HC Deb 10 May 1990 vol 172 cc412-50

Order for Third Reading read.

4.17 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Mellor)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

We now reach a major milestone in the Bill's progress. After its consideration on Report during the past two days, with more than 17 hours of debate on the Floor of the House without any guillotine, we arrive at Third Reading.

I begin by expressing my appreciation to those who served on the Standing Committee which had 38 sittings and considered every line of the Bill which now runs to well in excess of 170 clauses and 12 schedules. I hope that I speak for all those who participated in Committee and on Report when I say that I hope that no one will feel that that was time misspent.

I have had the privilege of taking part in the Committee and Report stages of a number of major Bills, not least, in the previous Session, the Children Bill. I have always believed that Parliament has a role to play in the consideration of every Bill, which is not an optional extra in the process of government or some kind of tedious and necessary excursion to fill in time between the Government conceiving an idea and carrying it through, but a vital part of the process of ensuring that legislation has a fair chance of being coherent and convincing in its detail and hopefully fairly broadly acceptable in its principle.

I said at the outset of Parliament's consideration of the Bill that I did not believe that a measure had ever been brought before the House that could not be improved in Committee. I would genuinely like to thank all those who took part in Committee; and the fact that we ended up yesterday and the day before with more than 700 amendments and new clauses—more than 500 of them Government amendments—reflecting our discussions in Committee, is a sign not of the weakness of the process but of its strength.

I am grateful to my hon. Friends who participated in the Committee for the loyal support that they extended to me, and the tremendous effort that they put in. They each made their contributions: this was certainly not a Bill in which one was backed up by a group of silent hon. Members—far from it. I would not have wished it to be so. My colleagues rightly spoke out. I was grateful to them for giving me the benefit of their advice and assistance, and for their help in our meetings associated with, but held outside, the Committee on some of the vexed issues.

As a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) constantly reminded us of the amount of work that Parliament—through that distinguished Select Committee —had already put into the Bill. He spoke in an exceptionally well-informed way, which reflected his commitment to the measure.

My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) comes to the House after a career in broadcasting. He too showed a remarkable grasp of the issues, and a willingness to put forward his view—never in an overweening way, and never seeking to use his experience to crush those of us who had not had the opportunity of working within the industry. He was always a tower of strength.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) is another hon. Member who comes to the House having worked on the technical side of the broadcasting industry. I thank him for the benefit of his experience, and for his work in highlighting, along with other hon. Members—notably the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley)—the problems of the deaf. If every Minister were as well served by such loyal and devoted colleagues as I was in Committee, we would all have reason to be pleased.

I want to make it clear, however, that it would have been impossible for the Committee to do its work without a full-hearted willingness to participate on the part of Opposition Members. I hope that I assisted that process by making it clear that I was not in the business of rejecting people's opinions just because they sat on a different side of the Committee. To the best of my abilities, I said, I would endeavour to weigh the arguments, and, if I was persuaded of the need for change, I would either make that change immediately—if I had discretion to do so—or advocate change to my colleagues.

I have served on a number of Committees with the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett). He knows that I have the greatest admiration and respect for him as a parliamentarian who never allows narrow partisanship to come in the way of sensible debate and good progress. It is a sign not of weakness but of strength that Opposition Members are prepared to debate the measure seriously, rather than try to make partisan capital out of it. I have always felt that the weakness of the parliamentary system is never more exposed than when Committee stages are simply used as a mechanism for delay, unaligned with any serious attempt to join issue on the merits of the case.

All three Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen won the admiration of all Conservative Members for the manner in which they put their points.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

What about my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer)?

Mr. Mellor

I am coming to the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer). There was not one Committee member who did not play a full part in the debate. On Report I said—and I am happy to repeat it —that the hon. Member for Bradford, South has strong opinions, and obviously would not expect me to agree with all or even most of them. I said on Second Reading, however, that I respected his skill as a parliamentarian, especially on technical matters. I respected too the experience he had gleaned from his chairmanship of the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments. On Second Reading I gave him a commitment that I would study the Bill closely to see whether the arrangements for parliamentary scrutiny were adequate. I concluded in a number of instances that they were not and I have made changes. That was thanks to the hon. Gentleman's contribution.

I understand that the Opposition and minority parties would not have introduced the Bill that we introduced. I do not seek to make party capital out of thanking them for the efforts they have made. That having been said and having been understood between us, a full-hearted attempt was made to join issue and to recognise that, whether people like it or not, the legislation is likely to be around for a considerable time. If it can be improved, it should be. If it can have a broader consensus behind it, that is good, because broadcasting is fundamental to a free society and should never become a narrow partisan matter.

Mr. Norman Buchan (Paisley, South)

It has been made one.

Mr. Mellor

I do not believe that it has; certainly I do not see it as being partisan in the position in which we are today.

I was able to accept a substantial number of the points raised by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan). I was only too willing to profit from his experience as a Minister and a lawyer. I hope he feels that he has made a substantial contribution to the Bill.

It was a happy chance for all of us that the passage of the Bill coincided with the televising of Parliament and with what I believe has been an altogether beneficial renewed interest by the media, and then by the public, in the workings of Parliament. It was all to the good that the parliamentary Committee that was most the subject of media attention during recent months was the Committee on this Bill. No one who participated in Committee need feel ashamed of Parliament being displayed through the Committee to those interested in watching. One could face one's constituents and say that what we had done was a necessary part of the proceedings and was not a waste of time. Our debates in Committee were not like those which we have from time to time which can bring Parliament into disrepute because we seem to be more like members of a school debating society than of a forum discussing serious legislation. I am glad to have had a part to play in it all. I want to express my warm admiration for all who helped in the process.

It may be worth pointing out the practical effects of the parliamentary scrutiny of the Bill. I shall enumerate briefly some of the points which arose in Committee and which the House endorsed on Report.

There has been a thickening of the quality threshold for Channels 3 and 5 by the addition of the requirements for children's and religious programming and for high quality regional news, and of the power for the ITC to publish an illustrative specification of the elements of programming which it would expect to see in a diverse programme service. The quality threshold was always a serious and substantial concept. It has become even more substantial as a result of the changes which we have made.

As a key part of that, I point to the enhancement of the regional content of Channel 3 services, including the introduction statutorily of the concept of dual regions, with the distinct regional programming which the statute now requires, the power for the ITC to require applicants to specify what regional resources and facilities they plan to use, and the requirement that Scotland should not be a single franchise area. These, and more, show that all of us, whatever reservations we may have from time to time about the way the system performs, strongly endorse, and believe that our constituents warmly support, the idea of a regionally-based Channel 3. That regional base has never been more firmly enshrined in statute than it is now, as a result of our work.

Perhaps more important for many people, the amendments to the exceptional circumstances provision now make clear beyond peradventure—to use that tedious legal phrase—that exceptionally high quality can displace the highest money bid. I hope that the overt striking of a fair balance between quality and price has been one of the major achievements of the Committee.

We have recognised also the importance of training, through an amendment that allows the ITC to require applicants for Channel 3 and Channel 5 licences to state what training provision they intend to make to sustain their programming plans.

I turn to describe briefly some of the changes made in respect of radio. I had the opportunity of telling the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland yesterday that, although I believe that most public attention has been focused on television, it is a significant Bill for radio—and radio is a most significant part of this country's media scene.

I am particularly glad that we have made changes to the remits of the three new national commercial radio stations, to ensure a genuine enhancement of listener choice. Obviously, we cannot guarantee that merely what we do here will guarantee three effective commercial national radio stations—that will depend on the ingenuity of the franchise applicants, and on their willingness and ability to create a loyal listenership. However, we are well on the way to achieving that objective, and we have built the right framework.

Constituents coming to my advice centre ask me, as I imagine they ask other right hon. and hon. Members, "What is the point in our saying anything about broadcasting, because they"—meaning some far-distant power structure—"will determine the issue." I make no bones about it—I did not appreciate at the outset how much popular support there is for the public teletext service. That is because I myself am not a regular user of it. I admit to being deeply impressed by the range of topics carried on teletext, and, interestingly—and I do not say this to knock the BBC, of which I am a firm supporter —by how much wider is the choice on Oracle than on Ceefax. That is an interesting reflection of how good the commecial sector can be when it really gets going. The flood of letters and representations from all sectors of the community is a sign of the importance attached to an Oracle-type service. It is an indication of the strength of our parliamentary system, not of its weakness, that such expressions of public will are not then rejected but bring a changed decision. That is what living in a sophisticated democracy is all about.

It is the duty of Members of Parliament, as well as a pleasure and a privilege, to make clear to Ministers through forums such as the Committee the strength of public feeling. A number of right hon. and hon. Members did so in that forum, as well as in their private correspondence. It is the pleasure, if not the duty, of Ministers then to reconsider—and if they come to see things in a different light, not to be afraid to make changes. That was certainly true in relation to various other issues. I was glad to hack out some of the police powers that had been put in the Bill. That was done not with any malicious intent but as part of the inevitable scissors-and-paste work that goes into a consolidation measure, when one has to take out of an old statute pre-existing powers and fit them into a new Bill. Quite obviously, the original police powers struck many people as excessive. Fair enough. That point was effectively made—and was, I hope, effectively answered by action.

I have already referred to the role of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West. I should mention also my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson), in relation to television subtitling services for the deaf. They were the subject of a highly effective campaign by the Deaf Broadcasting Association which had the support of right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House, and which gave the House an opportunity to consider the merits of the case and to set a far more challenging framework for progress by broadcasting authorities in that regard than otherwise would have been possible. I could go on but I shall not.

Parliament has had a useful and worthwhile opportunity for scrutiny which has led to significant changes in the Bill. Other work still remains to be done and is carried over into the other place. We still need to put the finishing touches to the new arrangements for religious broadcasting, and I feel particularly grateful for the sensible way that colleagues have approached the subject. In particular, my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) has been helpful.

At a time when there is an unprecedented expansion in broadcasting opportunities, nobody wants to preclude decent. sensible, mainstream religious organisations from playing a part. but we do not want to open a door through which cults will come which are ever eager and have plenty of resources——

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

Satanism and devil worship.

Mr. Mellor

I shall resist adding to the debate on Satan worshippers, much as it would intrigue me to do so.

There are also problems with unscrupulous television evangelists in the United States who we do not want to see here. Certainly people such as Billy Graham are responsible, but others have besmirched the principles of religion. One must consider the exploitive power of the media when coupled to unscrupulous messages. We are striking a balance which will permit the former, responsible people while keeping out the latter.

There are many other sorts of activity—for example, cable and subscription piracy—where there is a lot more work to be done in the other place.

I do not want to outstay my welcome, but I shall add a few more words. First, the Bill reflects a tremendous amount of public consultation which took place long before it came into being—for example, the Green Paper on radio and the White Paper on the Government's proposals.

Mr. Buchan

And thanks to the Peacock report?

Mr. Mellor

And the Peacock report, as the hon. Gentleman points out. Even if the principal recommenda-tions of a report are not accepted, it is significant because of the extent to which it focuses attention on the issue. When there are a set of robust conclusions the report forces either an agreement or a requirement to establish a separate set of opinions, if one wishes to take issue with it.

I pay tribute to the work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Hurd), the Foreign Secretary, under whom I served as the Minister responsible for broadcasting prior to the last election, and to my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary who did so much to prepare the Bill.

Whether one likes every part of the Bill, there has never been a Bill which has been so carefully considered and prepared after such extensive public consultation.

