HC Deb 16 October 1995 vol 264 cc8-9
7. Ms Glenda Jackson

To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage how she will ensure that the subsidy that Channel 4 must pay to the ITV companies will be used solely to finance programmes; and if she will make a statement. [35904]

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley

It is for the Channel 3 companies to decide how they use any moneys paid to them by Channel 4 under the terms of the Broadcasting Act 1990.

Ms Jackson

Does the Secretary of State agree that Channel 4's creative programming has produced not only viewer satisfaction and commercial profit, but an increased international respect for this country's primacy in quality public service broadcasting? Will she assure the House that the Bill soon to be introduced on the media will re-examine the present funding formulas so that Channel 4 will not be unfairly penalised in the future—as it undoubtedly is at the moment—for its overwhelming success?

Mrs. Bottomley

I do not accept that Channel 4 is penalised for its success. Channel 4 has been extremely successful as a result of the new arrangements and I congratulate it on all that it has done. The Broadcasting Act 1990 set out the funding formula for Channel 4 and that exists until the end of 1997. It would be quite improper to move the goal posts during that period. Like the hon. Lady, however, I commend the success of Channel 4.

Mr. Allen

The Secretary of State knows perfectly well that the Broadcasting Act was never intended to draw money from Channel 4. Indeed, the safety net was designed to assist Channel 4. Does she accept that taking £70 million from Channel 4 in each of the next two years will damage the creative ability of the British television industry and will mean that one of our biggest assets will be under-used? Will she undertake to review the matter and, if appropriate, bring forward relevant amendments which we could discuss in the House when we debate the new media Bill?

Mrs. Bottomley

It is only the Labour party which constantly wants to move the goal posts. We have already had the smoke-filled deal on BT and the cable companies. Similarly, on this matter, it would be quite improper to modify the arrangements while they are under way. The funding arrangement has ensured the stability of Channel 4 at a time when there is a great deal of change in the television industry. The independent television companies took that into account when they bid for their licences. Certainly, the independent television companies invest very heavily in original programming.