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Broadcasting Bill Ways And Means

Volume 164: debated on Monday 18 December 1989

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Broadcasting Bill ("the Act"), it is expedient to authorise the inclusion of—
  • (1) provisions under or by virtue of which holders of licences granted under the Act by the Independent Television Commission established under the Act are or may be required—
  • (a) to pay or forfeit sums to that body in connection with such licences;
  • (b) to pay sums to that body as contributions towards the expenses of the Broadcasting Complaints Commission; and
  • (c) to make payments to the Channel Four Television Corporation established under the Act;
  • and provision for sums falling within sub-paragraph (a) or (b) to be paid into the Consolidated Fund;
  • (2) provisions under or by virtue of which holders of licences granted under the Act by the Radio Authority established under the Act are or may be required—
  • (a) to pay or forfeit sums to that body in conection with such licences; and
  • (b) to pay sums to that body as contributions towards the expenses of the Broadcasting Complaints Commission;
  • and provision for such sums to be paid into the Consolidated Fund;
  • (3) provisions under which the Welsh Authority (within the meaning of the Act) are required to pay sums as contributions towards the expenses of the Broadcasting Complaints Commission, and provision for such sums to be paid into the Consolidated Fund;
  • (4) provisions requiring the payment of any other sums into the Consolidated Fund.—[Mr. Patnick.]
  • On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. As I understand it, this is an entirely separate debate. I know that the Minister is aggrieved at not having been able to reply to the earlier debate, so may I ask for your indulgence in this debate, and ask you to allow the Minister to answer some of the points from the earlier debate, given the wideness of this motion?

    Both motions are wide. If the Minister seeks to catch my eye, I shall certainly call him, and I am sure that he will respond to this debate.

    11.15 pm

    Before I come to the detailed points in the motion—as I shall—it would be right to comment briefly on the extraordinary speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden).

    I very much admire my hon. Friend's clarity and passion, but his speech—I say this with the greatest affection and respect—was studded with an arrogance that did him no credit. He is not in a position to deliver a lecture to his fellow Conservative Members in the terms that he did.

    My hon. Friend said that the duopoly showed many signs of complacency, inefficiency and occasional bias. That is true, but he did not suggest what he would do about that. Many of us feel that it is the public, whom he seeks to protect from what he described as filth, who require some protection against the complacency, inefficiency and bias—to use his terms—that are evident in some of the programmes broadcast by the BBC and the independent television companies—

    I will not. I sought to intervene in my hon. Friend's speech, and he did not show the courtesy of allowing me to do so. My hon. Friend's speech went way over the top, and I want to record the fact that he does not speak for many Conservative Members.

    What we seek for our constituents—this motion will give them it—is a much wider range of choice, because they are for the most part adult, sophisticated people who are perfectly capable of forming their own judgments. I remember the famous phrase, "Trust the people". I am prepared to trust the people to make their own judgments, provided that they are given a wide range of choices.

    British television—I am as entitled to my opinion as anyone else has been the best in the world. A great deal of it remains incomparably so, but we have been overtaken in some areas, notably by the United States and, to a lesser extent, by the Federal Republic of Germany.

    There is a much wider range of choice of good and bad programmes in the United States. I spend a good deal of time there, as does the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), in pursuit of British interests, and I want to mention some of the programmes that are available in America but are not available here.

    In California, which takes services from across the country, there are about 50 channels. I concede at once that about 10 or 15 of them purvey trash—the same sort of trash as the BBC and ITV buy from the Americans to show here. I want nothing to do with those programmes; but there is, at the same time, a range of other quality and minority channels that people in this country cannot even hope to receive.

    For example, in southern Calfornia, there is a channel wholly devoted to the environment—to nature, animals and forestry. We sometimes buy bits of that marvellous programming. Another channel is wholly devoted to the Hispanic and Mexican minorities in California. Another is devoted to the Japanese minority, who pay for it—and good luck to them for doing so.

    Cable News Network is a well-known 24-hour-a-day news programme which people can turn on and get direct news from the whole world of a quality that at the moment we do not match. I regret that, but it is true.

    No. I want to deliver my speech as quickly as possible.

    Another programme confines itself to verbatim debates not only in the two Houses of Congress and the state legislatures but to debates in universities on the most esoteric and complex subjects. Such programmes are not available here. The American public are not more intelligent than our public, but they have a wider choice and they exercise it. I hope that the Bill, enabled by the ways and means resolution, will give the British people more choice so that they can make their own judgments.

    I shall end as I started, with my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham, who spoke at length—

    The hon. Gentleman is outlining in great detail the qualities, as he perceives them, of American television. Will he give the House some validation of his view by telling us how much time he has spent watching American television? Has he visited America casually or does he visit it regularly? Has he gained his information over a regular period of many months?

