HC Deb 18 September 2003 vol 410 cc1054-5
3. Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda)

If she will make a statement on the proposed merger of Carlton and Granada. [130817]

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Ms Hewitt)

The Competition Commission submitted a report to me on the proposed merger on 21 August. In accordance with the usual practice, I shall announce any decisions on the report when it is published. I have informed the parties that I aim to publish the report by the week beginning 6 October.

Mr. Bryant

My right hon. Friend will know that protracted negotiations are taking place between Carlton, Granada, Sky, Channel 4 and S4C about maintaining the free-to-air option on digital satellite. There is a real possibility that unless some swift resolution is found, people will not be able to watch free-to-air "Coronation Street", for instance, on Christmas day and Boxing day. I therefore urge my right hon. Friend to provide a swift resolution, along the lines that she has suggested today, so that Carlton and Granada can sort out their business plans and make a significant contribution to sorting out the problem.

Ms Hewitt

I entirely share my hon. Friend's concern about "Coronation Street" on Christmas day, but of course long-standing arrangements enable ITV to negotiate as a network, and it is doing so. Regardless of any decision on the proposed merger—it would be wrong for me to comment on that now—it would in any case be necessary for the new provisions in the Communications Act 2003 to come into effect, which is unlikely to happen until the end of the year.

Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby)

My right hon. Friend will know of the excellent production values and the great creative talent that both companies possess, especially the Granada group, which includes Yorkshire Television. My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Bryant) mentioned "Coronation Street", but my right hon. Friend will know that "Heartbeat" is produced in my constituency. That programme is a great showcase for this country and brings in many tourists. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the merger will not compromise the excellent production values of companies such as Yorkshire Television, but will in fact enhance the showcasing of the wonderful county of Yorkshire?

Ms Hewitt

I know that my hon. Friend will understand that I cannot comment on the proposed merger or the report from the Competition Commission, which I shall publish. However, the whole issue of maintaining excellent quality production in the United Kingdom is an important theme in the Communications Act 2003, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and I have recently piloted through the House. I know that my hon. Friend will support us in putting the Act into effect.