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Bbc And Itv: Anti-Competitive Practices

Volume 476: debated on Thursday 12 June 1986

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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, further to their Written Answer on 10th February (H.L. Debates cols. 89–91) concerning BBC and ITV: Anti-Competitive Practices, and the five suggestions put forward by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission on the arrangements for providing information about forthcoming programmes on BBC and IBA services, they will write again to the BBC and IBA to ascertain what progress has been made concerning the suggestion that both organisations should give further consideration to the advantages and possibility of introducing a system under which publishers would be licensed to publish (on payment of a reasonable fee) programme details for a week ahead in substantially the same form in which the details are supplied.

My Lords, the Monopolies and Mergers Commission concluded that the practices of the BBC and Independent Publications Limited did not operate against the public interest. In the absence of an adverse finding the Government have no further formal powers which they can use in this matter. We have, however, been in touch with the BBC and ITP in the past week to establish their present position. Both organisations have informed us that they continue to keep their practices under review, but that neither sees a requirement for change at the present time.

My Lords, as I imagine that the Minister's reply is as disappointing to him as it is to me, may I ask him whether what he is really saying is that the Government do not feel that there is anything further they can do on this particular matter?

My Lords, there is nothing further the Government can do. Parliament has laid down what steps the Government may take through the Monopolies and Mergers Commission to investigate trading practices. In the event of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission reaching an adverse finding, the Government have further powers which they can take to remedy the mischief. In the absence of an adverse finding, as in the present case, Parliament has given us no powers and I think it would be oppressive and improper if the Government were to attempt to put pressure on an independent organisation in these circumstances.

My Lords, while I believe the Minister would wish to help, may I ask him whether he is aware that the House never thinks a great deal of the phrase "matters are being kept under review", because that never leads to any action? As it is not advisable to accept defeat when wishing to make progress, does he feel that the occasional Question to him on this matter in future might induce some action on the part of the authorities concerned?

My Lords, I shall certainly do my best to answer any Questions which the noble Baroness asks. I am sure that the broadcasters are aware of public feeling on this issue and I am quite certain that they will take note, as they always do, of what the noble Baroness says.

My Lords, will the noble Lord the Minister say, either now or later, whether this matter has been considered in the context of the EC and in particular of Articles 85 and 86 of the Treaty of Rome?

My Lords, I cannot give the noble Lord that information. I shall find out and let him know.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that large numbers of listeners feel that something should be done about the noble Baroness's suggestion as soon as possible?

My Lords, as I indicated to the noble Baroness, I think both organisations are aware of the concern that has been expressed. It is a matter for them and there is nothing that the Government can do. Nevertheless, I am sure that they will note my noble friend's views as well.

My Lords, is it not somewhat naïve to consult the IBA and the BBC in this matter when they are enjoying all the advantages of the monopoly? Is not an element of public interest involved?

My Lords, of course there is a question of public interest. It goes quite widely, as I think the noble Baroness has indicated. Nevertheless, it was right that we should ask them how they were getting on. That is what we have done.