    I am happy to oblige the hon. Gentleman. I spent 17 years in the United States as an editor of Time and Newsweek International and of the Washington Post. I frequently go back to the United States to deliver lectures at universities and I go there on business trips. I keep close contact with American television and I think that I speak with knowledge of the subject.

    No, I must get on with my speech.

    If the Reith standards of the BBC had remained at the core of our broadcasting I would be perfectly happy with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham. However, time has moved on and, unfortunately, the BBC all too often engages in what my hon. Friend described as bias and in what I would call occasional vendettas.

    A large proportion of the American air force is in my constituency. A year or 18 months ago, the BBC suggested in a programme that the pilots of its F111 aircraft were sex-crazed maniacs who for strange psycho-sexual reasons were desperate to "nuke" the Soviet Union. That programme was a total travesty. It was then virtually repeated in the BBC's own publication. Protests were made at every level, but at first the BBC arrogantly refused to have anything to do with them.

    In the past week, too, the BBC once again produced a travesty of the truth when it suggested that the American air force had interfered in the business of the House by suggesting that, if the Government privatised the Property Services Agency, the American air force would object in some way or another. The American air force did no such thing. The BBC lied and knew that it was lying.

    That is one of the problems that we have to face. One cannot discipline a broadcasting organisation. Having been an editor, I would resist any effort by politicians to do so. However, it is necesssary for our people to have a wider range of choice so that, as sophisticated individuals, they can make up their own minds. My complaint about my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham is that he simply will not trust the people.

    11.23 pm

    I rise to deliver a brief speech. In so doing, I declare a financial interest in the broadcasting industry. Above all, the Bill tackles the technological advances which already face us. I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) because I do not think that there is any attempt on the part of the Government to "dish the dirt". As my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) said, the aim is to trust the people. After all, with the vast amount of choice that is to become available, the individual viewer and not the executive of the television company will become the programmer.

    Technically, quality is a relatively easy thing to get a grip on. The essential problem is one of programme content, and it is vital because of the enormous power and influence of television. We have seen growing evidence of the fact that bad language and violence on television are beginning to affect behaviour in real life, so this is a most important issue, and one that is difficult to define.

    Quality also varies according to individual taste. When the golf enthusiast sees a lot of golf on televison, he feels that he is seeing television on high quality, but the tennis enthusiast seeing endless golf might feel it to be low quality. It all depends on the individual tastes and interests of the viewer.

    As a golf enthusiast, I cannot allow my hon. Friend to get away with that. The quality of golf reporting in Britain is superb. In America, it is awful.

    I shall not disagree with my hon. Friend, who is a far better golfer than I am. None the less, the definition of quality varies according to the taste and background interests of the individual making the judgment. Quality is a subjective, individual value judgment. It also varies with time. A television audience 40 years ago, before golf was widely played or American football widely known over here, would have considered programmes on such sports to be low-quality television.

    I hope that the Government will allow the ITC tremendous flexibility. If they appoint people with good and proven judgment, of varying backgrounds and interests and representing a wide spectrum of age groups, the flexibility permitted in the Bill will be important in allowing those people the freedom to exercise their judgment.

    It has been said that competitive tender bidders will outbid themselves, and that quality will suffer. I do not agree, and the most important reason for my disagreement is the single word "competition". Competition will come from DBS, cable and the other terrestrial stations, such as BBC 1, BBC 2 and Channel 4, which will remain—and they will remain as benchmarks. The competition in television is for viewers. If viewers do not like a programme, they will switch channels. Effectively, the viewers will become the programmers. If the programmes are no good, the viewers will not watch them. If, in the viewers' perspective, the standards of programmes drop, they will switch to other programmes. The Bill caters for that in a clever way, by allowing that flexibility for the ITC.

    Control is an important issue. I accept that cross-ownership has existed for some time, but with global information societies, this is an increasingly serious problem. Cross-control is a more serious issue, so we should keep looking at the 20 per cent. hurdle. In a company with many small shareholders, a 20 per cent. shareholder can exercise "effective" control. My hon. and learned Friend the Minister should examine that aspect in Committee.

    Another important sector is religion. We have to ask ourselves exactly what counts as religion and to ensure that cults with religious titles do not creep in under the guise of genuine religious organisations. That is another important matter for the Committee.

    All in all, I think that the Bill tackles a difficult subject in a way that will correctly adapt to the technological change that we now have to accept. The Bill allows for flexibility and for real choice to be exercised by the viewer. By trusting the viewer, we shall have the best quality that we can possibly get in the circumstances. The flexibility being allowed for the ITC will be greatly to the benefit of maintaining that quality. I think that the Bill should be supported.

