HC Deb 12 July 1993 vol 228 cc653-5
2. Mr. Kirkwood

To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what steps he proposes to take to protect the independence of the smaller independent television companies; and if he will make a statement.

7. Mr. Etherington

To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what discussions he has had with the Independent Television Commission about the rules concerning the ownership of C3 franchises.

The Secretary of State for National Heritage (Mr. Peter Brooke)

I am reflecting on the discussions I have had with both the Independent Television Commission and the ITV companies about the ownership rules and other issues.

Mr. Kirkwood

Does the Secretary of State acknowledge the value of a genuinely produced and transmitted independent commercial television service to local areas such as my own in south-east Scotland? Will he say more about the discussions? Is he aware that the small independent companies are expressing great concern at the lack of protection that may exist for them after 1 January? Will he give an assurance that they will have a degree of protection similar to that afforded to the larger companies under the existing rules? Will he confirm that an article in today's Financial Times indicating that he will make an announcement in September is something like the truth?

Mr. Brooke

I am happy to join the hon. Gentleman in his commitment to, and endorsement of, the importance of regional quality. The Broadcasting Act 1990 was written in such a way as to ensure that the ITC made certain of that. As to protecting the small companies, the hon. Gentleman will know how the legislation is written. The meeting that I held on 14 June, on which I am still deliberating, obviously related to events after 1 January in a number of directions.

Mr. Etherington

No, 7, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker

Questions Nos. 2 and 7 are linked.

Mr. Etherington

Things are not always too good on a Monday, Madam Speaker.

When the Secretary of State speaks to the heads of ITV companies, will he make them aware that many people in the industry are deeply concerned about the prospect of an internal carve-up and a free-for-all? It is also widely felt by many in the industry that this is merely a self-propagating effort by those with a vested interest in the matter. Will the Secretary of State ensure that those who are stating that in the region of £100 million can be saved by doing away with duplication between various companies are made to explain filly to the Secretary of State's satisfaction that that is the case, and that it is not just another example of the companies advancing their own views to their own advantage?

Mr. Brooke

The rules relating to ownership are written into the 1990 Act. I acknowledge—as I did to the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood)—that my meeting with ITV companies on 14 June related to that and to other matters. As to the £100 million savings, that issue was raised at the 14 June meeting and I have had subsequent correspondence with a number of those present pressing just the point that the hon. Gentleman made.

Mr. Simon Coombs

My right hon. Friend will be well aware that there is, to put it mildly, some dispute between the chairmen of the various ITV companies over whether the moratorium at the end of the year is likely to lead to a greater risk of a foreign takeover of some of the smaller ITV companies. Does he have a view on that dispute and if he has concluded that there is some likelihood of a foreign takeover, does he propose taking any action to prevent it?

Mr. Brooke

The issues that relate to what happens after 1 January came up at the meeting that I held on 14 June, so I was made fully aware of the views of individual Channel 3 companies about that proposition. We are of the view that our rules should be on all fours with those of the rest of the Community and we are taking an interest in those countries where we feel that the rules are not drawn up on the same basis as our own.

Mr. John Marshall

Does my right hon. Friend accept that immunity from takeover and protectionism for existing management do nothing for the quality of programmes or for the efficiency of companies?

Mr. Brooke

I could not possibly disagree with my hon. Friend. On the other hand, if we were to proceed with the Broadcasting Act 1990 as currently written, companies in this country would be in a slightly different position from those in other Community countries after 1 January.

Mrs. Clwyd

As there is some dispute, will the Secretary of State tell us the net amount he expects the ITV companies to pay to the Government this year compared with the amount paid under the old levy system? Is he aware that Yorkshire Tyne Tees Television is to axe a further 188 jobs in yet another cost-cutting exercise? Does that not confirm what the Labour party has repeatedly said about the discredited Broadcasting Act 1990 and the damage being inflicted on ITV? When will the Secretary of State understand that staff loyalty, staff continuity and, above all, adequate staffing levels are critical to maintaining programme quality?

Mr. Brooke

I am, of course, aware of the commentary in one of today's newspapers about the specific amounts that ITV companies are paying in levy this year, although I have not yet done my own detailed cross-analysis of those figures. The hon. Lady knows that I share her views on the need to maintain the production base of television in Britain and that there are many aspects to that question beyond those that she has mentioned.

Mr. John Greenway

Does my right hon. Friend agree that strict enforcement of programme obligations, the current ownership structure and the regionality of ITV make it all the more important that the House should have regard to the funding of ITV? Does he accept that commercial pressure is being brought to bear on ITV at the present time? As a constructive way to resolve that problem, would he consider bringing forward the review of the ITV franchise arrangements to coincide with the review of the BBC charter?

Mr. Brooke

I understand my hon. Friend's proposition, but it would be premature to take a decision of that nature. On the other hand, I mentioned to the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) a moment ago my concern that we maintain the production base in this country. That larger issue will certainly inform our thinking.