§ 3.49 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers) rose to move, That this House takes note of the White Paper Broadcasting in the '90s: Competition, Choice and Quality (Cmnd. 517).
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, the Government published the White Paper on broadcasting on 7th November. Today gives us an opportunity to discuss the White Paper and for the Government to hear your Lordships' views before embarking on legislation. I have no doubt that your Lordships would wish me to explain the Government's proposals, which I shall do, but I regard the debate today as being an opportunity for the Government to hear Parliament's first reactions on the White Paper. It will be considered by another place in the New Year.
§ The points which your Lordships make today will be carefully considered when we come to framing the broadcasting legislation. We seek the views of Parliament and of other interested bodies. The consultation period on the White Paper runs until the end of February.
§ The philosophy which has lain behind all the Government's considerations of what is a very wide and highly technical subject is that the viewer and the listener are the ones who matter. In short, it is that people should have a wider choice and a greater say over what they watch and what they listen to. There are other matters of great importance, but they are secondary to that overriding philosophy.
§ Whether we like it or not, broadcasting is changing fast; that is, the ability, the means of transmission and the methods of funding. Indeed, almost all technologies of broadcasting are undergoing change. Dozens of new television channels, and perhaps hundreds of new radio stations, may become available during the 1990s. Satellite, cable and microwave technologies, which after all only a short while ago seemed to most of us to be in the realms of fantasy, are now part of the facts of broadcasting life. The concept of funding television by subscription is new and is now set to develop.
§ The Government feel that the time is therefore right—and the conditions are ripe—for an overhaul of the way in which our television and radio are regulated. What the Government are seeking to do is to acknowledge that conditions have changed; that new technologies are here and, as a result, that new possibilities have come about; and then to say, "Let us now create a framework in which radio and television can operate to the best of their abilities, and for the benefit of the public, with the facilities which are at their disposal".
§ Some of those facilities will flourish. Some will die. Some may not even start. It is not the Government's job—nor is it our intention—to dictate which should flourish and which should die. It is not the Government's job to try to pick the winners. The Government's duty, as we see it, is to create the framework within which enterprise, opportunity and consumer demand will determine what is available.839
§ But research and change are constantly throwing up new ideas and new opportunities. The scene is not static. It is perpetually moving. This was shown by the launch of the Astra satellite only last weekend. And the IBA's satellite contractor, British Satellite Broadcasting (BS B), will launch its service next year.
§ The framework must, therefore, be flexible enough to accommodate rapid change. And the White Paper proposes such a framework. It incorporates carefully designed safeguards for quality and standards; it seeks to enable broadcasters, both existing and prospective broadcasters, to make the best use of the opportunities which are created by new technology and it aims to encourage a creative and competitive broadcasting industry.
§ It might be helpful to your Lordships if I were to say a little about some of the main proposals. Perhaps I may start with ITV. The present ITV network will become known as Channel 3, and it will be regionally based. It will be regulated by the Independent Television Commission—the ITC—which will replace both the Independent Broadcasting Authority and the Cable Authority. And it will operate with a lighter touch. By that I do not mean that it will not have effective sanctions; but it will not have the responsibility which the IBA has had for the detailed approval of scheduling or for the prior clearance of particular programmes. With the many more channels which will be available, that degree of bureaucratic intervention simply would not be sensible.
§ On 2nd December my right honourable friend the Home Secretary announced that Mr. George Russell, who is at present the chairman of Independent Television News and deputy chairman of Channel 4, will succeed the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, as chairman of the IBA. Mr. Russell will head the IBA during the transition period when the Independent Television Commission is being set up. If Parliament approves the proposals for the ITC he will in due course become its chairman.
§ I should like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the very considerable and constructive work which has been done by the Independent Broadcasting Authority in overseeing the regulatory framework which Parliament determined. It has been a mammoth task which the IBA has carried out with care and great sensitivity and for which it has earned the considerable respect which it now enjoys. In particular, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, for his remarkable contribution to the television and broadcasting industry since he became chairman of the IBA in 1981. He has stood on the prow of this particular ship with charm—and a certain amount of modest defiance —and guided it with skill and, if I may say so, with distinction, whatever the conditions of the waters through which he sailed.
§ The present extended ITV contracts expire at the end of 1992. By that time the Independent Television Commission will have allocated new regional licences to Channel 3 operators. The ITC will decide the geographical boundaries for those licences. That is something in which the Government should not get 840 involved. The ITC will also award a separate night-time licence, or licences, and it will decide on possible additional licences at other times of the day—for instance, at breakfast time.
§ We propose that the licences should be allocated by a two-stage procedure. This will be more specific, and therefore we think fairer to applicants, than is the present one. It will also secure a proper return to the taxpayer for the use of a scarce public resource.
§ The first stage is that applicants will have to pass certain quality tests. The second stage is that those who are successful in the quality tests will offer financial tenders for the licence. The White Paper proposes that the ITC should be required to accept the highest tender.
§ The first stage tests—the quality tests—will include consumer protection requirements; namely, matters such as taste, decency, accuracy and balance. These will also apply to all the other independent sector television and radio services. But the quality tests go much further. For example: each regional Channel 3 station will be required to show programmes which have been produced in its own region. This will for the first time be a statutory requirement. The service which every Channel 3 licensee offers must appeal to a variety of tastes and interests. Each licensee must show high quality news and current affairs. They will have to put on the news, and possibly also current affairs programmes, during the main viewing periods. At least 25 per cent. of original programming must come from independent producers. And a proper proportion of programme material must be of European Community origin. When those factors are all taken together, the quality tests should help the main objective of enlarging genuine viewer choice. They will also ensure a reasonable balance between national interests and regional requirements.
§ But there will also be a stage three. Once the licensee has obtained his licence, the quality tests will be enforced by the ITC throughout the whole of the licence period. If needs be, the ITC will be able to remove the licensee. We are considering whether the ITC should also be able to impose financial penalties.
§ There must be clear rules in order to prevent unhealthy concentrations of ownership. The White Paper puts forward various principles for controlling ownership. The full set of rules will apply, not just to Channel 3, but to all independent television and radio, and also to cross-media ownership. For example, the ITC will take account of newspaper ownership, and satellite television ownership, when it comes to apply the ownership rules. We would welcome comments from your Lordships, and indeed from others, on the ways in which these rules should be properly formulated.
§ Much the same range of regulatory arrangements on programming and structure will apply to the proposed new channel, Channel 5. The main difference is that, since it will be a national channel, the regional programming requirement will not apply to Channel 5. The Government envisage that the ITC will divide up the time on Channel 5 with at least two licences for different times of day. If a sixth channel proves possible, it will be subject to a similar regime.841
§ The Independent Television Commission will operate a more flexible regulation of advertising and sponsorship than is possible under the Broadcasting Act 1981. Proper safeguards will, though, have to be preserved. Licensees will be free to finance themselves by subscription as well as by sponsorship or by advertising.
§ I have drawn attention to the quality tests which will apply to Channel 3 and Channel 5. The special remit of Channel 4 is a further, and a crucial, guarantee in our view of quality programming in the independent sector. Channel 4 has been a success story which we want to see continue. We propose that its distinctive programming remit should be maintained and, in some respects, strengthened, and that this should be done in a statutory form.
§ Among other things, Channel 4 should be required to cater for tastes and interests which are not served by other parts of the independent television sector; to encourage innovation; to experiment in the programming which it commissions; and to devote a suitable proportion of its air time to education programming. It will also be expected to provide high quality news and current affairs programmes. The Welsh fourth channel, which has in the same way fulfilled expectations, will continue to provide a valuable service to viewers in Wales.
§ This does not mean that Channel 4's structural arrangements are immutable. It now seems very likely that under the present system the revenue from Channel 4's air time could enable it to fund its own service. We believe therefore that Channel 4 should now become responsible for selling its own air time.
§ We think that Channel 4's special role will best he fulfilled by an independent organisation, one which will be subject to ITC oversight, but one which does not have direct financial or structural links to Channel 3. The White Paper puts forward several different suggestions which might meet those objectives. The models include a Channel 4 service, which is provided by an ITC licensee, like Channel 3, with a programming remit which would be rigorously enforced by the conditions of its licence; or Channel 4 could become a non-profit-making subsidiary of the ITC; or Channel 4 could be linked to Channel 5, enabling them together to present a strong joint challenge to the established channels.
§ That part of the White Paper which deals with Channel 4's future financing is what one might call a "green passage". The Government would particularly welcome views on the future constitution of Channel 4. But all that merely goes to underline the Government's view that it is essential to uphold the Channel 4 remit.
§ We are also concerned to see that quality should continue to be a vital characteristic of the BBC. Its licence fee is linked to the retail prices index—at least until 1991. But the White Paper envisages that after 1991 there should be an increasing shift from financing by licence to financing by subscription.
§ My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has warned that the licence fee cannot be regarded as immortal, at a time when television channels are set to proliferate. It clearly makes sense to take account of the increasing scope for the BBC to raise revenue 842 through subscription and sponsorship; but the White Paper does not set a date for the replacement of the licence fee. We need to have more experience of how subscription television will operate before coming to any firm conclusions.
§ The BBC has already started a subscription service for one set of its night hours. The White Paper envisages that it will build on that. The other set of night hours will be assigned to the Independent Television Commission to allocate in much the same way as it does for Channel 3 licences. That will create further opportunities for new entrants into the world of broadcasting.
The White Paper emphasises the BBC's special role. The BBC should continue to provide high quality programmes across the full range of public tastes and interests. It should offer education, information and cultural material as well as entertainment. The BBC has welcomed that emphasis. In the words of the Home Affairs Committee,
the BBC is and will remain. for the foreseeable future, the cornerstone of British broadcasting".
§ In the face of the far-reaching changes which are in prospect, it is essential that there are proper and adequate safeguards to protect viewers and their families from offensive material. That is being tackled in several ways. The Broadcasting Standards Council will be put on to a statutory footing; the broadcasters' exemption from the obscenity legislation will be removed at the earliest opportunity; and all ITC licensees will be subject to the consumer protection requirements which are listed in the White Paper. Those include requirements that news should be impartial and accurate and that programmes and advertisements should not include anything which offends against taste and decency.
§ We are within sight of an effective Council of Europe convention on trans-frontier broadcasting standards. As a further deterrent, the White Paper proposes that it should be made an offence to advertise from the United Kingdom on a foreign satellite service which has been identified as unacceptable. So all those measures, taken together, ought to protect the viewer from the dissemination of offensive material.
§ There has been some criticism that radio merits only two passages in a 45-page White Paper; but radio had its own Green Paper, which was published in February 1987, and the Government's plans for a new, expanded radio regime were announced on 19th January this year.
§ My right honourable friend the Home Secretary announced on 2nd November that the Independent Broadcasting Authority is to make a welcome but necessarily limited start with community radio before the new legislation. But the present framework is, frankly, not ideal for community radio. We propose, therefore, that radio operators should have much greater freedom to make their own programming decisions and transmission arrangements.
§ There will be scope, in due course, for three national commercial stations and perhaps several hundred local stations, including community stations; but that will not be a recipe for a 24-hour 843 thump, thump, thump of non-stop pop. The successful applicants will be those which have the best plans for adding to listener choice.
§ I readily accept that the White Paper proposals are a fair upheaval. Although we are all always in favour of change, none of us likes it when it happens to us. So I can understand some of the apprehension which has been expressed. I should just like to make this clear. The Government are not just seeking change for change's sake; nor are we saying "Let's go and sort out the television and broadcasting industries." The fact is that the technologies, the systems and the methods of communication have all outstripped our present statutory framework. Times have changed, and are continuing to change. Whether we like it or not, there arc now facilities here which were not here some years ago. We are not at the end of that road either. Time will produce more new ideas and more new opportunities.
§ Our purpose is not to ensure that those ideas succeed. That is not government's job. It is Parliament's job to provide a framework within which those ventures can operate and within which they may be used and within which they may succeed—for the public benefit and enjoyment. We must, as it were, readjust our stall in the light of the new goods which are now in the market place.
§ I am conscious that there are important areas such as the proposals for local TV franchises and for giving the private sector a greater role in transmission in respect of which there is not time for me to go into detail now. From the Government's view the great value of this debate is that it provides an opportunity for your Lordships to express opinions on the proposals which we have put forward.
§ My right honourable friend the Home Secretary will wish to reflect carefully on the comments your Lordships make, especially since he and I are conscious of the apparently bottomless pit of experience and expertise on broadcasting matters which seem to reside within your Lordships' House. I can assure your Lordships that careful account will be taken of the views expressed today when the Government come to frame their legislation. On this basis I commend the White Paper to your Lordships. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That this House takes note of the White Paper Broadcasting in the '90s: Competition, Choice and Quality (Cmnd. 517)—(Earl Ferrers).
§ 4.10 p.m.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, the Minister always has the wonderful knack of being able to make anything which some of us may be against or do not like sound extremely attractive. Once again he has done that. I think we are all pleased to hear—I am sure he meant it sincerely—that the views of Members of this House are sought and will be listened to and read. I was also delighted that he said that the viewer and listener—the consumers—are the most important part, the most important people in the whole of the White Paper and the proposed action that the Government intend to take. I think we are all bearing that in mind—certainly I am as a consumer of 844 television and radio—when we discuss the White Paper.
I believe that a starting point for our debate is the all-party Home Affairs Committee report on The Future of Broadcasting of June 1988. Paragraph 18 of that report is acknowledged in the White Paper. It states:From our international discussions we have come to appreciate that British television is seen to be among the best, if not the best in the world".The Minister is right when he says that new technologies make change inevitable. Many of the White Paper's stated objectives can be welcomed. The White Paper is subtitled "Competition, Choice and Quality", though I think "Quality, Choice and Competition" would be rather more reassuring to many of us as a title.
The aim sounds beguiling and even noble, if I may say so, as put by the noble Earl. Unfortunately, however, there is an unbridgeable gap between the aspirations and the mechanism proposed for achieving them. The mechanism proposed is the market-place, with our successful public service broadcasting system largely destined for the ball and chain of demolition.
We on these Benches are not alone in our anxiety, which is widespread. According to an article in the Observer last Sunday, the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, who, when Home Secretary, established Channel 4, is said to have expressed concern about the auctioning of franchises. He is reported as being unconvinced that the quality and standards of television will be maintained. He is quoted as saying:If advertising revenue suddenly drops, as has happened before, I'm sure television will be forced down-market because of lack of finance".I and many others not on my side of the House or even belonging to the same political party welcome the noble Viscount's words of caution, as he has great ministerial experience in this field and obviously considerable courage.
Yes, we shall have more competition. But there is a risk that it will be competition for mass audiences, to please advertisers. Experience abroad shows that such competition inevitably leads to a flight downmarket. Yes, we shall have more choice. But it will be a choice of many channels rather than a choice of different kinds of programming. We may have quality, but in the commercial sector only on the new channels for which the public will be charged in a range of different ways. So in the end quality programmes will be available only to those who are able and willing to pay for them.
With so many speakers and so many complex issues, I shall restrict myself to four areas which I believe are some of the worst examples of the White Paper's proposals.
First, the Government propose that the award of franchises in the ITV regions, which will be Channel 3, will be decided by auction, with the licences awarded to the highest bidders. This system will remove the incentive for ITV to maintain high standards, since all a successful bidder will need—in spite of what the Minister said so engagingly—is some pretty slender promises about quality and a 845 very large capital outlay. How can a system like this possibly encourage choice and quality?
What the Government should do is abandon the idea of the auction altogether and return to a system in which the company which seriously promises and is able to deliver the best service to the viewer is awarded the licence. If, as at present, it does not come up to scratch then the licence should be taken away from it. Under present plans, a company like, for example, Granada with a tried and tested commitment to regional and quality programmes could be outbid by an entrepreneur with no track record but more money, who, instead of concentrating on the production of good programmes, would spend the next 10 years ploughing profits into repayment of interest and capital. That would be in addition to the levy. What a Treasury bonanza that would be! Then of course the company could be snapped up by another eager entrepreneur who fancied running a television company and had made no promises of any kind to any regulatory body.
Who will benefit from that? Not the viewer, for whom the Minister is so rightly concerned—and I am sure he means it—not the viewer for sure, but again the Treasury. If the Government still insist on going ahead with the auction, they should at least invert the process and have a genuine quality control exercise among a shortlist of bidders for the licence. Alternatively, they should adopt the Peacock Committee's recommendation that the IBA should not have to take the highest bidder. Even the auction, in that committee, went through on a split vote, as I am sure your Lordships remember.
This brings me to my second area of concern: quality and control. Quality standards apply not only to productions of opera, not only to drama and serious documentaries, which are what so many people always have in mind, but also to serials, situation comedies and current affairs. However light or however serious the topic, the element of' quality makes all the difference between a poor programme and a good programme. We now have a regulatory structure for commercial television which is directly responsible for the range and quality of ITV. It may not always be perfect and does not win all the time, but the quality threshold referred to in the White Paper is, I believe, bound to fall some way below the quality standards that current viewers have come to expect and which could all too easily become eroded and lost for present and future generations.
What worries me is that as the younger generations grow up and only see programmes of a pretty low quality on their television screens or hear such programmes on their radios, their expectations will be low. They will not be able to have the opportunity to aspire to something better because they will not have had the example put in front of them. This applies to many other things in life and at the moment it applies to our television and broadcasting service.
What is the lighter touch that we hear about? The Minister explained it as well as he could within the context in which it is set. However, it remains a very imprecise and blurred concept which inspires little 846 confidence and will quite understandably lead people to believe that it really is a good old free-for-all, with the very lightest of touches just for the sake of it. The Government must define more precisely the obligations for the range and quality of programmes they envisage for the new Channel 3 and the proposed Channel 5. Channel 5 will cover only 70 per cent. of the country.
The White Paper carries obligations only for news and schools programmes. I know it mentions current affairs programmes, but not in peak times. Therefore, it is essential that the existing four channels—the only ones universally available—are able to offer the same scope and the same quality as they can today.
Similarly, the Government must define more clearly the regional obligations of the ITV companies. We welcome the Government's commitment to retaining the present regional structure of independent television, but we must ensure that the obligation to produce programmes in the regions goes further than local news and current affairs. If the whole country is to see and benefit from regional culture, regional programmes must include arts, religion—I imagine that the right reverend Prelates who are to speak later will have something to say on that subject—drama, documentaries and adult education, which is not mentioned, and children's programmes, as well as schools programmes, which are the only programmes mentioned.
Locally made programmes must have access to network schedules and network budgets to survive. But all this will come to nought unless the Government recognise that the regional system itself, together with the funding of Channel 4 and the provision of network programming, all rely in different ways on the continuation of the cross-subsidy system which we have now.
High quality transmission of programmes is essential. Those noble Lords who have seen some of the transmission standards in other countries will know how good our standards are here. But transmission responsibility is now to be taken from the IBA and privatised. Why is that? It is another example of the Government's obsession with privatisation. Complaints about quality standards are rarely heard, but do the Government recognise that if they hive off transmission services to private operators, overall standards could be jeopardised and costs increased? No one then will complain faster than advertisers if their advertising message is not transmitted to the quality they are used to now. The viewers will not like that very much either.
Thirdly, the Government have accepted the value of maintaining Channel 4's remit to produce both minority and experimental programming. The Minister went into some detail about that. Because it is insulated from the market and does not have to guarantee its own income, Channel 4 has the freedom to develop new and stimulating ideas. It has allowed new, small independent companies to prosper. It has cultivated a new generation of comics, playwrights, film makers and other creatively talented people and generated a wealth of new ideas which would not otherwise have reached our screens.
847 Yet Channel 4 will not be able to finance such programmes if it is left alone in the market place, or if the status quo is replaced by one of the options in the White Paper. We feel that none of those options offers satisfactory substitutes for the present arrangements. If the Government seriously accept the continuation of Channel 4's remit, it is essential that Channel 4 should retain its present financial relationship with ITV. That relationship could perhaps be extended to the new Channel 5.
Fourthly, the BBC has been and remains the finest tradition of broadcasting in the world. That tradition is unalterably based on the licence fee. Yet the Government are suggesting that that might—I suggest the word "might" should be replaced by "will"—be phased out in favour of subscription. The Government were advised against that by their own consultant, Dr. Charles Jonscher. He is known in the field as a great expert.
Once the BBC is forced to fish for revenues in the same pools as unregulated broadcasters, its obligation to provide both range and quality in its programmes will be at risk. Furthermore, a large minority of people—as time goes on that minority could constitute the majority—who are already economically disadvantaged through unemployment, retirement, disability or simply low pay will become culturally disadvantaged as subscription will be beyond their means. That subscription will be well above the amount they are paying in the form of the BBC licence fee. There is more one could say about the BBC, but in view of the number of its ex-chairmen, deputy chairmen and a present vice chairman who are going to speak later in the debate, I feel the discussion can be carried forward better by others than myself.
I turn for one brief moment to satellite broadcasting. We shall have to see what programme standards are achieved by the new satellite broadcasters. At the moment satellite broadcasting is in its infancy. But one thing is certain: its budget will not be able to equal that of the programmes we enjoy on our terrestrial services. That will not be possible for a long time to come. That is generally accepted. Satellite broadcasters will be subject to virtually no control. Indeed control of satellites uplinked from abroad, as referred to in paragraph 7.14 of the White Paper, is frankly laughable. It looks as if our new censor, the ridiculous Broadcasting Standards Council, will be our protector from what we should not view. The council will protect us from the satellite programmes that we should not see. That makes no sense at all. Whatever happens to the new channels, and however successful some of them may be, our existing four channels will provide the vast majority of viewing time well into the nineties. It is those channels which need protecting.
Until now governments of all complexions have introduced change to broadcasting gradually. We can look back to the introduction of BBC 1, then BBC 2, then to the coming about of commercial television, which incidentally was opposed in the beginning by my party. I believe that the opposition that was felt to it at the time led to the kind of 848 regulatory system which then made it such a successful and good part of public broadcasting.
Governments have sought to assess the impact on existing services of one new channel before introducing another. In the past they have wished to assure themselves that more would mean better and the viewer would be genuinely served by new choices. Again I must remind the House that the Minister said in so many words that the viewer and the listener were the most important factors. That applies to all the debates we have had and those we will have in the future on broadcasting. I fear that this Government are using technology as a means of imposing their ideology on broadcasting. But no technological revolution justifies uprooting so wantonly the product of gradual, thoughtful and extremely successful evolution.