    11.30 pm

    I shall intervene only briefly in this debate. It might be slightly repetitious, but I do not think that it would be out of order to express the hope once again that even at this stage my hon. and learned Friend the Minister might refer to the possibility of concessions being made in Committee. That would help hon. Members on both sides of the House who have genuine and profound anxieties about the proposals as they stand. We are not nit-picking or being difficult for the sake of it. We are not trying to appear to be pseudo-intellectuals, which is always difficult for any politician, anyway.

    I ask my hon. and learned Friend to accept that we have serious problems to resolve in our own minds, having had conversations with many people about these matters. It is a fact, not merely an opinion, that if the maximum tender system comes into play only a long time after the quality threshold has been passed, those with the most financial muscle are bound to secure tenders for the new franchises, without any exception that I can discern on any near horizon.

    Although the House has voted against the Bill being considered by a Special Standing Committee—I voted against the proposition because I think that the Bill can be perfectly well dealt with by a normal Committee—I think that it would be helpful to the House, even at this late stage, when we are considering the more technical aspects of the ways and means motion, for the Minister to offer some assurances about the proceedings in Committee. Over the years we have become used to consideration in Committee being meaningless, save for one or two exceptions in the form of significant and principal Bills in recent Sessions. Consideration in Committee has become a ritual. The argumentation is supplied by either side and one or two minority parties chip in occasionally.

    Nothing else happens. Divisions are of no significance, as the Government always win because of the Committee's composition. I am old-fashioned and naive, perhaps. I thought that, occasionally, a Government would accept genuine and improving amendments when it became clear that it was important that certain changes should be made. Surely there should be intellectual adjustments in Committee when there has been serious reconsideration. That does not mean that the Government would be surrendering the commanding heights of their favourite proposals for the greater development of the market economy, and surely broadcasting must be an example par excellence where such changes could be made on that basis in Committee.

    My hon. and learned Friend the Minister has already told the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), with enthusiasm, that he will welcome genuine discussions, and perhaps even some changes, in Committee. We are used to Ministers saying that sort of thing at this stage. When the Bill goes into Committee, however, the old ritual starts again. The Government Whips say that nothing must be changed, because all Conservative Members voted for the Bill on Second Reading. In effect, they say, "This is just going through the motions. We must get the Bill through Committee as quickly as possible." Most of the hon. Members who are supporting the Government get on with their correspondence and pay little attention to the debates. That is the reality of Committee proceedings nowadays.

    Perhaps this debate is being televised. I doubt it, because those who are responsible for the cameras tend to go home now. I think, however, that it would be a good idea if the public knew rather more about these matters. It would be interesting if the proceedings of the Committee that considers the Bill were televised. I think that only two Select Committees have been televised so far. The Public Accounts Committee was televised once or twice, and I think one other Committee during this Session. If those who are responsible for the broadcasting contract in the House read my words, perhaps they will consider that the Committee that considers this Bill would provide excellent television. That would enable the public to take a closer interest in the Bill and hon. Members would not necessarily feel obliged to read their letters and to undertake their correspondence.

    If anyone thinks that I am criticising my colleagues, far from it. Hon. Members are overworked and they have to do their correspondence in Committee. They receive so many letters and there are only a certain number of hours in the day. They do not have time to be in Committee for long hours and—

    Order. The hon. Gentleman is a long way from the ways and means motion.

    I shall return immediately to the theme of the motion, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is the way in which hon. Members do their work, and it flows over into the Committee stage.

    With great respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne), I think that he misunderstands the notion and definition of quality. He meant the subjective pleasure, or lack of it, which any viewer can get from different types of programmes, depending on his cultural propensities—and I know that my hon. Friend has many, as do other hon. Members. Others were thinking more of the element that is included in the financial considerations for the potential new franchisee, which is a definition of quality that should be decided and implemented at that stage, not at a previous stage when there is some uneasy definition of a Becher's brook threshold of quality, well before the actual financial application in a sealed envelope is made.

    I hope that my hon. Friend now understands the important difference between those points. I think that others have also misunderstood. Again, it denies us the opportunity to hark back to what has been best in the British combination of television. With all due deference to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths), with his great knowledge of the United States, and therefore also of American television, the general opinion of most well educated Americans to whom I have spoken, and many Americans who have travelled to other countries and are, in a sense, the man and woman in the street, is that by and large they have Mickey Mouse television. Advertisements take 15 or 16 minutes of every hour, which is double what is allowed under United Kingdom regulations. The advertisements, unlike those on British television, are not witty, amusing and self-effacing in promoting the sale of products, but just monotonous slogan advertisements.