In no sense is the Bill a gratuitous addition to the body of statute. It would have been remiss of the Government not to recognise that new opportunities are provided by the remorseless onward march of technology for the enhancement of viewers' and listeners' choice. The Government would have been criminally negligent if they had failed to take advantage of that. If viewers and listeners' choice is to be enhanced, it has to be done within a statutory framework, which has had the endorsement of the House. The consequences for our community will be considerable and beneficial.

In due course the Bill will rank as one of the major reforms of broadcasting in the past 50 years. Every decade or so history shows us that there are times at which a significant step forward is possible. In the 1950s we were able to create the ITV system. In the early 1970s it was the regional commercial network, and in the 1980s, Channel 4. Because people plainly respect much of what is broadcast and because there is an inevitable fear of change—the easiest response to change is to resent and regret it and to think that it is bound to make things worse—each major change was accompanied by voices saying that broadcast-ing would he seriously damaged. While it is always important to weigh arguments on their merits and not to hesitate to deal with them if they appear to have substance, I have taken comfort in the fact that most of the Cassandra voices were wrong about the previous changes.

In 10 years many people will look back on the Bill and say that it was a good thing that Parliament seized the opportunity at this time. The benefits that flow from the Bill will be considerable and I shall briefly enumerate them: a tremendous expansion in radio, with hundreds of new local and community stations made possible, as well as three new national stations; in mainstream television, a far more open and publicly-understandable process for the granting of Channel 3 franchises with the quality of British broadcasting preserved by the selection process; a new Channel 5 which I expect to become a significant and welcome addition to the range of television programmes.

The satellite revolution is upon us. There are two bold ventures involving a number of British channels on the Astra satellite as well as British Satellite Broadcasting operating on a high-powered satellite. I do not know whether those brave ventures will win an audience and it is not a matter for the Government to determine that issue in one way or another or to have a view about it. It is always good to be offered an enlargement of choice. It is a tribute to the entrepreneurial vigour of the British economy that people are willing to invest substantial sums of money to produce a range of programme services that are not about pap or the lowest common denominator of programming but are about, for example, Britain's first 24-hour news channel on Sky, or a whole range of new and welcome programming decisions on BSB, which will greatly enhance viewing for people such as myself who are interested in the arts. One of the good and most notable things about BSB is its commitment to arts programmes and to new production and the amount of money that it has put into them.

Obviously, satellite poses us a dilemma as well as an opportunity. Satellite television can be exploited by cynical people to peddle filth, and none of us wants that in an era when filth is not merely the odd bold blue film such as people may have misty-eyed recollections of seeing at rugger club parties long ago. The level of filth today can be damagingly exploitive, and the link with crime, in particular crime against women, cannot be denied. That is why we must welcome the Council of Europe's convention —I recommend the Patronage Secretary for his role in that —which allows us to deal with the peddling of unacceptable programmes across national frontiers and, in a quicker time-scale than any of us dreamt possible, gives us the ability to deal with such matters.

We have set a framework for satellite broadcasting within which it will be possible for it to develop. So the face a British broadcasting will be altered by the Bill, but to the benefit of the public. It is patronising and wrong to suggest that the public have all the choice that they need at the moment. They have not. Experience shows that when the public are offered enhanced choice they seize it. For example, the new audience figures for some of the new radio stations in London—Jazz FM, for example—are a sign of how much people want extra choice.

The Broadcasting Bill offers tremendous opportunities for the broadcasters. It offers an unprecedented expansion in British broadcasting so that people are not obliged merely to shuttle between the BBC and independent television, but have access to a host of independent production companies and satellite companies whose interests are advanced by the Bill. Instead of a complacent duopoly, we will have a free-wheeling, innovative and broad-based broadcasting industry that will serve the interests not merely of the United Kingdom but of a wider world community.

Members on both sides of the House will agree that if we believe in the quality of British broadcasting, it should not be a well kept secret confined to these shores. We should recognise the opportunities for good British programme making around the world. My vision of British broadcasting is not merely that it satisfies a domestic audience with an ever greater range of good quality programmes, but that we are an effective base for Europe and for worldwide programmes. If the new ventures are successful, there will be an inexorable rising tide of demand for new programmes and I believe that we in Britain are exceptionally well placed to meet that demand. That is why I am proud of the Bill and proud that it will receive its Third Reading today.

4.50 pm
Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)

I thank the Minister for his kind remarks about the role of the Opposition and other parties in Committee and throughout the proceedings on the Bill. I also thank his officials for their assistance with the more complicated and technical parts of a Bill which started life quite large and has put on considerable weight since. I should also like to thank my colleagues on the Labour Front Bench and the other members of the Committee.

There is only one question to ask about the Bill: will the television and radio services that it delivers be better, worse or simply different? The Bill is all about viewers and listeners, and their interests should be of primary concern. Certainly radio and televison will be different because of the great expansion that new technology makes possible. We welcome that new technology and the extra choice and variety that it could have been used to provide.

We believe that the Bill fails, however, largely because it abandons much of the sensible basis upon which our television and radio system in the BBC and commercial sectors has been built and developed. The cornerstone of that system has been the commitment to public service broadcasting, the "must carry" rule which has guided broadcasters about the essential core of what must be on offer to viewers and listeners.

The Minister said that the new Channel 3 will be "a notch below public service broadcasting". That nice Mr. George Russell, the IBA chairman and midwife to the Channel 3 system, has said that it will be about 80 per cent. of what is now seen and heard. So it is admitted that it will be different, and worse, in the sense that real choices will be made not by those who watch and listen, but by those who can afford the cash to buy the right to broadcast.

Yes, there will be more choice, with more channels and stations from which to choose, but experience in West Germany, France and Italy teaches us that the likely result will be more choice from a less varied menu. The Minister's "notch below public service broadcasting" will almost certainly mean fewer current affairs programmes and documentaries, fewer costume and other dramas and less educational and social action broadcasting—in other words, a general fall in fact-based programmes and an increase in entertainment-based ones.

The Government claim that the Bill is about widening choice. The White Paper bravely stated: The Government places the viewers and listeners at the centre of broadcasting policy. But the Bill abandons viewers and listeners to the outcome of what it terms the broadcasting market.

IBA research tells us that about 50 out of every 100 viewers want fewer variety shows, 44 out of every 100 want fewer chat shows, and an impressive 55 out of every 100 viewers want more educational programmes, plays and drama. The demand for more health and education programmes comes from about 48 out of every 100 viewers, and 36 out of every 100 want to know more about science and technology. Lest that be thought an elitist plea, there is little or no difference between what those with more money watch compared with those with less money. The removal of the public service broadcasting provisions which have guaranteed such factual programming will leave those demands unmet because such programmes are among the most expensive to make, so the Bill fails on the test of a wider choice of a more diverse range of quality programming.

The Bill is not all bad news. There has been a double victory for those forced to listen with their eyes due to deafness and hearing impairment. We welcome plans to ensure that, within five years of the start of the new Channel 3, half its programming will have to be subtitled. We also welcome the Government's change of mind about the need to preserve space for a commercial teletext service. Almost one person in every 100 has a hearing impairment and about 300,000 people are deaf. We are due only small thanks for the extra subtitling because those of us who can hear should have listened and responded earlier.

It is interesting that the Government did not leave that to market forces alone. They made the same admission about the need to require children's and religious programming. In other words, unless it is provided for in the Bill, it is unlikely to be done.

Mr. Cryer

Does not the same apply to training? The Bill provided an opportunity to require an obligation for training, but it has been sidestepped by the Government and the Bill is much the poorer in that respect.

Mr. Corbett

My hon. Friend is right about the omission of training from the face of the Bill, although to be fair to the Minister he took the point and has made some undertakings about what will be done in another place. We welcome the setting up of a training agency by independent producers and the television companies in Wales, setting a good example of what needs to be done in an immensely important sphere.

There is much in the Bill that the Government were unwilling to change. Why on earth was there that silly insistence on removing the right of every viewer to watch one or other of the major national sporting events, as 87 out of every 100 people watch those great family occasions? Now, satellite channels watched by fewer than three in every 100 people can outbid the new Channel 3 or the BBC for the right to show the cup final, the Derby or test cricket. It is no use saying that it will not happen. The House will remember that when West Germany won the men's and women's finals at Wimbledon, fewer than four in every 100 viewers in West Germany were able to watch that live because the rights had been bought by a cable station.

Why in heaven's name have the Government put the future of ITN at risk by insisting that its users—that is, those who fund it—should have only minority control? Non-profit-making ITN will become ITN plc with a need to make profit. That will either increase the cost of news collection or bring cuts in its activities. After the elaborate process whereby the Independent Television Commission will decide who can buy a station, why can the whole thing be put at immediate risk days after success because the Government will not agree to a moratorium on takeovers until the new licence holders have been able to turn their promises into screen performance?

We argued long and hard about the need to restrict the holdings of newspaper owners in television. They are all treated the same in the Bill—bar one. Mr. Murdoch is able to own 35 per cent. of our daily and Sunday press and 100 per cent. of Sky Television. It is not only the Labour party which sees danger in that dominance of our media by one wealthy voice. The rules should not depend on where and with whom Mr. Murdoch eats his Christmas dinner. That is why an incoming Labour Government will ensure that Mr. Murdoch is given equality of treatment and a sensible period in which to divest himself of one or other of his interests.

Poor Channel 5—born with just 15 lines of clothing, it stands parentless in an uncertain world. The Minister excited the House the other night with his vision of a national channel with 50 towns and cities opting out for periods of the day, although we still do not know what it will do for the rest of the time. The Government claim that the new Channel 5 will cover 70 per cent. of homes. The Minister's 50 cities plan will cut that to 60 per cent. of homes, thus making it of less interest to investors and advertisers, especially as it will exclude large swatches of the better-off London and south-east area, which is of particular interest to advertisers.

At the heart of our objections to the Bill is the way in which the Government plan to sell off the right to broadcast. Even the changes made to enable the Independent Television Commission to award licences to a bidder short on cash, but with substantially higher quality programming, do not meet those objections. Cash paid on top of what it is planned to spend on programming will mean less money on the screen and over the airwaves. The change will help, but in the end the highest bidder, or something near to that, will win.

The Bill will not ensure a range of diverse programmes of quality. It will not guarantee innovation, excitement, experiment and expanded opportunities for views and voices not now heard. It puts the accountants in the driving seat. Instead of the system serving viewers and listeners, it is being used to serve them up to advertisers, and the viewers and listeners will be the poorer for that. That is why we shall oppose Third Reading.

5.1 pm

Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North)

It saddens me that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) found it necessary to be so churlish. His speech was as phoney as the "doughnut" around him in the House. The House is now in the "infotainment" business. The viewers need to know that as a result of Mr. Peter Mandelson's directions, six hon. Members are sitting around the Opposition Front Bench spokesman, but that there are very few others on the Opposition Benches. The synthetic comments of the hon. Member for Erdington, I suspect, were probably drawn up by the same author, which is a great shame. In Committee, the hon. Member for Erdington was extremely generous and helpful. As my hon. and learned Friend the Minister said, it was probably one of the most constructive and creative Committees on which any of us are likely to serve in this place.

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for the generosity of his remarks and for his thanks to colleagues of all parties. I doubt whether any hon. Member would suggest that it has not been a pleasure to work with him in Committee. I doubt whether any hon. Member, in spite of the comments of the hon. Member for Erdington, seriously believes that we have not made real progress on the Bill.