This debate has followed very closely on the publication of the White Paper. We hope the Government will, as the Minister assured us, respond to the views and reservations expressed. As the Government claim gratitude to the Home Affairs Committee report, perhaps they should re-read paragraph 23, which states:To discard the very factors which have contributed to the universal esteem in which British broadcasting has been held would clearly be unwise and arguably unnecessary".This debate will show that if the Government are not prepared to listen or make changes they may well find themselves presiding over the destruction of what has over 30 years become a highly valued national asset.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Lord Bonham-Carter
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, and I have been over this ground before quite recently and I should like to take the opportunity of associating myself with the very persuasive criticisms she has made of this complicated and important White Paper we are discussing today. She has marshalled substantial and extremely convincing arguments calling into question some of the proposals which would auction franchises to the highest bidder, which would rest quality control on a series of sanctions that are unlikely to be effective, which do not define the regional responsibilities and obligations with sufficient rigour, which leave the financial structure of Channel 4 uncertain, to say the least, and which seem to be running down some of the aspects of the BBC, to which I shall return later.
However, I welcome, as the noble Baroness did, the offer made by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, to listen to what those of us from the bottomless pit of greater or lesser experience can offer, and I hope to take the chance which has been given. I would say that last week when we were discussing terrorism and broadcasting the Government found themselves somewhat on the horns of a dilemma, because if broadcasting is as powerful a means of communication as they suggested, to censor it is an extremely grave step. If, on the other ha[...]d, the changes they were making were trivial, why take such draconian steps to deal with the matter in this fashion.
The Government's present White Paper presents another dilemma, or so it seems to me. If its proposals 849 offer the consumer liberation, a wider choice, a wider variety of programmes and an extension of his freedom, why is it necessary to create some three levels of monitoring, culminating in the Broadcasting Standards Council, to regulate, control and check that choice—unless of course it is envisaged and foreseen that this liberation, this proliferation of choice and this keeping of the market place as the ultimate regulator, will ultimately lead to a lowering of standards? Of course that is the assumption they are making. It is one which we have to consider seriously and it may be necessary to produce these regulatory bodies that are proposed.
The second dilemma they have faced themselves with is that, if you leave it to the market place and if the market works, not only will consumers have more choice and variety but competition should bring down the price and the cost. It is not so under this dispensation. The White Paper says singularly little about what the consumer will have to pay for these new services, but the estimates that have been made show that there will be a considerable rise in the cost to the consumer. It is estimated that the cost will rise from four to seven times, from £112 a year today to something like £1,000 in the first year of broadcasting, depending on how many services the listener or the viewer opts into.
The White Paper refers in its title, as the noble Baroness pointed out, to competition, choice and quality. It does not resolve these dilemmas and indeed it hardly speaks at all about the cost to the consumer, the viewer, the listener, who, according to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, was to be the centre of attention. He is the centre of very expensive attention so far as he himself is concerned. As the noble Baroness said, the order of the title is a little worrying: competition, choice and quality. Since quality is something we have been discussing it seems a pity it comes last, and I believe that it will come last if the Government's plans are put into effect unamended.
The fact is that the White Paper is the culmination of a long and carefully-orchestrated campaign, sometimes led but always supported by The Times, which had some interest in destabilising the existing system of broadcasting, and by the advertising lobby, which had some interest in lowering the price of advertising, against public service broadcasting. First, the BBC was the chief target and it was succeeded by the IBA.
In my view, the White Paper is largely window-dressing. It is a display made in such a way as to give a falsely favourable impression of the facts. Behind the window-dressing the intention seems to me to be transparently obvious. It is ideological and political. The ideology is yet another obeisance to the market place. The political element is to gerrymander the control and the ownership of television in this country. The purpose is to produce an ownership of television much like the ownership of the press; that is, overwhelmingly controlled by the supporters of the present Government.
The White Paper foresees a tightening double squeeze on the BBC as the nudge towards subscription becomes push. May I say that, for public 850 service broadcasting, subscription is about the most inept form of finance that could possibly be devised. If you believe in the principle of public service broadcasting, you must believe in the principle that it should be available to the public at large. If you were doing educational programmes on AIDS you would want as many people as possible to see it, whereas subscription deters. It deters, first and above all, those whom you want to reach in many cases: that is, the ignorant, the poor and the lazy. And so to nudge or push the cornerstone of public service broadcasting towards subscription television is to deny it the means whereby it can best fulfil its function.
What the White Paper foresees after 1991 for the BBC is a kind of euthanasia, as far as I can see. As for the IBA, it is replaced by the ITC. As the noble Baroness has pointed out, the franchises will be awarded to the highest bidder. This seriously worries me so far as the public service element is concerned. It worries me still further when I read that the proposed new chairman of the ITC, Mr. George Russell, has given his views on public service. This is what was said in the Independent on the 3rd of this month:Mr. Russell indicated … that he was likely to insist on news but not much of the rest"—that was religion and education; and he said—News always pays its keep but I don't know whether the others pay for themselves. If they don't, I would challenge strongly what they are there for".This is the man who is to maintain the standards of quality under the new dispensation. I do not know when—I hesitate to embarrass any of those who are present who should know—religion has earned its keep; and nor did I know that the principle of universal education was based on the profit motive.
So there we see what we are moving toward—a system in which television will be in the hands of the highest bidder and in the control of moneybags. Moneybags subscribe to the Conservative Party; the Conservative Government sell the franchises to moneybags. Meanwhile, the franchise fee goes straight to the Exchequer. The levying system means that less and less money will be available for making good programmes. The net result is to deliver audiences to advertisers as opposed to delivering programmes to audiences.
To understand the White Paper it is necessary to realise that it is written in code. I have composed a small glossary to enlighten noble Lords on its meaning. "Choice" means "a larger number of channels in which indistinguishable programmes are available"; "lighter touch" means "lower standards"; "public service" means "private profit"; for "quality threshold" see "lighter touch". Then, in the presence of the noble Lord, perhaps I may say that there is another word in the White Paper; namely, to "Mogg", that is to bowdlerize. Charles Bowdler produced the family Shakespeare. The noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, will produce family sex and family violence on our screens. We know his rather eccentric criteria for sex that is acceptable, which he called "Romeo and Juliet sex". I must advise him that Bowdler had to cut 15 lines out of Juliet's speech in which she longs for the return of Romeo and which 851 starts, "Gallop apace" because he thought that it was unsuitable for family reading.
In all this there is a mystery that I cannot quite solve. There will be a proliferation of channels. That has been recognised and we welcome it so long as the proliferation is well used. One may have some doubt about whether there is enough talent to fill 40 television channels all day and all night long. They will obviously have to be financed commercially and clearly there will be commercial and financial pressures to force them down market. Hence, in my view, the proliferation of channels makes the retention of a public service element all the more important. To retain one sector immune from those political and commercial pressures seems to me a matter of some importance if standards are to be maintained and sustained. That seems to me to be an argument which ought to appeal to the Conservative Party as the self-appointed guardians of our traditions, habits and practices. In this country we have produced a very good system of television—and they have contributed significantly to it.
There is no reason why that need be abolished before we have tested the new system that has yet to be introduced. The two could perfectly well run alongside each other until we have obtained some experience. But that is not the direction in which this White Paper appears to be pointing. In my view it opens the way to higher costs to the consumer and lower standards for the viewer. I hope that in the time between now and the introduction of legislation based on this White Paper the Government—the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and his right honourable friend the Home Secretary—will listen to the voices raised not only in this House but outside it which have expressed warnings as to the consequences of following a too rigidly doctrinaire policy.
§ 4.45 p.m.
The Lord Bishop of St. Albans
My Lords, noble Lords will have noticed that there are two Bishops in the list to speak in today's debate. We look forward to hearing before long the words of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester. Before I come to my speech I hope I may trespass upon your Lordships' time to express the sympathy of your Lordships' House to the diocese of Winchester through its Bishop and to those other parts of the South of England over the dreadful tragedy that has overtaken many of their people in the Clapham rail disaster. We send our sympathy and our prayers to them as we think of the tragic deaths, the grievous mutilations and horrible shock that have been caused to so many people at this time.
I am sure that we are all very grateful for the opportunity that has been given to us in this debate to reflect upon the Home Office White Paper so soon after its publication. It sets before us three words: competition, which we accept; choice, which we approve; and quality, which we warmly applaud. I speak as chairman of the Church of England's Committee for Communications. I make no secet of the fact that considerable unease has been felt throughout the churches when it was learned first 852 that British broadcasting was being reviewed by Her Majesty's Government and then that drastic changes were being planned. It is due partly of course to innate British conservatism, to which the churches are no strangers, but primarily to feelings of mistrust about who would in fact call the tune in any new deregulated broadcasting world. Would it indeed be the viewer and the listener, or would that voice lie somewhere else? I have to say that since the White Paper was published some of those fears have been allayed; others, however, have been reinforced.
Perhaps your Lordships will allow me to explain. It is widely known that the main voluntary activity of the British people now consists of watching television. I am told that the statistic is 27 hours per person per week. I am astonished at how they find the time. Further hours are given to listening to the radio. Whether these relatively new habits in themselves are healthy or unhealthy is not our concern today. But if the people of this country have adjusted their social habits to give the television set pride of place, then the values presented to them, and to all of us, on its screen are certainly to do with the corporate health, both moral and spiritual, of the whole nation.
Therefore it is heartening that the word "quality" appears not only in the title of the White Paper but also generously throughout the text. Much is made of the high standard of the programmes made in Britain. The White Paper acknowledges that and it is also emphasised by critics of the White Paper. However, there are those within the broadcasting industry as well as among the viewers who are uneasy. It is true that today's best dramas are as good as or better than yesterday's. Certainly some of our factual programmes could be the bench-mark for the whole world; and (amid a good deal of dross) there is some splendid light-hearted entertainment. I know of several senior clergymen in the Church of England who have confessed that they would not for anything miss "Blind Date" on a Saturday evening even though it may play havoc with the preparation of their Sunday sermon.
But is the general quality of programming today what it was five years ago? In my judgment the answer is no. It worries me that too many current affairs programmes adopt the "guilty until proved innocent" pose of the unimaginative investigative journalist. And why must we have so many game shows, with their hyperactive presenters and induced applause? I would not want to say a word of criticism about the news bulletins because I am full of admiration for their achievements, but perhaps even there I may offer the friendly comment that we do not want to see them become mere tabloid television.
By and large I share others' appreciation of the quality of broadcasting in the United Kingdom but equally I should welcome even greater vigilance to ensure the maintenance of that quality and the improvement of standards. "Standards" must include the standards of taste and decency which the White Paper says will be strengthened and reinforced by the Broadcasting Standards Council, a body on which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Peterborough will serve under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg.
853 The Church of England is one of the bodies invited to submit evidence to the council in its prestatutory phase. We are working on that at present. Some say—and we have already heard hints of it—that the Broadcasting Standards Council smacks of paternalism. They point to the on-off switch and say that that is the only regulator the public should need. However, radio and television are not commodities that we choose to purchase like newspapers. We have paid for them already by licence fee, subscription or in the price of the goods that are advertised. They come as services, rather like gas and water, being piped into our homes. We have a right to expect that they have been filtered for impurities before reaching us. We also expect them to have passed positive quality control tests.
The government proposals are described as being notably light on regulation. I can understand why. I can sympathise with those who say that, having done their best to banish that which offends decency, they consider their job done. But the New Testament , as some of your Lordships may recall, contains the parable of the seven devils. Sins of commission have to be avoided but the other kind—the sins of omission—require even more strenuous activity if they are to be dealt with properly. I hope that the regulations will not be too light.
It simply will not do to leave quality broadcasting to good intention, to a free-for-all in the market place or to retrospective finger-wagging with a combination of yellow and red cards. That has not done a noticeable amount of good for association football. Far greater demands on the independent television system should be made so that it continues competing with the BBC for the best that public service broadcasting can achieve. In return, the state levy, in whatever form it is proposed, can be gauged to allow for creativity and balanced diet programming both for the benefit of the audience and for a reasonable return on investment.
The Minister has told us that the Independent Broadcasting Authority is to have, as its new chairman, Mr. George Russell who is also chairman-designate of the new ITC. We wish him well. He is not only knowledgeable about broadcasting; he is also skilled in managing removals without too many breakages. This ability to conserve will be invaluable. There is much seasoned experience in the IBA which must not be lost in the move.
The Government are to be commended for the attempt to deal with almost every aspect of broadcasting in 45 pages. It is unfair to ask too much of them at this stage. However, there are some points on which the anxious public, whose views I have tried to express, need reassurance. First, will the feared continued decline in quality be arrested? Secondly, will the nation's health be safeguarded, and will the Government take some responsibility for that and not leave it solely to the Church? Thirdly, I ask that the freedom of the viewer to view is not controlled in the last resort by the cheque book capacity of the advertisers. Those are our fears. And as yet they have not been entirely allayed. I have not even mentioned the drastic diminution of religious television that the proposals guarantee.
854 I do not wish to conclude on a negative note. Therefore, I say that the White Paper also opens up new opportunities offered by technology both to continents and to tiny communities. I hope that at the latter end local churches will look at the potential of the new community radio stations for strengthening neighbourliness. On the larger scale, communication satellites, fibre-optic cables, microwave and other forms of terrestrial transmission could indeed help "nation speak peace unto nation". These are developments that we would all welcome.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ Lord Aylestone
My Lords, perhaps I may first declare a small financial interest in a small independent radio company and at the same time ask the noble Lord to excuse me if I have to leave before his winding-up speech. Unhappily, the tragic accident in the South-East yesterday makes it very difficult to get to and from the coast easily.
The publication of the White Paper has not done what I hoped. It has not dispelled many of the rumours that have been disturbing the industry for months. Nevertheless, it has helped us to know some of the Government's intentions. However, many questions remain unanswered. Any information that can be given tonight on behalf of the Government, especially on timing and dates, will be of great help to the broadcasting industry.
The Statement made last week about the proposed new chairman of the IBA, who will become the first chairman of the Independent Television Commission, would seem to suggest that the change-over will be smooth, and more or less automatic once the necessary legislation has been passed. But will it? It is important to know when it will take place. It is not a question of this gentleman, Mr. George Russell, leaving one evening as chairman of the IBA and arriving the next morning as the first chairman of the ITC. During that period he will have to take decisions that materially affect the new job he will be doing.
I should like to refer to the current contracts between the programme companies and the IBA which are due to end in December 1992. Which of the two, the IBA or the Independent Television Commission, will be responsible? To have any value these contracts will have had to go through all the procedures and to have been approved at least 12 months before the new contract begins on 1st January 1993. Perhaps the IBA will still be in existence. Perhaps the change-over will not have taken place. But perhaps also the new ITC will have that new responsibility.
We are told that the contracts will be on a regional basis. Those of us who know the industry think in terms of 15 companies and 15 regions. However, it does not necessarily mean that there should still be 15 companies, even though there are that number of regions. This is the question that has to be answered. The White Paper is very unclear.
I do not wish to frighten anyone. However, could not London perhaps have three companies instead of two, Thames and London Weekend Television? Could not Grampian and Border television disappear into one Scottish television? All these 855 would still be within the region because the existing contracts are served very largely by the transmitters within the area. If the ITC has to make the selection, then apparently it is to be overlooked during that process by the BSC—the Broadcasting Standards Council—under the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg. The actual word in the White Paper is not the one I have used; it is not "overlooked". The document uses the word "overarched". The ITC is to be overarched by the BSC. Who is to overarch the BSC, while it is doing the overarching of the new ITC?
The newly-formed ITC will not be responsible for programme transmission. We know that. The IBA will be—until the last day before it disappears. What will happen? Are plugs to be pulled on that night, or will programmes continue? Of course we know that programmes will continue.
There seems to be a suggestion that an increase in the number of minutes of advertising per hour will have to be considered. Is that a government decision? At present it is an IBA decision. But if the number of minutes of advertising is increased a warning should be issued that any such increase in advertising time can only come out of programme time. One cannot take more out of 60 minutes without reducing the programme length.
We are told in the White Paper that the quality of service need not be prescribed. This means that there need not be pre-scheduling of programmes. How will the Broadcasting Standards Council function if it is not to prescribe? Will it wait to see a programme before it decides whether that programme should have been seen? Again, who is to monitor the advertisement content? That problem has sometimes caused difficulties to the IBA that have had to be resolved. Who is to do that? Currently, under the IBA, a programme franchise holder cannot be subjected to takeovers on the Stock Exchange. He cannot even sell blocks of shares; he is prevented from doing so by the IBA. However, this control is to be removed. As already pointed out by the noble Baroness, there can be a change in a company overnight if sufficient blocks of shares move in the right direction.
We are told that the Independent Television Commission is to have the right to apply "tough sanctions" on programmes but that it must do so with "a lighter touch". I find that a little difficult to understand. Perhaps that is my fault. But it is surely difficult to apply tougher sanctions with a lighter touch.
The fourth channel is to be separate from other independent companies, funded from the revenue of advertising it has sold itself, not in conjunction with any other company. It has been successful to date simply because it has been funded by the other programme companies through the IBA. If it is to rely on its own programme sales one never knows what will happen. One must think also in terms of the Welsh language programme. We are told that it is to continue. On this the Government are quite clear. Even in the mind of the Government, who are a little difficult on a number of things, it is clear that there cannot possibly be sufficient Welsh advertising revenue completely to cover the cost.
856 The proposed fifth channel is welcomed. But the suggestion that it is to be divided into several companies is not easily understood. Does this mean, for example, that a programme company covers the North and another covers the South? Or is it a matter of timing? How is the fifth channel to be divided, with one company controlling the whole of the country for three and a half days and another company controlling it for the other three and a half? All these questions have to be answered, and soon.
Both the BBC and the IBA have most valuable advisory committees. I mentioned them in the House only a few days ago. I hope that they are not to disappear under what is known as the lighter touch. The proposal that the BBC will collect its own licence fee is a good idea. I have always felt that that was important. But it must not start empire building and erecting departments so large to collect the licence fee that it will be hardly worth doing.
The Independent Television Commission will be responsible for the collection of the government levy. The IBA has done that until now, but the Government must be prepared for a considerable reduction in the levy if they go into the full field they are describing. Is the levy to be the first charge on advertising revenue? It was at one time. The first thing the programme contractors had to do was to pay the levy. That was altered in the days of another Conservative government when they had the rather more sensible idea that the levy was not paid until programme costs were taken out of the advertising revenue.
The White Paper also seems to suggest that there will be sufficient advertising revenue to fund three national radio stations, the existing independent television channel, the new fifth channel, Channel Four, and numerous local radio and community radio stations. Is that not over-optimism? Is that kind of advertising revenue really there?
Much mention is made of subscription, and that is not very clear either. The BBC's night hours and eventually the whole of BBC production will rely on subscription. What kind of subscription? Will it be so much per channel? Will it be rather like the present licence fee at so much per year or so much per programme? How is it to be collected? None of these details is contained in the White Paper.
I have always regarded cable television as a slow starter if a starter at all. I do not want to say "I told you so", but I am not surprised that the cable authority is to be disbanded and that investors, according to the White Paper, are hesitant.
My only comment about DBS is that no international committee, similar to the one that has been working in Europe, despite its hopes and its genuine objectives, will be able to control programme content coming from Europe—if you wish, coming from Luxembourg. By all means amend the Obscene Publications Act. That might help. But one cannot control whatever comes in by direct broadcasting from a satellite over Europe. I am worried that eventually all television and radio transmission is to be privatised. No private company, not even British Telecom, if that is in mind, can equal the skill and research performed by the IBA and BBC engineering 857 sections, both internationally recognised in this field as the best in the world.
I conclude by imploring the Government to give the broadcasters as much detailed information as they can about the timing of proposed changes. Every little will help in this direction. I mention one or two dates. The existing programme contracts end in December 1992. The BBC charter ends in 1996. A general election may take place in the autumn of 1991 and, true to form, perhaps I should say when the SDP is returned as the government—no, I shall not say that—we may have many changes. But these dates are important. I hope that the Government take note of them.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Lord Buxton of Alsa
My Lords, I declare an interest in this matter as a small shareholder in Anglia Television. My reason for speaking today is that I, with colleagues, founded Anglia Television in 1958. I served as an executive for 30 years and retired as chairman earlier this year. During that period I was also chairman of ITN and of ITV Companies Association.
I should like to assure my noble friend Lord Ferrers that I am not opposed to any changes envisaged in the White Paper or anything else. ITV has a reputation for being resistant but that is totally untrue. I and the industry welcome change, know that it is taking place, and know that is is inevitable. The industry is anxious to take advantage of future technology and to exploit it in the best possible ways in the interests of the viewers and the country.
While supporting the White Paper, particularly the enticing way in which my noble friend Lord Ferrers gave an account of it, I have no evidence from it or elsewhere to show that the viewers have been consulted. However, I accept the fact that my noble friend regards the White Paper as a discussion document with green edges. I am grateful for his invitation to make our comments today.
We are in favour of change. Your Lordships will be surprised by the fact that ITV companies will be glad when the monopoly comes to an end. I hope that the press will also take note of that. The monopoly has long been an embarrassment. The companies would much rather live in the real world and seize the advantages that they can. I should like to prove our disposition. Long before the White Paper was published I led my company, Anglia Television, with Granada Television into DBS, the biggest venture—perhaps I should say "adventure"—so far. It was a quantum leap in broadcasting involving £600 million. Therefore I hope that no one will say that I am "reactionary" or am protecting the status quo.
I shall not deal with the broad base of the White Paper because so many noble Lords will do so. I should like to concentrate on only one issue. If this item did not appear in the White Paper I should find it difficult to be critical. Having made that clear, I wish to speak about the proposed auction of franchises, because it is not generally understood how grievously unfair it could be and what a grave injustice could be done to the 15,000 people working in the industry.
858 I am not opposed to competitive tendering in principle, but I must explain that submitting the existing ITV contractors to auction with sealed bids, against new competitors who have nothing at stake, is unfair and unjust to the 15,000 people in the industry and to the tens of thousands of public investors in the companies. The Prime Minister and Ministers are not unfair or unjust, and therefore there must be an explanation for the proposal. I believe that it must be based on grievous misconceptions or it must be due to a wave of anti-ITV sentiment amounting almost to a vendetta which, after 30 years in the business, I find completely incomprehensible.
The Government have argued that the arbitrary sacking of one contractor at the last franchise affair—the Lady Plowden affair—based on subjective judgments by the IBA, was unacceptable and that therefore there must be something wrong with the system. The truth is that it was the Government's fault in the first place for making a bad appointment. In my view, the decision was unacceptable, and it was a clanger. The truth of the matter is that the mix of the chairman and the director general was unfortunate and led to the clanger. However, if clangers, or one clanger, are grounds for changing an entire system or dismantling an organisation, we would have no government departments left. That is no case for resorting to the extreme alternative of sealed bids.
I find it embarrassing that the Government may still have an obsessive and antiquated notion about ITV contractors being tycoons, apparently coining money at the expense of the nation and the Treasury. That notion has always been fanned by some parts of the press. I must warn my friends in government not to be misled by the press. Almost invariably it is hostile to ITV because of the vested interest of proprietors—I nearly said "proprietor".