    My hon. Friend—with justification, in view of the argument that he deployed—quoted a number of more esoteric public interest programmes. They certainly exist in the USA, often subsidised and subvented by the state governments. The CNN international news network is a great success, but my hon. Friend and I know what happens when we flit between the 30 channels on the New York service. The minority channels might strike us as better because they are in a foreign language, but they are usually the same programmes—the quiz shows, the soaps, the rubbish and the cartoons. That is the fate of American television. We are going down that path with these proposals.

    I do not think so, as my hon. Friend was not here for most of our debates.

    That is the danger that we face with these proposals, unless there are central alterations to what my hon. and learned Friend enunciated earlier of just sticking to the financial tender system.

    There are many aspects to which, if there were time, I would refer, but it would be out of order. Hon. Members should hesitate before approving this motion. I understand that this debate has no time limit, so they should oblige the House to think profoundly about the dangers before voting on the motion.

    11.38 pm

    I shall be brief. At the end of a day's debate on this subject, I am almost astounded at the way in which the House seems to have been gripped with some sort of fervour of unreality. Many of the speeches have been over the top. If we look back on this debate in 10 years' time, some may be somewhat ashamed of the Armageddon pictures that they have painted.

    All my family, apart from me, have made their livelihoods in television. Many of the programmes that they made were successful, and many of them were forgettable. It is remarkable that most hon. Members' memories today have been selective. They have remembered the good programmes and called them "quality", but they have forgotten the bad programmes. It is almost as though the bad programmes never existed—as though the programmes on every channel which died the death, often after hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of pounds worth of development, have been entirely forgotten.

    Many right hon. and hon. Members also seem to forget that speeches of the kind heard today were made on the introduction of the IBA, BBC 2, and Channel 4. Today we are merely helping the process of developing a fifth channel of terrestrial television, and thereby broadening the broadcasting base, by using a technology which already exists. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) stated specifically that the Broadcasting Bill is leading us down the road to cartoons, soaps and quizzes. How can he take such a view when we are clearly already in the era of cartoons, soaps and quizzes? We are also already in the era of vast choice in broadcasting, and an extra channel will make no difference.

    The terms of the ways and means motion are similar in many respects to the existing system. The Government are not tearing up the existing system but leaving in place the majority of its provisions and maintaining its funding for the foreseeable future. I ask the House to consider whether allowing extra choice means going down the path towards total destruction of our children's lives. Is there really any truth in Miss Biddy Baxter's claim that children's television programmes will hardly be able to be made once the Broadcasting Bill becomes law? There will always be dedicated broadcasters producing children's programmes and every other type of programme. Many of those programmes will "pay", and many will not. Happily, however, there will be a broad range of channels, some of which will "pay" and some of which will provide a public broadcasting service.

    A sad aspect of today's debate has been the way in which quality has largely been dictated by those who already make television programmes—almost as though people currently unable to do so have no understanding of what quality means. Nor has it been mentioned that the existing structure allows certain individuals working for the BBC to receive salaries as high as £350,000 or £400,000 per year from public funds. If more channels mean that competition among broadcasters is lessened, so that the price paid for them is lowered, I for one shall welcome that.

    I find it somewhat obscene for a broadcaster to criticise my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for paying judges and generals £70,000 per year from public funds when other people are unemployed while the broadcaster himself is receiving a salary of four or five times that amount from public funds. There is a great deal of hypocrisy, cant, needless fear and exaggeration—and many speeches which will not mean very much in the long run, thanks to the programmes that will continue to be made by our excellent established broadcasters and by others new to the profession.

    As for Sky Television, I defy anyone to watch Sky News and to argue convincingly that it is biased one way or the other. I must declare an interest in that my sister occasionally presents a programme on Sky Television, but I am sorry to say that I have not watched it—only because it is not the kind of programme that I usually watch. My preference is for news and sport, and Sky's news and sports channels are excellent. If they are examples of the "degradation" that television will suffer, right hon. and hon. Members must have their interpretation utterly wrong.

    I will raise one sticking point with my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State. The extra choice in radio will be welcomed by many minority and regional groups and by other dedicated interests throughout the country. However, although I support the Bill, the quality threshold must be examined in Committee. For me, the sticking point will be that, if ball-by-ball test match commentaries are no longer broadcast on the radio, I may change my mind about the Bill.

    11.45 pm

    The hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) declared an interest in television production, but I think that he understands that most right hon. and hon. Members represent the interests of the viewers.