Etched on the heart of the BBC in Portland place are the words: Nation shall speak peace unto nation". When those Reithian sentiments were expressed, the BBC really meant that the English nation shall speak unto other nations in the Queen's English.

That world of broadcasting is changing. We face the imminent prospect of pan-European broadcasting. Seventeen television channels are already available to viewers in many parts of this country. A further 16 Astra channels will be available later this year. The Hughes corporation of America plans to launch a 100-channel satellite of digital transmission. The prospects are enormous and the opportunity for the programme makers is considerable. Only the British could regard the prospect of a tenfold increase in the size of audience available to them as a threat rather than a challenge.

Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin)

I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's mathematics. Top viewing figures these days can reach about 20 million people. How will there be a tenfold increase with a population of about 56 million?

Mr. Gale

If the hon. Gentleman had been listening and had been aware that I was talking about pan-European broadcasting, he would have grasped quickly that a potential Europewide audience of more than 400 million people will be available to programme makers in this country. As a programme maker, I regard that as a considerable challenge and opportunity.

I regret deeply the churlish and vindictive attack that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) made yesterday on the proprietor of The Times and other newspapers, Mr. Rupert Murdoch.

Mr. Buchan

Does the hon. Gentleman work for Mr. Murdoch?

Mr. Gale

The hon. Gentleman asks whether I work for Mr. Murdoch. The hon. Gentleman has sat through hours and hours of debate in Committee and we have sat for hours and hours listening to him. I suspect that, in due course, we shall have the fourth repeat of his speech. He should know by now that I do not have a declared or any other interest in any of Mr. Murdoch's operations. However, I have a considerable regard for the money he has invested in the future not only of print journalism in this country, but of satellites and the development of the satellite industry. I am talking about precisely that now.

As was said yesterday, there are 22 national newspapers in this country which are owned by 11 companies. There are well over 1,000 daily and weekly, regional and local newspapers, none of which is in Mr. Murdoch's hands. The prospect facing the British viewer——

Mr. Buchan


Mr. Gale

I will not give way at this point.

The prospect facing the British viewer is of 47 or 48 channels of television by terrestrial broadcast and from satellite in the coming year. The prospect of four of those being in the hands of somebody who also owns a few newspapers is not a threat to democracy in any shape of form.

My hon. and learned Friend knows that I should like to see the rules relaxed so that newspapers could acquire a greater share in the future of communications, whether television, radio or further newspapers. It is a great pity that the Bill does not yet permit local newspapers to have a controlling interest in community radio stations. As I said yesterday, I hope that my hon. and learned Friend, as a listening Minister, will have another go at that when the Bill reaches another place.

In Committee and on Report, my hon. and learned Friend has created a piece of legislation that will pave the way for broadcasting in the year 2000 and beyond. I do not see it as a long-term Bill. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher), repeating his Committee comments, has been proved right: it is a Bill for the early 1990s. It will cover the critical transition period between now and the year 2000, during which so many technical changes will take place. The digital communications systems that will carry voice telephony, data and entertainment will become inextricably linked. Satellite broadcasting and cable delivery systems will become more and more complementary. The Bill is a recognition of the fact that there will be a transitional period in the United Kingdom home between the reception of four terrestrial television channels and the use of a whole range of interactive services, just a few of which will embrace television entertainment.

My hon. and learned Friend the Minister made a number of major achievements in Committee, and struck a delicate balance between the need to preserve quality and the need to encourage investment in many new channels. He has provided in the Bill for groups of people who have not hitherto been provided for in legislation. We need to remember that. He has provided for the deaf and hard of hearing and has introduced measures affecting religious broadcasting and children's television. Children's television and religious broadcasting have always been there, but arrangements for them have never before been enshrined in law.

As my hon. and learned Friend the Minister has said, there is much more work to do—both here and in the other place. My hon. and learned Friend has said that he intends to do that work, and I believe that he is right to say that the Bill is a Bill of which, in the end, he will be justly proud.

5.11 pm
Mr. Norman Buchan (Paisley, South)

I am grateful for the opportunity to reply to some of the nonsense that has been talked not only in the past three months but in the past five minutes. I especially liked one of the comments made by the hon. Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale), who said that he did not work for Murdoch. I am pleased to hear it, because we now know that his support for the Bill arises not out of a desire for cash but from sheer ignorance of what its consequences will be. That means that we may eventually be able to convince him that he is wrong.

I was astonished to hear the hon. Member for Thanet, North say that the large number of different newspapers in Britain represented a wide spread of opinion and were a means of expression for many separate and individual voices. Five people—a fifth of the number of Labour Members in the Chamber at the moment and a twentieth of the number of people in the Strangers Gallery—own and control 93.9 per cent. of the national daily and Sunday newspapers. Five people tell the vast majority of British households what they should read and how they should think. The hon. Member for Thanet, North then asks why one man, Ruper Murdoch, should not own four television channels. That one man owns 35 per cent. of our national daily and Sunday newspapers and so speaks directly to a third of our people, yet the hon. Gentleman asks why he should not also own four television channels.

At the heart of all thought is language. The word is precious, because he who controls the word controls our future. Communication is infinitely more important than any other matter that may be dealt with in legislation. Without a means of hearing truths and contrary truths, we cannot make progress and if one wants to cripple progress, one must inhibit people's freedom of expression. If five people are allowed to control 94 per cent. of newspapers —the major vehicles for the printed word—the truth will be obscured. That is what we face at present with newspapers, and that is why we are so anxious about the Bill.

What the Bill does—Professor Peacock said in his report that he thought this should happen—is to allow individuals monopoly powers without any regulation and without the basic controls necessary to ensure freedom of expression. The Bill will pass, not just to several people of the same kind but in some cases to the same person, the ability to bring what passes for the truth into British households.

We have already seen what happens when control is passed to certain individuals. We see it every day in The Sun. Do British parents really want their children to grow up to read The Sun? Will that develop their personalities? Will it produce people who will create a civilisation of which we can be proud? Having seen The Sun, we have no excuse for defending what lies behind it.

We are talking not about vague possibilities but about something that we can already see. We have seen the future that those who already own and control our newspapers want to give us, and we do not like it. The Government now propose to give the same person who has polluted the written word the ability to go on to pollute the spoken word. That is what the Bill will do, and no amount of amendment, and no amount of niceness and proclamation of love of the arts on the Minister's part, will change the fact that this is a rotten, disgraceful and cash-orientated Bill.

I have debated with the Minister in the past, and I know that deep down he has a sense of civilisation. I am surprised that he, of all Ministers, should have lent his smooth words to the process of getting the Bill passed. The Minister claims that he has made concessions, and he has. I predicted one of the concessions for which a measure in the Bill already provided.

There were originally two major faults in the Bill itself —quite apart from the pattern of ownership that might flow from it. The first was that it did not protect quality and truth, and the second was that it introduced repressive measures, including censorship. We have made some progress on quality. We are no longer simply giving away contracts to the highest bidder. The Minister has accepted that at least some regard should be paid to the question of quality before the contract goes to a high bidder. That is an improvement, and we thank him for it. We believe that he welcomed it himself.

The principal effect of the Bill will be to flog off broadcasting to the entrepreneur. The Minister claims that the Bill gives freedom and the hon. Member for Thanet, North says that we are afraid of the freedom that it will confer. But the second main aspect of the Bill is its repressive and censorship measures.

Hitherto, broadcasters have been subject to two restraints. The first has been the board of governors of the BBC or, in the case of commercial broadcasting, the IBA. The second has been a code to follow. Public and commercial television and radio have each had one authority and one code. The Government are now introducing another authority and another code. The Minister has doubled the extent of the restraints on and repression of freedom of the broadcaster to speak the truth. In addition, the Minister now proposes to involve the criminal law. I know that many hon. Members will say that the invoking of the Obscene Publications Act 1959 and the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 is a good thing. I would ask them to be careful about that. Saying to broadcasters, "If you get it wrong, you will face a criminal charge," is a much more serious matter than asking them to obey a code and saying, "We will rap you if you do not do it."

We now have two authorities, two codes and the criminal law. That means that we have six times as much restraint as we had in the past, because the criminal law applies differently north and south of the border. Someone broadcasting freely in Scotland may find himself charged in England, and vice versa. We have thus multiplied by a factor of six the restraints on broadcasters. Ultimately, the Minister has the power and the Minister's appetite for intervention has been whetted by the attacks on Kate Adie led by the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit), the invasion of the Scottish BBC and the seizure of the Zircon tapes, and similar further attempts to inhibit broadcasters' freedom.

In place of the freedom that the Government boast they will create, we shall create an apparatus of repression and censorship of the genuine broadcaster. We shall sell Channels off to the purveyors of cheap near-pornography. That is what will emerge, and I am sorry that the Minister has lent his hand to it.

It is no use Conservative Members saying that we are pursuing a vendetta against Mr. Murdoch. The vendetta that we must maintain is against the Government. They are a Government dedicated to profit makers and profiteers, and they are careless of the future of the civilisation of this country. That is why we shall vote against the Bill and why, when we return to power, the Labour party will introduce a broadcasting Bill that will represent the true civilisation of Britain, based on the needs of the people of Britain. It will give them proper choice of programmes. There is no choice if six channels purvey the same material.

The Bill matters deeply because, at the end of the day, the only safeguard that we have against tyranny, brutality and the power of those who already possess power is the freedom of the word, so that we can expose injuries when we see them, speak freely and involve people in freeing the word. At the beginning of the day, tyranny starts by locking up the freedom of the word. The future freedom of Britain depends on us freeing the word as never before. Television and radio are too precious to leave in the hands of the few and the powerful. That is why we shall change it when we return to power.

5.21 pm
Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

My speech will be brief—I am sure that the House will be glad of that.

When the Bill was published, the Christian people of this country were outraged at its proposals. They wondered why the Government had not only left them out completely but put up barricades against them. I am glad that today, on Third Reading, the Minister who guided the Bill through the House took on board the representations made to him. He was gracious in receiving deputations and listening to them. He was gracious in listening to the arguments put to him. Today I say, on behalf of the Christian public, that Christians are pleased with what has happened. They realise that the Minister has accepted what they had in their minds and hearts.

The Minister realised the strength behind the arguments put to him and the need for a guarantee in legislation that there will be room for the propagation of the Christian faith and for children's programmes.

Everyone in the country is indebted to all who took part in all the stages of the Bill. The Minister himself admitted that strong representations had been made to him from hon. Members on both sides of the House and by various bodies. He was glad that he could take them on board. We look forward with confidence to what he will do in another place. We trust that, at the end of the day, the people of this country will have in practice what they seek and that the new Broadcasting Act will guarantee them the things they want by right of choice.

As I said in Committee, after all, we have the power to switch off. We must see that the choice is there. When the choice exists, people can make their choice according to the standards by which they govern their life. I sincerely thank the Minister for what he has done on Christian representation.

5.23 pm
Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

The Minister began this debate as if it were a prize-giving ceremony. He could be forgiven for feeling a little discontented that some of the prizewinners have not responded with the spirit of generosity that he showed. The last occasion on which I was present as a recipient at a prize-giving ceremony was at my school. The presiding donor was none other than the late Lord Reith, a fellow Glaswegian, who sought to inspire in all of us a commitment, not to the benefits of public service broadcasting, but to the entrepreneurial flair that had led to the establishment of broadcasting as a medium for selling on a mass scale the new technology that was invented in the early 1920s.