Roy Thomson never made that celebrated remark about printing money. I know that to be so and have the details. The remark was made by someone more eminent than he and it was a rhetorical question to Roy Thomson, put some 32 years ago. It is one of the silliest quotes on record and it is sad that even the Peacock Committee downgraded itself by quoting it in print. After 32 years it is unworthy of any responsible person to drag it up when it was never true in the first place.
I have heard it said repeatedly in government circles that ITV contractors must not believe that they have a freehold for life. Fortunately, I am entitled to respond to that comment because one observation—although not made within my earshot but reported instantly—was specific. It was that, "Aubrey Buxton must not believe that he has a freehold for life". Therefore I should like to give the facts about the industry. Perhaps noble Lords will forgive me if I go into detail because it is of the gravest importance to everyone involved. I quote statistics from Anglia Television because it seems more proper, but all companies are broadly similar. Anglia Television is approximately one-twentieth of ITV. It is easy enough for anyone to convert the figures in order to comprehend the industry situation: merely multiply by 20.
859 Anglia Television was founded in 1958; has fought three applications and renewals; became a public company in 1968; and has approximately 3,000 shareholders in the open market. Seven hundred and fifty shareholders are working members of staff and some of them have been with Anglia Television since its opening in 1958. They have homes in the region and they have made their lives in the provinces with the encouragement of the IBA as the Government's statutory agent. Therefore the Government have a responsibility for the welfare and well-being of 10,000 citizens, with their families, in Aberdeen, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Carlisle, Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Norwich, Cardiff, Bristol, Plymouth, Southampton, Dover, the Channel Islands, Ulster and London. I hope that noble Lords who have connections with those areas, and Members in another place, will bear in mind that those people are in a considerable state of agitation about the auction affair.
Of the 3,000 shareholders, including staff, in Anglia Television the biggest shareholder and one of its founders in 1958 is the Norwich Union with 6.9 per cent. I must repeat that fact because it is of massive significance in respect of misconceptions about proprietors. The biggest single shareholder in that east of England contractor, which is a public company and into which anyone can buy, is the Norwich union with 6.9 per cent. So where is the tycoon about whom people are worried and who must not have a freehold for life? It is certainly not me, even though I was mentioned by name, because I have the princely shareholding of 0.6 per cent.
Like other industries ITV tends to be run by managing directors, programme controllers and executives. I state the fact that today there is not one individual in the industry who has a significant shareholding which would justify such comments. They are the people whom the White Paper appears to wish to see substituted by billion pound bidding tycoons and conglomerates.
On Sunday I watched an interesting debate on television in which some Members of your Lordships' House took part with others. In talking about our position a Member from another place used the phrase "paranoid fantasies". The one paranoid fantasy which I am trying to dispel is the notion that ITV companies consist of moguls, tycoons or conglomerates. Even the Home Office Minister, Tim Renton, on the television on Sunday used the phrase, "The barons of ITV". I was absolutely outraged and propose to tell him so at the first opportunity. That is disgraceful because it proves that Ministers have not been properly informed.
The Anglia pattern which I have described applies broadly throughout the ITV industry. Where a contractor like Granada has a franchise through a subsidiary, the parent is a public company into which anybody can buy a stake. Where there are one or two big companies with a stake in ITV, most are themselves public companies and anyone can buy their shares. Anybody can buy into any ITV contract, and if the Government finally remove all the existing restrictions on share owning, which until now are 860 controlled by the IBA, ITV companies will be no different from any ordinary company in the market.
The franchise affair, competitive tendering, quality assessments or any of those proposals will simply become an anachronism and could even become a farce. Why are some Ministers obsessed about freeholds for life? They even say that somebody else must be given a chance. One tycoon outside the industry who harbours a perfectly proper ambition to own a franchise already owns 20 per cent. of Central Television; that is a huge stake. At a rough guess Mr. Green—and although I have never met him I am sure he is a very charming man—of Carlton Communications already has about 50 times the size of my investment without having done a day's work in the industry for it; whereas I am alleged, in Government circles, to expect a freehold for life with 0.6 per cent. after 30 years work seven days a week.
I read something interesting today which I believe points the way to where this auction business may move. In a financial column in one of today's newspapers there is an article about Carlton Communications. As I have said, I am sure that Mr. Green is a charming man, and good luck to him and Carlton Communications. However, in the City column of this newspaper it states:Carlton is poised to take advantage of just about every development in the television field.
Michael Green has long wanted to buy one of the programme contracting companies, having been frustrated from buying Thames, and having to be content with 20 per cent. of Central. I hope he is content with that. The article goes on:Under the proposed system of tendering, he is likely to succeed in his ambition".Perhaps I may explain why it is so unfair to those involved. Nevertheless, I am sure that the Minister will reassure us that the Government will clarify this issue of ownership and tycoons because it appears that this paranoid fantasy could lead to very serious injustice and unfair victimisation. It is not ITV which harbours tycoons. It is the tycoons outside ITV, with connections in high places in some cases, who seem to have exerted undue influence in the run up to the White Paper, apparently as advisers to the DTI. The unfortunate proposal for cash auctions in the White Paper makes it a tycoon's charter. ITV tycoons are figments of the imagination. The real life tycoons outside, if they offer to pay enough in sealed bids, are now invited to take over or dominate the best regional television services in the world. The White Paper will introduce barons of Channel 3. They do not exist at present. The Government would put the clock back and turn their own arguments on their heads.
Perhaps I may describe what could happen to those involved. It is not simply the auction itself which is abhorrent. If the country and the viewers are found to favour auctions for new channels and contracts, whether terrestrial TV or satellite, that is all right because for new channels all applicants will start level. However, as regards ITV the position is different. For example, if there are six bidders five will start level and have nothing to lose and one, the present contractor, will have everything to lose with a 30 year established station and with staff in the provinces encouraged to live there over the years by 861 Government and the IBA. In Anglia 750 worker shareholders could be out on the streets. It is the same in all regional centres—three in Scotland, two in Wales, 10 in England and one in Ulster.
§ Lord Taylor of Gryfe
My Lords, I presume that if a successful company takes over the franchise, the workers who are dismissed from the company which is the existing contractor will be employed to make television programmes. Will that be so, or is the noble Lord saying that there will be a total loss of employment?
§ Lord Buxton of Alsa
My Lords, I was coming to that. I believe that Ministers may have been misled into thinking that the staff will be taken over as they always have been in the past because a local television station, as everybody knows, is an essential and vital component of the local news and programmes. However, the White Paper goes on to say that it is not necessary to have local studios and that is one flaw in the White Paper.
As I said, in Anglia, if the management fail to make the top bid which I believe they almost certainly will, 750 worker shareholders could be out on the streets. It is the same in all regional centres, even though the staff have been encouraged to buy their houses there with government acquiescence. If such deprivation happened in the normal world outside ITV there would be a hue and cry and demand by government for massive redundancy payments and demands for compensation of tens of thousands of pounds for public shareholders, as in the Barlow Clowes affair. Whichever way one looks at the matter, that is injustice. There is absolutely nothing that the shareholder staff or the tens of thousands of public investors could do about that. The individuals in ITV might have done a brilliant job for 10, 20 or 30 years to the entire satisfaction of the public, but they could do nothing at all to protect their livelihood and ensure their future survival. They simply have to sit and wait for someone to open envelopes. Their lives are not in their hands but are in an envelope. Can anyone conceive anything more repugnant than that in British society, in a share-owning democracy which claims to encourage popular capitalism?
Some naive observations have been made in political circles that ITV must learn to live in the market place. Such futile clichés ignore the fact that outside bidders have other businesses and have nothing to lose, while most ITV contractors have only their regional ITV business and will lose everything if outbid in sealed envelopes.
I believe that the franchise affair, whether by quality assessment, sealed bids or any other formula, has become an anachronism. The monopoly is over. The companies are all public companies which can all be bought, either through shares or by being taken over, according to the White Paper. Therefore, the IBA or the new television authority has nothing to offer. There is no contract to buy which will give any security to those involved. It is simply an investment which, even within a week of acquiring the contract, may be taken over by somebody else. Therefore, the franchise affair is outdated and is an anachronism which makes no sense.
862 It could bring considerable derision on legislation which provided such a franchise affair. Perhaps I may ask my noble friend to take that on board very carefully before we go too far down that road. I trust that colleagues in government are not already too far committed because the auction proposal will not work. It is grossly unjust and I ask those of your Lordships with regional connections to bear in mind that there are people in the provinces who could be gravely distressed and in difficulties as regards their families and their welfare if the auction affair goes ahead.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Lord Barnett
My Lords, I declare an interest. Your Lordships will be aware that I am vice-chairman of the BBC and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, and your Lordships generally, will understand if I concentrate my remarks on the White Paper proposal as regards the BBC. I should say at the outset that the BBC welcomes the responsibility laid upon it by the White Paper—the responsibility to fulfil a special role in the 1990s.
The White Paper states that the BBC:will continue to be expected to provide high quality programming across the full range of public tastes and interests including both programmes of popular appeal and programmes of minority interest, and to offer education, information and cultural material as well as entertainment.That is a splendid endorsement and a challenge, welcomed by the BBC and, I believe, by that 95 per cent. of the nation which tunes into BBC television and radio each week.
The BBC also welcomes the prospect of more choice for the viewer and listener promised in the White Paper. The extension of choice achieved by the introduction of ITV in 1955, of ILR in 1973 and of Channel 4 in 1981, has strengthened the British broadcasting industry and provided pleasure and enrichment for viewers and listeners. The changes heralded by this White Paper can do so, too, but only if they are carefully introduced. For the benefit of future audiences we must make sure that new services are introduced and funded to increase choice and not to narrow it.
Of course, our present broadcasting structures are not perfect. There is limited choice, but new technology is changing this even as we speak. By the end of next year 11 new satellite channels will be available in Britain, offering a variety of new services; but it must be remembered that these new channels will have to spend a great deal of money on distribution and marketing.
The quality of programmes derives from the production talent and the funding available. The great achievement of the present system has been to draw in complementary sources of funding—the licence fee and advertising—to ensure a greater investment in British programmes and in a wider range of programmes than could have been funded from one source alone; and to ensure that competition has been for the audiences and programme makers and not simply for cash. British broadcasting has therefore produced a great deal to be proud of: from "EastEnders" to "The Bill", from "'Allo 'Allo" to the "Nine O'Clock News", from 863 "Christabel" to "The South Bank Show" and my own favourite, "Bread".
The White Paper recognises the continuing importance of diverse sources of funding if broadcasting is to prosper. Subscription has attractions. It creates a direct market relationship between the viewer and the programme or programme channel he wants to buy. It is a form of funding which enables small groups, by virtue of their willingness to pay, to support special interest or premium services. Used to help new services get off the ground, it will increase the choices available to the public in the 1990s.
However, the Government must beware of requiring too much of it. The Government look to subscription, quite properly, to bring in additional money to fund new services—perhaps on Channel 5 and certainly on satellite. At the same time subscription also offers the possibility that it might replace the licence fee. I should like to read to your Lordships the relevant paragraph 3.11 in the White Paper:The Government accordingly proposes to authorise the BBC to encrypt its services so that it can raise money through subscription. The extent and pace of the move towards subscription will be for the BBC to judge in the first instance. But the BBC will have in mind the objective of replacing the licence fee. To provide financial incentive, the Government intends after April 1991 to agree licence fee increases of less than the RPI increase in a way which takes account of the BBC's capacity to generate income from subscription. If subscription goes well it may be possible to freeze or even reduce the licence fee. The Government has informed the BBC of these decisions and will be discussing the details further before firm targets are set".That is to run a very long way ahead in anticipating the potential for subscription.
Only two subscription services in the world make real money—Home Box Office in America, which provides a service of feature films uninterrupted by advertising, which in America is not available on other channels, and Canal Plus, in France, which provides mainly feature films, some of them peculiarly French. However, both BSB and Rupert Murdoch have already announced that they will each offer a premium film service on subscription in this country. I wish them well. But how will subscription develop for satellite, for parts of ITV, for Channel 5 or for the BBC? Only time will tell. However, of one thing I am sure—the funding system that succeeds will be the one that is most convenient and cost effective for the national audience.
We cannot anticipate in 1988 the market and funding for programmes in the mid-1990s. If broadcasting is to continue to flourish perhaps I may be allowed to say to my old friends in the Treasury, "Do not be too greedy. You already threaten to take too much in terms of levy and the cost of franchises from the commercial sector."
Here we come to the heart of the matter. We must be aware of the cost involved for the viewer. Mr. Murdoch has already announced that his subscription package, offering films and the Disney channel, will cost subscribers £12 a month. For less than half that price, some £5 a month, we get the entire BBC package: BBC1, BBC2, Radios 1, 2, 3 and 4, regional and local services—all in all, good value for money and of wide national interest. Indeed, it is 864 worth recalling that 25 per cent. of the licence fee—some £250 million a year—funds BBC Radio.
There will of course be potential benefits from subscription. Indeed, the BBC is actually a pioneer of subscription technology in Britain. We have sought permission from the Home Office to run an experimental service for doctors during the night hours when the transmitters are not otherwise in use. This service is automatically recorded on special videos for replay as doctors find it convenient. It is a way of keeping doctors informed of the latest medical developments. The profit from that service will go back to make programmes for the licence payer.
The BBC has also proposed to the Home Office a scheme to extend subscription services on to both BBC channels at night whey they are not in use. This proposal involves a double benefit for the licence payer. It is a flexible business which can be suspended to allow the BBC to show ordinary services through the night when required—during the Olympics, elections, at Christmas or holiday times—but for the rest of the time it allows the BBC to make money from an otherwise under-used resource. That is money which can go towards making programmes for our general audience, but the White Paper proposes to reduce the BBC's ability to make this service a success by removing the night hours on one channel and giving the channel to a competitor. That is a strange kind of incentive to move towards subscription.
As I said, subscription will be a useful new source of funding for British television, but little more can be said of it at this stage. I hope that the Minister can reassure viewers and listeners that it will be developed to bring new choice rather than to deprive them of existing programmes.
The White Paper notes plans to give the BBC responsibility for the collection of the licence fee. I should tell your Lordships that it is our intention to introduce a straight-forward system of quarterly payments by direct debit as an alternative to the annual payment. Generally, we are determined to find systems which will make it more convenient and easier to pay. That does not affect our determination to maintain our programme of economies and to raise money commercially whenever possible to keep the licence fee low. The White Paper recognises that,over the past months the BBC has striven for increased efficiency… the Corporation has started on a process of tightening its management structure and shifting resources into programme improvements through savings elsewhere".I can assure your Lordships that we shall continue this process as well as working hard to supplement the licence fee by other sources of income.
BBC Enterprises, the world's largest exporter of television programmes, has a target of doubling its sales by 1991, and all the profits go back to programme making. We should nevertheless acknowledge the benefits of the licence fee. Because it is collected from the national audience the cost to individual households is low; namely, £1.20 a week. It enables the BBC to produce high-quality programming for all, regardless of wealth, wherever you live, right across the nation.
I now wish to say one thing about the proposal to bring broadcasting within the Obscene Publications 865 Act. I do not seek to defend broadcasters' exemption, though it is worth remembering that broadcasting was omitted precisely because it was so closely regulated by the BBC's charter and licence and the Broadcasting Act. Complaints about broadcasting, deeply felt as they are, are rarely about obscenity. Nevertheless, broadcasters understand and share concern about violence and the effect of television on young and vulnerable people. The BBC's governors regard the maintenance of standards as central to their role, vital in this area of social responsibility but also as regards all editorial standards. The new Broadcasting Standards Council can also have a useful role, particularly in the area of research and monitoring and for the new cable and satellite services.
For the BBC, coverage of news and current affairs is of the highest importance and we have made a renewed commitment to it, allocating many millions of pounds to increase our specialist correspondents; to set up new bureaux; to improve our coverage of foreign affairs—all to enhance the authority, accuracy and fairness of this key area of our output. As the White Paper acknowledges, the BBC has,sought to be more open and responsive and accountable to viewers about the way it works".Of course we will sometimes get it wrong. In over 200,000 hours of radio and television a year, that is inevitable. We will from time to time even upset some of your Lordships and perhaps one or two others.
In conclusion, the White Paper sets out a timetable for the development of new broadcasting services and institutions. The BBC charter expires at the end of 1996. By then the pattern of broadcasting in this country will have changed. The role of new services will be clearer and there will be winners and losers among the new providers. The BBC intends to go on playing its special role in the provision of high-quality programming right across the range for all the audience. As I have said, we welcome the increased choice. That will not be brought about if viewers and listeners are deprived of services they now value and enjoy at low cost.
§ 5.46 p.m.
§ Lord Annan
My Lords, I cannot remember a White Paper in which the conflict between two departments of state was more nakedly revealed. As I read the Paper an image began to stain my imagination. I saw the Secretary of State for Home Affairs saying to TV Britannia: "Never fear, my dear, I will not let that gang of tycoons running satellite and other TV controls hurt you. Look at the safeguards I have provided; look at Lord Rees-Mogg who is there to preserve you from sexual assault and from violence. Look at the quality tests. What is more, I have kept their hands off the BBC, which will continue to be the flagship of public service broadcasting."
Then I heard from the screen the voice-over of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry which we know so well in this House. It is so beguiling, so full of charm, so insistent that competition is always sound commonsense. I heard him saying to TV Britannia: "You are going to be raped anyway, so 866 why not lie back and enjoy it. You will have a wonderful choice of lovers."
Two ideas dominate the Department of Trade and Industry, and two ideas only. The first is how to get the maximum revenue out of television for the Exchequer, mainly of course by auctioning franchises, and by a levy based on income. The second is how to reduce the cost to advertisers and hence to business and industry, mainly by competition. Whether the public will in fact get cheaper products because manufacturers and business will pay less for advertising seems to me a bit dubious. But I will let that pass.
What never flickers across the mind of the DTI is the state of culture of the nation. Perhaps what we have before us is not surprising because, while the public are continually referred to in the White Paper, the viewer is not. That is not surprising, because while politicians like to appear on the screen they really have not got the time to view. I will not argue against the franchise option because it is so much part of government ideology that it would be a waste of time to try to dislodge it. But if one sets up a body, the ITC, to regulate domestic commercial television, why not trust it? Why forbid it expressly, which Peacock did not, to judge between rival bids? Why compel the ITC to accept the highest bid even if it knows, and the informed public also knows, that the highest bidder is either a crook or a shark who will do his best to evade every control and peddle trash?
Under present plans all the shark will have to do is to show his gleaming teeth and issue a smiling brochure. If the Government intend to skin the bidders by forcing them to bid high, why try to skin them again with a levy and one that takes the form of a percentage of advertising revenue at progressive rates? Again, that is calculated to depress programme standards. Why allow one shark to bid for two channels?
If we turn to Channel 4 we can again see the conflict between the Home Office and the DTI. The Home Office pats Channel 4 on the head and says that we need this outlet for minority views. But then the DTI steps in and insists that Channel 4 must compete with ITV for advertising revenue. What will happen? ITV has already told us what will happen. It will schedule its programmes to knock Channel 4 out of the market, and it is a very good scheduler. So, of course, will Channel 5. Very soon Channel 4 will be indistinguishable from either of the other channels.
Every time I look at the programme the Government White Paper has put before us this afternoon, I sit delighted by the sensible proposals for maintaining BBC and Channel 4, despite the criticisms I have made, and for the obligation on Channel 3 to show news and current affairs and to maintain regional broadcasting. But then again I hear the voice-over of the DTI which says, "Well, we lost our fight to break up the BBC, but have you noticed the threat of compelling the BBC to raise, shall we say, £200 million of revenue by subscription? That will force them to hive off a lot of their activities which we will then pick up. We won the battle over commercial television. No need for them to worry any longer about public service broadcasting. After 867 all, it would be unfair, wouldn't it, to force them to have higher standards than satelite programmes".
And so we shall go the way of Japan. In Japan, a first class public service is provided by NHK, which is the equivalent of the BBC. But the commercial service, whch does not pretend to be a public service, attends only to the ratings. That policy, as we know, is the policy of ignoring everything else. We know a good deal through research about who watches television—for how long; what programmes and why people who like watching "East Enders" are equally hooked by "Panorama"; and why those who watch "Dynasty" also watch snooker and football. What people want is a number and a range of programmes. They also want good quality programmes. Of course people would like television to be totally free, but most would pay a higher licence fee even than we have now so long as the choice on BBC was not restricted.
Despite my criticisms, I am less willing than perhaps some other noble Lords to predict the future in terms of unmitigated disaster. I am sceptical of those who hold dogmatic views about broadcasting. Years ago I was asked to sign a protest against the introduction of commercial television. I declined to do so. Later I was asked to protest against the abolition of the BBC radio's Third Progamme. Lucrative as that programme was for myself, in which don spoke to don, I declined again to do so. The noble Earl is quite right. There has to be change in broadcasting. To believe that the Committee on the future of Broadcasting, of which I had the honour to be chairman, said the last word on the subject would be too ludicrous even to contemplate. There is no pundit less credible than last year's pundit. That is what I am.
I re-read last night the chapter of the CFB report on industrial relations. I read it with shame. Although it referred to restrictive practices and overmanning, it said nothing of the corruption among the workforce of some of the television companies and its criticisms were wrapped up in pious reflections about management obligations. The Government have issued their White Paper because cable and satellite transmission is at the door, which in the beleaguered days of the 1970s it certainly was not. But the compelling reason why the Government have issued the White Paper is that the ITV companies and perhaps also the IBA were too tolerant for long of the high production costs and union extortion. The monopoly enabled the ITV companies to charge what they liked for advertising and to soak British business. What is more, this had a knock-on effect on the BBC by forcing salaries and wages to be to some degree comparable with those in ITV. And hence a higher licence fee.
Perhaps I may mention a point of detail to the noble Earl which will show him, I hope, that I am not totally against competition. The duopoly has always insisted that it holds the copyright of television programmes and therefore compels the public to buy the Radio Times and also TV Times if it wants to see what will be on television next week. When satellite and cable programmes are available, will we need to 868 have three or four more publications of this kind? Has not the time come to end this monopoly? A majority of our committee recommended in 1977 that it should end. It is a notable restrictive practice that inconveniences the public and is in restraint of trade in the case of other publications which tell the public what is going on in the entertainment world.
I do not blame the Government for declaring that the time has come for a new deal. I do not even blame them for saying that the new ITC should have a lighter touch than the old IBA. In 1977 this was recommended by our committee. We said that the IBA should not intervene quite so much as it did in scheduling. But that question of control is vital. Why did British television not go the way of American television or Australian television today? Why were the predictions of disaster of those good men and women, who in 1952 believed in Sir John Reith's conception of public service broadcasting and deplored the introduction of commercial television, in the end proved wrong?
