HC Deb 25 May 1988 vol 134 cc168-9W
Mr. Spearing

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what information he has concerning the likely schemes or proposals for satellite television services capable of being received in the United Kingdom which are the responsibility of(a) companies or organisations subject to United Kingdom legislation, (b) not in (a) above, but subject to legislation of the European Economic Community, and (c) not susceptible to either (a) or (b) above; and if he will make a statement concerning any activities or initiatives by Her Majesty's Government concerning international agreements concerning the standards of broadcast material in respect of (c) above.

Mr. Renton

There is a distinction between services transmitted by satellite for reception and distribution via cable systems, and services for direct reception in the home. Services of the former type are subject to regulation by the Cable Authority under the Cable and Broadcasting Act 1984 in the same way as other cable services. Since May 1985 it has, however, been open to anyone to obtain a licence for the direct reception of any satellite programme service, whether primarily intended for cable distribution or not.

Services broadcast direct to the home by satellite and not distributed on cable are not subject to Cable Authority regulation. I am aware of two current schemes for such services. British Satellite Broadcasting Ltd.(BSB) has been awarded the contract by the Independent Broadcasting Authority to provide a three-channel direct broadcasting by satellite service for the United Kingdom as part of its television broadcasting services under the Cable and Broadcasting Act 1984 and the Broadcasting Act 1981. BSB plans to launch its service in autumn 1989.

The Luxembourg-based company, Societe Europeenne des Satellites, plans to launch the Astra medium-powered satellite to provide a 16-channel service to Northern Europe, including the United Kingdom. Up to 11 channels are likely to be in English. I understand that Astra hopes to start its service towards the end of 1988 or early in 1989.

In addition, I understand that the European Telecommunications Satellite Organisation (EUTELSAT) has undertaken a feasibility study, in collaboration with the European Space Agency, into the possible implementation of a European satellite for direct broadcasting. EUTELSAT has yet to make a decision as to whether to proceed.

The Government are continuing to play an active part in the Council of Europe in negotiations on a draft convention on transfrontier broadcasting. The purpose of the convention will be to facilitate the transfrontier transmission and retransmission of television programme services that comply with prescribed minimum standards. The Government are seeking to ensure that the code of standards is compatible with the United Kingdom's national standards on taste and decency. It is hoped that the convention can be agreed in time for it to be open for signature and ratification at the Stockholm conference of European broadcasting Ministers in November.