limit mean? It would mean that more than 20 million homes would not have an opportunity to watch Sky Television. It does not follow automatically that those that could would want to. Where is the interference, domination and control in practice from the figure of 3 million homes? I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Slough is not in the Chamber to respond to that question, because it is an important and valid one.
I hope that the Government will be firm in resisting the temptation to allow the Labour party to indulge itself in bloody revenge on the owner of News International. That is blatantly what the debate is about for most Opposition Members—although not all—who have spoken in this debate, in Committee and on other occasions. That is clear to me, and I am sure it must be to other Members.
This debate is about competition between owners of the media and competition for readers and viewers of the media. Parliament should be trying to protect the latter and to broaden it to give as much competition as possible for readers and viewers. That should be our priority. If in the process of trying to achieve that we find that abuse is caused by a smaller amount of competition in ownership of the media, we should act decisively to prevent that. Of itself, that ownership is not an evil, and that is why I shall vote against the amendment.
§ Mr. Riddick
I was surprised by the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Mr. Watts). I thought that he believed, like me, in choice, diversity and the free market. However, I was not surprised by Opposition Members. Their main motivation seems to be spite. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) gave the game away when he said that he would never again write for Murdoch's newspapers. Clearly the right hon. Gentleman holds a grudge against Murdoch. The Labour party has been carrying out a vendetta against Murdoch since the Wapping incidents. The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) confirmed what Conservative Members had suggested—that amendment No. 110 is motivated simply by spite.
As we all know, the Murdoch stable has been responsible for the newspaper revolution in this country. With News International, Murdoch destroyed the stranglehold that some of Labour's paymasters—the print unions—held over the newspaper industry. Murdoch did away with restrictive practices and ensured that innovation could enter the industry. I believe that Murdoch is responsible for the existence today of newspapers such as The Independent, The Independent on Sunday, Today and The Sunday Correspondent.
Opposition Members have suggested that News International dominates the newspaper market. It has three daily and two Sunday newspapers. It also has 1,500 provincial papers. However, back in the 1970s when the Mirror group had a similar market share to that held by Rupert Murdoch today, the Labour party said nothing about that. It did not complain in 1976 when the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook was a successful member of the then Labour Government. I believe that he was the Minister responsible for prices and incomes when inflation was touching 30 per cent. At that time, the Mirror group had 42 per cent. of the Sunday circulation. Today, 253 Murdoch has considerably less. Concentration of ownership is no greater today than it was 10 or 15 years ago.
I congratulate News International on its massive investment in satellite television. That is private enterprise at its best. Murdoch has shown that he is prepared to take the risks and take massive gambles. I am not convinced of the need for any restrictions on cross-media ownership now that there is such diversity within the newspaper industry and the television business. I understand that 17 television channels are available for British viewers. My hon. Friend the Member for Slough referred to the Pilkington committee in 1962, when there were only two television channels. Things have changed dramatically since then.
The obvious effect of amendment No. 110 would be to force Murdoch to sell, and that would put Sky out of existence. That would mean less diversity and less choice. It has been pointed out that BSB could free itself of the ownership rules if it so wished, but that would mean BSB giving up its exclusive right to the direct satellite broadcasting channels and the consequent advantages.
I believe that BSB enjoys the use of a scarce limited resource that Sky does not have the opportunity to enjoy. There are limitless opportunities for new entrants to Sky's market. Clearly, BSB does not like the competition, and it is unfortunate that it is using underhand tactics to destroy competition. I hope that the House will see through that.
What evidence is there that Murdoch's newspapers are abusing their position and relationship vis-a-vis Sky Television? I have not seen any such evidence. I am a regular reader of The Times and The Sunday Times, and I see no evidence that those newspapers seek to brainwash me. If they do, they have not been very successful, because I do not even own one of those famous dishes that we see springing up all over the place.
If News International abused its ownership of the two media vehicles in some way, the viewers and readers would see through that abuse and register their disapproval in the most effective way possible: they would stop reading the newspapers and watching the television channels that Murdoch own. The key is to ensure that there is sufficient choice and diversity to provide alternative newspapers.
