HL Deb 10 June 1993 vol 546 cc1040-1

3.16 p.m.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they are taking to ensure that broadcasting organisations in Britain are meeting the United Kingdom's European Community obligations that a majority of programmes showed be made in Europe.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, the BBC, the Welsh Fourth Channel Authority, the Independent Television Commission and holders of non-domestic satellite service and licensable programme service licences were informed by the Home Office in 1991 of our obligation under the EC Broadcasting Directive to ensure that all broadcasters, where practicable, reserve a majority of transmission time to European works.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. However, is he aware of the anxiety caused because the Government, having exempted BSkyB in the Broadcasting Act from the newspaper ownership provisions, seem tempted in practice to exempt BSkyB from the country's obligations under the European Broadcasting Directive in terms of the provision of European programming and the prevention of a total flood of American television imports? Will he give an assurance that in October of this year, when they come to survey the situation, they will insist that the same rules apply to BSkyB as apply to the ITV companies?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, there is no question that BSkyB has been exempted from the majority European works requirement. The provisions in the directive apply equally to all broadcasters. We are in the process of compiling figures on performance in meeting the majority European requirement. Clearly, some channels are nearer to achieving it than others. A report will be made to the European Commission on the performance of all broadcasters later this year. It will cover the period 3rd October 1991 to 31st December 1992.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, will my noble friend bear in mind when considering this matter that producers both in this country and in western Europe find it very difficult indeed to sell their excellent programmes and series to American networks? Is he aware that there seems to be a virtual ban on accepting productions from this country? Could the Government look for some equality? Otherwise, are we not forced to accept, at almost dumping prices, the huge production output from the United States, while they do not seem to want to take any of ours?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I am not aware of any bans in America on buying European or British programmes. The Question on the Order Paper relates to the EC and to our obligations regarding that. But a number of British programmes have been sold quite successfully in America.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, is the Minister aware that on one evening during the past couple of weeks all four of the ordinary television channels (Channels 1, 2, 3 and 4) were showing American films or American-made programmes at the same time?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, it is a matter for the broadcasters what programmes they wish to put on at a particular hour, taking into account the wishes of their audiences.

Lord Donoughue

My Lords, I was unclear about the Minister's reply to the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Thomson. Come October, will the Government's position be that the EC directive will be applied to Rupert Murdoch's satellites or not?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, we shall consider each case individually, taking into account the particular circumstances of the channel concerned. Broadcasters must be free to show in general what the audience wants to watch. We do not have any rigid time limits. This is a new area which needs to be treated flexibly and each case considered on its merits.