Speeches in Glasgow remind me of another, perhaps more famous speech than that of Lord Reith. It was delivered by that considerable Conservative, F. E. Smith, as lord rector of Glasgow university. He shocked the genteel by speaking of the availability of glittering prizes for sharp swords. There has been about the debates on the Bill some sense that there are glittering prizes in the future of broadcasting. While our task has inevitably and properly been focused on the consumers of broadcasting, we should be living in an unreal world if we did not think of the considerable commercial excitement about the possibilities that are opening up with the advent of new technology.

The speech of the hon. Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) was enjoyable, as his speeches always are. He managed almost to enthuse us with a sense that the great growth of the technology in which he clearly revels will bring in its train the prospect of a greatly enhanced consumer experience, and that great enjoyment will flow from the adoption of new techniques of broadcasting.

Most of our debates in Committee and on Report inevitably focused on ensuring that the proliferation of services does not simply mean the replication of the same, and, indeed, a declining, quality of broadcasting. At this stage, it is right to ask ourselves whether we have succeeded in ensuring that the quality as well as the diversity of broadcasting will be enhanced.

I and my right hon. and hon. Friends are immensely excited by the technical possibilities of which the hon. Member for Thanet, North spoke. We believe that the creation of new stations and Channel 5, the multiplication of local radio stations and the evidence of foreign investment in cable in the past 18 months are wholly welcome. All those developments bring genuine potential for innovation. However, we cannot just leave it at that. Alas, the Bill does not usher in the age of change in the 1990s with the due regard to the quality requirement that should be at the centre of the debate about broadcasting.

The smack of earlier debates was that they were dominated more by the Treasury and Department of Trade and Industry than the Home Office Ministers who have ushered the Bill through Parliament. I do not hold any individual Minister responsible for that. I agreed with the short speech made on Report yesterday by the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden). He said that the Bill should have been about an auction of quality. If that had been so, we should have seized the opportunity and the methods that we have used in the past of distributing lucrative franchises. None of us has ever forgotten the view of Lord Thomson that they were a licence to print money.

The methods of allocating those franchises in the past have been too opaque. There has not been much innovation or excitement, but a tendency for those who have enjoyed their franchises for a long time to take a conservative approach. I shall not be unduly upset if there is some turnover of ownership as a result of what is happening. However, we have missed an opportunity by not introducing a tendering process that focuses on quality, not cash.

Looking at the Bill as it stands after all our deliberations, I think that the Minister has served Parliament and the country extraordinarily well. He was right to linger as he did on the remarkable way in which the Committee worked. It was a remarkable experience to watch minds being changed by the process of debate. I think particularly of the change of approach that came over the Committee during the consideration of the national radio channels. By the end, it was clear that there was a consensus that internal diversity was less important than pre-franchise-allocation differentiation of the channels. That sort of development was immensely welcome.

When the Bill was first brought to the House, I was among those who called for a pre-legislative Committee to take evidence and try to reach a consensus in that manner. I still think that it would have been a good idea, but in the light of the way in which the Committee has worked, it was clearly much less necessary. Would that other Bills were handled in a comparable way, and the Minister deserves our congratulations for that.

As a former junior Minister, I have, in my day, handled extremely complex legal Bills, and I greatly admire the way that he handled the Bill on his own. It was quite remarkable that he was unassisted by other Ministers and has come up with a large number of amendments that are the fruit of our deliberations. His style has greatly assisted the legislative process and I hope that I shall have the opportunity of serving with him again in Committee.

The Bill as it stands leaves the other place with much to deal with. I fear that the provisions that allow takeovers to occur within a short time of licences being issued may make the tendering process something of a mockery. It will have the potential to disrupt the ITV system just when a period of stability is required, and it may take more money out of programming.

The Government were unwilling to accept the hostility of ITV to multiple bidding and the opposition of a number of hon. Members, including me, to dual ownership. It is clear that dual ownership will put at risk local ownership, investment, local knowledge and local programming. I hope that that matter will be returned to in another place and that one bid, one licence will prove the final outcome.

It is also to be regretted that we do not have a statutory underpinning for the requirement of networking, for it is recognised that that is necessary for the stability of the system and the viability of smaller companies. Quite rightly, much attention has been paid to the strengthening of the quality requirements, particularly the amendments to clause 17(3) which were tabled at a late stage. The auctioning of the franchises marked a victory for the Treasury over broadcasting. As I said, I would prefer a tendering system that allowed a company to be chosen on what it offers in terms of diversity, quality and investment in the region.

Independent Television News is inadequately provided for, and is the result of an unhappy compromise between the market and monopoly. What has been done looks like the punishment of the ITV companies for the success of their investment in ITN. The Bill creates a private commercial monopoly, effectively protected from com-petition and free, as a result of the great national base, to invade other people's markets, and for whom television news could prove to be a means, not an end. An improvement is required on that. On Report, I spelled out the options that remained.

There has already been some heated exchange in the House this afternoon about cross-media ownership. A period of reflection is needed to ensure that the debate is about monopoly, not simply one owner. The principle that cross-ownership is wrong is supported by almost all hon. Members. There is a huge potential for News International to become the keeper of the gateway for all companies using the Astra satellite by providing an encryption service. It is reasonable to anticipate that the rewards will be as great as the current losses.

The principle that cross-ownership is wrong must be protected, but a solution must be reached to enable News International to make a proper return on its risk before it is required to disinvest. I broadly agreed with the view expressed by the Minister last night that the amendment moved on that subject, which would have required a test of 3 million viewers, was not wholly adequate for the purpose. However, the principle that the amendment was seeking to advance seems to be the right one to pursue.

I think that he was hinting, or even stating, that, if the position changed, the Bill allows, by subordinate legislation, a disinvestment requirement to be brought forward. It is no part of my argument that that disinvestment should be punitive or expropriatory, but clearly it would be totally unacceptable for News International to dominate in a way that is peculiar to itself and contrary to all the arguments accepted by the House on the evils of cross-ownership.

The Government have got the legislation on listed sports events wrong. Such events should be available on terrestrial channels, and the Bill will be resented by many people if the result is to take family occasions off the screen and create the same position as can be seen in the Federal Republic of Germany, where German viewers have been deprived of the opportunity to watch their champions winning Wimbledon because the event had been bought up by a cable company.

In our debates, the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) has properly focused a good deal of attention—perhaps more than any other member of his party—on censorship. I have considerable sympathy with what he has said. The Bill has erred in establishing yet another external Government-appointed organisation to act, effectively, as a censor of broadcasting. Effective regulation by the Independent Television Commission internally, and by the BBC, is the way that we should have proceeded. I am afraid that the Government have created an unnecessary quango with potentially evil consequences.

The Minister is right to say that the changes in relation to radio brought about by the Bill are immensely important, although they have—he will not deny it—played second fiddle to television during much of the discussion on the Bill. The Minister has done much to ensure the future of commercial radio by agreeing to tighten the quality and pre-designation requirements of the national stations. However, I fear that community radio will suffer adverse consequences because of a lack of public investment and proper provision. That may mean that choice will be extended hardly at all to many parts of the country, and there will be still less choice of listening. As a result, we could see a considerable contraction of programme content.

I regret that the Bill does not provide for cross-subsidy of the transmission costs of local radio. That will deprive large areas of the benefit of local radio and there will be many white areas on the map. The Government have made a remarkable gesture by recognising the case for extending support for the Gaelic language in Scotland. I welcome the principle of that and many of the proposals that have been made for using the £8 million. There is much to be worked out if Gaelic broadcasting is to be effective in practice. I listened with interest to the suggestion yesterday by the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) that a Scottish equivalent of S4C might be the way to proceed rather than to expect the existing stations to carry Gaelic broadcasting at peak viewing times.

Mr. Buchan

In view of my strictures about the rest of the Bill, I should like to comment on Gaelic broadcasting and on the money that has come forward. I join the hon. Gentleman in welcoming that. It is a glimmer on the horizon and provides a little freedom for us all.

Mr. Maclennan

I share the hon. Gentleman's view about that, just as I agree with some of the other things he said about the Bill.

I congratulate the Minister of State on an extraordinarily good job in improving one of the worst Bills with which the House has been confronted. I think that we can now live with the arrangements that have been made. I am not one of the Cassandras to whom the Minister of State referred, who believe that all will be doom and disaster as a result of the Bill. However, it remains to be seen whether our hopes for quality will be realised. The Bill will be strengthened if the other place takes account of what I have said.

5.43 pm
Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)

The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) spoke about the stamina of my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State. I agree with him about that. We became used to seeing that stamina in Committee, but the 17 hours that my hon. and learned Friend spent at the Dispatch Box in the past two days were something else. He was there until the early hours of this morning and the quality of his answers and the way in which he dealt with the issues never wavered. Such quality has been at the heart of our debates on the Bill. The Minister of State and I share a love of football and classical music. I am not sure whether his stamina has been gained by watching too much of Chelsea or whether he drew strength from listening to Wagner and other classical composers.

I pay tribute to everyone who worked on the Committee. We had an interesting four months and I certainly enjoyed our sittings. I wish that more of our proceedings could be conducted in such a good-natured and constructive manner. In Committee and on Third Reading we have seen occasional skirmishes between my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) and the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan), but they were the exception rather than the rule. I should also like to pay a small tribute to two silent members of the Committee. I refer to my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs), who is the Minister's PPS., and to my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor) who is a most good-natured and helpful Whip. I said to him at the start of our proceedings that we would end up better friends than when we started.

Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

Sycophantic schmaltz.

Mr. Greenway

The hon. Gentleman seems disturbed about that. As my hon. and learned Friend the Minister has said, it is important for people outside to see that Parliament works in a constructive and good-natured manner. Sometimes the brief interludes that people are fed from Parliament's proceedings give entirely the wrong impression.

My main interest in the Bill relates to the future of Channel 3. My hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State spoke of the work of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. Perhaps I may be allowed one further reference, which goes to the heart of the issues. The report of that Select Committee emphasised that at the heart of the matter is the quality and range of services provided, and their financing, not the means of their delivery". The report also said that whatever criticisms are made legitimately at home, abroad British Television is seen to be amongst the best, if not to be the best in the world. All members of the Committee had that ideal very much at the back of their minds. We wanted to maintain those standards in a future in which there would be much more competition, especially for Channel 3. Channel 4 has its remit strengthened even more by the Bill and its financial arrangements are more secure. That is also the case for the BBC, which for the foreseeable future will have the licence fee—another issue that Parliament will have to consider. Channel 3 has none of those things.

It is important to strike a proper balance in terms of underpinning the elements of the public service broadcasting commitment that Channel 3 has had in the past. That should be maintained, while recognising that it would be wrong to require too much from Channel 3 which has to compete for its revenue in the market place. We cannot provide the guarantee of funding that a more deep-seated or detailed remit for public service broadcast-ing would require.

Much of our discussion in Committee centred on the practical measures that we needed to put in place to ensure that the bidding process was sensible and an improvement on previous arrangements. In the past two days there has been a justified welcome for the key amendment to clause 17(3)—the exceptional circumstances clause—which the House debated yesterday. It is important that the other place does not overlook the clarification of the bidding process when it considers the Bill. Even in this debate, it is worth reminding ourselves again that unless a bidder's programme proposals, his financial arrangements and the level of his bid dovetail together, the ITC will be perfectly justified in rejecting that bid.

