HL Deb 05 November 2003 vol 654 cc792-3

2.48 p.m.

Lord McNally asked Her Majesty's Government:

How they intend to protect the public interest regarding the future of ITV in advance of Ofcom taking up its responsibilities on 29th December.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Lord McIntosh of Haringey)

My Lords, the Independent Television Commission will continue to protect the public interest regarding ITV until 29th December this year when Ofcom takes up its responsibilities and the new media ownership and programme content rules commence. Until that date the ITC remains responsible for regulating ITV in accordance with the rules set out by the Broadcasting Act 1990.

Lord McNally

My Lords, does the Minister now concede that the Government were wrong in not following the Puttnam committee recommendation that Ofcom should be allowed to look at the case for non-EU ownership of ITV before it was thrown to the market? Does he think it important now that he, as Minister, reminds shareholders or any would-be shareholders that the Government and the regulators will rigorously enforce the licence provisions which ITV will take over, particularly in terms of quality news provision, regional provision and British content, because that might dampen the ardour of some would-be suitors?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am delighted that the noble Lord's supplementary question is wide of the original Question, because the Question led me to the conclusion—I am glad to say that it was a false conclusion—that he did not understand that there was no interregnum between the existing and future regimes. I am glad that he understands that. I confirm that the Government were not wrong in implementing the new regime, which will take effect on 29th December, and that it will be rigorously implemented by Ofcom.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote

My Lords, 29th December is not very far away. Although many of us may think that the pre-scrutiny committee's proposed breathing space would have been safer, will the Minister commit to use all his and the Government's considerable powers of persuasion to encourage Ofcom to put the ITV situation right at the top of its agenda, possibly even before the date on which it begins its operation?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, Ofcom comes into existence as a statutory body on 29th December, and all its powers and responsibilities, including those relating to ITV, will come into force then. There is no possibility of advancing or delaying that process.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth

My Lords, is the Minister aware that one of the distinctive qualities of ITV has been its smaller regional companies? Will the Government therefore ensure that, in the merger between Carlton and Granada, the interests in the advertising marketplace of the smaller independent regional companies that remain will be properly safeguarded?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I think that I can just about bring that question within the scope of the original Question, by saying that there are provisions in the regime to be brought in on 29th December under the Communications Act to ensure that programmes are made both regionally and for regional audiences.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale

My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that, until Ofcom gets legal life on 29th December, responsibility for the goings-on at ITV rests squarely with the Independent Television Commission, under the terms of the licence that the ITV companies hold?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Yes, my Lords. I thought that I had just said that.

Lord McNally

My Lords, is the Minister aware that his right honourable friend Patricia Hewitt has given considerable praise to the way in which shareholders in ITV have behaved recently? Does he think that ITV has anything to learn in terms of corporate governance from its near neighbour BSkyB?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I appreciate that I answer for the Government and not for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. However, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry having responsibility for corporate governance and having expressed her views on it, it would be impertinent of me to intervene.

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