    The hon. Gentleman is wrong. I said that most of my family are involved in television production, but that I am simply a viewer.

    I am grateful for that clarification, and, as a viewer, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join me in my remarks and in the questions that I shall put to the Minister.

    This debate is something of a curiosity. We are used to money resolutions by which the House authorises money to be paid out of the Consolidated Fund to implement the purposes of a Bill if it becomes an Act of Parliament. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) quite properly specialises in drawing the House's attention to that. However, we are now discussing a Ways and Means resolution, and that is the opposite, as it is concerned with raising money.

    For example, the Chancellor's Budget is concerned with the ways and means of raising revenue. A ways and means resolution is unusual in a Bill because it means—the Government have made no secret of it, although it has not been a major feature of the debate so far—that they expect to get revenue for the Consolidated Fund as a result.

    Paragraph (4), the final paragraph, of the ways and means resolution refers to
    "provisions requiring the payment of any other sums into the Consolidated Fund."
    The ways and means resolution makes provision for money to be so raised for payment to the ancillary bodies—the Broadcasting Complaints Commission, Channel Four Television Corporation and the new radio authority. The Government clearly envisage a substantial payment into the Consolidated Fund, and the Home Secretary said as much, in an aside, when he opened the Second Reading debate. He said that the Bill was designed to get as much money from television as possible to pay into the Consolidated Fund, and he stated that as if it were a virtue.

    Colleagues in the Chamber now may remember that I challenged the Home Secretary, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), about how much it would amount to per person per week in taxation. The individual amount is small, but the income to the Consolidated Fund is not known.

    What sort of sums does the Minister expect to raise each year from what must be seen as a tax on television? Perhaps he will correct me if I am wrong, but at the moment television costs in Britain are paid by the licence fee, which funds the BBC, and by advertising revenue. As I understand it, the Bill maintains the BBC, which individual licence holders pay for, but reverses the flow of money in to the Exchequer, because as a result of advertising, the Exchequer will take its cut.

    Clause 114(1) makes it plain that,
    "Where the Authority receive in respect of any licence any of the amounts specified in subsection (2), that amount shall not form part of the revenues of the Authority but shall"
    be paid into the Exchequer. In other words, the authority deducts what it costs to keep itself going, and pays the surplus into the Exchequer.

    Clause 114 refers us to two other clauses—the Bill is complicated—one of which, clause 96(1), refers us to clause 80(1)(c) in respect of fees. A money collection mechanism is hidden in the Bill. It is not written clearly on the face of it, but is done by reference to previous clauses.

    Clause 110 is about the cash bids that will be put in to obtain a franchise. As I read it, clause 110 provides that that money also will go to the Exchequer. We have here a system of television taxation. It is hidden. It is not clearly on the face of the Bill, but it is an integral part of it. I invite the Minister, when he replies to the debate on this important motion, to tell me whether I have got it wrong. If I have not, we are imposing a tax on broadcasting analogous to a tax on newspapers or books. If the Minister would like to tell me now that I have misread the Bill, I shall be pleased to give way to him. If he does not, I can only assume that I am correct.

    So far, this matter has not received the attention it deserves. If we pass the motion, we are surely agreeing in principle that the Chancellor, the Home Secretary, the Prime Minister, some political adviser or the Government communications publicity manager should specify what sums should be paid over. We are taking out of the common ether, which is surely public property, a system of hidden taxation which means that the taxes can ultimately be paid for only by advertising revenue.

    Could revenue not also come from the sale of products and other merchandise?

    I understand that the television authority which the Bill envisages is not a marketing concern. It is a marketing concern only in respect of awarding licences for transmission. I am not aware of its being involved in the production or sale of articles or anything else. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that it has such authority and wishes to correct me, I shall gladly give way again. If it has such authority, I suspect that it is in respect of transmission stations, electrical equipment or something ancillary to its main function. It is unlikely that substantial revenue is involved.

    Clause 157 was mentioned briefly on Second Reading. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook properly said that it would be possible for one of the satellite stations which is not covered by the monopoly 20 per cent. limitations to put in a bid for one of the listed national events. There is nothing in the Bill to prevent such a bid from being successful. Clause 157(1) provides:
    "The Independent Television Commission shall do all that they can to secure that any programme which consists of or includes the whole or any part of a listed event shall not be included on pay-per-view terms in any service provided by the holder of a licence granted by the Commission under Part I of this Act."
    I emphasise the words
    "shall do all that they can".
    On Second Reading, the Home Secretary himself made it quite clear that the ITC does not have the power to stop it. So the phrase "do all that they can" is uncharacteristic of any Bill that I have seen, because it does not provide the powers to prohibit.