I say "in the end" because for a few years—the years of the 1950s—it looked as though they were right. The Pilkington Committee had some severe things to say about the proliferation of quiz shows and giveaway shows on ITV. In this respect I have perhaps a slightly different view of sin from that of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St. Albans. I believe that Sir Robert Fraser and Lord Clark as chairmen were right to take the line that companies had first to make some profits before one could begin to call them to account. But equally right were the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, Lady Plowden and Sir Brian Young to insist in the late 1960s and the 1970s that the time had come to beat the ears off those companies which never went in for anything but the ratings and anodyne programmes. And as we know, the quality of ITV improved enormously and some of those companies lost their franchises. However, it would never have improved unless the IBA had been there to insist that companies which did badly would lose their licence.
I beg the Government to look again at the safeguards which they have proposed for the commercial sector. They frighten all those who know something about television because, at any rate on the surface, they look terribly weak. I doubt whether the ITC can control anything if it starts from the premise that the days of "The Jewel in the Crown", "Brideshead Revisited" and dozens of other first-class programmes are over and commercial television has now no remit to educate and inform and, in so doing, entertain the public.
Political parties are not good judges of broadcasting. They apply dogma to it. Today, as the noble Earl has admitted, the dogma is that we must have maximum competition to ensure maximum choice. Yesterday—in 1977 when our committee reported—the government of the day began to insist that the BBC should be restructured and that political appointees should be attached to its television and radio boards of management. From that fate the country was saved by a general election and by the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw.
I do not believe that the noble Viscount would recognise a dogma if he saw one out in the park being 869 taken for a walk. He is someone who has massive commonsense. While he certainly did not endorse all that the Committee on the Future of Broadcasting recommended—and some of the recommendations were considerably less wise than others—he understood the nature of broadcasting. In fact he reminded me very much of Queen Elizabeth I who, on being shown by Sir John Harrington the first water closet, said that she understood the marrow of the affair. I think that the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, understood the "marrow of the affair" in broadcasting.
I ask the Government to consider again the evidence which we have of what viewers actually watch and the variety of things that they want, and so perhaps to modify just a little their scheme to take account of those facts. I say to them: do not talk about multiplying choice unless you are certain that you are offering the viewer a real choice.
In conclusion may I apologise to the noble Earl for the fact that I cannot be here at the end of the debate because I have an appointment. I normally try to stay until the end, but I cannot do so on this occasion.
§ 6 p.m.
The Earl of Bessborough
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Annan, has, as usual, made a most entertaining and yet highly serious speech. I was one of those who can claim, with the father of my noble friend Lord Renwick, to have been a director of the very first company that offered to put on an alternative programme to the BBC. My noble friend Lord Windlesham followed very soon afterwards with Associated Rediffusion. Our company was called the Associated Broadcasting Development Company and it later became ATV. I feel therefore that having been in at the beginning of the story I must say a word in this discussion about the Government's present White Paper, or perhaps I should say—I think the noble Lord, Lord Swann, may agree with me—a multi-coloured paper.
Of the three words in the White Paper's title—namely, competition, choice and quality—I think today especially of choice, although I fully recognise the importance of quality. As I recall, it was George Eliot in Daniel Deronda who said that:the strongest principle of growth lies in human choice".Certainly, despite Labour and other opposition, when we introduced Independent Television in the 1950s, it did coincide with—it may have been by chance—and was, I think, more than partly responsible for, increased economic development and growth in this country. I believe that these proposals may do the same, perhaps even more effectively now.
I believe in choice in broadcasting just as I believe in having a choice of a number of national and regional daily papers, as well as a number of publishing houses so far as books are concerned. Therefore I must congratulate my right honourable friend the Home Secretary—for whom I have great respect—and of course my noble friend Lord Ferrers, on this remarkable and in my view highly interesting document. I fully endorse more or less all it says 870 except, like my noble friend Lord Buxton, I think, the question of the auction.
But I return now to choice. We have been slow in this country to develop more alternative television programmes and specialised services. Good on the whole as is the quality of many programmes on our four main national television networks, I think it is sad that we are not yet able to receive more alternatives such as are readily available in most countries on the European Continent, as well as in other regions in North America and the Far East.
I remember curiously enough—as will the right reverend Prelates—that it was we in ITV at the outset in the 1950s who produced in this country the first educational and religious television programmes, which BBC Television had not at that time done, although of course it had done so on radio.
Of course there is some soapy trash on all channels all over the world, as there is, I fear, in other kinds of publishing. But I remember when we started in the 1950s Japan already had its educational programmes going—and the Japanese go on looking at them all night. Further they had already started in the United States.
Indeed, when I was chairman of the Institute for Educational Television, on which I was so ably supported by the late Lord Wolfenden, I helped American friends promote WNET, their educational television network, and I advocated in your Lordships' House the creation of a University of the Air—or, as it is now known, the Open University—before in fact the Labour Government established it in the later 1960s.
Of course some people used to tell me that all television was educational. I suppose in another sense it might be said to be so. I have to go to the United States once or twice a year and I must say that in Washington I appreciate being able to tune in to Cable News Network at any time for news, or to C-SPAN, the channel which transmits continuously debates from both Houses of Congress or, if Congress is not sitting, discussions between Senators and Members of the House of Representatives.
While in New York I tend to stay on Channel 13, WNET, the educational channel—which I have already mentioned—or the Public Service Broadcasting Channel (PSB) both of which transmit many of the best television series and documentaries.
Of course the funding of these services is the major problem. I have only just received briefings from British Satellite Broadcasting and Virgin Broadcasting because apparently our postal services are still not quite back to normal. However, on the issue of funding, I am glad that the Government accept the principle of sponsorship, which certainly is not unduly intrusive in the specific American programmes or channels which I have just mentioned.
Giving the name of the sponsor, say, at the end of the programme is in my view in no way offensive or distracting in the way that some highly skilful commercial advertising is—advertising which is sometimes more interesting and exciting than the programme itself. On the question of funding, I agree too with the White Paper that subscription television 871 should not be ruled out. Indeed, I found the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, on the subject most interesting and balanced.
I think that the BBC should continue with its quality programmes. I fully appreciate that BBC Enterprises is rightly recognised as the world's largest exporter of television programmes. At the same time I sometimes wonder—I do not know what the views of my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing might be on this—whether the BBC need have, as it says in its briefing to me at any rate, 1,100 transmitters throughout the country. Surely that might be described by some as possibly excessive. However, I must accept that the BBC's transmission responsibilities are rooted in its charter, which lasts, as we have heard, until 1996.
I also strongly endorse the views of those who consider the present Channel 4 as successful and indeed beneficial. We should thank Mr. Jeremy Isaacs for this and hope that Mr. Michael Grade will maintain its reputation. Its ITN news programme at 7 p.m. seems to be to be the best of all the news programmes in the country; but it lasts only one hour, unlike Cable News Network in the States which goes on day and night. I find that useful.
In Brussels, Luxembourg and elsewhere on the Continent—even in Greece—you can receive many different programmes in different languages, some of good quality. I think that in Brussels you can receive not only programmes in French, Dutch and German but also all the British programmes.
We must not forget the importance of video. I see no reason why ultimately one should not have as many TV tapes on the bookshelves as one may have books—serious books and documentary programmes—although I agree with my right honourable friend Mr. Kenneth Baker that we should encourage the young to read more books rather than remaining hypnotised by the "goggle box".
Finally, and most importantly, I want to re-emphasise that it is significant that the introduction of ITV in the 1950s was coincidental and, I believe, partially instrumental in increasing prosperity in this country. The present proposals for the expansion of broadcasting should do the same, perhaps even more effectively. The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, and myself have bred a great many "children" since the 1950s. I support the proposals contained in the White Paper, except perhaps for that of the auction. I agreed with all that my noble friend Lord Ferrers said at the outset of the debate.
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ Lord Willis
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Earl the Deputy Leader of the House for his skilful introduction of the White Paper and for giving us the opportunity to debate it. He is a skilful parliamentarian. He could rise to his feet at any time and convince the House that the North Circular Road was straight. I do not share his enthusiasm for the White Paper. I found it to be a curious, disappointing, mixed and rather depressing document.
872 I wonder whether I am right to feel that I detected an edge of desperation about the White Paper. It may be, as the noble Lord, Lord Annan, said, that it was due to some kind of conflict between the Home Office and the Department of Trade. It may also be as if in trying to set out a plan for the future of British television, the Home Secretary and his advisers found the problem too much for them and in the end out of sheer desperation put down the first solution that entered their collective head. Where they could think of no solutions, they fell back on bromide phrases which sound good but mean nothing. Perhaps I am being unkind, but that might explain (might it not?) why the White Paper was so badly written that it is an affront to plain English; why it is stained with ambiguities and contradictions and constrained by dogma. A look at the future of broadcasting it may be; a blueprint for the future it most certainly ain't.
We all recognise, as other noble Lords have said, that the pattern must change. We cannot close our eyes to the new satellites and pretend that they do not exist. The Government were right to consider what effect those and other developments would have on our system of broadcasting and to bring forward proposals. However it looks to me as though they looked at the matter through the wrong end of the telescope. Faced with those changes, surely the sensible and logical approach would have gone something like this: you sit down and say that big changes are just over the horizon, and that we must take account of them; that our system will never be the same again; that satellites will provide the public with more channels and greater choice; that they will create more competition for advertising, break down the duopoly in ITV and provide wider opportunities for investment. Fine! The problem then is, how can we cope with those developments and at the same time preserve and extend all that is good in our present system? How can we prevent quantity driving out quality?
We have built a television system that is a model for the world. How can we prevent that system sinking under the weight of competition from these new aerial invaders? Instead of taking the sensible and ultimately commercial approach, the White Paper proposes, in effect, that we should take the opportunity to dig up the entire garden, roses and all, sack the gardeners and then wait to see what comes up.
The Government put great emphasis on a wider choice for viewers. That is fine, but that wider choice is already here, whether the Government like it or not. In the next year or so, we shall be able to receive a further 21 channels; five from British Satellite Broadcasting and 16 from Astra. That is in addition to the four that we already have. We shall be spoilt for choice. Along with most broadcasters, I welcome that development; but we shall have little or no control over what those new channels bring into our homes. If the experience of America and Europe is anything to go by, they will most probably aim for the mass market—the Daily Mirror and the Sun reader, although there is nothing wrong with that, because they are as entitled to their television as anyone else. But where does that leave drama, music, 873 the arts, documentaries—the type of programmes at which British television excels?
The noble Lord, Lord Annan, begged the Minister to take account of the experience that other parts of the world have. I beg the Minister to look especially at the experience in America, where they have had multi-channels for many years. What is the latest thing in American television? One sees no drama, unless one calls "Dynasty" and "Dallas" drama, which I do not; one sees none of the quality programmes that the BBC provides except on public service broadcasting. The latest development is "sudden impact" television. One must be violent and rude to the people who appear on the screen. Anyone who has sat in a New York hotel bedroom and tried going through all the buttons, finds that choice is the choice between one quiz show and another. Let us not fool ourselves about choice. There is such a thing as bogus choice, and that exists in America.
What does the White Paper propose to do to ensure that quality programmes will continue to be produced? Very little. There are some pious words about the BBC remaining as the cornerstone of public service broadcasting; but what it giveth with one hand, it taketh with the other. The White Paper suggests that the BBC may in future be financed by subscription and sponsorship. That is precisely the way in which many of the new satellites propose to finance themselves. So, the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, said, the BBC will be fishing in the same pool. It will be in direct competition with powerful international companies for the available money. That can have only one or two consequences. It will either make it impossible for the BBC to maintain its commitment to public service broadcasting, and drive it down market in search of revenue, or force it into a small cultural ghetto, catering on a diminished scale for minorities only.
With a perversity which I find maddening, while the White Paper proposes that the BBC should look to gather more subscription income, it at the same time suggests that one night-time frequency which is a valuable and increasing source of revenue, as the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, said, should be taken away and privatised. Where is the sense in that proposal? Why put the BBC at risk in that way? It will be hard enough for the BBC to hold audiences in the next two or three years in the face of the new competition. The one tried and tested source of finance, the one guarantee of quality, has been and still is the licence fee. If the Government are serious about their commitment to public service broadcasting, they will abandon that nonsense and secure the BBC's future by establishing once and for all when the Bill comes forward, an index-linked licence fee. We do not even have to call it a licence fee. Let us call it "subscription", if that is the popular word with the Government: that is what it really is. We are asking the public to pay a subscription of £5 a month, more or less, to receive the whole range of wonderful BBC programmes. Introduce an index-linked subscription for the BBC and make it mandatory and then we guarantee quality programmes until the end of the century. That step alone would remove uncertainty and give real meaning to the Government's colourful words about quality.
874 Let me turn for a moment to ITV, soon to be renamed for no comprehensible reason that I can see, Channel 3. Here, the White Paper is at its destructive worst. We are told that the franchises are to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. There is a reservation that competitors will first have to submit a document which outlines their commitment to minimal programme standards. However there is little comfort here for those who are concerned about quality, for there is no definition of what is meant by "programme standards" nor what services should be provided. Most significantly, there is no mention of a commitment to the arts, drama, documentaries, education or children's programmes; one does not have to bother about them. At present such programmes make up an important part of the output of the ITV companies. Are the new owners of the franchises going to be allowed to ignore these areas? Are we going to have not more choice but less—less arts, less drama, less education, less children's programmes? Or is the definition of choice one that enables us simply to choose between one game show and another?
If the Government are really determined to auction off the franchises, then this first stage of the transaction must be much more stringent. It should surely follow normal commercial practice, which ought to appeal to the noble Lord, Lord Young. In business it is normal practice (is it not?) to take into account not merely the size of the bids but the quality of the service offered. One does not ask a local jobbing builder to put in a tender to build a bridge unless one knows he can do it. If he puts in a tender, it may be the lowest but one does not accept it, one takes into account the quality of the services offered. There is no mention of this in the White Paper.
I should like to ask the Minister in his reply to answer one question for me. Will the first and second stages of these bids be made public? Do we have a right to know? If half a dozen great tycoons put in a bid for Central or Thames or any of the other TV channels, will their bids be published, particularly the first stage bids, so that we know what they are actually offering?
The commitment to regionalism is the other point I wish to make. This has been one of the strengths of the ITV system. The White Paper pays lip service to it, but reliable private projections show that at least five of the regional companies will go to the wall if the Government's proposals are adopted. Have the Government really gone into the financial aspects of their commitment to regionalism?
Like the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, I am against the auctioning of the franchises. I wish to see a different system whereby the existing TV companies are required under the Bill to widen their shareholding and put themselves on the open market so that in future they can be subject to takeovers if they do not fulfil their commitments and will be subject, of course, to ITC regulations.
The present arrangements for financing Channel 4 have worked remarkably well. Once again I ask, why do we want to change them? Why do we want to get rid of something good just for the sake of getting rid of it? According to the proposals in the White Paper, 875 Channel 4 has to compete for advertising with the much bigger companies. Why do we run the risk of driving them down-market in the search for advertising money? There is not an unlimited amount of advertising money available and the Government must know that. There must also be a limit to what people will pay in subscriptions.
However the central fault of the White Paper is that it makes no serious attempt to estimate what this financial frontier might be or how all these new developments might be sustained. Indeed, with a kind of reckless abandon it ignores the financial problems and believes that there will be enough money out there in that great big commercial world to finance these 21 channels and four others. It then goes on to throw out the idea that we might have a fifth or even a sixth channel, land-based channels. We have not had a chance to digest the 21 which will invade us from up in the sky before the Government are saying, "Let's have a fifth"—which will cut up the advertising cake even more—"and even a sixth". The Government might have great friends who will buy these stations when they are auctioned off but it is not giving them much of a chance if the Government say, "We are going to stand even another land-based channel to compete with you for the existing pool of advertising". That pool is not limitless, there must be a frontier to it and the Government should not charge recklessly ahead, thinking that everything can be financed in this commercial way. That is the economics of the paper boat. What we do is go out to the Chilterns, the source of the Thames, and float a couple of dozen paper boats. Then we rush down to Southend to see which has arrived. That does not make sense.
There are many other issues which I might raise: some have already been covered by other speakers, others will no doubt be covered and some can wait for another day. However, there is one other important point missing from the White Paper and I wish to stress it now. One of the reasons why our networks have not been flooded by overseas products is that we have a voluntary quota; 84 per cent. of all material shown on our screens must be of British or European origin. That is an agreement. It is not statutory, but it is an agreement. Some noble Lords who watch television may think that because they have seen so much American and other material they cannot believe that statement, but it is true. It has left generous elbow room for American and other programmes. The quota has sustained quality and given independent and other producers access to our screens. Without it we should have had less native drama, documentaries and arts programmes, fewer people being trained, etc. I hope that the Government will take on board this vital principle and put it into the Bill so that we protect and preserve native British productions.
I have deliberately concentrated on the negative aspects of the Bill. I am sure that the Deputy Leader of the House will forgive me for that. They are the ones that give me the most concern. However I do not want to give the impression that I am a Luddite, opposed to change. Like many of my colleagues, I welcome what is coming; I look forward to the 876 challenge with excitement. But, like them, I do not want to meet that challenge with one arm tied behind my back or to see what has been so painstakingly built up, in terms of quality television over the years, swept away in a torrent of uncontrolled commercialism. As the noble Lord, Lord Annan, said, we are not talking about the manufacture of sausages, we are talking about something which has cultural significance. We cannot apply the same yardstick to a television progamme as we can to an inanimate commercial product. We cannot run a television channel as we would a factory. Television is one of the most potent influences on the lives and attitudes of our people. Nobody denies that. It is too important to be left entirely to businessmen. Perhaps it is even too important to be left entirely to politicians.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ Lord Swann
My Lords, I cannot help looking back somewhat nostalgically to the days when a White Paper was a white paper. I also rather dislike the gloss outside and, in a different sense of the word, inside as well. What are they trying to sell us? It makes me suspicious.
Recent advances in technology of course make possible a lot more broadcasting than we now enjoy. But whether we want it thrown at us at once in a rush, and whether it is wise to alter the whole regulatory mechanism at the same time, are matters that the White Paper does not address. Indeed, it does not really argue the case in a rational way for any of the proposals it makes. It just proposes them.
Throughout my time as chairman of the BBC, for eight years we had the very highest regard for each successive Home Secretary and for the Home Office officials responsible for broadcasting. They understood the complex and rather delicate system with which they had to deal. The White Paper, on the other hand, betrays no such understanding. So much so that to me it just does not feel like a Home Office production. My noble friend Lord Annan, picking it up on some heavenly news channel, has of course made that clear to us. The DTI and, I strongly suspect, other people as well have been involved.
For a start, the White Paper concedes—a little grudgingly I thought—that our broadcasting system is among the best in the world. This is untrue. It is the best, or, as some people prefer to put it, and as I used occasionally to prefer to put it, the least worst. Either way, I challenge the Government to tell us what country does it better. When one has a system that by international consent is foremost in the world, any wise government must surely go cautiously and slowly before starting to alter it. They could so easily make things worse, as I shall try to explain.
The White Paper shows all too clearly, as I say, a total lack of understanding of the delicate and successful balance that Britain has achieved over the years between, on the one hand broadcasting funded by licence fee, and on the other hand broadcasting funded by advertising. No other country in the world has achieved that balancing act. We tamper with it at our peril. On the face of things the White Paper leaves the BBC more or less untouched to get on with its 877 traditional role of public service broadcasting. But the BBC, for all its seemingly powerful and secure position, does not live in a vacuum. On the contrary, it lives in a sharply competitive environment, even if the Government cannot apparently see that.
The IBA could have wrecked the BBC long ago had it chosen to do so and had it not been imbued with the self-same public service broadcasting ethos that the BBC acquired over the years before independent broadcasting came on the scene. Astonishingly, the authors of the White Paper seem to have no understanding whatsoever of this fragile relationship. Nowhere indeed, so far as I can see, do they even mention it. I shall try to explain why I say that.
By the late 1940s and early 1950s, as many noble Lords will remember, the BBC's monopoly position and performance came under increasing criticism. Independent television, after a good deal of opposition, was born. But let me say, as a past chairman of the BBC, that I think the result was beneficial to the BBC. It forced the BBC to rethink things. And it led in due course to the fruitful four-channel system that we now enjoy. However, for quite a time it was very traumatic for the BBC. Your Lordships may have forgotten exactly what happened, but most certainly the BBC has not.
Subconsciously, I suppose, the BBC had assumed that the television audience would be shared between itself and ITV at somewhere around a 50:50 proportion. But quite quickly, in part perhaps because of Independent Television's novelty and also no doubt because it brought a fresh approach to things—still more, because it went for programmes with a wider appeal—the BBC's share of the audience dropped sharply. One might call it crudely the result of going down market on the part of ITV, although I would concede that it was not as simple as that. When the BBC's share dropped to 40 per cent., it began to feel distinctly uneasy. It felt a lot more uneasy still when its share dropped through the 30s to an all-time low, if I recall correctly, of 28 per cent.
In principle, the BBC could have slugged it out. The licence fee was secure. Or was it? Quite soon it became evident that the licence fee was not secure. To what extent the great British public started to complain about paying a licence fee when a large majority did not watch the BBC, I am not sure. But, predictably, politicians complained, and most vociferously. They complained so much that the BBC rapidly concluded that it was seriously threatened and that as a matter of survival it would have to retrieve its position. That by degrees it did, in part by trying harder but also—there is no concealing the fact—mainly by deliberately moving down market in various directions.
I believe that that was the right thing to do. It could be argued that the BBC had drifted too far from public taste. I do not know, off the cuff, how long it took to reach an acceptable steady state, but throughout my time as chairman from 1973 to 1980 the BBC's share stood in the middle to upper 40s. There, both sides were content to let it stand. But if it edged down to 40 per cent., I used to detect, quite rightly, considerable unease. In short, the BBC, 878 despite its licence fee, is as susceptible to market forces as independent television. The mechanism is simply a bit different.
What, then, will be the pressures on the broadcasting system if the White Paper's proposals are brought into force? The Government seem to have forgotten the Peacock Committee's conclusions that advertising could not support ITV as it now stands as well as the BBC. So why do the Government imagine it could support a much increased independent system? They talk of bringing down advertising rates. Although advertising rates are bound to go up and down with the economic state of the nation, as the number of hours of advertising increase the tendency must be for advertising rates to come down, perhaps sometimes quite sharply. That, coupled with franchises going to the highest bidder, plus a levy, cannot fail to put considerable financial strains on the new operators.
Depending rather, once again, on the state of the economy, they will, sooner or later, inevitably be forced to increase their audiences and their incomes by going down market—slowly but sometimes perhaps rapidly. I have little faith in the promises that operators will have to pass a quality test and that they will be disenfranchised if they fail to live up to it. They will, after all, be in the same boat. Perhaps indeed they will all have to be disenfranchised if the economy gets sticky enough.
I am deeply suspicious of the Government's so-called "lighter touch". So, it would seem, is almost everybody else. I have a feeling that most of the time it will mean nothing in particular; occasionally, unpredictable interferences. Finally, why are the Government proposing to abolish the IBA which has, I believe, served broadcasting so well, replacing it with something called the ITC which does not look as if it will perform very different tasks? As far as I can conclude, it is a bit like the change that overtook the university world. The Government want in some manner to end up with a body which does what they want.
