HC Deb 09 May 1989 vol 152 cc378-9W
Mr. Bowis

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the recent discussions in the European Community Council of Ministers on the draft broadcasting directive.

Mr. Renton

Under the Spanish presidency, the Council of Ministers (Internal Market) has had a series of meetings in order to identify a satisfactory way forward on the European Commission's proposal for a directive on broadcasting. These enabled the Council, on 13 April, to adopt a common position on the draft directive.

The original proposal from the Commission gave rise to a number of difficulties for us and other member states. We were concerned in particular at the proposals for formal numerical quotas for European programme content, the provisions put forward on copyright and the potentially troubling extension of EC competence implicit in the proposals on protection of minors. More generally we argued that the Council of Europe was the right forum for the conclusion of a European regulatory instrument in relation to broadcasting, and we were therefore putting our weight behind efforts to conclude a European convention on transfrontier broadcasting under the aegis of the Council of Europe. These concerns were made clear when the House had the opportunity to debate the directive on 20 January 1987.

Since then, we have played a full part in the negotiations on the draft convention, the text of which was finalised in March. The United Kingdom signed the convention when it was opened for signature on 5 May. The convention substantially meets all the points on which we had reservations in relation to the draft directive, and is in our judgment an acceptable basis for European regulation. We therefore welcomed the decision of the European Council in Rhodes last December that the future work of the Community in relation to broadcasting should be based on that of the Council of Europe and that the directive should accordingly be adapted in the light of the convention. This alignment of the two instruments has been undertaken by the Internal Market Council. As a result a new draft of the directive has been produced which follows closely the approach of the convention. This has enabled us to withdraw our earlier objections to the substance of the directive.

I submitted to the Select Committee on European Legislation on 30 March an explanatory memorandum discussing in detail the specific modifications made by the Internal Market Council to the Commission's original proposal. The Committee subsequently recommended that a further debate be held on the draft directive. I regret that given the timing of the recommendation it was not practicable to arrange a further debate before the meeting of the Internal Market Council at which the common position was adopted. I have written to the Chairman of the Committee to explain the Government's approach to this matter.

We believe that the Council's common position represents a satisfactory outcome. We have successfully resisted the arguments of some members states for protectionist measures which would have imposed greater rstrictions on European broadcasters and have instead achieved a substantially deregulatory text fully in line with that of the Council of Europe convention. Our recent White Paper on Broadcasting made clear that these international instruments, when concluded, would contribute to the maintenance of programme standards throughout Europe, while removing the barriers which have hitherto inhabited the free flow of broadcasting services. They are consistent with the approach of the Government towards domestic broadcasting services in establishing an enabling regulatory framework to allow increased opportunities for broadcasters and viewers while ensuring the maintenance of programme standards on taste and decency.