    Will the Minister of State kindly give me his attention? He has had plenty of time to consult on these matters before tonight. Is it not a fact that the proprietor of any satellite station, but in particular Sky Television, which is not covered by the 20 per cent. rule, could make a bid for the cup final or any other major sporting event—the cup final probably commands the greatest potential viewership—and pay a substantial sum? Perhaps the Minister will tell us whether that sum goes to the Independent Television Commission or straight to the Exchequer. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook described that sum as a loss leader, but he did not go on to say why it might be a loss leader.

    Although I am not well informed about technology, I understand that one needs a bowl to receive those television stations, particularly Sky. Therefore, some capital investment is required. At present, that station faces the difficulty that its viewership is limited and there are not all that many bowls around, although the number is probably increasing. If the proprietor of Sky Television or any other station—I am not singling out Sky, although it has different status under the Bill—goes to the Football Association and puts in a massive bid for several million pounds which tops any bid from any public corporation, that station would get exclusive rights.

    The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) said that he would not like choice to be restricted, but if such a station won, he would not be able to choose to watch the cup final on a BBC or existing ITV channel. He would have to buy a bowl or use some other subscription service.

    There would be great encouragement for people to invest in one of those bowls. I am old enough to remember how people saved up to invest in televisions so that they could see the coronation. People would invest in satellite bowls so that they could see the cup final and they would say, "It is a lot of money just to watch the cup final, but it will give us viewing afterwards." That would be to the considerable advantage of whichever contractor won, because people would get the bowls, and the potential viewership of that contractor would immediately shoot straight up.

    That is the possible effect of clause 157 as drafted. Of course, that has revenue implications, because, under the mechanism which I have just mentioned, the Exchequer would be able to get more money out of that contractor via the Independent Television Commission.

    I shall conclude by reiterating the two points that I have raised. First, it appears that the Bill contains a means of hidden taxation on the British people via the television system of the future. It means that Her Majesty's Government can assess the Independent Television Commission, the viewers and the sellers of merchandise for an unspecified amount. Inevitably that will have a secondary effect on quality, as the mass of merchandise and viewership will be in a better position to pay such taxation.

    Secondly, by not providing powers to limit the listed events to the existing public television services, the Bill could give a shot in the arm to any satellite broadcaster who wishes to invest in a loss leader. I invite the Minister of State, in his reply to this important debate, to correct me if I am wrong in either of those broad assertions, as I believe them to be true. I challenge the Minister to tell me whether they are true. If they are, the Bill contains something far worse than has been recognised so far tonight, and there have already been enough speeches on those lines.

    11.59 pm

    I do not wish to detain the House, but I want to make a few remarks on the ways and means resolution.

    Having listened to the speeches, I support the Bill because the general impression that I have from all the wise pontificating is that the Bill will not make much difference to broadcasting standards. It might make them a bit better or a bit worse, but I think that it is unwise for anyone to reach any conclusions about that and, by and large, I think that it is a more sensible business arrangement.

    I wish to ask the Minister a question, and I hope that he will think carefully about it. Under the resolution, much cash will be given to the Consolidated Fund and to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission. Is there any way in which it might be used to deal with the greatest threat to standards in Britain—the programmes that will be launched to this country from other countries by satellites featuring soft and hard pornography and the most dreadful violence? I appreciate that that is a difficult problem. The Government have imposed minor rules, whereby, if a pornographic programme advertises Coca Cola, we can have a bash at Coca Cola in Britain, but the Minister must be aware that that is a limited control.

    It is a waste of time talking for eight or 10 hours about minor changes in the standards of British broadcasting when we face a horrific and savage assault on them purely as a result of satellite activities. It is not as though they will transmit from far distant places. We know that in some European countries plans will shortly be announced to transmit soft and hard pornography. Is there anything that we can do to arrest that trend? Can we do anything through the United Nations? We know that resolutions of the Council of Europe are entirely ineffective, because some are being widely disregarded.

    If the Minister cares about broadcasting standards, as every father of young children does, will he do anything to restrict or control the activities of friendly countries—some on the continent of Europe and some a bit further away—which will be sending pornographic programmes into the homes of Britain? If we care about broadcasting standards, we should regard that as a crusade and not spend hours discussing what may be marginal changes in standards arising from the provisions of the Bill.

    12.2 am

    I should like to detain the House briefly to place on record two technical matters arising from the ways and means motion. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend the Minister will not reply to them tonight but will take the opportunity to discuss them with colleagues at the Treasury and the Department of Trade and Industry and perhaps mention them in Committee later.