Those will be the new pressures. But what will be the new outcome? Will it be a move down market on the part of independent television as a whole? Without doubt that will come about sooner or later. I rather suspect that we shall see the early demise of Channel 4 as we know it. What about the BBC? Will we see a rerun of what happened in the 1950s, with political clamour for an end to the licence fee and hence an end to the BBC? For let there be no misunderstanding. The Peacock Committee was quite clear, following investigations by commercial and academic consultants, that advertising could not support both independent television, as it then stood, and the BBC, except conceivably if proposals were introduced very slowly and over a long period of time.
Let there be no flannelling over the White Paper's remarks about introducing subscription. A number of noble Lords have mentioned that. It is noticeable that Mr. Johnscher of CSP, who carried out the investigation into subscription for the Government, was quite clear that it would only work, if at all, for the BBC in respect of a very limited range of types of 879 programme. Reading the White Paper one would hardly recognise those findings. It seems to me significant that Mr. Johnscher was moved to protest in the press about the Government's misrepresentations of his conclusions. The BBC will not be able to bail itself out by advertising, subscription or sponsorship.
In short, the unique contribution of the BBC to broadcasting in Britain, not to mention the splendid international example it has set, could, and very possibly will, become just a sad chapter in history. So also could, and equally possibly will, the uniquely benign example of the IBA, which is also recognised worldwide, in successfully marrying television financed by advertising with the public service. I wonder whether the Government have any idea of the dismay and astonishment that their proposals have generated worldwide.
I am not arguing that we should do nothing about all the opportunities for increased broadcasting that the new technologies have made possible. Of course we should. And of course there must be changes. But we should be doing that slowly and cautiously by building on the admirable foundations that have been laid over the past 60 or so years. We most certainly should not dismantle the present structure in a mad rush of ill considered change, and enthusiasm for instant change at that. I would only say finally that if the word "conservative" means anything any longer it most certainly does not include instant changes of the type proposed in the White Paper.
§ 6.40 p.m.
My Lords, I begin by congratulating Her Majesty's Government on the White Paper, Broadcasting in the '90s, representing as it does a great step forward in the advancement of consumer choice. I welcome the reference made by the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, to the accent of the White Paper on the advancing of consumer choice. However, in the same speech the noble Baroness said that existing channels need protecting. I think that position is irreconcilable, because I do not believe that either the BBC or the existing independent television programme companies have a God-given right to broadcast to the nation. They broadcast as a result of the will of Parliament, and for no other reason. I think that should be always borne in mind. It is the consumer who should determine who will be the successful broadcasters, and not the producers of the goods.
As I was suggesting, the White Paper represents a great step forward in advancing consumer choice. The bold and innovative way in which the Government have tackled the subject, despite the fact that they have been beset by advice from vested interests, will benefit the public in very many ways. At last we are going to have a genuine multiplicity of choice for the viewer and the listener. I am not a dismal Jimmy, like the noble Lord, Lord Willis, who believes that we will no longer see quality television on public service broadcasting just because we have a vibrant and lively private sector.
880 A paper is to be published next year by the Institute of Economic Affairs entitled Is American Television That Bad? and if that paper is anything to go by it will be quite clear to everybody—and I highly recommend the paper, when it is published, to your Lordships and also to Her Majesty's Government—that it sets the seal on the myth about American broadcasting. To judge by the paper we shall have more public service broadcasting in the future and not less.
The facts about consumer choice and quality in American television so clearly set out in this paper from the Institute of Economic Affairs make me realise what a disgracefully slanted and distorted picture of the United States television scene has been presented to the British people by the BBC, and the ITV companies for that matter, particularly over recent months in their reporting of the terror which is now about to hit this country. I sincerely believe that we have been badly misled. And the idea from the noble Lord, Lord Willis, of judging the quality of American television by sleeping in a hotel room in New York and pressing buttons does not represent the ideal way of doing one's own consumer research into another country's television.
At the very beginning of the White Paper the Government declare their aim to be:to open the doors so that individuals can choose for themselves from a much wider range of programmes and types of broadcasting".We no longer live in a paternalistic society and it is quite wrong for the producers of goods to tell you, the customer, what you should see when they want you to see it. Now we have a fantastic combination of private enterprise plus public service and, above all, quality television. That is why I thoroughly applaud the White Paper.
I would also remind your Lordships that at this time we are being seen on live television via cable. Whether or not that can be recommended as "quality television" is difficult to say; but it makes one small addition to consumer choice, made possible by the sudden impact of broadband communications technology.
It was this understanding of the converging technology which was so brilliantly incorporated into the 1984 legislation of the Cable and Broadcasting Act and the Telecommunications Act. Those two pieces of legislation were the first in the world to recognise that the technological convergence of television and telecommunications would at last eliminate any restriction on the number of individual television channels, which hitherto has resulted from the finite nature of the terrestrial broadcasting spectrum.
The current broadcasting White Paper further recognises this technological convergence and takes another important step forward by advocating that the market should determine the pace of its implementation rather than Whitehall. This thread of increasing consumer and market choice, largely made possible by the developments in technology to which I have already alluded, is central to the White Paper and is, I believe, one of its greatest strengths.
I should now like to comment in a little detail on two critical aspects of the White Paper which I believe 881 will be absolutely essential to the success of the legislation which is to come before us in due course. Moreover, because they have not caught the immediate attention of the media, and in particular the BBC and ITV broadcasters, these very important aspects may not yet have been brought to your Lordships' attention.
I start with what I shall refer to as the White Paper's proposed vertical segregation of the broadcasting industry. In achieving the objective of promoting consumer choice, as I understand it, the Government see that they have a role to act as "a hinderer of hindrances". I read now from paragraph 2.6 of the White Paper:There should be vigilance against uncompetitive practices and market distortions. Partly for this reason, and to limit harriers to the entry of new operators in the market, there should be a greater separation between the various functions which make up broadcasting and have in the past been carried out by one organisation. These include programme production, channel packaging and retailing, and transmission or delivery".That is absolutely critical to the whole argument. I think it is the very heart of the White Paper. It was over three years ago that I first confronted the concept of the need for vertical segregation of the various elements of the broadcasting industry. These separate elements are the production, the retailing and the delivery of the signals. Since then I have followed closely the arguments for vertical segregation. I am absolutely convinced that it will be the most powerful tool in assisting the Government to attain their ends of greater consumer choice.
No longer should the means of production and distribution of radio and television services rest in the same powerful media hands, whether they be in the private or the public sector. This idea of segregation has worked with great success in the cellular telephone market. It is to be a mark of the shortly-to-be-denationalised electricity industry, and it will work in the broadcasting of radio and television too.
The White Paper is absolutely right to advocate it in my view. Again I stress the importance of this matter, not so much out of concern for the long distant future but as something that is already occupying government concern elsewhere. Only last June the United States Department of Commerce, through its National Telecommunications and Information Administration, published a report called Video Programme Distribution and Cable Television: Current Policy Issues and Recommendations. Despite starting as they did from a very different historical past, and today enjoying a far greater consumer choice in television programming, as well as having a mature and successful cable television industry, this important report concludes that the United States public is already being threatened with a restriction of choice as a result of activities of the vertically integrated media interests in the television industry.
The report advocates a similar segregation, as does the White Paper that we are considering, between the producer and retailer of television services on the one hand and the deliverer of those services on the other. The NTIA report to which I have referred focuses on the idea of a local common carrier network being available to third party television programme 882 retailers or producers, thereby increasing consumer choice. The common carrier network itself would be prohibited from directly providing such services to end consumers—just the delivery of services that any third party wishes to market. I believe that the Department of Commerce report has it right in this respect, just as our own broadcasting White Paper has.
It is therefore of concern to find that in some areas of the United Kingdom consumers are currently being faced with an attempted hijack by powerful media interests which wish to control or restrict their choice by controlling the cable delivery infrastructure. The cable authority has already awarded franchises covering well over 1 million British homes to a company backed by a vertically integrated United States media giant that wishes to use the cable network to deliver exclusively those programme channels that it chooses to offer and in many of which it has a significant ownership interest, despite the fact that there were local British applicants for many of those franchises. It appears that the cable authority is acting in direct conflict with the spirit of the Government White Paper and I ask my noble friend why that is the case.
The proposals of the White Paper on vertical segregation would stop that restriction of consumer choice by encouraging the development of local common carrier networks using whatever technology that would be available for any programme producer or retailer to use to access the market. I think we must all welcome that. After all, it will be these new local delivery infrastructures which will eventually make the old IBA-type broadcast franchise of limited commercial value. What company would want to bid millions of pounds for a terrestrial broadcasting channel when it (or any number of competitors) can gain similar access to the market for a fraction of that cost by using the new cable infrastructure?
Indeed, I suspect that the "vertical segregation" principle (which incidentally was implicit in the Peacock Report's recommendation 15) can and indeed should be extended also to the telecommunications market. I suggest that come 1990 and the review of the current duopoly policy the Secretary of State may do well to look sideways at that time to see what by then is happening in the area of broadcasting. The segregation of network control from service provision in the local telecommunications market may prove to be the missing piece in the telecommunications jigsaw puzzle. I am absolutely convinced that it is the linchpin of this White Paper on broadcasting and that it must emerge as a prominent element in any forthcoming legislation.
I should like now to turn quickly to the matter of regulation and the proposed establishment of an Independent Television Commission to replace the IBA and the cable authority. I believe that in this world of converging technology the Government should think very carefully before perpetuating separate regulatory environments for transmission networks. The reason is that they will increasingly be carrying all the same signals, whether voice, video or data, in a common digital format. How will the regulators distinguish between a digital stream 883 passing down a network that decodes as a television picture in a home as opposed to a telephone conversation? Will we have to solve that metaphysical conundrum by having an official in every home and every business to see whether what is being delivered over the network is an episode of "Neighbours" or a voice conversation with the local bank manager? In fact under the current regulatory environment, which is largely being perpetuated in this White Paper, we shall have two officials in each place: one from the ITC to regulate television and one from Oftel to regulate voice telephony. It is nonsense and the relentless common digitisation—what a terrible word!—of all information services will increasingly prove it to be so.
I strongly urge Her Majesty's Government to use this important opportunity presented by the publication of this White Paper critically to examine the structure of government departmental responsibility in this area. Who should be responsible for regulating the various elements of the White Paper's proposed vertical segregated television industry of tomorrow?
So far as the delivery function is concerned, that is to say the IBA and BBC transmitter networks and the proposed local delivery infrastructure (using either cable, satellites or a combination of both which would be from an environmental point of view infinitely more satisfactory), the obvious regulatory body is the Office of Telecommunications under the Department of Trade and Industry. Under the 1984 legislation to which I referred earlier those two bodies already award and regulate the local telecommunications licence which every cable operator requires before he is able to build and operate a network to provide television services. I believe that that role should be strengthened and enlarged under the new legislation and not replaced by the ITC, as the White Paper appears to suggest.
However, I must make clear that I see the DTI's responsibility and that of OFTEL as being strictly confined to ensuring that the delivery infrastructure is constructed and operated to conform with minimum standards and to ensure that any service provider—for the provision of television telephony services or whatever—is able to gain regulated open access to the network in order to reach the local market. The Department of Trade and Industry and Oftel should have nothing to do with the content or use of those local networks so far as concerns broadcast material, or in due course, I believe, any other service. However, that may be a matter for a 1990-type telecommunications review.
So what about the critical matter of ensuring that the quality of programming and choice is preserved? In other words, how is the quality of the content of what is produced and retailed to be assured? So far as concerns ensuring minimum standards, can we not safely leave that to the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, and the recently created Broadcasting Standards Council? Is that not the Broadcasting Standards Council's very raison d'être? Do we not simply want to ensure that the BSC is given all the statutory teeth that it requires to enforce standards of taste and decency in the portrayal of sex and violence by 884 placing all broadcasting material on the same footing under the law as printed material? Surely that is the best way of ensuring minimum standards.
But I, like other noble Lords, am not simply concerned about minimum standards for broadcasting. Like other noble Lords I am determined to see that we preserve the best—the highest standard of television that the BBC, and more recently the ITV companies, have so wonderfully provided to this nation over the years. We can be justly proud that each one of us can recall with little difficulty numerous programmes from the past which are truly classic and which could only have been produced under a system of enlightened public service broadcasting such as we enjoy in the United Kingdom. I believe that the nation should continue to be able to receive two channels of public service television broadcasting and at least one radio channel: I think that these should be BBC 1, Channel 4 and possibly Radio 4.
The task of overseeing this public service sector and of ensuring that the channels fulfil their remit should continue to rest with the Home Office. The Home Office should be encouraged to explore new ways of financing programmes for these two channels and I see no reason why funding should not be channelled via other specialist agencies such as the Arts Council. That happens in other countries, as noble Lords will be well aware.
One may ask: where does the proposed ITC fit in? Where indeed! I am not sure I can see that we require the creation of such a body if the analysis that I have offered is correct. We want fewer regulatory bodies. Our regulatory framework and the bodies that oversee it should be based upon a thorough understanding of the converging technologies. It should not simply be a matter of the Home Office creating its own child this year and the DTI producing its own twin in 1990. Converging technology requires converging regulation.
I conclude by once again applauding this excellent and creative White Paper. I regard it as a charter for consumer choice in television and, if the facts of the United States are anything to go by, an increase in the quality of that choice also. However, we should be careful before seeing vested interests argue any amendment to the fundamental proposals of the White Paper relating to the vertical segregation of the industry into the constituent elements of producer, retailer and deliverer. Finally, we must guard against perpetuating a regulatory environment that reflects the past rather than addresses the true needs of the future.
Indeed, the White Paper that preceded the 1984 Cable and Broadcasting Act, included the following statement:As a nation our prosperity has always been built on the vision and genius of those who have been able to look into the future and to shape the present accordingly. Today the pace of change has become such that few can, with any confidence, predict what tomorrow may hold".This current White Paper at last suggests that it may be fruitless for Government to try to see too precisely into the future. Rather, it argues that government should concentrate on creating the fertile regulatory environment whereby entrepreneurs and established 885 businesses can adopt their various roles of programme-maker, entertainment, news and information retailer or local delivery network, and thereby prosper or fall to the extent that they serve the consumer—in this case the viewer and the listener.
§ 7.1 p.m.
§ Lord Orr-Ewing
My Lords, first, perhaps I may apologise. Being Tuesday night, which is dining in night, I made arrangements six weeks ago to entertain five guests at 7.30. Of course I shall be back after I have seen them into their places but I may miss my successor's speech and perhaps one or two others before we come to the later part of the debate. apologise for the discourtesy: I have to be discourteous to someone.
I am batting number 12 in this list, which is half-time in case noble Lords want a natural break! Of the first 11, apart from my noble friend Lord Ferrers, eight had some special knowledge or had been working for or attached to either the IBA or the BBC. It is typical of our House that we should be able to present such a fantastic amount of knowledge and experience on this very important subject. I forecast only that we shall not be able to deal with this subject thoroughly. With so many speakers and a limited amount of time, one cannot possibly do so. It will be a long time before we see any results. It may even be in the next Session of Parliament. We therefore have time to return to different facets of this problem and I hope that we shall do so.
Ours may be the best television in the world. I think that the format is right. I was there at the beginning; I am therefore a male midwife. I take some pride in the fact that we have a format with a mixture of public and commercial service. It is very good. However, it is easy to say that our television is the best in the world because few of us have lived long enough in other overseas countries to be able to judge. But it is nice to say that British is best and we shall probably go on saying it. My wife and I may be unlucky, but somehow on Saturdays when I turn the television on I find that there is nothing on all four channels which is of any interest to me. It may be the best television in the world but that comment does not apply to Saturdays—or at least when I am at home and wishing to watch a programme.
We should not be too smug, because we also have more video recorders for our population than any other country in the world. Sixty per cent. of' households—many more than any country—spend £300 and have now installed video recorders and make multiple use of them. The turnover of the video tape trade staggered me. I went for a briefing to the British Video Association. The sum of £550 million is spent every year. If these programmes were so superb, as some people believe, why should people go out and spend that extra money in order to receive other programmes or watch time-shift programmes —which may very often be BBC or IBA programmes? However, it is symptomatic that we could do better—and certainly on Saturdays so far as I am concerned!
I do not think it is right to say that "more" automatically means "worse". We had all these 886 arguments when I first came into this Chamber in 1950 and noble Lords were having a debate. Lord Reith and all his chaps were present. It was going to be Gresham's law which would drive out everything and we should all be down in the gutter of the lowest common denominator of entertainment. It has not happened—we found the right formula—and it will not happen. I do not think that "more" means "worse"; it means "different". I hope that it means more choice.
It is no good saying that four channels are enough and why is one wanting more? Satellite broadcasting will make sure that they come; to a lesser extent so will cable broadcasting. The Government are therefore right to grasp this nettle. We have to face it whether we like it or not.
I support the Government White Paper. I think that it proposes a reasonable and correct compromise. I shall be a little critical and I hope constructive. I am glad that the public service broadcasting is retained mainly in BBC hands. I think that it is worth reminding ourselves that £1,000 million is collected every year and given to the BBC. I hope that it gives value for money. I am not sure whether the BBC could not save a few hundred pounds here and there when I see what goes on. But £1,000 million is secure for the present.
IBA stations also have a public service obligation. I confess that I did not realise that apart from the news they have to broadcast a certain amount of current affairs. I had not appreciated that in their contracts some stations have to broadcast 26 hours of social service programmes.
With regard to subscription service and sponsorship, the BBC is not very keen on extending sponsorship. But with regard to many of the sports programmes that we now see I do not think that sponsorship has done our sports any harm. The sponsorship seems to be perfectly well regulated, well disciplined and in no way objectionable. I hope that the BBC will not rule out sponsorship with the subscription service. However, if that happens, the Government would be wise not to say that the BBC should always have the income from all of the licence. If there is £1,000 million, and the BBC is able to obtain other sources of income, some of the IBA companies might say that for their public service sector contribution they were entitled to a nibble of this cake. I hope that the position will be left open.
I also hope that the ITC will find general approval. Now is a highly formative moment and it is right to start with a new regulatory authority. However good commissions and other bodies are, after a certain life cycle they tend to get into a rut. I believe that new blood may be needed. I am sure that the new ITC will cope with the situation under the leaders who will now take up office.
While broadcasting is being reshaped, it is a pity that the Government have not felt able to tackle the question of the BBC coming under the same unbrella of supervision. A noble Lord has said that we have regulatory authorities for gas, electricity and everything else that goes into our houses. We shall have a regulatory body for the independent sector. I should have thought that it would be natural to have 887 a regulatory authority under which the BBC would also come. I know that the BBC says that it has its governors. I have looked through the list. They are highly worthy and of the right age group still to have some dynamism and drive. But they have become loyal friends of the BBC. It is most important that they should retain their independent and critical attitude of mind and not always bark at the corporations's tune on every issue.
I have one other criticism. We all make mistakes and those in broadcasting in particular make mistakes. Sometimes they appoint the wrong person for a series of programmes—too often for my liking. When the BBC makes a mistake I wish it would not say, "He is wrong. You are wrong. How dare you accuse me. You are trying to abolish us," but "I am sorry. I made a mistake." With thousands of hours of radio and television programmes, mistakes will be made. I only hope that people who make the mistakes are not instantly promoted, but are admonished and perhaps left in a cul-de-sac for a few years to cool their heels.
We had a good debate here about "Tumbledown". We pointed out that the BBC had decided to suppress the favourable play by Ian Curteis about Tumbledown and put on a play by Charles Wood who said that he was in favour of drama being subversive. "Tumbledown" came on in prime time. I watched it because I felt that I had a duty to do so. I thought that it was gory, and muddled fact and fiction in a most horrible way. It was a despicable effort. It was repeated in prime time and I saw last week-end that the author was again given a number of excerpts on television, which included another excerpt from "Tumbledown" of the most gory type with a person's brains hanging out. It was desperately horrible and naturally we turned it off and went away. It may be effective, but here is a person who writes very nasty anti-establishment work. The army came in for the worst wigging from him and yet he continues to get more time.
In case it is thought that I am picking only on BBC governors for not having found a proper balance, I may say that I was appalled by a Channel 3 programme series called "A Piece of Cake". I am of the age group who came up with the very gallant pilots who won the Battle of Britain. This was a programme which caused the gravest offence to many people, widows and their children. A letter appeared in the Guild of Airline Pilots Newsletter for December:Surviving colleagues from a number of different squadrons confirm, without exception, that the cretinous, ill-disciplined personnel characterised as typical fighter pilots bear no vestige of similarity to the loyal, disciplined, warm-hearted, uproariously humorous, often scared but in the end courageous young men in the fighter squadrons in 1940".Those were the men who Sir Winston Churchill described as the First of the Few. It is sad that the intention of that author was to:explode the mythology and establish the truth about the RAF in the air battles of 1940".It was put on to tear down the reputations of the RAF and those pilots. I wonder whether action is being taken so that we do not have another series with a similar aspect.
888 I know one of the objections that came up in my noble friend's Answer to a Question recently was that we could not bring the BBC under the control of the same ITC because the Royal Charter laid down that it should not be so controlled. With the help of the Library I have looked at the Royal Charter and the licences. We are all appreciative of the amount of work that the Library does on our behalf and how skilled its members are. I noticed that normally such BBC charters lasted for 10 years. There was one in 1927, then in 1937, and 1947. Then we were recovering and there was re-formation and then a few years were added. But never before in the history of the BBC has a charter and licence been given for 15 years. It was given in 1981. Incidentally it lay on the Table of our House. I certainly did not notice it or hear of it for I should have objected at the time. None of us picked it up and it went quietly on its way—a 15-year Royal Charter. That will finish in 1996.
The House will remember that we have four year elections: 1995 will be the last year of whatever government are in power, so I do not think that they will start re-hashing the whole game again. If this were sacrosanct it may be difficult to change. I do not believe that it is beyond the wit of human beings or the will of the Government to adjust the licence and the charter to make sure that in future the BBC is no longer the judge, the jury and sometimes the gaoler in its own cause. It would stand in even greater reputation if it had an independent authority above it.
I want to support what the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, said. One thing I cannot accept is that we shall have a franchise to sell these companies off. It has happened before. It happened to one company in which I was interested. It is the person who can tell the tallest story and who has the longest purse who will win a franchise. That will not produce the balance of programmes we need. I know that it is tempting to say that this is a market economy. It is not. In the case of these programmes going into millions of homes we want to see high standards. I do not believe that we shall do any good by tearing up this mature plant, sacking the people, changing the whole thing and handing it over. If it is handed over I can think of a list of names that would be at the forefront. They are not short of money or of the desire for more power. That is why they may want control. Something that is proven and good may be adapted, but do not let us tear it up and open it to franchise.
