HC Deb 10 November 1980 vol 992 cc3-5W
Mr. Colin Shepherd

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is able to announce his decisions about subscription television pilot schemes over cable systems.

Mr. Whitelaw

On 18 February, in reply to a question from my hon. Friend, the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Mudd), I announced that I was consulting a wide range of interested parties about the possibility of pilot schemes on subscription television over cable systems [Official Report, 18 February 1980, c. 18–19.] I have given careful consideration to the comments which I received and I have decided to license about 12 pilot schemes over the United Kingdom for an initial period of two years.

This is a new service to which individuals may choose whether to subscribe. The pilot schemes are likely to include a high proportion of feature films. It would not be practicable or appropriate for the Home Office to supervise the programmes shown or to exercise the functions of a broadcasting authority in the manner of the BBC and IBA. I therefore intend to apply the following general requirements regarding programmes in the pilot schemes:

  1. (a) Licensees may show only feature films which have been granted a registration certificate by the British Board of Film Censors. Films registered for public exhibition in a cinema in this country may be shown only after an interval of at least 12 months from the date of such registration. No films of category "X" (unsuitable for persons under 18) may be shown before 10 pm. A film which has been refused permission for exhibition in cinemas in a particular area may not be shown over subscription television in 4 that area. The same requirements regarding the proportion of films of British and EEC origin will be applied in the pilot schemes as apply to showings in cinemas.
  2. (b) Licensees may not seek exclusive rights to show sporting and entertainment events of national importance.
  3. (c) Advertising will not be permitted.
  4. (d) Licensees will be required to submit their programme schedules to the Home Office in advance.
  5. (e) Licensees will be required to conduct research into public reactions to the sub scription service, to monitor progress and to submit such reports and returns as the Home Office may require from time to time. In particular, they will be required to submit an account each year of the volume and nature of any complaints received and of any action taken in consequence. I also intend to require an account each year of any programmes of local community interest which have been shown in the subscription service.
Since my Department's supervision during the initial period will be limited to these general provisions, a special responsibility rests on the licensees.

I will consider towards the end of the two-year period, in the light of experience of the operation of the schemes and other relevant factors, and after consultation with interested parties, whether subscription television should be permitted to continue and expand on a permanent basis; and if so, what arrangements should be made for its supervision and operation. The imposition of any new conditions, including the imposition of a levy for the benefit of the film industry, and any additional safeguards needed to protect the cinema and television broadcasting services will also be decided in the light of my review.

Applications for licences are now invited from those wishing to take part in a pilot scheme. These will only be considered from existing licensees of broadcasting relay systems, either on their own or in association with companies or organisations providing material for subscription television services. I hope that the BBC will be associated with a pilot scheme. Applications may be made to provide a subscription service in more than one location provided that the locations are geographically close.

Any subscription service authorised will be additional to the BBC and IBA television services broadcast to the location concerned and, in Wales, to any service broadcast by the Welsh fourth channel authority. The schemes will be conducted at the commercial risk of the operators and applicants should provide evidence of adequate financial resources in support of their proposals.

Applicants should provide details of the technical characteristics of the system they propose to use for the distribution of their service and will be required to comply with any technical conditions imposed in the licence to ensure that there is no risk of interference to the reception of authorised broadcasts. The Department of Trade will not charge levy or similar contributions in respect of the showing of films in the pilot schemes. A licence fee will be charged to cover the administrative costs incurred by the Home Office.

Applications should be sent to the Broadcasting Department, Home Office, Room 610, 50 Queen Anne's Gate, London SW1H 9AT, by not later than 31 December 1980.