    The first relates to the development of cable television. Some people have said that the installation of cable in this country has been slow. If that is so, and I believe that it is, those who served on the Cable and Broadcasting Act 1984 bear some responsibility, because it was they—I was one of them—who prevented foreign investment in cable in Britain. My hon. and learned Friend the Minister has sought to make provision in the Bill to rectify that, and I hope and believe that investment will be encouraged and that the development of cable will be swift.

    In the motion and in the Bill there is the possibility of a levy on cable. I ask my hon. and learned Friend to consider with his colleagues whether that might be a disincentive to investment and whether it is wise.

    My second point relates to the Consolidated Fund provision. Money will go not only into the Consolidated Fund but from it, and through the Department of Trade and Industry, into the Eureka project and the development of high-definition television. It has become apparent during that programme that HD television has been and is being overtaken by the development of digital television transmission. It is technically possible to transmit enhanced definition television that is receivable by sets currently owned by the British public. I should like my hon. and learned Friend to discuss with his colleagues at the Department of Trade and Industry the possibility of withdrawing from that element of the Eureka programme and pursuing as swiftly as possible the introduction of enhanced definition television and the development of a British digital television industry.

    12.4 am

    In deference to those who have spoken, I shall respond briefly, but in deference also to those who did not expect that the debate would last for so long after Second Reading, I shall keep my remarks brief. There will be a long Committee stage for those who wish to deal with these matters in greater detail, as perforce I shall have to do.

    I recognise that the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) is a great expert on statutory instruments. Indeed, he chairs the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments. I enjoyed his remarks about the powers of secondary legislation under the Bill. A constant dilemma of legislation is that, wherever possible, one wants to avoid secondary legislation that involves loss of parliamentary control. Equally, if some elements of the regulatory regime were included in the Bill, there would be the danger of setting in concrete on the face of the legislation matters of regulation that might with advantage require changing as circumstances change.

    I note what the hon. Gentleman said about the adequacy or otherwise of parliamentary scrutiny. I have served on Standing Committees with the hon. Gentleman, who knows that I am always prepared to take seriously any suggestions about adding in parliamentary scrutiny to proposals for delegated legislation and I shall consider the Bill in Committee in that light, and with great room for those points.

    Like the hon. Member for Newham, South, (Mr. Spearing) and others, the hon. Member for Bradford, South mentioned the financial arrangements. With respect to the hon. Member for Newham, South, there was nothing novel in the proposition that the Government take a significant sum—it will be about £150 million this year—by way of a levy or tax from the ITV companies. Labour Governments did that—there is nothing new about it. Indeed, it would be novel if Governments were not prepared to do that, because the grant of a franchise is the grant of a monopoly or near-monopoly of selling television advertising, which is an extremely valuable boon. The late Lord Thomson of Fleet was rash enough to describe it as a licence to print money—something about which proprietors of other ITV franchises have always been rather embarrassed—but as so often with a pithy phrase, it conveys an essential truth. Governments have always thought it right that, for the benefit of the taxpayer, they should have a share of that money.

    The difficulty is in determining how the share should be assessed. Governments have had different stabs at it—for example, using profit and net advertising revenue, or NAR as it is inelegantly known, or some combination of the two. All that we are proposing is that it should be a dual figure, comprising the lump sum in the tender that is made to those who cross the quality threshold and a sum of money representing a proportion of advertising revenue that will be fixed by the ITC. As has been said, clause 156 does that.

    On the point about major sporting events, I do not think that I can do better than simply to repeat the point that I made to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). At the moment, Sky or any other satellite channel could bid for one of the major sporting events and the only right that the present law gives to the BBC and ITV is the right to match that bid. Thus far, no such bid has been made.

    I confidently expect and believe that major sporting events will continue to be seen on the main channels. That will come about, first, because it is profoundly unlikely that satellite television could mount the sort of bid necessary to secure such coverage. Secondly, as a number of sporting bodies have made clear, they are interested in the projection of their sport into as many households as possible. They are not interested in restricting access to their sport, and their sponsors are certainly not interested in anything other than the programme being shown in a large number of homes.

    I am not sure how much more we can debate the matter at this point, because it comes down to a simple issue. Because we are afraid of the effects on public opinion of the scare campaign that we shall not see the FA cup, are we to perpetuate the system whereby, in effect, the state intervenes to prevent the proprietors of large sporting events from selling their product as they see fit, or are we to rely on the common sense, on the reality, that it is unlikely that large sums of money will be made available by others? That could have happened under the present arrangements. Proprietors of major sporting events have the same interest as the rest of us. They want their sport to be seen widely.

    I am sorry that the Minister is worried about the time that the House is taking on these fundamentally important matters. Some of us are elected here as a Parliament, not a charade.

