HC Deb 05 February 1996 vol 271 cc3-4
4. Mr. Martlew

To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage if she will make a statement on the future regulation of broadcasting content. [11759]

The Secretary of State for National Heritage (Mrs. Virginia Bottomley)

The Broadcasting Bill currently before Parliament extends to new digital terrestrial services the obligations on impartiality, taste and decency now applying to commercial broadcasts. The new draft charter and agreement will place the BBC under equivalent obligations.

Mr. Martlew

Does the Secretary of State agree that the new Bill could have a detrimental effect on small regional television stations such as Border Television, whose headquarters is in my constituency? Is it not a fact that the Bill will make it more likely that it will be taken over by larger companies? Would that not reduce local accountability and local programming, and result in the loss of many local good-quality jobs?

Mrs. Bottomley

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that detailed consultation was undergone before we published the Bill. Regional factors—we examined this carefully—were some of the considerations. That is why we propose a new power for the Independent Television Commission to require strengthened regional programming. I hope that that will reassure the hon. Gentleman. No doubt the matter will be debated at great length when the Bill reaches this place.

Sir Patrick Cormack

Is my right hon. Friend really content with the standards of taste and decency at present observed on television? Does she truly believe that more will mean better?

Mrs. Bottomley

I agree with my hon. Friend that we must be ever vigilant about questions of taste and decency. We have reason to be proud of our public service broadcasting, and the campaign is one from which we can never relax. The strengthening of the Broadcasting Standards Council and the development of the Broadcasting Complaints Commission will be a further confidence-inspiring measure, which I hope will deliver on-going results from our media.

Dr. John Cunningham

After spending weeks drafting the Bill, including the passages on regulation of broadcasting, why did the Secretary of State wait until last Friday to publish, belatedly, a document on listed events? Why did she wait until the matter was in effect before the House before intervening? Is it not clear that it was the Government's intention in their Broadcasting Act 1990 to give effective protection to listed events especially to prevent the monopolising of that part of our national sporting heritage by a single broadcaster? Is it not now appropriate, given the widespread public concern about these issues, that the law be strengthened to prevent the creation of a broadcasting monopoly, while not excluding any individual broadcaster from participating?

Mrs. Bottomley

There has been a huge increase in the amount of sport on television. There has been a huge increase in the amount of money going into sport, such that there is now greater participation and better facilities throughout the country than in almost any previous phase.

On the Bill, we first issued a detailed consultation paper on the ownership questions. We set out the arguments. We consulted. In the summer, we set out the consultation document on digital terrestrial television. We consulted in detail and listened to all the arguments. Now, as it is clearly the wish of Parliament to discuss the matter further, we have set out the arguments and the balance of interests, and we hope in the coming weeks that detailed consideration will be given to the issue so that the House can reach a conclusion.