There is an unholy alliance between my hon. Friends who intend to support the amendment—knowingly or unknowingly they will vote for a vested interest—and Opposition Members who will vote for the amendment out of spite for Mr. Murdoch. For all its supposed new-found moderation, the Labour party's position on this issue proves that it is still beholden to its trade union masters. Its motivation is not a desire to improve the Bill but sheer spite and malice.
I wholly oppose this unnecessary, bureaucratic amendment. I am in favour of competition, choice and diversity. In short, I expect my hon. Friends and those who believe in the free market to support it, too.
§ Mr. Gale
I wish to consider the amendment in the context of the future of the United Kingdom television industry throughout Europe. When we embarked on the Bill, we considered it as a Bill that would take United Kingdom and European television into the 21st century. Early in our debates, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) referred to the legislation as a 254 Bill for the early 1990s. Yesterday, in a nice turn of phrase, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) said that we were backing sideways into the brave new future of television. If we accept the amendments, we shall take British television back into the 1970s and we shall miss out on the future that we could have Europewide.
The Council of Europe convention, to which I referred earlier and on which I received no satisfactory answer to my question, was fought for by both Conservative and Opposition Members in the Council of Europe. The Labour party was as staunch in its support as the Conservative party to secure a free framework for broadcasting throughout Europe. I am not sure that the amendments are acceptable within that convention. The convention and the European Community directive were framed with a view to transfrontier pan-European broadcasting. That is the opportunity that faces the United Kingdom television industry now.
We have an opportunity to make programmes for, not only the 40 million to 50 million people who watch television in Britain but an audience of 400 million to 500 million Europewide. Opportunities will also arise in eastern Europe. That is the prospect on offer. If we vote for the amendments, we shall cut off at the legs the successful embryo United Kingdom television industry before it has had a chance to develop. The amendment is spiteful. It is designed to regulate something the moment that it becomes successful. It criticises success.
We have a tremendous opportunity Europewide, but if we accept the amendments, the developments in satellite television, the jobs involved, even the satellite service that had the courage that no else had to carry the televised proceedings of the House on one of its channels for at least a short period will go overseas. The jobs will not die altogether: they will go to Luxembourg, France or Germany. The satellite television industry, which is complementary to cable and which will feed our cable system, will develop not in the United Kingdom but elsewhere in Europe, as so many other innovations have done. That is what the Labour party seeks to impose on us, and what we must vote against tonight.
§ Mr. Mellor
Our debate has been conducted with great vigour by both Conservative and Opposition Members. It has been attractively marked by divisions of view on each side. Personally, I believe that Parliament is the better, not the worse, for that.
There is no absolute truth on either side of the argument on this issue. I fully accept that, by resisting the amendment which my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Mr. Watts) spoke with dignity and restraint I shall disappoint several hon. Members and several distin-guished people outside the House. I accept that it is perfectly possible for people of good will to differ on the matter.
I wish to make it clear that, during the passage of the Bill, I have sought to consider each of the major issues as they arose. When I was persuaded that there was a case for change, I made the change where the discretion was vested in me. Where it was not, and where I needed to consult colleagues, I did so. For the most part, my colleagues have been indulgent enough to agree that those changes should be made.
255 7.45 pm
If I had any doubts on this issue, I should be only too willing to recommend a change. However, nothing that I have heard tonight shakes my conviction that we are right to take the view that we do. I shall not go into detail of the merits of the case, because so many others have put the case eloquently for both sides of the argument. I simply emphasise that, where there is scarce spectrum and where that spectrum is allocated by United Kingdom processors, we have the most rigorous cross-media control. I defend that, because I believe that it is right. For instance, neither Mr. Murdoch nor Mr. Maxwell could have a controlling interest in an ITV franchise. Indeed, they could not have a controlling interest in BSB, which has been granted a monopoly on the five United Kingdom high-power satellite frequencies that are available to us.
As I said earlier, the non-domestic broadcasting by satellite services are different. They are not granted by United Kingdom regulatory bodies. They are carried on a satellite that is not subject to United Kingdom jurisdiction. It is a satellite with a seemingly endless potential for new channels. It is not scarce spectrum. Already there are 16 channels, including one owned by Mr. Maxwell, who would equally well be caught if the amendment were accepted. There could well be 32 channels soon; some people suggest that there could be 48. There is no scarce spectrum.