Throughout the debates on the Bill, the Opposition have said that the proposals place too much emphasis on money and not enough on quality. The exceptional circumstances clause is now in place, although, as my hon. and learned Friend the Minister knows, I want him to consider whether the wording is absolutely right. However, that clause in itself is a clear incentive to the ITV Channel 3 bidders to bid up quality. There is a quality hurdle in the mechanism, but there is no money hurdle or threshold because the Bill does not say that a bid must be for a minimum amount. It specifies a range of obligations which underpin quality. Above all, they underpin the regionality of the Channel 3 structure.

My hon. and learned Friend knows that I see as very important the need to ensure that the Channel 3 regions remain a vital and important part of the broadcasting scene in Britain. That is important for those of us with constituencies a long way from London. Many of them, such as Yorkshire Television, Tyne Tees Television, Granada and the Scottish regional stations, have achieved great results, not only within the United Kingdom but throughout the world and have justifiably won many prizes for their programmes. They have brought an important breadth to the cultural life of the regions through their support for the arts and for drama. That is why we must protect the regionality of Channel 3, and the Bill does that.

Not only did my hon. and learned Friend the Minister accept my key amendment on regionality in Committee, but having thought about the matter further he introduced another amendment on Report, which was accepted, to make it clear that when considering the facilities, studios and staff that a Channel 3 bidder will need in the regions, the ITC can request details of those arrangements and take them into account in assessing whether the bid is satisfactory.

Some concerns about the Bill remain, and they were enumerated during our discussions on Report. I am sure that the other place will take account of them. However, the issue of networking still remains. My hon. and learned Friend is right to allow the industry a little longer to reach some agreement. Nevertheless, he recognises that the commitments given by bidders cannot be a shot in the dark —there must be a clear understanding of the financial implications of the network when they formulate their bids and put together their financial proposals.

I am still concerned about takeovers and I am firm in my belief in the need for a moratorium. My hon. and learned Friend has agreed to reconsider that. I hope that he will not take too much account of the fact that, regrettably, when the matter was put to a Division in the House, it was heavily defeated. I hope that he will fully appreciate the importance of that issue.

All those who served on the Committee will recognise the quality of the briefings from both the IBA and the ITVA. When the Bill is enacted, when all its measures are in place, when we see the expansion of opportunity in television and radio which will result from the Bill, it will undoubtedly be thought of as "Mellor's Bill". However, we will also remember that nice, sensible Mr. George Russell, whom we discussed on many occasions. He will have the blueprint that he wanted for the future of Channel 3 in the allocation process. It will then be for ITV to make the best of it. I have no doubt that, as it has done in the past, it will do so in the future.

5.53 pm
Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin)

In taking part in a Third Reading debate not having served on the Committee, I feel as though I might be intruding in a private meeting. After hearing the remarks of the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), I wonder whether I have intruded into a love-in. It is obvious that a deep affection has developed between many of those who served on the Committee. However, although I may suffer from the disadvantage of not having served on the Committee, that may enable me to have a slightly clearer view of the process which has led to the Bill and the current position as it passes through its final stages in this place.

The Bill began with a Prime Minister with a congenital tendency to meddle, especially in areas that she does not understand. She has a rather unpleasant dislike of members of my union, the ACTT, and of journalists in general, although with the odd exception. She decided that television and radio broadcasting was another area of our national life in which she should meddle. She decided that a Bill was the right way to do that, despite the fact that, as many hon. Members have said, British broadcasting is outstanding, as are British television programmes. Some hon. Members may have seen a programme which was shown after our debate on Tuesday night. It was an hour-long documentary on ITV about the second world war from the D-day landings to VE day and told the story of the relationship between Eisenhower and Montgomery. It was outstandingly well produced with tremendous library footage. There was nothing clever—no trickery was involved—just a good story, well told. I wonder how many such productions will be possible on the fancy channels of the future.

After the Prime Minister had decided to meddle, the next stage was for the former Home Secretary, who has now moved on, to undertake the job of giving a philosophical veneer to what was happening. He coined the immortal phrase that the new broadcasting system would be like browsing in a good bookshop. That was how he described the multitude of cable and satellite channels that are to come. It was then all-change at the Home Office, and the Bill was delivered to the Minister of State.

The hon. and learned Gentleman seems to be the Government's odd job man, to be shunted from one Department to another—I believe that it is called a sweeper in the trade. He has been quite amiable and has made one or two concessions——

Mr. John Greenway

Only one or two?

Mr. Grocott

I do not question the fact that the hon. and learned Gentleman has made concessions, but I have a feeling that he has been aware all along that he has been dealt a duff hand and he has had to make the best of it.

The Bill rests on two false premises. The first is the fallacy of technology. It is believed that, somehow, technology must drive the change in broadcasting. I do not want to patronise the Minister. Those who hit television tangentially—and the Minister hits plenty of television studios—tend to become mesmerised by the technology. I regret to say that some people have made a living from it, including the hon. Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale), who seems perpetually mesmerised even though he knows and understands what it is all about. Technology in television is the servant, not the master. It is rather like someone interested in newspapers being obsessed by the production process rather than the quality of the news coverage. What matters in television is the quality of the programmes, not whether the screen can be spun around or the programmes delivered by satellite or cable, bounced off the sun, the moon or whatever. A simple story well told, such as the documentary to which I referred, needs no fancy technology or delivery system—it needs good quality programming. As has been said repeatedly and effectively, the new channels by no means guarantee better delivery and better quality programmes.

The second fallacy, which is the Bill's fundamental and abiding weakness, is that the free market will somehow deliver. The Minister has had to concede time and again that the free market does not deliver. He had to do that through the increased regulations relating to religious and educational programmes on Channel 3. They will not be delivered by the free market any more than regional televison could have been delivered by the free market. They can be delivered only by regulation.

The Minister has not made satisfactory concessions but at least he has admitted that problems may lie ahead in relation to the whole business of takeovers, which proves that the free market philosophy is fatally flawed. The Government's idea of a free market in this respect seems to be that anyone with the cash can take over a company.

The free market fatally fails to deliver in all areas. It will fail to deliver in networking. We can achieve a proper networking system only by regulation and control. In other words, the whole notion of the Bill is based on a fallacy, as are the Government's policies in other areas. It is no different in principle from the view that if cash is allowed to reign supreme in the National Health Service, everybody will get a good service. In fact, it simply means that the rich get the best doctors and hospitals. The same is true in education—if it is left to the free market, the rich will get smaller class sizes. Only by a form of regulation that is democratically accountable can we have a good service that is available to us all.

There is no more perfect a characterisation of the failure of the free market than the argument about the restricted availability of sporting programmes—the famous list to which reference is constantly made.

Conservative Members who believe in the operation of a free market in broadcasting are saying that if, for the 2 per cent. of viewers with access to satellite television, the sponsors of Sky wish to buy Wimbledon, the cup final or any of the listed events and have the money to demand exclusive access to those events, they can enjoy those programmes, and for the 98 per cent. of the rest of us who do not have that access it is just tough luck. That is the logic of the free market. If Conservative Members do not believe that, they do not believe in the operation of the free market. Opposition Members believe that sporting and other events of that kind are part of our culture and heritage. The beauty of the British broadcasting system is that no wealthy group can decide to have such events for their exclusive use and enjoyment. We rest our case on the belief that broadcasting is at its best when it is available to everyone, when it has the money to make quality programmes and when it is able to build on the best of what has existed before.

The Bill is based on a fallacy and was conceived in spite. It has been developed on the basis of a phoney philosophy which does not stand up to examination. We want a properly regulated means of controlling this wonderful technology, with the incredible access that it gives to millions of our fellow citizens, so that it may expand choice and enrich the community. For that reason, we shall vote against Third Reading.

6.3 pm

Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West)

The speech of the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) shows that Opposition Members do not understand what the Bill is about, mainly because they have not taken a step backwards to appreciate what is happening in broadcast-ing. The Bill will not change broadcasting and television. They are changing anyway.

The hon. Gentleman proves that he has no confidence in the ability of anyone to do anything that is not laid down and tightly drawn in legislation, preferably drafted by the Labour party. History shows that he is wrong. Opposition philosophy in this area was wrong in the past, and it will prove to be wrong on this occasion.

When the BBC began, it was technically difficult to put any television programmes on the air. The engineers had a tight grip on the BBC. When ITV started, the big fear expressed by Labour Members in debates similar to this was that it would not be possible for independent people to come in and produce quality programmes, and that even the necessary engineering resources would not be available to them to screen such programmes.

The technology has changed so dramatically that none of the equipment that is now used—cameras, editing and graphics equipment and so on—is more technical than the average hi-fi system. So, without enormous technical back-up and having to cope with the huge problems that existed in the past, it is possible to screen good-quality television programmes, using people whose talents are not in technical areas but in wider artistic, current affairs and news backgrounds. Modern technology allows such people to bring their talents to television and radio. Because those new opportunities exist, and because a massive number of new radio and some new television stations will be established, the Bill will enable all those talents to be brought to the fore.

It is not for us to say what those talents must be. We should not lay down in legislation what we mean by quality programmes or say how the inventiveness that exists today should be brought to the fore. That is the way in which the Labour party views this issue, and its philosophy does not work. We must simply lay down a framework that will enable new developments to work, and the Bill will achieve that process.

Many more people will seek to establish television and radio stations. Some will fail. Some will introduce ideas that have not occurred to any of those who have taken part in these debates. I welcome the fact that people from totally different backgrounds will have a part to play.

At the same time, the Bill will help to protect our remarkably good television system. BBC 1 and 2 will still be the cornerstone of British television broadcasting. It is remarkable how the BBC, when faced with a challenge, as it is today, responds by providing an improved service.

Those who now work for the BBC and who worked there during the 14 years when I worked for the BBC agree that it improved greatly with the advent of ITV, and improved further when Channel 4 came into being. I have absolute confidence that the BBC will improve yet again as it faces the latest challenge.

Mr. Buchan

The hon. Gentleman is almost entirely wrong in recalling what happened with the advent of independent broadcasting. I was involved in it in the 1950s. We were anxious to prevent it becoming cash-dominated. All sides of the argument eventually reached agreement about that, as the various reports produced at the time, including Pilkington, show.

That happened because it was subject to the type of regulation that enabled good programmes to be made and diversity of opinion to be expressed. It was through regulation that commercial independent television was able to help the television process. It increased the number of public service channels and opened up freedom of expression. But the Bill will prevent new ideas from developing unless it can be proved to the satisfaction of the licensees that money can be made from them.

Mr. Hughes

In Committee, the hon. Gentleman made an interesting and detailed speech. However, he made the same speech at almost every sitting and it became slightly less interesting as time went on.

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)


Mr. Hughes

It may be cheap, but it is true. The hon. Gentleman would seize every opportunity to say that he was the only member of the Committee who understood what was going on. I am not sure that everyone agreed.

We will still have BBC and Channel 4—the Government's creation. There was no expansion of broadcasting under a Labour Government. If we had wanted to cheapen broadcasting and to change what would be available for minority groups, the Bill gave us the chance to do so. But it was never our intention to change the format of Channel 4, and it has not been changed. We will also have Channel 5. That will not be available to everyone, but it will be the first national television channel based outside London. Surely everyone would welcome that new focus for a national channel. That is a remarkable feature, for which the Bill and the Minister will be remembered.

