HC Deb 23 May 1994 vol 244 cc3-4
3. Mr. David Evans

To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what is his policy on independent television; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Brooke

Our aim is to increase diversity and choice for audiences and to encourage British broadcasters to compete in providing services in this country and elsewhere.

Mr. Evans

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the BBC ought to be privatised forthwith to save pensioners their licence fee? Is he aware that the BBC is known by the British people as an annexe to Walworth road—in other words, that lot over there?

Mr. Brooke

My hon. Friend shows some ingenuity in asking a question about independent television and then putting a supplementary about transferring the BBC to the private sector. I am not sure that his views about the BBC are widely held in the House.

Mr. Mackinlay

In his contacts with the holders of the London commercial television franchise, will the Secretary of State take an early opportunity to remind them of their obligations to those millions of viewers outside the area covered by the former GLC? The franchise serves those viewers, but its news and current affairs programmes do not adequately reflect or take into account that fact. The people on the outer rim are not given fair coverage by London News Network and its related organisations.

Mr. Brooke

It is for the Independent Television Commission rather than for me to remind franchisees of their obligations. One of the obligations that the ITC places on them is that 80 per cent. of regional programming should be produced in the area. I shall certainly see to it that the ITC's attention is drawn to the hon. Gentleman's question.

Mr. Thurnham

Will my right hon. Friend carry out a review of employment practices in the television companies to see how many of them give £75 and a honeymoon week to heterosexual couples, let alone to gay and lesbian couples?

Mr. Brooke

My hon. Friend's supplementary also approaches the original question from the flank. It may help the House if I say that the BBC said today that it was taking very seriously the concern expressed on the subject of the equivalent of marriage allowances and gifts to single-sex couples. The corporation said that it was bringing forward a planned review of its special leave arrangements generally—and marriage gifts specifically —as part of its overall activity to modernise the benefits and conditions of service of its staff, and that, pending the outcome of that review, the award of one-off marriage payments would be suspended.

Mr. Maclennan

In promoting choice and variety for viewers, will the Secretary of State look favourably on the possibility of establishing Channel 5, and not allow arguments about digital to become confused with that question?

Mr. Brooke

Issues relating to digital are part of the equation that has to be analysed, but we are examining with our technical advisers our capacity to go forward on both fronts at the same time.

Mr. Trimble

Does the Minister have any policy on the financial probity of television programme makers? There is reason to believe that more than a five-figure sum disappeared from the accounts of a Channel 4 programme; but, rather than assist the police in bringing the guilty journalist to court, Channel 4 covered up the issue so as not to expose the inaccurate content of the programme, which I have raised in an Adjournment debate. Does the Minister have a view on such matters?

Mr. Brooke

The individual broadcasting companies or independent producers acting on their behalf would obviously be answerable for the manner in which funds are spent. The hon. Gentleman's question is a little too detailed in terms of the question on the Order Paper.

Mr. Ian Bruce

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the excellent progress that has been made by satellite and cable television and by all the independent television companies demonstrates to the BBC that it should look to become an independent television company without the benefit of a monopolistic licence fee? When does my right hon. Friend expect to abolish the licence fee?

Mr. Brooke

The direct answer to my hon. Friend's leading question is that we shall fairly shortly publish a White Paper on the future of the BBC. On the issue of other services in which the BBC might engage, my hon. Friend will be aware of the corporation's announcement last week about its future partnership with Pearson's.