I have one other criticism. I am unhappy about religious broadcasting. It is time that we came more into line with other countries and gave more liberty to our Christian and other Churches to do more television and broadcasting. Chapter VI. 10 says:programmes should omit all expression of the views and opinions of the persons providing the service on religious matters".That is surprising. Chapter VI. 49 continues:The Government envisages that … bodies whose objects are wholly or mainly of a religious … nature will be disqualified from holding any … licence".If we are opening up the airwaves and a number of channels, surely it is a good time to do what every other country does. The Iron Curtain states and Britain are the only countries which restrict religious 889 broadcasting in this way. I hope that we shall have the Churches solidly behind us in saying, particularly in relation to local broadcasting and radio because it is a cheaper medium, why should not the Churches either take a minority or a majority stake in some of the local broadcastng stations and put out a Christian, a Jewish or a Moslem programme if that is what the people want?
I do not believe that we are right to be the only country in the free world so far as I can trace that sticks to these old and rigorous controls. Just as we in this House forced on the government of the day, with help from all parts of it, the words "primarily Christian" for our religious education I cannot see why we should go on inhibiting the Churches from taking an interest in the channels as they expand.
Those are my thoughts, and I hope your Lordships will forgive me for having spoken for 16 minutes when I had planned to do so for only 12.
§ 7.19 p.m.
§ Lord Blease
My Lords, I listened with interest to what the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, said. He mentioned some challenging and fresh points in the debate. When the legislative stage of these proposals comes forward, and if he speaks with the same tone and the same mind, I feel sure that I shall be sharing the Lobby with him particularly in relation to franchising.
I was pleased to hear the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, say in his opening remarks that the opportunity for debate and reflection on the Government's plans for broadcasting in the 1990s is welcomed. He welcomed the debate because it would give him and Members of the Government time to reflect on matters raised here and would indicate some ways in which constructive change could he made. I agree that it is important that during this period before the proposed legislation all those directly interested in broadcasting should make known their views to the Government. There is every reason to believe that the BBC and the ITV companies will play a constructive part in the forthcoming general public debate.
I understand that the broadcasting organisations will provide background information and relevant facts which should enable Parliament and the Government to reach reasoned and practical decisions in order to set the pattern for British broadcasting in the 21st century.
While the White Paper has been widely welcomed, there are legitimate and wide-ranging fears about many of the Government's proposals. Some have already been mentioned in the debate. Every effort should be made to challenge and constructively change the Government's proposals, which give rise to the grave doubts publicly expressed by concerned citizens and experienced broadcasters.
In her opening speech my noble friend Lady Birk mentioned the fact that at present the United Kingdom enjoys a mixture of commercial and public service television and radio broadcasting which is the envy of the world. That fact was also mentioned by other noble Lords. Whatever challenge may be made about it being the best, it is certainly the envy of the world.
890 One of the main issues confronting broadcasters is whether the standards can survive in the more open marketplace which is activated by the financial criteria promoted by this Conservative Government. That is the main issue which has been underlined by a number of speakers in the debate. Unless there is a huge rise in the population there can be little increase in the number of viewers and listeners. Nor is the private advertising revenue or other public moneys available. Surely we must conclude that standards must fall, as they have in the free-for-all American environment already mentioned by my noble friend Lord Willis.
If profit is to be the primary motive, as it must be, for companies which have invested heavily in order to obtain franchises, the public service element of broadcasting must find it difficult to survive. Quality programmes, whether drama or documentary, cost big money, while game shows and similar productions are much cheaper. Therefore it is inevitable that standards will decline. It is difficult to see how under such circumstances the proposed regulatory body with a light touch can effectively stand up to the pressures to lower standards in order to preserve the financial interests of the market.
I readily accept the fact that, because of technological, international and other developments, change is inevitable. However, I consider it vital that Parliament should ensure that changes are not made at the whim and in the interests of the marketplace. The Government should give a guarantee to viewers and listeners that the essential high qualities of British broadcasting will be upheld and enhanced. Such an undertaking is not contained in the White Paper.
I should have welcomed more detail in the noble Earl's speech about the proposed arrangements and mechanism for monitoring television and radio programmes, especially in view of the plethora of proposed new broadcasting channels and transmission arrangements. I have experience of the machinery required to monitor the quality control necessary for the present broadcasting channels. It is a terrific job but we find that we are at loggerheads with many members of the public. Indeed, private organisations have sprung up to take over the role. I should like to see more indication that the monitoring machinery and its organisation are being approached seriously. Perhaps it will be given during the various stages of the Bill or perhaps the Minister will give an undertaking this evening.
I should also have been pleased to hear more about broadcasting in the regions. Each region has its own outlook and needs. It is in the main regions of the United Kingdom that the character, culture and quality of British broadcasting excels. I feel sure that the proposals for Channel 4 and for broadcasting in Wales will require major rethinking. However, that is a controversial issue and it may be that future legislation will make it clear.
Having mentioned the regions, I must mention Northern Ireland. There the White Paper has generated a fair amount of public discussion about the future for broadcasting. That is to be expected because the Province has one of the highest ratios, if 891 not the highest, of viewers and listeners in the United Kingdom. There are many reasons and explanations for the acute appreciation and awareness of broadcasting in the Province by the BBC (Northern Ireland) and Ulster Television. Both those organisations have pioneered methods, ideas and production techniques which have been adopted by broadcasters throughout the United Kingdom. That interest and appreciation may be more apparent when one notes the numbers of Northern Irish people who hold prime positions at all levels of broadcasting in the United Kingdom.
In addition to the actual programme content of news and documentaries, the quality of educational, religious and sports programmes and the cultural and entertainment broadcasting, in Northern Ireland a close link has been developed between the broadcasting organisations and the community. It is important to mention that. Broadcasting cannot exist in a vacuum. There are numerous consultative and advisory bodies associated with Ulster Television, BBC (Northern Ireland) and Northern Ireland radio units. I doubt whether the same kind of dynamic viewer-and-listener relationship can be fostered or obtained through the proposed marketplace philosophy now being stipulated in the White Paper by the Government. However, when the proposed legislation is tabled we shall have an opportunity to deal in detail with the issues of regionalism, monitoring, the important matter of engineering, particularly in respect of the regions, and the quality and standards for the making of good broadcasting.
I am sure that the noble Earl will do his best to focus the attention of his colleagues on the need for constructive change in broadcasting for the good of all.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Winchester
My Lords, I must disclose an interest, though not pecuniary, in the development of broadcasting. I do not have the experience and I have never had the responsibility that many Members of your Lordships' House have exercised in the BBC or independent companies. I am a kind of invisible microbe in the bottomless pit. However, for some years I was a member of the BBC's religious broadcasting department. For a time I served as a member, latterly chairman, of the Central Religious Advisory Committee for the BBC and the IBA.
As I read the White Paper, I was most forcefully struck by the enormous advances in technology. These may allow for six domestic television channels in this country; developments through medium and lower-powered satellites; direct broadcasting by satellites; five channels allocated to the United Kingdom with possibly more still to come; cable television; and the growth of interactive services.
This is a very big technological change. Yet some of us have memories of the debate in 1984 when the legislation for cable was enacted. One recalls the sense of urgency expressed at that time over the need to provide entertainment-led cable services. In fact 892 cable has taken a considerable time to get off the ground. I am inclined to wonder how sudden and dramatic the introduction of the new domestic channels will be or needs to be. Is it not more likely, and certainly more desirable, that there should be a steady, progressive increase of new facilities and channels in the 1990s—an evolutionary process just as BBC 2 and Channel 4 evolved in the past; an evolutionary process which could be accompanied by a phased and more gradual adaptation of the regulating bodies to the new situation?
The White Paper's philosophy of the market place, the encouragement of entrepreneurs and minimum regulations marks a too sudden break from what we already have. It places the valued concept of public service broadcasting, which we have enjoyed for many years from ITV and for much longer from the BBC, at far too great a risk. I have heard it suggested that the new channels may take up only between 10 or 20 per cent. of the viewing audience. If that be the case, why is there such a hurry to dismantle a regulatory system of proven worth? For the logic of what is now proposed—more competition for advertising and audiences—means the selling of space at lower rates and in consequence less money available for quality programme-making. Already one significant group involved in independent television production has stated that the auction of contracts to the highest bidder places a severe constraint on the ability of the franchise holder to produce high quality programmes. We have heard many reservations today about the wisdom of auctioning those franchises to the highest bidder.
Of course, television for most people is rightly a source of entertainment and a means of relaxation. That will always be primary. However, the achievement of public service broadcasting has been quality programmes with good scheduling. The combination is important—quality programmes and good scheduling. In that way it has opened up for a mass audience a wide range of experience and enjoyment especially in drama, documentaries and the arts.
To my mind the thrust of the new proposals goes all out to maximise audiences—audiences with money to spend to satisfy the advertisers. The ITC will have no responsibility for scheduling as does the IBA at present. We have already been warned by the programme controllers at Thames Television and London Weekend that increased competition means the likely demise of children's programmes, arts programmes and religious programmes as well as current affairs. Therefore, I do not believe that it is sufficient for the White Paper to say that quality programmes will be available, although at a cost, for the specially targeted audience. Public service broadcasting has provided quality programmes to a wide audience as a right—not by imposing charges for their quality and not by demanding that viewers should subscribe.
Of course, there are proposals in the White Paper which I welcome. I welcome the Broadcasting Standards Council's role in drawing up a code on the portrayal of sex and violence and on standards of taste and decency and its monitoring role. I welcome the Government's decision to bring broadcasting 893 within the scope of the Obscene Publications Act because obscenity and violence demean the human spirit. Yet, it must be said, there is another danger to which I believe the White Paper is apparently blind; that is, the danger of triviality—the manufacture of cheap programmes that make few or no demands on the viewer. It is the provision of pap. A diet of triviality can be numbing to the mind and spirit.
I should like to say a few words about religious programmes on television. Last month the IBA published a substantial survey called "God Watching" on religion, viewers and television. Despite the growth of secularisation in the past 20 years it seems significant that 62 per cent. of the population watch religious programming once a month. Popular programmes like "Highway" and "Songs of Praise", which are well scheduled, attract audiences of 7 to 8 million each and are much appreciated. The audience for Sunday morning worship on BBC and ITV is over 1 million. I find it most interesting that the survey shows that audiences for the networked weekly religious programmes match the audiences for the flagship current affairs programmes. It is so often said that religious broadcasting is deaf to ratings or audience appreciation. However, I believe that it is highly significant that one can have as substantial and appreciative an audience for those weekly networked religious programmes as can be gained for the flagship current affairs programmes.
For the health of society it is important that reflective and demanding programmes on the arts, religion and current affairs should remain as part of the general public discourse. I believe that it would be deplorable if religious programmes or the others were shunted away into a ghetto for subscribing enthusiasts. They need to be part of general programming. Experience in France, the USA and Canada has shown that with deregulation religious programmes are relegated to the margins. They cease to be part of general public viewing. So it was with some dismay, but sadly with no great surprise, that I read the answer given in another place last week by the Minister of State at the Home Office that applicants for Channel 3 franchises will not have to make commitments about broadcasting religious programmes.
I hope very much that in the light of the research to which I have just pointed, as well as for the sake of the general public discourse in which religion needs to take part and of their own advocacy of traditional values, the Government will look again at that particular matter when they come to develop their fuller programmes.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ Viscount Ridley
My Lords, I should like to declare an interest in that for 24 years I have been a director of Tyne-Tees Television. Therefore, I speak with the benefits of both considerable experience and prejudice. I believe that we all give a general welcome to the way in which the White Paper has grasped the nettles of the future and look forward to what may happen. At this stage I should like to give an even warmer welcome to the very wise appointment of Mr. George Russell as chairman of the IBA and ITC. I 894 am sure that he will be an excellent choice in that post. However, like many others who have already spoken, I should like to refer to the auctioning of franchises which has given the ITV industry considerable concern.
I can see the argument for the principle of auction. It may be the only way to decide on what is the real value, although I still believe that it is more appropriate to the Mappa Mundi than to an ITV franchise. That was a recommendation of the Peacock Committee, although not a unanimous one. I believe that the dangers of relying solely on that process are what is worrying everybody, especially as the award could be for a considerable time.
I refer to these dangers as I see them. First is the danger that regional TV will be forced out by big money. This country has a splendid record of good regional programming. There are fears about the quality of programming, as have been expressed many times in this debate and outside this House. I believe that there should also be fears about the quality and staying power about the money which might be offered and the track record of those who might bid. That, again, has already been referred to, but it is tremendously important. How can we be sure that a successful bidder will not be immediately taken over, the day after, by a predator? What safeguards are there against the TV barons, about which my noble friend Lord Buxton made our flesh creep?
I come from the North-East. Our staple diet of brown ale has been, or is likely to be, taken over by the Australians. Our water has been sold to the French. Our last shipyard closed this week and there is a threat over the armaments industry at Vickers. Therefore, I hope that we will fight to retain our regional TV if that is all that is left. There must be built-in safeguards to that effect.
I know that in paragraph 6.11 there is a regional commitment, but if refers only to regional programmes. So far as that goes, it is good enough; but in my view it is equally, or even more important that ownership of the TV stations remains in regional hands which will represent a total commitment to the regions and all that goes with it. If the philosophy—which it is—of this Government is to make the regions more responsible and self-reliant, then the threat of losing regional TV seems to be undermining that policy already.
Another fear is that there is a desire to maximise revenue and to tax the TV industry too highly. The industry has laid a great many golden eggs over a great many years and, so far as I know, they have all been free of salmonella. The Government will take too much if they accept the highest tender and then add a levy. It is a real danger that we must watch. It is true that the remark of the late Lord Thomson of Fleet—whether or not he actually said it is irrelevant; it has done the damage—that the "licence to print money" could be said to be the most devastatingly accurate phrase of only five words to hit any industry. It has justified, and perhaps still does justify, high levels of taxation, levies, and so on, on ITV. I believe that they are higher than on any other industry. If the levy was justified—perhaps it was—in a monopoly situation, is it still justified with the dilution of the monopoly that extra channels will bring?
895 If auctioning franchises is to be adopted, why is it necessary totally to ignore the Peacock recommendation and say that the highest bid must be accepted? Taking the highest bid, whatever it may be, will be the greatest threat to the survival of the regional and smaller TV stations. The ability to accept a lower bid, as recommended by Peacock, is absolutely vital to the powers of the new ITC. Without it, and with the absence of any power to prevent takeovers, will the ITC have any power in practice? I wonder.
It might be further suggested that the existing contractors should have a right to ask their shareholders to match the highest tenders submitted before a decision is made. If I suggested that I would be accused of special pleading, and I would have to plead guilty; though I do not myself expect to be involved in any way with the new contracts. However, it is an option which might be worth considering if continuity of programming is of value. Is there not good reason to consider the sitting tenant? There would be good reason if we were debating council house tenancies and where a large discount would be available.
It is, of course, all meaningless unless we have some idea of the number of regions and the boundaries between them which will apply in the future. My noble friend Lord Ferrers said that the ITC would decide on the matter. I submit that it would be much better if that were to be laid down by Parliament so that we know where we are. Tremendous problems are involved. There is much technology about the strength of transmitters, and so on. But will there still be 16 regional companies, or will overlap to some extent continue to bedevil ITV as it has done in the past?
As an example of what can happen, I refer to our company of Tyne-Tees. At one stage on granting the franchise we were told to get into bed with Yorkshire TV and create a holding company, which we did. We made an omelette out of two eggs, called Trident. It worked quite well. For the next franchise we were told to unscramble the omelette and make two eggs again, which we did. Your Lordships will know that that is much more difficult, but it has been done successfully. Let us have an end to this nonsense and have clarified, once and for all, areas which we, or someone, can serve.
What will stop the larger companies from swallowing the smaller ones with takeover bids if one contractor can own two stations or two franchises? Do the Government see the very small areas like Border TV or Channel as being viable in the next decade? It would be useful to have that information. Should the 16 become eight there is again a serious threat to regional TV, which is my main worry.
I am sorry if I have been difficult or awkward, but I have endeavoured to be constructive in expressing some of the worries of the ITV industry. I believe that our television is as good as that anywhere in the world, as has already been said, though no doubt there are, and will continue to be, a few well-publicised awful exceptions. We must preserve the best of the old and build on it if possible. The regional 896 nature of ITV appears to be one of the best things we have created.
I can remember the start of ITV, when popular programmes produced massive audiences and higher revenues. That led one TV executive to keep a model of the battleship "Potempkin" on his desk. It is to remind us, he said, of what dreadful things can happen when the ratings take command.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Lord Taylor of Gryfe
My Lords, like the noble Viscount who has just resumed his seat and the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, my experience has been as director of a regional independent television company. Listening to my two friends in this industry I could not help feeling that they were perhaps unduly alarmist about the prospect of losing their franchises. At one stage I bid for a television franchise. Unfortunately I was not successful and I subsequently joined the successful bidder.
I should remind the noble Viscount and the noble Lord of the process that presently takes place when applying for a new franchise or one of the existing franchises. First you have to describe your programme philosophy and what you intend to do with the station. Secondly, you have to demonstrate that you have the personnel to run the station. Thirdly, you have to show that you have the cash to finance the station.
Those aspects are examined by the IBA, and presumably that will be done by the new authority. However, for companies described this afternoon, like Tyne-Tees and Anglia, one of the critical factors will be their record in carrying out the responsibilities of an independent company. We have the assurance this afternoon from the Minister that commitment to the quality of the programmes will be an important item and that the highest bidder will not necessarily be selected when bids for a new franchise are examined. I should like to have further assurance from the Minister on that point; that the quality, content and balance of the contractors' programmes and the philosphy will be weighed up before any allocation of a franchise is made.
I should like further assurance because it is easy to produce "glossies" about what one intends to do with a television station. Applicants are all experts in the field of communication. Those people are in the television business and it is their job. They can produce prospectuses that are convincing, and I should therefore welcome assurances from the Minister on the kind of monitoring process—
§ Lord Buxton of Alsa
My Lords, I apologise for intervening. Did I understand the noble Lord to say that my noble friend Lord Ferrers had stated that the highest bid did not have to be accepted?
§ Lord Taylor of Gryfe
My Lords, I understand from the whole tenor of the Minister's speech that the highest bid is not necessarily the final criterion and that the record of the proposed contractors and the quality of the programmes will be assessed.
§ Lord Taylor of Gryfe
My Lords, I received the impression from the Minister that that statement was qualified. I am sure that he does not intend that the process will be simply that the bids will be submitted, the envelopes opened, and that the highest bid will get the franchise. I think the Minister assured us that there will be a much more exhaustive examining process. Perhaps he can confirm that.
My Lords, perhaps I may put the noble Lord out of any misery into which he may be projecting himself involuntarily. The position is that there will be several criteria for standards and quality standards which must be gone through. Having gone through the standards of quality, the prospective licensee puts forward his proposals for content. When those proposals are acceptable to the commission, those who are successful with that application will put in their bids. The highest bid will then be accepted.
§ Lord Taylor of Gryfe
My Lords, that is the position as I understood it. I very much appreciate the Minister's clear definition of how this process will be carried out so that very strict obligations will be put on the bidders as regards programme content, balance and responsibility. I would welcome confirmation from the Minister of the point that I was going to make; namely, that it is easy to produce promises. We should like assurances as regards the monitoring of the performance of companies that secure the licence on the basis of these submissions. I believe that to be very important because it is easy to produce some kind of prospectus that is appealing. What is important is the performance.
I say to both noble Lords who have spoken in connection with their experience of local television that they are afraid that they may lose their franchise. I can tell noble Lords from my experience as a director of an independent television company that nothing sharpens the obligation of a company to observe quality programme content than the fact that it might lose its licence. I am opposed to a too-cosy relationship that assumes that an independent television company can just carry on indefinitely. Sitting on the board of an independent television company I recognise that to apply to renew the licence is a very important discipline upon the board and the programme-makers.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, on the question that the noble Lord raised about the quality requirements, I believe that he should be made aware that in the White Paper at paragraph 6.11 where it refers to the protection requirements, it states specifically that it proposes,that Channel 3 should be subject to the following positive policy programme requirements".They are not and they need not be as extensive as those that are now governing ITV. So they are not as strong as the noble Lord appears to believe they are.
§ Lord Taylor of Gryfe
My Lords, I was saying, and I hope I am correct in this, that promised continuity of franchises is not always a good thing. It is an important discipline to companies that they have to 898 live up to their best obligations. Their obligations are spelled out in the hid which they make prior to the consideration of the financial features. However, that was not the main thrust of what I wish to say this evening. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, said that the geographical distribution will be decided by the ITA. I was not quite sure what that meant and perhaps the noble Earl can elucidate exactly what he meant.
Like noble Lords who have spoken in connection with regional television, there are great dangers in the White Paper in the increased centralisation of television and broadcasting generally. There are clear indications in the White Paper that many of the new services will he nationally based and without regional variation. I see in the White Paper a steady increase in centralisation. The proposed Channel 5, the satellite services, and the suggested separation of night hours from the existing ITV companies into separate franchises are all likely to be centralised channels. Similarly it appears that reception of the satellite services will be poorer and more expensive in the northern parts of Britain. That is all the more reason to ensure that ITV's regional structure and obligation is not weakened by excessive cost burdens and taxation.
I wish also to say something about the proposals as regards transmission. It is proposed that the transmission system be clarified and that there should be no cross-subsidisation such as enables independent television to reach the remotest corners of the country. Paradoxically, the largest and richest area (namely, London) requires the smallest number of transmitters. The distant parts of the country need several times that number in order to carry their broadcasts. Nothing in the White Paper indicates that arrangements will be made for this kind of cross-subsidisation which permits the regional companies to undertake these obligations in the future.
I now turn to the question of cross-media ownership. This is a matter that gives us some concern. The proposals on cross-media ownership need close examination. Perhaps we can have some assurance in this connection. It appears that a national newspaper group will be free to bid for or take over any regional company including, for example, Scottish or Tyne-Tees television. This is surely an undesirable state of affairs. There has been, and there should continue to be, clear separation between the control of newspapers and that of television stations. I recall that the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, who owned 55 per cent. of Scottish television at one stage—the notorious licence to print money—was commanded by the IBA under the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, to reduce his ownership of shares to 25 per cent. I believe it is right that that should be so.
I wish to say a few words about cable network companies because little has been said about them in this debate. One of the surprising things about this debate is that while many of us receive advice from all interested in this field, the only group that did not send me a briefing, despite the fact that my daughter is a programme controller of a cable company, was the cable network companies. The White Paper proposes separating the retailing of the programme channels on cable network from the construction and 899 operation of the network itself. This is like hiving-off British Rail to run the railways while someone else runs the trains. I believe that the service of cable television is so integrated in the provision of the service and the retailing of the programmes, that there are grave doubts as to whether these should be separated in that way. I commend to the Minister that this matter be looked at. After all, cable television is an infant system and there is very little experience in this area. There is a certain reluctance to invest in it. If one is to develop cable television one should not be putting obstacles of this kind in the way.