We will also have new radio stations, bringing diversity and catering for many different tastes. However, I have one worry about the new radio stations. Too much power may have been given to those people whose powers in allocating the Channel 3 franchises have been diminished —the chattering classes and their representatives who did so badly in the past when it came to allocating Channel 3 franchises; the people who gave us the original London Weekend Television, putting together a pack of nonsense, and the people who gave us Harlech television.

Their piece de resistance was TV-am. Everyone who worked in television and television news knew that they could not put a television news organisation on the air with the promises that were being made, and that proved to be true. The only people who believed it were those at the IBA. But those people are still around and they will probably have too much power when it comes to allocating radio franchises.

The IBA has been responsible for a sad feature of the incremental licences that have been given. For example, Sunrise Radio, which operates in west London and in part of my constituency, is an Asian radio station, but at peak time, in the mornings, it does not have Asian programmes. It has a white disc jockey playing music from the top 40 on the basis that Asian children like that sort of music as much as anyone else.

But they can listen to Capital Radio or Radio 1. Sunrise Radio was supposed to offer something different and if it does not do that at peak times, it is not offering something different. It was the IBA which persuaded it to adopt that policy, on the basis that it would be more profitable. That is a shame and, before the Bill becomes an Act, we must ensure that that does not happen to the hundreds of new radio stations.

Every time that broadcasting has expanded in Britain, it has been trailed as a disaster. We need only read the speeches from Labour Members on every occasion to know that. However, that has not proved to be the case in the past and I do not believe that it will be this time. On the details of the legislation, my hon. and learned Friend the Minister listened to those who felt strongly about something and, where the lobbying was logical and sensible, he changed the Bill accordingly. But there has been no change to the central thrust of the Bill and its important framework for ensuring that we take advantage of the expected expansion. It is because of that twin-track approach that we shall have a successful expansion of broadcasting; and most of the credit for that must go to my hon. and learned Friend.

6.14 pm
Mr. Clifford Forsythe (Antrim, South)

Like the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott), I was not a member of the Committee, so I take this opportunity to congratulate those who were on their good work in improving the Bill. I include in those congratulations the Minister, who showed flexibility in considering the various points put to him and ingenuity in bringing about the changes in the amended Bill. I mention not being a member of the Committee not as a criticism, as may have been thought when I spoke on Report, but in case I mention matters which I am sure were thoroughly discussed in Committee.

I hope that the Minister will not think me churlish if I criticise certain aspects of the Bill. For example, I am disappointed that, even with the changes, the highest bidder will be awarded the contract. That is not a good thing. It would be much better if quality alone were to prevail.

The aspect of the Bill which has given most concern to my constituents is that relating to religious broadcasting. I have received an enormous number of letters and petitions from sincere Christians who felt insulted by the implication in the Bill that, somehow or other, all Christians are so untrustworthy that they could not own a television station or run a programme. Thank goodness matters were improved on Report. I hope that they will be further improved in another place, but some honest and sincere people still have great reservations. I look forward to seeing even more improvements.

It is sad that all citizens in a democracy cannot be treated equally, regardless of class, creed or race. I welcome the strengthening of the regional requirements, which should ensure that we have a credible regional application, and the support shown on Report for networking—a system which is recognised as essential to enable regional companies such as Ulster Television to give viewers a full range and variety of local, national and international programmes.

I was encouraged by the Minister's appreciation of the difficulties faced by Ulster Television and his recognition of the care which will be needed in awarding the franchise to Northern Ireland. Ulster Television is one of the smallest independent television companies. Its advertising income is only 1.5 per cent. of ITV's total. Broadcasting in a divided society such as Northern Ireland requires impartiality, accuracy and sensitivity—an exceptional responsibility.

A former Home Secretary said: In Northern Ireland there is much violence and sadness. But there is, too, a rich and varied life and a caring community in which neighbour helps neighbour. It is this that Ulster Television showed, and, by showing, encouraged its growth. This showed that not only does Ulster Television serve Northern Ireland, but is also a vital part of it. That must be guarded when it comes to the Northern Ireland franchise. I hope that that will be remembered when the licence is awarded.

6.19 pm
Mr. Simon Coombs (Swindon)

There are so many stages in a Bill's process through the House that—if one is to take part in all of them—then towards the end of that process it seems that there is little left to say. That has never prevented the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) from speaking, however, and it will not stop me tonight.

Let me say to the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott)—who will have to read it in Hansard—that in a free market there must be sellers as well as buyers. He spoke about listed events as if there were only buyers among television companies, but there are also the sellers of the rights to those listed events. If they decide that it is in their interests to have large audiences for the televising of those events, they will not sell to those who claim exclusivity in the form of satellite coverage.

I join my hon. Friends in congratulating my hon. and learned Friend the Minister on the way that he has guided the Bill's progress. He has often been helpful to me and my colleagues, not only in Committee but on many other occasions when it was necessary for us to call him out to discuss matters. Before we began work on the Bill, he had the reputation of being a hard man to move—other than, on occasion, to anger. I can think of one occasion in Committee when his patience was tested by the impish hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher), but he resisted firmly. As other hon. Members have said, the Committee stage of the Bill was remarkably good-humoured and good-natured.

I approach the Bill with a specific interest in the British cable industry. It is not a commercial interest; my constituency contains the oldest of the existing cable companies—Swindon Cable. Considerable progress has been made in resolving the problems of the cable industry in this country, and I am delighted that we have made the right moves to ensure that the present surge of interest and investment is sustained. After a long period when cable could have been said to be in the doldrums in this country, I believe that it is now on the verge of an explosion of activity. Clearly it was right for us to try to ensure that nothing was done to put that at risk.

With the vast increase in the number of programmes available on cable, we will see a rapid increase in the number of operating cable stations and a steady increase in the number of people who subscribe to cable. We must therefore avoid any temptation to make it easier to cable. small pockets of densely populated areas, and thus exclude other less densely populated areas from the benefits of cable. I say "benefits" because we want to help to avoid a rash of satellite dishes across the country. They are already to be seen in many parts of London and elsewhere in the south of England, and they will spread north unless we ensure that the television of the future can be obtained through underground cable rather than satellite dishes. For that reason if no other, members of the Committee were anxious to see that the cable industry had a fair wind for the future.

On the subject of religious broadcasting, I pay tribute to a number of people whom I will not detain the House by naming individually. Between them, they have run an effective campaign to ensure a victory for common sense. In a Christian country, we should allow Christians to receive programmes that reinforce their faith; I am thinking in particular of Vision Broadcasting from Swindon, which brings much pleasure to my constituents and to many others around the country who can now receive its programmes through cable. I am grateful to the Minister for making it possible for the company to continue to make high-quality programmes for Christians in this country.

Another classic exercise in democracy was the campaign to ensure the continuation of teletext on Channel 3 and Channel 4. To begin with, we were told by the Government that we could be satisfied with a teletext service on BBC 1 and BBC 2, and that Ceefax would be sufficient. I have nothing against Ceefax—it is a good service and I use it extensively—but Oracle is better. I hope that Ceefax will respond to such remarks and endeavour to be as good: I am sure that in the future it will be.

What was clearly undesirable was that the element of choice should be taken away. Therefore, it was necessary to mount a campaign—both in Committee and elsewhere —to ensure that Oracle, or something like it, was preserved on Channel 3 and Channel 4. There was a great deal of lobbying, both of Committee members and of other hon. Members. A public-relations exercise among the viewers—not surprisingly—ensured that an enormous majority of Oracle users voted in favour of their right to continue to use Oracle. There was a wise reaction to that by my hon. and learned Friend. Oracle is too good a service to be lost. If it is to be lost, now that the Bill has been amended, it will be because in the event of a competitive tender it must give way to an even better-quality bid for the same essential service. We must accept the possibility that that will occur.

The issue of quality was at the heart of many of our Committee debates, and many of our debates in the Chamber over the past 72 hours. The Bill has been improved in that respect. Its wording is better than it was when we started, but there is still the essential problem of who is to judge what quality is. Many words have been spoken and written by hon. Members and others about that thorny issue, but I am not sure that anyone knows the true answer to the question, "What is quality?". Politicians must avoid the assumption that their tastes are right for the public at large. Apart from anything else, as there are 650 hon. Members there is the potential for 650 different answers. Nevertheless, we must show humility in what we impose on the public, and I defend the right of my fellow citizens to watch soap operas and game shows if they wish. I hope and believe that a 20, 30 or 40-channel capacity will also make possible the continual cricket by day and classical music by night to which I look forward in the new world of television in the 1990s.

The key to success in this venture in commercial television is, inevitably, money. Will it come from advertising, or from subscription, in sufficient quantities to support the technology explosion that we inevitably face? I believe that money from advertising will follow quality programmes for the ABC 1 audiences with buying power, but it will also follow popular programmes for mass audiences. Television in the 1990s will be broadly similar to the television that we have had for the past 10 years. There will not be the great differences that Opposition Members fear and for which—perhaps—some Conservative Members hope. The great change is that there will be vastly more choice: that I welcome. For that reason, the Bill should now make progress and be subjected to further detailed scrutiny in another place.

6.29 pm
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

May I apologise to you and to the House, Madam Deputy Speaker, for missing the opening of the debate? I was out busily trying to save badgers. I look forward to reading the Minister's speech in the next edition of "News from Stamford Bridge".

The hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Coombs) made a good point about satellite dishes. I know that he understands more than most the technology and the desirability of cable. I tend to support him. We tried in Committee to ensure greater control of satellite dishes, but because they are subject to planning control under the town and country planning legislation, we could not deal with the matter in the way that it should have been dealt with. The House will have to address it, because satellite dishes are an intrusion.

Surely technology could produce something less obtrusive. Sky Television and others are considering the matter. Many places, such as council estates and conservation areas, are ruined by satellite dishes. I do not know whether Sutton borough council has got a judgment yet on the case that it is taking about the siting of satellite dishes, but we shall read the judgment with great interest. Something needs to be done. Unfortunately, we could not do anything through the Bill. If we are to have a proliferation of channels, it must be done through cable and not through satellite dishes.

Since I was elected in 1983, I have been a member of Committees on many Bills—I think, well over 20. It is normal for major Bills to be heavily amended in Committee. One reason is that they were half-baked to start with because so often it has been a case of legislation on the hoof and the Government themselves were forced to amend their own badly drafted legislation. I do not think that I have taken part in the Committee stage of a Bill which has been so heavily amended as the Broadcasting Bill on the basis of argument and representation in Committee.

There are two reasons for that. First, the original Bill was unpalatable and unacceptable to hon. Members on both sides of the House and to those in the industry and around it. That lesson was well learned by Ministers and certainly by hon. Members in Committee. We received from various organisations excellent briefings that we were able to put to effective use. I recall that many a speech was ridden home on the IBA briefings and the support that we got from the BBC and various advisers, including unions like BETA——

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)


Mr. Banks

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his unnecessary prompting.

There was a second reason for the amendments: we had leading the Bill a Minister who was far more open-minded than is normally healthy for Tory politicians in these days of sudden death by handbagging. We are grateful to him for what he was able to do. He had, as they say in the parlance, a good Bill. All the paeans of praise that have been descending upon him must worry him slightly, because the only way for him to go now is down. I would not wish that on him. Someone else has received the black spot from Blind Pugh in being asked to administer the poll tax; the Minister has escaped that fate, which is clearly worse than death.