There is no reason of principle why we should seek to control the ownership of a brave entrepreneurial effort. I admired the speech of the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) on that subject. We do not know whether that entrepreneurial effort will succeed or fail, but I do not envisage a great queue of people ready to emulate it. Nor will stations consist of wall-to-wall game shows. Plainly, whatever anyone says, Sky News is a serious venture which has nothing to do with pap and everything to do with quality television, as is clear from the nature and quality of the journalists and technicians employed by it, many of whom we all know in other contexts.
§ Mr. Mellor
Of course, there are exceptions to that rule among both Conservative and Opposition Members, as the Home Secretary's Parliamentary Private Secretary says.
There is no reason of principle for the amendments. On the practical side, I cannot for the life of me see the advantage of forcing a successful channel to go overseas and putting ourselves in the ludicrous position of having to distort the arrangements in the Bill, which are designed to act against pornographic stations, simply to prevent a newspaper proprietor whom some people dislike from doing a perfectly legitimate job, either as a newspaper proprietor or as a broadcaster.
When we are properly solicitous about the loss of some dozens of jobs in south Wales, we cannot be oblivious to the consequences of losing almost 1,000 jobs, some of them in west London but 250 of them in Scotland, where people are sensitive about jobs. I am consistent about this —I am unhappy about the loss of jobs anywhere. However, I have one consolation. If the ITV system is overmanned, the creation of new broadcasting opportunities should create new opportunities for people within 256 the industry to work. That is why we must have a diverse broadcasting market and why I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale).
I do not think it right in principle to impose restrictions on the ownership of Sky Television or MTV, Mr. Maxwell's venture, straight away. It would be wrong for the House to arrive at some arbitrary figure at which we allege—we have no basic reason for thinking so—that profitability would be reached. I am far from persuaded that providing such services to 3 million homes means that profitability has been achieved, given the hundreds of millions of pounds that will have been expended in trying to make those ventures a success.
I can legislate only for the period in which the Government have their majority. Who knows what the future may hold? We are principled about this, in the sense that all the ownership restrictions are in a schedule to the Bill and any one of them can be changed by an affirmative resolution of both Houses. If, in five or 10 years' time, a different Government take a different view, it is open to them, through a resolution passed by both Houses, to change the restrictions. I hope that any future Government that sought such change would do so for reasons of principle and not through spite.
§ Mr. Mellor
I am not making any allegations about spite now; all I am saying is that, if the moment came for change, I hope that it would be actuated by principle, not spite. I am at some pains to say that I understand that there is a case on the other side of the argument. Let any change take place as and when it is the view of a Government that that change should be made.
My view is entirely clear: on practical grounds and on grounds of principle it would be wrong to move the goal posts at this point. Although it is perfectly proper that we have had this debate and perfectly proper that the issue has been joined with great vigour, I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Slough feels that he can properly withdraw the amendment so that we can move on to the many other issues that will detain us this evening.
§ Amendment agreed to.
Amendments made: No. 322, in page 144, line 19, leave out second 'is' and insert—
'appears to the Commission to be'.
No. 323, in page 144, line 20, leave out 'is' and insert—
'appears to them to be'.
No. 324, in page 144, line 24, at end insert—
'; and, where a person is the holder of a licence to provide such a relevant service, he shall not be a participant with more than a 20 per cent. interest in a body corporate which is the holder of such a licence as is mentioned in paragraph (a) above or which provides such a service as is mentioned in paragraph (b) above.'.
No. 325, in page 144, line 25, leave out 'In this sub-paragraph' and insert—
'(2A) In sub-paragraph (2)—'.
No. 326, in page 144, line 28, at end insert—
'and a service shall be disregarded for the purposes of paragraph (a) or (b) of that sub-paragraph if the programmes included in the service are at all times the same as those which are for the time being broadcast in a Channel 3 service or on Channel 5.'.
§ No. 327, in page 144, line 43, leave out 'any' and insert 'a significant'.
No. 328, in page 144, line 51, after 'licence', insert—
'or in two or more such bodies corporate'.
No. 329, in page 145, line 4, at end insert—
'or in two or more such bodies corporate.'.
§ No. 330, in page 145, line 13, leave out 'to' and insert ',(2), (3) and'.
§ No. 331, in page 146, line 10, at end insert—