    I take it from what the Minister said about sport that nothing that I suggested is impossible. I am grateful to him for his explanation about taxation. In Committee, does he envisage putting a limitation on returns such as the Consolidated Fund which are consistent with the returns that he alleges have been made under certain Governments since the foundation of the IBA?

    I will do the hon. Gentleman the honour of considering that point, but I shall not give a detailed response now. I assure him that I do not consider that I am taking part in a charade. I confidently expect to spend many hours on the detailed consideration of the Bill. I am not sure that we should conduct a Committee stage at 12.10 am on the night of Second Reading. That is a fair point and, having sat here for eight hours, I assure the hon. Gentleman that I am aware that I am not participating in a charade.

    It has saddened me enormously to find myself, for the first time since he became an hon. Member, on the other side of a debate from my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden). Clearly, he feels deeply about the matter and that is why he spoke in the terms that he did.

    My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary was fully entitled to say that Lord Reith likened the introduction of commercial television to the introduction of bubonic plague. That is an uncomfortable fact but nonetheless true. All the major changes in broadcasting since the war have come about because people were prepared to ride on in the face of tarted-up worst-case scenarios, which were claimed by critics to be the natural and inevitable consequence of what was proposed. Although that point is not a complete answer to any proposal, it is well worth making. We are faced with similar allegations today.

    I should have thought that it was to the Government's credit that BBC1, BBC2 and Channel 4 will remain the same. My hon. Friend was perhaps caught in a downward spiral of logic when looking for a reason to damn the Government's proposals on the BBC. He said that the BBC would be dragged down by what was happening to Channel 3.I do not accept that anything detrimental will happen to Channel 3. The BBC has a secure income from the public, which has no choice about paying and has to pay ever-increasing sums. The BBC, properly, also has a large income from its commercial activities. The idea that it will be dragged down is well wide of the mark. It has a public service remit. It is not much of a compliment to the BBC to suggest that it would be dragged down.

    The key point that my hon. Friend must understand is that Channel 3 is not such a monument to our civilisation that it cannot be improved. Whether or not he or others think that it is a monument, it is clear that increasing numbers of British people do not. Its audience share has fallen in absolute terms on every indicator. The key message is that there is a great deal of room to improve Channel 3. That will come about first because the quality threshold is a genuinely serious severe hurdle for people to surmount. Secondly, for the first time, the ITC will have powers to regulate the system rather than just having an ultimate power which, because it is ultimate, is never used to remove a franchise.

    The ITC will now have the power to hold people to account and to look at a group's plans to see whether it is capable of sustaining the big promises that are made. I believe that that represents a far more sophisticated power, and it will give us a better Channel 3.

    I am surprised that my hon. Friend does not see the glaring defects, as I do, in the present arrangements. When Southern Television was replaced by TVS, three or four groups sat in different hotel rooms. They were told from the cloistered meeting rooms of the IBA that X had got it, not A, B or C. We knew not why. Once we have a more open process, with a quality threshold and the possibility of people making a commercial bid, we shall have the openness and accountability that is presently missing. I know that my hon. Friend disagrees, but it is not worthy of some of the extraordinary adjectives that he employed. I am sorry about that because it pains me as I deeply approve of my hon. Friend's stand on many issues.

    I hope that I have not outstayed my welcome. I hope that the House will accept the way and means motion and will wish the Bill on its way to the undoubted scrutiny that it will rightly receive in Committee.

    Question put and agreed to.


    That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Broadcasting Bill ("the Act"), it is expedient to authorise the inclusion of—
  • (1) provisions under or by virtue of which holders of licences granted under the Act by the Independent Television Commission established under the Act are or may be required—
  • (a) to pay or forfeit sums to that body in connection with such licences;
  • (b) to pay sums to that body as contributions towards the expenses of the Broadcasting Complaints Commission; and
  • (c) to make payments to the Channel Four Television Corporation established under the Act;
  • and provision for sums falling within sub-paragraph (a) or (b) to be paid into the Consolidated Fund;
  • (2) provisions under or by virtue of which holders of licences granted under the Act by the Radio Authority established under the Act are or may be required—
  • (a) to pay or forfeit sums to that body in connection with such licences; and
  • (b) to pay sums to that body as contributions towards the expenses of the Broadcasting Complaints Commission;
  • and provision for such sums to be paid into the Consolidated Fund;
  • (3) provisions under which the Welsh Authority (within the meaning of the Act) are required to pay sums as contributions towards the expenses of the Broadcasting Complaints Commission, and provision for such sums to be paid into the Consolidated Fund;
  • (4) provisions requiring the payment of any other sums into the Consolidated Fund.