The Minister has emerged as the acceptable face of Tory extremism. Because of that, the Bill is less bad than it was, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) said, it is still unacceptable. The provision that there shall be no moratorium after a franchise has been granted must be changed in another place. If the will of the House means anything, there should be a moratorium. The only disagreement was on how long it should be and on when it should be triggered. I hope that a moratorium will be delivered in another place.

The decision on listed events was appalling. The universality element has disappeared from what we all recognise as important events. I accept that most of them are sporting events. My partner would not be upset if the world cup finals were only on a channel which had an audience of 200 to 300—in fact, she would be delighted —but it would be a national calamity for the great majority in the House and elsewhere. Some television satellite companies which are losing a great deal of money —£2 million a week in the case of Sky—will not hesitate to put in megabids in order to try to sell more subscriptions. That is perhaps the only way that they can succeed. That is a great mistake, and another error that should be rectified in another place.

Despite all the improvements, the Bill is still unacceptable. It is still driven far more by the cash nexus than by the philosophy of the highest quality for the greatest number. All through the proceedings, the Labour party has defended proven quality and the high standards of public service broadcasting in Britain. In that sense we make no excuse for being seen as conservative, with a small "c". We know that what we have got is good, and we are not sure that what is on offer is better; indeed, it may risk what is good. That being so, we have taken a position of defence of standards that are well proven. Everything is capable of being improved. To risk everything might appeal to the political gambler, but we believe that it is no way to treat broadcasting.

Broadcasting is vital to the maintenance of democracy. I do not think that one overstates the case by putting it in those terms. Television influences all our lives. That is why politicians are so interested in television and why we spend so much time trying to get on television. That was why the great majority of us welcomed the television cameras into the House. We know that, through television, we can let people know what we are doing in their name, for good or ill.

That is why television is so important. It shapes our lives, it entertains and it educates. For all those reasons, it is far too important to be left to unregulated market forces. We must not allow mega-millionaire megaloma-niacs to strut round acquiring television channels in the same way as they buy up newspapers. I do not single out Rupert Murdoch, because there are others like him in the industry. He is no better and no worse than many others. The concentration of power in the media should worry us all. If we allow the media to be concentrated in the hands of the malevolent, we will be like putty in their hands, and they will try to shape us and the industry.

Yesterday, the Labour party was accused of operating a vendetta against Sky Television. That is not true. Certainly we have a lot to complain about with regard to other parts of Mr. Murdoch's evil press empire. If Tory Members were subjected to the vile calumnies to which we are subjected through neo-Nazi comics like The Sun, they might feel as annoyed as we are at times, and with considerable justification. That is not a vendetta against satellite television or Sky Television in particular. If there is a vendetta in the House, it is being waged by the Government against the British Broadcasting Corporation, and is supported by some of the nastier right-wing elements on the Tory Benches.

The Government realise the power of broadcasting. They realise that impartiality and objectivity will never serve the interests of the Tory party. Whatever St. Mellor may believe—I give him the benefit of the doubt on this —I think that it is the objective of many of his hon. Friends to provide people with 57 varieties of the same sort of rubbish—chewing gum for the eyes—because that is the way to divide and rule; he who controls the channels of communication exercises real political power. There is a grave risk that that will be the case.

The Bill still leaves too many facets the subject of hopes and prayers. The Minister's intentions are not necessarily shared by the kind of people who will try to move in for the kill when stations are up for grabs. The Government are wrong to adopt a high-risk strategy towards the future of broadcasting. Public sector broadcasting is one of the few things of quality remaining in this country, and one of the few for which we are admired around the world. Public sector broadcasting is one of the few things that we still do well—yet here we are, throwing it all up in the air and seeing how the pieces land. That is not something that I or anyone else who is involved in, or who cares for, broadcasting wants to see.

I can only console myself with the knowledge that it will be a Labour Government who will be around to see how the Act works out in practice and to repair the damage that it may do.

6.40 pm
Sir Giles Shaw (Pudsey)

I shall try to bring the debate a little nearer to the ground, following the outbursts of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks). I apologise to my hon. and learned Friend the Minister for not being present for the whole of the debate. I was in the Chamber when it began, and I am delighted and somewhat proud to be involved in its closing minutes.

The scheme that the Committee and the House has considered over many hours aims at providing a framework for broadasting that will last through the present decade and into the year 2000 and beyond. It is not often given to this House to do that. No wonder the Bill is large and comprehensive, and no wonder it has been amended in a massively constructive way, and has occupied so much time. The Bill is pretty unusual in its content, scope and timing. It originates from a number of initiatives, some generated internally within the Home Office, and others externally by public debate and investigated by committees set up for that purpose. The most recent of them was the Peacock committee, but it was by no means the only source of potential change.

It behoves us to remember that one of the questions posed to the Peacock committee, but whose answer to it has not been adopted, concerned the future financing of the British Broadcasting Corporation, to which the hon. Member for Newham, North-West rightly paid substan-tial tribute. That significant question remains to be answered by the corporation, bound as it is by the licence fee, itself determined by retail price increments and by the fact that, as the operator of two major television channels, it will have to compete for audiences against an increasing range of programming from ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, and so on.

I am aware that, if Labour were in government, it would take the corporation within the Exchequer and provide for it from the national grant. That may say a great deal for the ease with which such a thing can be done, but not much for maintaining the impartiality of the BBC. I shall leave that on one side. I raise the issue merely because it is one that still has to be addressed in the longer term.

The Bill creates a large number of opportunities in respect of audience choice, with which we all agree: the development of sufficient talent to fill the time available on radio, terrestrial and satellite television; and attracting sufficient funds to make it all work.

As to choice, although I can understand the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) curling up in agony in his place as he contemplates viewing choice going beyond the bounds of what he considers to be artistically or culturally acceptable, the fact remains that the generality of choice has lifted the coinage of human understanding in a way that is beyond debate. It has broadened educational and cultural opportunity, and has increased the knowledge that British society has of itself and of other societies. No right hon. or hon. Member could deny that. ITV has extended the frontiers of knowledge as the BBC alone did for generations, and for that we are profoundly thankful.

It is true that, in terms of increasing one's knowledge of what is going on in the world, satellite television, although in its infancy, has the capacity to transmit information from all around the world in a much more diverse way than has ever before been possible.

As to talent, I share much of the anxiety that has been expressed. One knows that talent can be purchased by the lowest common multiple of those who want to expose the largest possible audience to that talent, because talent does not come cheap. Good talent is in demand by various buyers of television programming—as it is by buyers of radio or printed material. Talent is not produced in great quantities. It comes almost by definition by a process of refinement that allows the most talented people to enjoy world stage demand at world stage fees. The question of whether sufficient talent can be developed is a major one in the development of Channel 3 and Channel 5.

Investment really gives the clue, because it will be the determining factor. There is plenty of opportunity for investment, but in the case of cable television, for example, the impetus has all come from Canada and the United States. It is equally notable that investment to date in British satellite television has come largely from Australia. The United Kingdom has not yet shown itself to be bursting with enthusiasm at the prospect of investing in the new television station. I hope that it will change its mind, and I trust that the result will be healthy, competitive, creatively viable and profitable television—and the same goes for cable and satellite broadcasting.

6.46 pm
Mr. Alistair Darling (Edinburgh, Central)

In view of the time constraints, the hon. Member for Pudsey (Sir G. Shaw) will forgive me if I do not follow his arguments.

Throughout the Committee stage, the Minister was most helpful, and we appreciate that. There is no doubt that the Bill is infinitely better now than when it started out. Some would say that it would be difficult for it to be otherwise. I pay tribute to the Minister for listening to the arguments and for making improvements to the Bill— sometimes at his own suggestion, sometimes at the suggestion of others. I shall say nothing further by way of a eulogy to the hon. and learned Gentleman, because enough has been said—and other points that divide us deserve consideration.

Major flaws remain in the Bill. We accept that broadcasting is set to expand over the next few years. As the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) said, everything is changing. But changing technology itself does not guarantee choice. It increases the potential for choice, which can only be to the good—but additional channels do not necessarily mean that there will be more choice. As my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) pointed out, that will depend on the quality of the programming.

The Bill should provide a framework that allows for innovation and expansion, while at the same time insisting on quality, to ensure real choice for viewers and listeners. Instead, the Bill has essentially been driven by a desire to deregulate. That has been tempered, but it was the driving force behind the legislation. The cash bid for the right to broadcast is still at the centre of the Bill, and that is its major failing.

We are told that we should not worry about a fall in the quality of Channel 3, because there will remain the cornerstones of the BBC and Channel 4. Those cornerstones will cease to exist if they no longer have to compete in quality terms against Channel 3. ITV taught the BBC and Channel 4 a thing or two about drama output. If quality is cut because of pressures to win a franchise, the incentive for the BBC and for Channel 4, and for Channel 5 if we ever see it, to achieve excellence will diminish. It is wrong to argue that Channel 3's quality can decrease because the BBC and others will remain.

I have yet to understand why it is right to run an open competition involving a cash bid to win the franchise initially, but then apply a different regime thereafter—so that, once a successful applicant is in the saddle, he is there for life. As I said in Committee, it is the most glamorous form of closed shop that has ever been dreamed up.

Serious matters remain unresolved and they deserve further attention in another place. Bidding has been tempered, but the quality threshold in clause 16, although it has been increased, is still subservient to the requirement that the highest bidder will win the day.

I know that the Minister has tabled amendments which state that, if the quality of the lower bidder is exceptional or of substantially higher quality, the Independent Television Commission can choose that bidder. But we must note the superlatives. The quality of the lower bidder does not have to be slightly better, probably better or almost certainly better—it has to be exceptional, or substantially higher in quality.

Almost certainly that means that the highest cash bid will win the day. If it does not, we can look forward to battles in the courts to decide who gets the right to broadcast. That fatal flaw at the heart of the Bill is one reason that we cannot support it tonight. Price and quality should be considered side by side. The Minister said that in Committee, and that is what many people inside and outside the Committee believe. Notwithstanding the amendment and the Minister's sentiments, the Bill means that the highest bidder will win unless the lower bidder is exceptionally better. That is difficult to assess or to establish.

There are other problems. There have been safeguards and additions to the requirements for strong regional television, but they will be set aside if there is a host of takeover bids after the auctions. I hope that, when the Bill is considered in another place, note will be taken, as my hon. Frieod the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) said, of the strong feeling in the House—at least among those hon. Members who have expressed an opinion—that there should be a moratorium on takeovers. We think that it should be for three years, but two years would be better than nothing.

Otherwise, once the franchises are initially allocated, there will be a flurry of takeovers by those who seek to broadcast without having to cross the quality threshold, such as it is. That cannot be good for regional broadcasting or for the quality of broadcasting in general.

The lack of a networking agreement gives us serious anxiety, and not just because those bidding need to know what they will get, as the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) said, but because it is important if the smaller television companies are to be safeguarded. If there is no networking agreement, there is no reason why the larger companies cannot exploit their dominant position as they did in the earlier years of the ITV network.

By the time the Bill returns to the House, if it includes no networking agreement, I hope that the Government will further amend the Bill, if necessary giving the ITC powers to insist that such an agreement exists.

Another flaw is the lack of cross-media ownership. If the Government can accept controls on cross-media ownership in every aspect of the Bill except for Sky Television, surely the case is made. I cannot understand why Sky should be the only organisation exempted in practice from cross-media ownership. To listen to Conservative Members, one would think that we were totally against cross-media ownership. If the Government accept the need for it in most cases, they should accept it completely.

