HL Deb 24 May 1994 vol 555 cc605-7

2.53 p.m.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth asked Her Majesty's Government:

What plans they have to amend the Broadcasting Act 1990.

Baroness Trumpington

None, my Lords, at present; but the Government are reviewing the rules which restrict ownership between newspapers, television companies and radio stations.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for the latter half of her Answer. Is she aware that today the board of Channel 4 has sought amendments to the Broadcasting Act 1990 to deal with what has developed as the rather grotesque anomaly that a statutory public service corporation is; being compelled to subsidise the shareholders of ITV companies to the tune of about £38 million a year— money which, in the interests of the viewers, should be spent on the programmes?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, the funding arrangements were designed to safeguard Channel 4 in the long term. The arrangement has been in operation for only one year. The Government would have to be persuaded that changes were justified.

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, as one who has backed Channel 4 from the start, I am delighted to hear of its financial success. Will my noble friend recognise that that success should be rewarded in future financial arrangements for broadcasting?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, to answer my noble friend Lord Whitelaw, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage is meeting the chairman of Channel 4 next month to hear his views on the funding formula. I am sure that he will take account of my noble friend's views, particularly as it was he who set up Channel 4.

Lord Donoughue

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that almost any changes to the misjudged Broadcasting Act 1990 should be viewed with sympathy and, in particular, changes which would move money into programmes rather than elsewhere—although I would hope not into programmes such as the shabby Channel 4 programme on the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, last week? The general standard is very high. Will the Minister specifically give an assurance that any changes will not involve any movement towards privatisation of Channel 4?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I can answer the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, simply. We have no plans to do so.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that last night Mary Whitehouse, who has done more than anyone to try to uphold the standards on all television channels, bowed out after serving for many years as the chairman of the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association? Is she also aware that in Sir Hugh Greene's time—although matters have changed very much now—he put round a notice saying that no employee of the BBC was to have any contact with Mrs. Whitehouse whatsoever? Indeed, she says in her book that for 11 years she was not invited to appear on any single programme. Her appearance last night shows that the new management has different policies.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I am sure that we all wish Mrs. Whitehouse a long and happy retirement. She is a brave lady who has fought a great fight for what she believes in.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, does the noble Baroness recall that in January when I moved for Papers in a debate on pornography and violence she undertook to examine the question of the watershed with a view possibly to moving it from 9 p.m. to 10.30 p.m., as is the practice in France? Has she made any progress with her studies?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, that question does not have much connection with the Broadcasting Act. However, I should like to reply to the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury. The regulatory authorities have specifically responded to anxieties about violence on television, and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage had meetings with them earlier this month. Perhaps I should point out that the programmes shown after 10.30 p.m. in France would not be allowed to be shown in England.