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Broadcasting Bill

Volume 171: debated on Wednesday 25 April 1990

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3.30 pm

The hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) submitted on 14 March that the Broadcasting Bill, as amended in Standing Committee, is hybrid. The Bill has now been reported by the Committee and I am grateful for the opportunity which I have had to study the hon. Member's points.

The first point put forward was to the effect that clause 164 and schedule 14, as amended, require providers of broadcasting services to make available for general publication information relating to programmes, to the disadvantage specifically of the owners and publishers of TV Times and Radio Times.

As the hon. Member for Paisley, South said in my predecessor's words, a hybrid Bill
"is a public bill which affects a particular private interest in a manner different from the private interest of other persons or bodies of the same category or class."—[Official Report, 14 March 1990; Vol. 169, c. 487.]
I have studied clause 164 and schedule 14 with the greatest care. I am satisfied that it creates a class of "providers of programme services" and treats them all precisely the same way in the matter of the copyright of information about their programmes. Since there is no question of different treatment for different providers of services, the clause and schedule cannot make the Bill hybrid.

The hon. Member for Paisley, South also drew attention to the distinction between the provision for domestic satellite services and non-domestic satellite services. He will be aware that the Bill is drafted with separate definitions in clause 38 of these two classes of provider.

The hon. Member for Paisley, South referred specifically to Sky Television, but I am satisfied that it is not the case that Sky Television will necessarily, or in fact, be the only provider of a non-domestic satellite service. Here again, clause 38, as drafted, creates legitimate classes and I cannot therefore rule the Bill to be hybrid in this regard either.

I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the careful attention that you have paid to this matter. I completely accept your definition, analysis and statement. However, it creates a major problem because, regardless of the creation of a group, it still leaves the Rupert Murdoch News International holding in Sky as an isolated exception to the restrictions on holdings imposed by the Bill. For example, he owns 35 per cent. of the daily press and, for any other reason, would have been brought under the conditions to prevent monopoly control of a television station.

This was a genuine and serious issue and we shall have to pursue it in other forms. I hope that the Government will take on board the fact that a monopoly of exception has been created and that steps will be taken on Report to rectify this difficult and dangerous issue of cross-media ownership, which was expressly said in the White Paper to be excluded.