I do not want to see a battery of controls in broadcasting. The framework should allow people to get on with it, but unless there are guidelines within the framework to influence the development of broadcasting during the next 10 to 20 years, we run the risk of not getting greater choice. We will have more channels, but we will simply have more of the same.

That is clearly illustrated by the likely pattern of local radio development. The same standards are not set for radio as for television. It is all very well to have hundreds of radio channels,but if they all broadcast the same pop music, there is no choice. I should have liked greater insistence on the creation of a variety of channels, which would appeal to a broad range of people. I welcome the Minister's move on national radio channels, because at least one would be different.

A similar problem arises with satellite television. I cannot see the gain to society if more new technology means that fewer people can watch sporting events. What is the point of new technology and new satellites if it means that fewer people can enjoy the football or Wimbledon finals? I do not agree that sporting organisations will not sell out to the highest bidder. Everything we have heard suggests that they will.

I hope that cable television will develop. Two nights ago, we discussed developments which will help cable television companies. I want to help them and the people who are supposed to watch cable television. I was about to say that the sooner those companies get off the ground the better, but perhaps that is inappropriate. The sooner that cable television starts to produce the goods, the sooner they will build up the credibility that they do not have at present. I conclude where I started. Technology is changing. Programme makers have a lot to be proud of, as British broadcasting is respected throughout the world, but if we are to ensure that it remains in that happy position, we must have a guarantee of quality. If the only choice is to switch off the television or radio there is no choice.

As long as cash overrides quality, I fear that there is a risk that the quality of Channel 3 television and radio will be diminished, not increased, as a result of the Bill. We have an opportunity; all is not yet lost. The Government have made some changes and we welcome them, but the central flaw in the Bill is that cash is the driving force arid that the market knows best. The market does not always know best. The Government have a duty to provide a framework and at present that is lacking in the Bill.

If Britain is to remain at the forefront of broadcasting, the Bill needs additional improvements. Until it gets them we must decline to give it a Third Reading.

6.55 pm
Mr. Mellor

With the permission of the House, I shall say a few final words as the Bill passes on its way to another place.

After 38 sittings of the Committee and 17½ hours on Report, I fear that my final words cannot be very original. I apologise to hon. Members who may have heard it all before. Perhaps the best way for me to show my appreciation of British broadcasting is by emulating it and making speeches that are good on repeat.

I thank all those hon. Members who participated in the debate for the kind words that they have spoken about my stewardship of the Bill. I genuinely appreciate that.

I understand that differences between ourselves and the. Opposition over the Bill remain, but I believe that people will look back on the Bill as a major development for British broadcasting, with beneficial consequences.

There will be a proliferation of community radio stations, which will enhance listeners' choice. I do not agree with the description by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling), for the simple reason that the criterion in the Bill is that, to get a licence, a station must enlarge listeners' choice. The fact that there were dozens of applications for some 20 incremental licences which were recently awarded clearly shows that there is no shortage of demand from broadcasters, and there is plenty of evidence—the success of the Jazz FM station in London proves this—that the listener wants greater choice.

Throughout the passage of the Bill, Opposition Members have seemed to want commercialism as an optional extra to commercial television, but commercial television has to be commercially viable to succeed. We have striven to strike a fair balance between regulations which preserve that which is best in British broadcasting and creating a competitive framework so that proper commercial decisions can be taken. That is particularly fitting for Channel 3, which has had a declining market share in recent years, and would protect it from the rigours of the 1990s when it will not have a monopoly but would have to compete against another terrestrial channel, Channel 5, for which we have made provision, and against satellite channels for advertising finance.

We have given Channel 3 the elbow room that it will need to be competitive, while ensuring that no one can get a Channel 3 franchise who is not properly qualified or has not surmounted a rigorous quality test. If, having surmounted that test, one of the applicants soars over it so much better than the rest, even if he is an under-bidder financially, he can win the franchise. That is one of the key elements to have emerged during the parliamentary stages of the Bill.

I believe that it is a good Bill. It has been well and thoroughly scrutinised, and deserves to go to the other place with the approbation of the House.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—

The House divided: Ayes 259, Noes 180.

Division No. 200] [7 pm
Adley, Robert Devlin, Tim
Aitken, Jonathan Dickens, Geoffrey
Alexander, Richard Dorrell, Stephen
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Dover, Den
Allason, Rupert Dunn, Bob
Amess, David Durant, Tony
Amos, Alan Eggar, Tim
Arbuthnot, James Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Evennett, David
Ashby, David Farr, Sir John
Atkinson, David Favell, Tony
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Fishburn, John Dudley
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Fookes, Dame Janet
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Forman, Nigel
Bellingham, Henry Forth, Eric
Bendall, Vivian Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Benyon, W. Fox, Sir Marcus
Biffen, Rt Hon John Freeman, Roger
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter French, Douglas
Body, Sir Richard Gale, Roger
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Garel-Jones, Tristan
Boscawen, Hon Robert Gill, Christopher
Boswell, Tim Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Glyn, Dr Sir Alan
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Goodhart, Sir Philip
Bowis, John Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes Gorst, John
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Gow, Ian
Brazier, Julian Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Bright, Graham Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Gregory, Conal
Buck, Sir Antony Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Budgen, Nicholas Grist, Ian
Burns, Simon Ground, Patrick
Burt, Alistair Grylls, Michael
Butcher, John Hague, William
Butler, Chris Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)
Butterfill, John Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Hampson, Dr Keith
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Hanley, Jeremy
Carrington, Matthew Hannam, John
Carttiss, Michael Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'Il Gr')
Cash, William Harris, David
Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda Haselhurst, Alan
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Hayes, Jerry
Chapman, Sydney Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
Churchill, Mr Hayward, Robert
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Heathcoat-Amory, David
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Colvin, Michael Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Conway, Derek Hind, Kenneth
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Cope, Rt Hon John Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Cormack, Patrick Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Couchman, James Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Cran, James Hunter, Andrew
Critchley, Julian Irvine, Michael
Curry, David Irving, Sir Charles
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Jack, Michael
Davis, David (Boothferry) Janman, Tim
Day, Stephen Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Jones, Robert B (Herts W) Riddick, Graham
Key, Robert Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield) Rost, Peter
Kirkhope, Timothy Rowe, Andrew
Knapman, Roger Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Knight, Greg (Derby North) Sackville, Hon Tom
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston) Sayeed, Jonathan
Knowles, Michael Shaw, David (Dover)
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Latham, Michael Shelton, Sir William
Lawrence, Ivan Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh) Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe) Shersby, Michael
Lilley, Peter Sims, Roger
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Macfarlane, Sir Neil Soames, Hon Nicholas
MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire) Speller, Tony
Maclean, David Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick Squire, Robin
Madel, David Stanbrook, Ivor
Malins, Humfrey Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Mans, Keith Steen, Anthony
Maples, John Stevens, Lewis
Marlow, Tony Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Stewart, Rt Hon Ian (Herts N)
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Mates, Michael Sumberg, David
Maude, Hon Francis Summerson, Hugo
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Tapsell, Sir Peter
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Mellor, David Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Meyer, Sir Anthony Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Miller, Sir Hal Temple-Morris, Peter
Mills, Iain Thompson. D. (Calder Valley)
Miscampbell, Norman Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Thorne, Neil
Moate, Roger Thurnham, Peter
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Townend, John (Bridlington)
Moore, Rt Hon John Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Morrison, Sir Charles Tracey, Richard
Moss, Malcolm Tredinnick, David
Moynihan, Hon Colin Twinn, Dr Ian
Neale, Gerrard Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Nelson, Anthony Viggers, Peter
Neubert, Michael Waddington, Rt Hon David
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Walden, George
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Waller, Gary
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley Watts, John
Oppenheim, Phillip Wells, Bowen
Owen. Rt Hon Dr David Wheeler, Sir John
Paice, James Whitney, Ray
Paisley, Rev Ian Widdecombe, Ann
Patnick, Irvine Wilshire, David
Patten, Rt Hon Chris (Bath) Winterton, Mrs Ann
Patten, Rt Hon John Winterton, Nicholas
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Wolfson, Mark
Pawsey, James Wood, Timothy
Porter, Barry (Wirral S) Woodcock, Dr. Mike
Porter, David (Waveney) Yeo, Tim
Portillo, Michael Young, Sir George (Acton)
Powell, William (Corby)
Price, Sir David Tellers for the Ayes:
Raison, Rt Hon Timothy Mr. Goodlad and
Redwood, John Mr. David Lightbown.
Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Abbott, Ms Diane Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Battle, John
Allen, Graham Beckett, Margaret
Alton, David Beggs, Roy
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Armstrong, Hilary Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Blair, Tony
Ashton, Joe Blunkett, David
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Boateng, Paul
Boyes, Roland Galloway, George
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E) Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Golding, Mrs Llin
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Gordon, Mildred
Buchan, Norman Gould, Bryan
Buckley, George J. Graham, Thomas
Caborn, Richard Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Grocott, Bruce
Canavan, Dennis Harman, Ms Harriet
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Healey, Rt Hon Denis
Clay, Bob Henderson, Doug
Clelland, David Hinchliffe, David
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Hoey, Ms Kate (Vauxhall)
Cohen, Harry Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Home Robertson, John
Corbett, Robin Hood, Jimmy
Corbyn, Jeremy Howells, Geraint
Crowther, Stan Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Cryer, Bob Hoyle, Doug
Cummings, John Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Cunningham, Dr John Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Darling, Alistair Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Illsley, Eric
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Ingram, Adam
Dewar, Donald Janner, Greville
Dixon, Don Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Dobson, Frank Kennedy, Charles
Doran, Frank Kilfedder, James
Dunnachie, Jimmy Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Leadbitter, Ted
Fisher, Mark Leighton, Ron
Flannery, Martin Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Flynn, Paul Lewis, Terry
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Livingstone, Ken
Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S) Livsey, Richard
Foster, Derek Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Foulkes, George Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Fraser, John McAvoy, Thomas
Fyfe, Maria Macdonald, Calum A.
McFall, John Robertson, George
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West) Robinson, Geoffrey
McKelvey, William Rowlands, Ted
Maclennan, Robert Ruddock, Joan
McNamara, Kevin Sedgemore, Brian
Madden, Max Sheerman, Barry
Mahon, Mrs Alice Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Marek, Dr John Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Skinner, Dennis
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn) Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Meacher, Michael Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Meale, Alan Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
Michael, Alun Smith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'I & Bute) Snape, Peter
Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby) Soley, Clive
Molyneaux, Rt Hon James Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Moonie, Dr Lewis Steinberg, Gerry
Morgan, Rhodri Strang, Gavin
Morley, Elliot Straw, Jack
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe) Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Turner, Dennis
Mowlam, Marjorie Vaz, Keith
Mullin, Chris Wallace, James
Murphy, Paul Walley, Joan
Nellist, Dave Warded, Gareth (Gower)
O'Brien, William Wareing, Robert N.
O'Neill, Martin Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Patchett, Terry Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Pendry, Tom Wilson, Brian
Pike, Peter L. Winnick, David
Powell, Ray (Ogmore) Wise, Mrs Audrey
Prescott, John Worthington, Tony
Primarolo, Dawn Wray, Jimmy
Quin, Ms Joyce Young, David (Bolton SE)
Radice, Giles
Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn Tellers for the Noes:
Reid, Dr John Mr. Frank Haynes and
Richardson, Jo Mr. Ken Eastbam.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.