The total investment required to build the present cable franchises covering 6 million homes is more than £2 billion. It is more than the capitalisation of the ITV system. To cable up to 80 per cent. of the country will cost £5 billion. If investment is to be attracted—it is essentially long-term investment in this area—we must see that it is not to be impeded by some of the difficulties that are involved in the White Paper.
The rationale for a levy on Channel 3 appears to be based on broadcasters making use of a national resource, the frequency spectrum. But cable makes no such demands and a levy on the cable companies can hardly be justified at this infant stage. It has been mentioned in the debate as to how one can control the programmes that are coming into the country. The White Paper proposes that all satellite channels distributed on cable, including those from abroad, should have to have impartial news coverage. That appears to preclude cabling news coverage from the United States or the USSR, which might be regarded as certainly not impartial. I wonder whether that is taken note of and whether some amendment will be introduced to take care of that point.
Like everyone else who has spoken in the debate, and in particular the noble Lord, Lord Annan, I am afraid of people who are completely dogmatic on the future of television. It is a changing scene all the time. Although I opposed commercial television at the outset, it has turned out to be a beneficial system alongside the BBC. I hope that the House will look at the proposals with not too dogmatic a view.
§ 8 p.m.
§ Baroness Warnock
My Lords, I do not wish at this stage of the evening to waste the time of the House by adding to the general threnody on the hatchet job that is being done on the IBA, on the almost certain disappearance of the ITV companies and on—I think this is the saddest point of all—the absence of control of scheduling. It is almost two years to the day since your Lordships debated the Peacock Report. On that occasion I spoke about radio, and I want to say a few words about radio this evening. However, before doing so I should like to say a word in support of what the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, has just said about cable and the beginnings of the delivery of the cable service.
I was not absolutely certain about the proposal on cable television in paragraph 6.36 of the White Paper. In that paragraph we were reminded that the Cable 900 and Broadcasting Act 1984 gave broadcast cable operators a local monopoly in both the delivery and the retailing of services—that is to say, both in digging the holes in the road and putting in the cables and in offering the content of the channels to viewers and receiving money from advertising or subscription. The reason for the integration was there stated as the enormous investment that was required in laying the cables. Now the Government propose an almost entirely segregated service and to separate delivery from retailing. They propose that a levy should be imposed.
I find myself unable to understand how things have changed so radically since 1984. An enormous investment has still to be made in the delivery of broad-band cable, amounting to millions of pounds. I cannot see how any company can be expected to face this investment, still less to pay a levy, with no control over and no interest in the retailing of the product. It would be rather like asking Esso or BP to build oil rigs in the North Sea and provide the pipes but then forbidding them to have anything to do with the sale of petrol at the pump. I should be glad to have an assurance that the Government will think again about the separation of functions.
I should like to turn briefly to radio. The Government's approach to radio was revealed first in the Green Paper of 1987, and much of their current thinking is now embodied in the White Paper. For my part I greatly welcome the peeling off of radio from television. I have argued before, and still maintain, that radio is intrinsically important and must not be left lying in the shadow of its somewhat smarter younger sister, television. The introduction of independent local radio has been a great achievement. As a matter of fact, I believe that it was the former director of radio at the IBA who first, perhaps unwisely, gave currency in a newspaper article to the phrase, which has appeared almost embarrassingly frequently in the White Paper, "a lighter touch".
Independent national radio is greatly to be welcomed. It is a logical and natural addition to the local stations, which are entertaining and useful to a wide cross-section of the community. It is, however, a matter of regret that INR is being offered two left over medium wave frequencies from BBC Radio 1 and Radio 3. As one who has in recent years had appalling problems in hearing Radio 3, especially in the evenings, I wish that better medium wave frequencies could be found, though it is some consolation that a fresh VHF channel is to be offered. But that is not a complete solution, especially for those many people who want to listen to INR in the car while driving. It is difficult to get satisfactory VHF reception in a car. In any case I should like to suggest that the Government rethink the allocation of frequencies to the new independent national radio.
I should like to make a more radical point. Two years ago I said—and others said it too—that it would be sensible and an economic use of resources if the BBC gave up radio altogether. At that time about 33 per cent. of television licence income was spent on radio. We have heard this evening that the figure is now down to about 25 per cent. Judging by the BBC's accounts for 1987–88, the figure is at least 901 that and will probably remain so. We learn from the White Paper that the television licence is gradually to be phased out—at least this is part of the thinking. Bearing that in mind, it seems that it would increasingly make sense for the new radio authority to take over all radio—that is, for all radio to be independent, and funded by advertisements or by sponsorship, with a plurality of both national and local channels. It is important in our policy decisions not to be too much moved by our natural tendency to rest with what we have. We must not go to our graves defending Radio 4 as we have known and loved it.
The White Paper itself, though it still deploys the old fashioned and not very useful terminology of "public service broadcasting"—we have heard a good deal about public service broadcasting this evening —is moving towards replacing that concept with the different concept of consumer protection. The notion of public service broadcasting never served to distinguish BBC local radio from ILR. Both serve the public. Still less will that concept make any useful distinction between differently funded national channels. It may be that consumer protection, combined with the demand that the new national channels shall provide diversity, are the concepts that we need to ensure quality radio in the future. We may be able to abandon the old notion of the public service. Public service will be fully looked after by consumer protection and by diversity.
The notion of diversity, the demand that the channels should not be confined to a single uniform format, may in the future be a powerful weapon in the battle for broadcasting standards. But if we believe that—and I do—we must trust the public to want true diversity—not a simple variety of end-on music or chat shows but a variety that includes programmes both informative and educative. People must be trusted to want at least some programmes long enough for serious discussion, some plays that can explore a scene in depth and some current affairs programmes with news but discussion and information as well.
Many people enjoy those things: indeed, we all enjoy them, so we must trust that this will be included in the diversity of programming which will be wanted on radio. Because of the particular situations which people are in when they listen to the radio, it seems certain to me that we can have that trust. People want to be made to think by radio and want to be talked to as well as having music to listen to. Therefore I believe that diversity laid on the new national services as their duty and diversity in local programming, combined with consumer protection, will be enough to ensure quality. In the case of radio at any rate, which I think has many considerations going for it which are different from those we have to bear in mind in relation to television, I believe that that will be enough.
The White Paper, so far as it concerns radio, is on the whole both hopeful and imaginative, in my view. The most hopeful aspect of it is that there is still a lot of thinking to be done, as the paper itself acknowledges. So I end by urging those responsible for the provision and administration of radio to follow the example of both the Green Paper and the White Paper and to look ahead constructively and 902 with faith in the future of radio as a medium with its own utility, with its own standards and, in short, with a life of its own.
§ 8.11 p.m.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
My Lords, it seems that the noble Lord has not read the speakers' list correctly. I can understand the noble Lord being eager to get on with the job. After five and a quarter hours of talk and 20 speakers, I suppose that all that needs to be said has been said in terms of the advice that we give to my noble friend. I have been discarding points I had in mind which I thought were special because they have all been made, and made reasonably effectively.
I believe that we should congratulate the Government and my noble friend on the procedure they are adopting. As already made clear, the White Paper has been presented long before it can ever be turned into a statute in order to obtain other people's opinions and to share thoughts. This means, perhaps almost for the first time in a long time, we shall have Parliament expressing a view before the Bill itself has actually been committed to print. We have a responsibility therefore on this occasion, rather more so than on others, not to make Second Reading speeches of the type made, for example, by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter. I do not think that that was in keeping with the intention of the debate. The noble Lord is entitled to his point of view; he is entitled to be forceful in presenting it. But to make a Second Reading speech at this stage, before we actually have a Bill which means something, was a little off beam. The best example was set by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St. Albans who made his points very effectively while recognising that there was time for people to take account of what he was saying, as he hoped that they would.
Everything that I wanted to say having been said, it is only sensible that I should sit down. Indeed I shall do so within a very short time. I should like to reach a situation—I am asking my noble friend now to talk to his noble friend—where, in a debate of the same significance as this one, my name appears above the salt in the list instead of below. The only time I have had the good fortune to be in that position is when I have brought in my own private Bills. After 15 years one would like to feel that on the odd occasion one is among the early and not the late-comers in terms of making a contribution. If my noble friend takes advice—I know he means to—he will see to it that it is considered within the department.
I think my noble friend can take it fairly clearly that everyone is satisfied with the situation regarding the BBC. I believe everyone recognises that the BBC has its charter which takes it to 1996. It has a new team in charge, and it will have had the warning of what is entailed in the White Paper regarding ITV. It could well be that in the next eight years, as a consequence of knowing that it will have to justify itself when the charter comes to an end, that we may even get a better BBC.
I do not agree—it is very rarely that we disagree—with the noble Lord, Lord Willis. However, I hope that my noble friend will not take 903 the noble Lord's advice that the BBC should consider index-linking the fee. Those who lived through 1970—the whole of that period—will know the trouble that you can get into as a nation when you index-link anything in these days when inflation is as unstable as it can be.
So the BBC can be certain of being able to continue in its independent and very valuable way. I think that everyone agrees with that. Therefore, I do not think that my noble friend will have much problem in that respect when it comes to the actual presentation of the Bill giving effect to what is envisaged in the White Paper. But where he will have trouble, unless he pays heed, as my noble friend Lord Buxton pointed out, is the effect on the contribution in the meantime from the ITV companies and the question of whether or not we are being fair.
When we talk about British television being the best in the world—indeed, in no other country have I been as impressed as I am with the quality and general scope of British TV—we ought to remember that the ITV companies have contributed to that great reputation. It is not only the BBC that has made the world think that we are reasonably good at this; it is also the result of the contribution made as much by the ITV companies, and in many ways more so.
It is generally admitted that if the commercial companies had not come into being the BBC would not have had the extra jolt that caused it to improve its general presentation. If we say that we have attained a position of quality that we can be proud of and if we say that we recognise that and that therefore we shall not interfere with the BBC, I feel—my noble friend put it very clearly—that we must be equally fair to the ITV companies.
Those companies are in the position of a sitting tenant. They are there, they built something from nothing. Whatever the wonderful financial results some of them were supposed to have enjoyed at certain stages, they took risks. There was a very real danger in the early days as to whether those risks would bring any rewards at all. That fact should not be forgotten. In relation to such a change as this, I believe we have a duty to be fair.
I recognise that we are going to have Channel 5 with all the extra outlets that will be involved. I do not object to new people coming in from scratch and having to make a bid. The best bid should be the one that has the priority, once you have checked on the general standards as far as you can. I do not mind the Channel 5 extras having to go through the hoop of an auction and making their bid. But we should consider treating the existing ITV companies differently. If they do not come up to the standard we think that they should, and we want something better, let them be dismissed. We have done that in the past. We should not be setting a precedent. We should be able to evaluate the figure that should be paid for the extensions to the franchises in the way someone established the share values of British Steel and BP when they were privatised. We should recognise that the existing ITV companies are sitting tenants and that they are entitled to consideration for what they have done in the past in the same way as the BBC 904 is being dealt with. We should set the figure at that arrived at by advisers who can come to sensible conclusions after investigation.
I have heard every speech in the debate and one point which has come out clearly, and with which I agree strongly, is that the system will not work if we try to join the highest bid to a theoretical standard that will be laid down. That will work only if it is possible to calculate the extra money up to a certain percentage. When bids have been made, it is difficult to justify rejecting the highest, especially when the people who make that high bid give all the undertakings in the world that are wanted when the franchise is being issued. They will give the undertakings, truly believing that they will carry them out.
We have had many examples of where great names—leading actors and industrialists who have earned great reputations—were on the boards of some of the ITV companies. As soon as the franchise is granted, in some mystical way they are no longer on the board, and the companies are taken over by someone who is almost unknown. That will happen again if the Bill is based on the words that appear in the White Paper.
I beg my noble friend to use all his influence—his influence is great—within the deparment to see that when the Bill is prepared and we know what is likely to be in the statute, fair consideration is given to the legitimate demands of the people who helped to build the television reputation of which we are so proud today.
As I said, all the other points have been made. We shall have many opportunities to reinforce those about which we feel strongly. I urge the Government to be fair to the existing ITV companies when the new franchises are given. That is the point that I should especially like to impress upon my noble friend when he takes back the message from this short debate.
§ 8.24 p.m.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, after two minutes of his speech the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, wondered whether it was wise to go on. Those who read what he said will have to draw their own conclusions. He made an excellent Second Reading speech in a debate in which we do not have a Bill before us, and I congratulate him on that.
I wish to begin by declaring an interest in that I have an association with ACTT (the Association of Cinematograph and Television Technicians). I was somewhat disappointed to hear the gratuitous remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Arran, when he referred to the state of industrial relations in the television industry and used pejorative words such as "corruption" and "extortion". In his absence, I say that if he is referring to the wages structure in the industry he should recognise that it takes two to tango. Agreements are the product of negotiations. They are nothing more and they are nothing less.
I wish to congratulate the Minister, as other noble Lords have done, on the fairness and balance with which he introduced the debate. He has a persuasive style. The long delay in presenting the White Paper, which is a year behind schedule and it is well over two 905 years since the Peacock Report, is a result of the incoherence in government broadcasting policy (with a dogmatic urge to impose market forces tempered by ignorance of the broadcasting industry). The document still bears the marks of ambivalent thinking between the residual public service concerns of the Home Office and the free market imperatives of the DTI (together with their outside "advisers").
We all know that the main thrust of the White Paper is a move from programme-led to market-led broadcasting by means of deregulation. That is totally unsurprising.
The White Paper represents a supremely unconvincing attempt to reconcile an emphatic boost for market forces with purely rhetorical assurances on choice and quality of programming. The noble Lord, Lord Annan, effectively mocked their effectiveness. The strategy has clearly been formulated with the interests of broadcasting consumers in mind. Unfortunately, those consumers are the advertising industry; in no sense whatsoever did the White Paper seriously reflect or advance viewers' interests.
Commercial rather than programming criteria will be overwhelmingly predominant in broadcasting if the Government strategy is implemented. In that sense the White Paper does not seek just to devise means of introducing new media and new broadcasting outlets, which in themselves would be welcome; it consciously seeks to uproot and displace the broadcasting infrastructure which has given the United Kingdom one of its few genuine claims to he a world leader. Given the potential impact of the White Paper's proposals, it is remarkably lacking in serious economic analysis. It fails completely to address the issue of whether sufficient resources, especially advertising revenue, will be available to support the new free market in broadcasting. Without such an analysis the White Paper is reduced from being a blueprint for the future to a reckless gamble with one of the United Kingdom's few successful industries. That is inexcusable, and will be seen as such if the gamble is allowed to happen and to fail.
The White Paper already stands in contradiction in some important respects to the report earlier this year of the Conservative-dominated House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee. It has already attracted criticism from European broadcasters in the European Institute for the Media, which expressed concern that the United Kingdom television system would be dismantled in response to short-sighted sectoral pressures. Neither of those bodies can be accused of self-interest, and the views expressed indicate the present depth of concern about the future of British broadcasting.
Much has already been said about the auctioning of franchises. That system will produce a number of problems. First, auctioning will put great financial pressure on ITV companies seeking to retain their franchises, especially given the inevitable competition from much larger major conglomerates which are currently without any public service obligations and which could afford to bid for franchises as loss leaders. ITV companies will 906 therefore seek to accumulate as much as possible from existing franchises.
In order to bid for future franchises they may begin to adopt "profit-maximising programming strategies." That was noted in the journal, Broadcast, of November. They will increase those programme types which make the greatest contribution to profits and reduce those which make the least contribution. Yorkshire, for example, has already moved to measure the profit performance of differing programme departments.
Given the lack of financial detail in the White Paper, there is as yet no realistic basis on which to estimate the size of the franchise bids required, although a figure of £300 million has been quoted for a franchise such as Thames. It is certain, however, that the auctioning system is wide open to abuse, with the possibility of collusion among supposedly rival bidders to carve up the ITV system between them; and the alternative tactic of unrealistically high bids designed to kill off the competition, with the option of selling out or defaulting even on minimum programme promises in mid-franchise. Whatever the exact form of the auction, it is certain to divert much needed resources to the Exchequer which otherwise could have been used for programming. The incentive for any potential franchise holder is to put maximum resources into the initial bid, and thereafter minimum resources into programming in order to recoup its investment. There is absolutely no guarantee in the White Paper that the auctioning process would be open to public scrutiny or subject to any adequate requirement on disclosure of information.
Let me encapsulate my views on the changes in the levy system. The current levy on profits is to be replaced by a levy on advertising revenue. The exact level of the levy will be announced when the new licences are advertised. The current system is an incentive to spend money up front on quality programming. A revenue-based levy is likely to have the opposite effect and to discourage high-budget programming.
The question of takeovers has already been referred to. The ITC will have no powers to block Stock Market takeovers of ITV companies in mid-franchise, although the new owners will supposedly have to satisfy the programming tests, (the quality threshold) and the owner regulations. In the past the IBA has been able to block proposed takeovers, for example Rank and Granada; Carlton and Thames.
The possibility of takeovers builds an additional degree of uncertainty into the system. It further undermines the credibility of commitments made by bidders for franchises who have the option of selling out in mid-franchise if business proves insufficiently lucrative.
Perhaps I may say a word about the publishing style franchises. A very significant proposal is that which allows franchise holders to contract-out all their programme-making and to operate on a commissioning basis like Channel 4. This is not compulsory but is offered as an option. It clearly subordinates programme-making (left to a very uncertain market) to commercial criteria. Such a 907 development, if it were to happen, is likely to lead to a very significant concentration of ownership in the independent sector, with a handful of major independents dominating the market and operating on a very different basis from the small production companies working within Channel 4's regulated market and distinctive programming remit.
Apart from the obvious implications of casualisation of the labour force and the loss of centres of production excellence, this proposal runs completely counter to the Government's own rhetoric of supporting regional television in ITV. If ITV in-house production in the regional centres is allowed to be run down, it may be replaced to a large extent by independents based not in the region itself but in London and the South-East. That is the harsh economic reality of the independent sector.
I do not intend to take up much more of your Lordships' time. I shall simply conclude with a word on radio. The problems for radio, in my view, will be immense. There will be inadequate revenue. There is little evidence to suggest that sufficient advertising revenue will be available to support a potentially vast extension of radio to any adequate level. In the White Paper I believe that two fundamental points emerge. Despite the rhetorical commitment to quality and a choice of programming, the proposals effectively dismantle the regulatory and financial structure which has so far guaranteed this, and which is recognised to have done so thoughout the world.
Beyond the dogmatic free market ideology and the obsession with new technology there is no serious economic analysis of the likely consequences of these proposals. What is offered is not a plan for the future but a gamble, with the entire UK broadcasting system at stake. I very much hope that the Government are still of a mind to listen to the views expressed not only in this House but from industry, not least from those people who work in the industry.
§ 8.35 p.m.
My Lords, I rise briefly to support the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, with all the strength I can on the issue of religious broadcasting, as I have done on previous occasions. It seems to me, as one of the vice-presidents of the Christian Broadcasting Council, and to the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, as well as members of our council, that it is incredible that this ban on religious advertising persists when it has been estimated that some 76 per cent. of the population of Britain claim to be Christian and that, for example, programmes such as "Songs of Praise", which I am sure that many noble Lords look at, have received an 85 per cent. appreciation.
As some noble Lords may recall, I raised this matter in a Starred Question on 8th July this year. The reply I received was that the ban on religious advertising contained in Schedule 2(8) of the Broadcasting Act 1981 was of long standing, that successive authoritative committees had continued to recommend its retention and that there were no plans to relax the ban. When I pointed out—as indeed did the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, when he referred to 908 this matter—that most of the Commonwealth and European countries had no such ban, I was told that relaxation of the ban would probably lead to a flood of undesirable programmes from such bodies as the Moonies and other sects. That may be so, but the countries concerned feel that the risk is well worth taking. It is probably only in the United States of America that such sects have made any significant headway.
To review the situation in rather more detail, I know that the French have laid down that television stations must broadcast religious programmes on Sunday mornings. Spain has just passed a law which does not restrict religious broadcasting in any way. By "broadcasting" I refer to both television and sound broadcasting. Italian broadcasting has been completely deregulated. As for the Commonwealth, the Australian Broadcasting Commission carries what could broadly be termed religious advertising. The Federal Republic of Germany does not restrict religious advertising in any way. New Zealand is currently redrawing its laws which ban advertising on Sunday. That ban extends to religious broadcasting generally, but most of the programmes are confined to Sunday. Surely we should consider in rather more detail the effect of this unrestricted arrangement in our own country. It seems to me unthinkable that we should persist in our stubborn attitude and forbid all such advertising.
Further, I warmly welcome the formation of the Broadcasting Standards Council under the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg. I also welcome the inclusion of broadcasting within the umbrella of the obscenity legislation. The appointment of the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, has indeed come as an answer to the maiden's prayers of various organisations like CARE, the National Council for Christian Standards in Society, the National Family Council, the Conservative Family Campaign, and perhaps other bodies too. I am associated with all of those bodies. As many of your Lordships know, those bodies have been campaigning for a very long time in the fight against violence and sex on television. I shall not go into details here because I discussed this matter in our previous debate on broadcasting. I am quite prepared to admit that it is very difficult to pinpoint any particular programme as having an undesirable effect.
However, I think that most of us who listen to radio, and particularly those of us who watch television, would agree that some kind of body, such as that which the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, will head, is very desirable. I do not in any way share the view of various noble Lords who seem to feel that we do not need controls of this kind. I conclude by saying that I and many other noble Lords greatly look forward to the work which the council of the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, will, we hope, be able to undertake.
§ 8.41 p.m.
§ Lord Colwyn
My Lords, before making the few brief remarks that I had intended to make this evening—I promise to be brief at this late hour—I must apologise to my noble friend the Minister for 909 missing his speech earlier this afternoon, and indeed to those other noble Lords whose speeches I did not hear. At this time of year my profession is particularly busy, and I was not able to be here until much after half past six.
Being one of the last speakers I anticipate that everything has been said, but I have the advantage of not having heard much of it. I hope that the Minister will take any repetitions that I may make as particularly forceful arguments in our debate this evening. With a few reservations, I welcome this White Paper. I am sure that its basic principle is correct, that consumers should be able to choose which television service they wish to enjoy, and that, as far as possible, the provision of those services should be determined by normal market forces.
I believe that the White Paper has correctly identified the kind of regulatory regime which will be appropriate for the television market of the 1990s. And I am delighted that the Government feel it is necessary to oblige the terrestrial independent channels to provide a diverse programme service, including news, current affairs and, on Channel 3, a strong regional service. I am also delighted that there will be restrictions on the use of non-EC material.
I also welcome the proposal to make independent television companies subject to the normal workings of the Stock Exchange, and to the disciplines that will flow from this change. I agree with the suggested rules on media ownership and hope that all the points included in the White Paper will eventually be included in the legislation. In short, I know that the independent television companies will welcome competition. I believe that both viewers and advertisers will benefit from most of the changes described in the White Paper.
However, I also believe that certain key proposals will seriously endanger the prospect of achieving the Government's basic objectives. The combination of putting the Channel 3 licences out to tender, the proposed progressive levy, and the separation of Channel 4 from Channel 3 will so damage the economic base of Channel 3 that the service it is able to provide will be fundamentally changed. The most likely result will be the effective restoration of the BBC monopoly, and the loss both of any serious alternative news service and of a meaningful regional programme service. I am assured that, had the White Paper proposals been in effect this year, the five major ITV companies, who provide most of the British-made programmes on ITV, would have had to reduce their expenditure on programmes by around £100 million, or nearly 25 per cent., in order to maintain their present profitability. A cutback of this kind would have reduced the appeal of ITV's service to the viewers, and enhanced the appeal of the BBC.
I believe this is what would happen in 1993 if the White Paper proposals on auction, levy and Channel 4 are implemented unchanged. The effect would be exacerbated by competition from the new channels. I hope that it is not the Government's intention effectively to restore the dominance of the BBC. To preserve Channel 3, as a well resourced rival to the BBC, two principles are required. First, the Government should take a moderate rather than 910 excessive amount of money from the channel through the levy and auction processes. Secondly, changes in ownership of the franchises should occur without destabilising the whole system.
The London Weekend Television proposal for licence renewal on the payment of an agreed fee to the Government, while allowing normal takeover of companies on the Stock Exchange, achieves both of these ideals. The White Paper has acknowledged the strength of this proposal by allowing licence renewal on this basis to take place in 1998. It is difficult to see why licence renewal might be satisfactory in 1998 but not in 1992. I should be grateful if the Minister could indicate whether this proposal does not indeed make more sense, so that licence renewals could be implemented in 1992, thus abandoning the proposal to put the ITV franchises out to tender—here I agree, probably for the first time ever in this House, with the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton—and maintaining the present link between Channel 3 and Channel 4.
Finally, while declaring an interest in and a love of jazz, I ask my noble friend the Minister to comment on the IBA's present stated intention that any proposed new radio station in London will be limited to a 12 kilometre radius from the transmitting aerial. It is possible that the Minister feels that Capital Radio and LBC effectively fulfil the terms of the 1981 radio legislation, and that all additional stations are of secondary importance.
The effectiveness of any new station—I hope to be associated with the new proposed London Jazz Radio Station—would be severely limited when only half the population of London would be able to receive the signal. I hope that the Minister will be able to agree with me that, while encouraging competition, the new opening up of the airwaves will also herald a new era when a wider range of musical preferences will become available and thus correct the present imbalance inherent in the 1981 Act.
§ 8.47 p.m.
My Lords, were it not for the presence of the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, below my name on the Speakers' List, we would now be scraping at the very bottom of the bottomless pit of expertise in your Lordships' House, to which the noble Earl referred in his truly excellent opening speech.
The noble Earl put the proposals to us in the very best possible light. I wish to ask him at the outset whether his presence today, in charge of this debate as a Home Office Minister, and the fact that he told us that his right honourable friend the Home Secretary is very anxious to hear our views, entitles me to assume that the battle which has been raging between the Home Office and the Department of Trade and Industry as regards which department should have control of broadcasting, has finally been won by the Home Office? If it has, I personally should be grateful to hear that news.
It would be both impossible and indeed inappropriate to endeavour to draw together all the strands which have run through this important and 911 very complex debate. I shall not attempt to do so, save to say that we have heard speech after speech today from noble Lords with vast experience and unequalled expertise in this field. Not one of those noble Lords has found the Government's proposals wholly acceptable. Indeed, most of those noble Lords expressed grave anxieties as to the likely consequences of the implementation of these proposals.
My principal concern is the likely effect of these proposals on the regions. That is a matter which has been referred to by many noble Lords, some of whom perhaps not entirely knowing what they meant by "regional broadcasting". However, I say at once that the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, made it utterly clear that he knew, as did the noble Lord, Lord Buxton of Alsa. It is about regionalism that I wish to talk and I shall return to it later.
First, I should like to say a few words about the Government's proposals in general. I agreed with every word of the speech of my noble friend Lord Bonham-Carter from the Front Bench here. I see no conflict in the fact that, although I agree with every word that he said, I also welcome much that is contained in the White Paper. But, like other noble Lords, I have some misgivings.
With regard to the BBC, I would wholly endorse the words of the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, and I welcome the prospect, however remote, of somehow escaping from the licence fee system. I have always felt that the necessity for the BBC every few years to have to go cap in hand to the government of the day for an increase in the licence fee made it dangerously dependent upon the government in a way which I think undermines the purpose of the charter. So I would welcome a change. But a change to what—to subscription television? The technology is not yet sufficiently advanced to make that a reality. Experience with satellite television may take us further and show whether subscription can provide a proportion of the BBC's resources; but it cannot and should not provide the whole.
Before leaving the BBC, let me underline the importance I attach to radio. Here I endorse very much the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, that radio is absolutely crucial. The noble Earl told us that that subject had been dealt with in another Green Paper; but let nobody think that because we are talking largely about television some of us do not regard radio and the radio service as absolutely vital to the nation and to the community. Let me just add this in regard to radio. If we are to have three national independent radio channels, it is absolutely essential that at least one, and probably two, of those new national channels should be based outside London: in other words. in the regions. To base them again in London I believe would be disastrous.
Perhaps I may just repeat a criticism in regard to radio of that great institution, the BBC. It is the most desperately overmetropolitanised organisation I have ever encountered. In an earlier debate I told your Lordships of an experience of mine. Many of you may have heard it, but I shall repeat it because I 912 think it is important. Many years ago when I was in another place I had occasion to complain about the arrangements which were being made and about the delay in opening the new regional BBC headquarters in Manchester. That was at the time when the BBC had regions, although they were later abolished.
I complained, and so did Mr. Alfred Morris, who was then the Member of Parliament for Wythenshawe. The then Postmaster-General, who I think was the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, said that that was a matter for the BBC and that he would arrange for us to have a meeting. He did: and so what happened? I and Mr. Alfred Morris got on a train in Manchester with Mr. Bob Stead, the BBC's northern regional controller at the time. We travelled to London to go to the BBC's headquarters in Portland Place to have a meeting about its northern regional headquarters, an important place. Then we travelled back to Manchester. It had never occurred to anybody that people who were concerned about the regions actually lived in them.
I repeat that if we are to have this upheaval in broadcasting as a whole, I am rather sorry that the opportunity of lessening that overmetropolitanisation of the BBC has not been seized.
Turning now to other aspects of the White Paper, I also think that the auction over the franchises is an absurd proposal. It is not only undesirable but, as has been admirably illustrated by the noble Lord, Lord Buxton of Alsa, it is unworkable as well. I believe that it should be abandoned.
I agreed very much with the noble Lord, Lord Willis, that more channels do not necessarily mean more choice. As he rightly said, in New York you have a choice between any one of 13 channels—13 old films, or perhaps 13 different quiz games. I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Willis, that it is almost certain that there will not be sufficient advertising revenue available to support all these new channels which are envisaged in the White Paper; and of course if it does not support them, the consequences could be disastrous. I also have some doubt as to whether the necessary talent needed to support all these new channels actually exists. However, if it does, I believe it exists at the moment untapped in the regions and it is there that such talent will have to be found.
What under these proposals is going to happen to the regions? We have already heard that the White Paper's proposals, if adopted, would immediately render at least five of the present ITV companies economically unviable. Let us look at the regional companies, including Border. That is a company which the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, has praised very warmly, very frequently and very recently. It would disappear. So indeed would some of the other regional companies.
I have had a letter from my friend Mr. David Plowright, who is the chairman of Granada Television—a letter which has been sent to many noble Lords. It is perhaps worth pointing out that Mr. David Plowright actually lives in the Granada area, and always has done. In the same way, the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, as chairman of Anglia, lived in the Anglia area. It does not always happen, but it is 913 so in the case of Mr. Plowright, and he says this in his letter:The Government has indicated an intention to relax or remove the regulatory controls. Were this to be fully implemented, the inevitable result would be a downward spiral of programme standards as each channel strove to maximise its audience on the American pattern".He goes on to say that regionalism would be an early victim.
I return now to the subject of regionalism. What do we mean by regional television? I suspect that some noble Lords when they talk about regional television are really talking about parochial television. They are assuming somehow that if something is happening in Bolton it is of desperate interest to the people who live in Wilmslow. It is of no more interest to them than if it were to be happening in Bournemouth or Bognor Regis. That is local broadcasting; not regional broadcasting. The whole object of regional television and regional broadcasting, is to give a regional flavour to universal themes, to look at national and international events through regional eyes—not just to have little local programmes that are interesting to people because they are about things that are happening in the next street.
The most menacing part of the proposals in the White Paper concerns the likely consequence for the regions. I say again that I have grave doubts as to whether sufficient advertising revenue will be available to support all these channels. However, I also believe that the only way of unearthing the talent necessary to maintain standards on all these channels is to provide sufficient opportunities in the regions. Why on earth should talented people in Newcastle, Merseyside or Manchester, if they want an opportunity to use their creative ability, have to move to London?
We do not wish to see the eclipse of the regional stations. In particular we do not want to see the eclipse of the contribution of the regional stations to the national network. That contribution is an immensely important one to the national network and there is no provision for its continuation under the proposals in the White Paper. The noble Earl has told us that the Home Secretary will listen and consider what we have said, and I certainly hope that he listens and considers and that he thinks again.
§ 8.59 p.m.
§ Lord Ardwick
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord because he too comes from Manchester and I share his views about regional broadcasting. I must congratulate the Government on the format of the White Paper—a beautiful printing job with colour too and in the spirit of the age they might easily have got Saatchi and Saatchi to defray the costs by selling advertising space in it or perhaps Philips or Sony to sponsor it. However, my congratulations are limited. Like the noble Lord, Lord Annan, I find the arguments confused, though my imagery is rather different from his. He was talking about Britannia; I saw it as God vainly trying to reconcile himself with Mammon, if those terms are not too extreme to describe the Home Office and the DTI.
914 The revolution in broadcasting which it presages arouses both hopes and fears. The hopes are in the hearts of the entrepreneurs, if they have such tender organs, and in some of the Ministers of this Government. The punters, if I may so describe the viewers and listeners, are waiting to see what happens and waiting with unbated breath. The fears are in the broadcasters and all those consumers of broadcasting who write or think about broadcasting and its impact upon us as individuals and upon the quality of our society. The fears have been reflected in our debate today much more strongly than the hopes. Even the noble Lords on the other side of the House who spoke in favour of the White Paper did not boil over with enthusiasm and I think that all of them had some reservation to make. The Government see the revolution as affording the public more choice, but choice, if it is to mean anything, must mean not simply that there are more programmes to see and hear but that there are more programmes of first-class quality. Those of us who are fearful can see a possibility of the competition for audiences and revenue pulling down the best broadcasting and in fact diminishing real choice. As several speakers have already mentioned, only those of us who have sat before the screens in America with a remote control in hand, switching despairingly from channel to channel in the hope of catching something worth watching, know from experience that a multi-channel system can mean that there is less effective choice.
The noble Lord, Lord Annan, was as critical as other noble Lords on this side of the House, but I thought that he was unwilling to predict disaster because in the past many dire predictions about broadcasting have been happily belied. I pray that he is right on this occasion, for the Government are doing a minimum to protect broadcasting standards. By that I do not mean to imply that we are in for a new era of pornography, murder and mayhem. The firm and chaste hand of the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, brandishing the newly forged Excalibur will certainly keep lust and sadism within bounds if not completely at bay.
What the Government are failing to protect is the high quality of British broadcasting. Indeed they are setting conditions which are likely to lead to lower standards that will provide the new entrants with the promise of easier profits. Of course the Government have a difficult problem. The technical revolution will not go away. We cannot turn our backs on it. The problem is how to steer the revolution and how to time it so that the good, existing system has a chance of keeping up its standards of quality. Indeed, the first question that the Government should have asked is: How in this new age of broadcasting do we maintain the quality of a system which admittedly has fewer channels than have some other countries yet which has more items of quality? How do we shelter it from the stormy blast?
The Government have not asked that question. They have asked how many more channels can we obtain and how quickly. The more there are, the merrier the cash tills will ring. What incentives can we offer to the newcomer—those whom my noble friend Lord Willis has happily called the "aerial invaders".
915 In his day John Reith was frank about the BBC's first miracle. It was achieved, he said, by the brute force of monopoly. Let us admit it, the BBC and Independent Television have achieved excellence by their quasi-monopoly, which it is now fashionable to call a duopoly. It is just 50 years this year since John Reith left the BBC. It was only a cottage industry that he left behind. Most of us in this Chamber were the beneficiaries of his Puritan resolution to provide the best. Like me, other noble Lords will have dim memories now of how we explored the foundations of music with Walford Davies or the ramifications of international affairs with Vernon Bartlett; or how we cultivated our gardens under the directions of Mr. Middleton. And we all listened to the Nine O'Clock News, copyright by Reuter, the Press Association, the Exchange Telegraph and the Central News.
Put to the test, the BBC has flourished remarkably in its competition with ITV. It has matched game show for game show, soap opera for soap opera and pop group for pop group. In order to justify a compulsory universal licence fee, it has had to provide a compulsive universal programme to cater for everyone all the time. Yet despite the razzmatazz something of the Reith tradition has survived generation after generation of broadcasters. Though its sins be scarlet, surely its large and unique virtues redeem the corporation. There seems to be a spirit guiding the BBC ethos, Peter Black has written, and the corporation does the right thing by tradition and by accident.
So the BBC has remained a cherished institution so highly regarded that we can joke about it. That is why the Government have resisted the temptation to wring its neck and throw it to the dogs. They agree with the Home Affairs Committee that the BBC is still and will remain for the foreseeable future the cornerstone of British broadcasting. I would rather describe it as the rock on which British broadcasting has been built. However, as it is called a cornerstone, I want to deal with it first, though the strains to be put upon it will not be nearly so severe as those put upon our current independent television.
As the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, reminded the House, the Government expect the BBC to provide high quality programmes across the full range of public taste and interest including programmes of popular appeal, minority interest, education, information, cultural material, and so on. Nevertheless, we must regard the BBC as a threatened species. It can keep its licence system until the mid-1990s, though it will be reduced in value in real terms. Meanwhile, it must experiment with subscription television as a supplement to the diminished income from licence fees. In fact the Government look forward to the eventual replacement of the licence fee.
By what, my Lords? They do not tell us. By advertising? By sponsorship? Surely not by government subsidy. Certainly the BBC cannot live by voluntary subscriptions alone. Nor could any commercial system living by this means offer one quarter of what the BBC now gives us for £1.20 per family per week—the best commercial broadcasting 916 bargain on earth. The BBC is what it is and does what it does because its subscription fee—which we call a licence—is universal and compulsory. Set it to compete on a voluntary basis with commercial subscription services and pay television and it will vigorously and successfully compete. But it will inevitably be diminished in size, in universality and in quality. The cornerstone of British broadcasting would be greatly eroded.
The BBC is playing it long and cool. Perhaps it feels that there will be no strong public reaction on its side until the new competitors are revealing either their shortcomings or their costliness. Perhaps by the time the long-term future of the BBC is to be considered we shall have a new government with a different outlook; or the Conservative Party will have abandoned its current 19th century liberal radicalism and reverted to a nobler tradition—a Tory Party which did not always put profit first, but which usually respected culture, feared anarchy and had a deep concern for the national ethos.
The other half of our television is presented by ITV. It has shown how profit can be made by commercial concerns which provide a public service. Just as the BBC has matched it for every facet of popular entertainment, ITV has rivalled the BBC for the excellence of its news and documentary programmes, its serious interviews and its theatre. It has rivalled the BBC simply because it has been made to do so by the authority. This process has been well described by Mr. Ian Martin who has looked after the arts and documentaries at Thames Television for 20 years. He said:The IBA's job has been to nag us into doing programmes we might have thought too expensive, or not likely to get a big enough audience, and to do them whenever possible in peak time—all those things that are loosely lumped under the public service heading.—
Without the IBA's constant nagging there would be no 'World in Action', no 'This Week', no 'News at Ten', no 'South Bank Show' or regular weekly documentaries or single plays". The body that exerted these rewarding pressures on commercial television is to be destroyed by this Government and a body with a lighter touch is to replace it and supervise all terrestrial television except that put out by the BBC.
Why was the current authority not given command of the new commercial system? I can only suppose that the Government thought it incapable of wielding a light hand after its years of experience of positive and creative regulation.
I wonder also whether the Government have thought through the technical problems of the transition. That was ably expounded by the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, this afternoon. The positive programme requirements for Channel 3 are indeed thin. These stations are required to show regional programmes, including some locally made ones, and high quality news and current affairs in main viewing periods. I wonder whether the main viewing period necessarily means peak hours.
The general directive is to provide,a diverse programme service calculated to appeal to a variety of tastes and interests".This could mean almost any kind of programme service except the specialist programme to a specialist audience such as one finds in cable television: for 917 example, an all-sport or all-music programme. The directive does not mean that the aim of Channel 3 must be to give the best and most comprehensive service to the widest public. It does not mean the retention of a strong public interest motive in Channel 3, Channel 5 and Channel 6. It does not mean that these channels must entertain, inform and educate; and it does not apply to the satellite services.
The White Paper says that the more competitive future,must be achieved without detriment to the variety, range and quality of programme services and without debasing the content of programmes".This cannot be done. The range and quality of services we now enjoy from ITV are dependent not only on the regulation of the authority but also on the profits which make costly programmes possible. Riches and regulations are the conditions, the essentials, of high quality commercial broadcasting.
To believe that we can have in this country as many as 40 channels in the next few years, and that they will be able to maintain themselves without strain almost entirely by advertising, one would have to think that advertising revenue is infinitely elastic, stretching to fill every opportunity that is offered. Indeed, like my noble friend Lord Willis, I do not believe that it is capable of that expansion. I see even the best companies fighting like mad to win a mass audience that will satisfy their peak hour advertisers. That will not lead to television of the highest class, to put it mildly. Like everybody who has spoken today—everybody—I am appalled by the prospect of an auction for the franchises. It is true that the aspirants will have to show that they have the best of intentions about their programmes and only when they have passed that test will the bidding begin. It has been compared mockingly with a beauty contest after which the successful contestants will have to enter a second round in which they will be judged by the size of their dowries.
How on earth can a company estimate the profitability that a channel is likely to provide in an entirely new and revolutionary commercial climate? Will the existing companies, which give us excellent television and which have built up expert staffs, be able to compete with enormously rich outsiders who can afford to gamble? That problem has been put time after time in this debate and clearly it is one for the Government to consider deeply. As the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, has said, it is outrageous that existing companies should have to submit sealed bids against companies that have nothing to lose. He is not against the White Paper but he describes it as it is, a White Paper for tycoons, if I understood him correctly from the other side of the Chamber.
The Government's naivety or crassness is shown again in their belief that there is a strong case for Channel 4 raising its own advertising revenue, again in this unknowable commercial climate. It is still asked by the Government to provide good original television which caters for tastes not properly served by other parts of the commercial sector. Yet how can it do this if it has to ask before every item, "What will its effect be on the advertiser? Will he really want to buy time before or after this programme?"
918 The White Paper has no confidence in the solution. It gets itself almost into a nervous breakdown on this issue, arguing that if the channel stayed in the public sector insulated from market disciplines it might be vulnerable to sterile elitism or precious self-indulgence. The White Paper says that if it is a private company maximising its profits it might be tempted to weaken its remit.
So the Government throw up their hands and ask us all for our views on what should be done. I do not envy the noble Earl his task of answering the debate. The weight of opinion here on the White Paper is sceptical or hostile. Fortunately, as has already been said, this is a White Paper strongly tinged with green. The Government will have time to think about the criticisms and the counter-proposals that they have heard today and will hear elsewhere. Let them set dogma and ideology aside and put the good of the people before the profits of the entrepreneur and the cupidity of the Treasury. Let them remember that if we are all taxpayers benefiting from the levy going into the Exchequer, we are also all viewers who might lose quality by it.
Let the Government stop pretending that the interests of commercial television companies and advertising agents are always the same as the interests of the people. They are not. Let them consider their timing. Could they not defer legislation until the four channels have learned to compete with the satellite operators?
As I said earlier, the Government are faced with a difficult problem, but the solutions that the White Paper offers are neither credible nor acceptable. They must think again and I believe they are willing to think and think more deeply. They must remember that they are dealing with a medium which has a great effect on the national spirit, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St. Albans pointed out. The Conservatives at present stand in danger of going down in history as the government who created and inherited a system of British broadcasting which was the envy of the world and yet allowed it to be wrecked.
§ 9.19 p.m.
My Lords, this has been, as one would have expected, a fascinating debate: one in which your Lordships have been able to divest yourselves of a fund of information and advice. The White Paper has not been the cause of criticism of either the BBC or ITV. The White Paper has tried to say, "Here is a problem. We are moving into a new era. How can we adjust ourselves so as to make the best possible use of the facilities which will be at our disposal?".
The noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, said that the BBC was a threatened species. I do not know where he gathered that information but it was not from the White Paper. The possibility may have been mooted that at some time in the future the BBC might not rely for the whole of its income on the licence fee. If that is the cause of the noble Lord's belief that the BBC is a threatened species, I can say only that I am surprised.
919 The noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, made it clear that he did not like the White Paper. He said that in respect of Channel 4 the Government threw up their hands in horror and asked people for their opinion. That is a perfectly justifiable action. One can imagine what the noble Lord would have said if the Government had come forward with a Bill saying, "This is what we propose to do". The noble Lord would have said, "You have not consulted".
We have produced a White Paper and have said, "This is our intention. There are certain possibilities in certain areas and we should like the advice of noble Lords, Members in another place and people in the country". For doing so, we are described by the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, as having thrown up our hands. It is the process of consultation, and a very proper one, too.
The noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, said that everyone had criticised the White Paper and the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, said that everyone had had reservations. That is not surprising when one moves into a totally new era. I did not expect all noble Lords to say, "Yes, these are the parts we agree with". Of course noble Lords do not; they rise and say, "These are the parts of the White Paper about which we have apprehensions and reservations".
We all must accept the fact that television and radio are potent influences in our modern life. On average, British people watch three-and-a-half to four hours of television per day. I am bound to say that I do not do so by virtue of my privilege of addressing your Lordships from time to time. However, other people do so and it is important that we should get it right. Even school children spend three hours per day in front of the box. Television gives prominence to programmes and personalities and for many people they become part of everyday life. In some ways the relationship between the radio and the listener is even more intimate. For many people, radio is not merely a source of entertainment and information but a good friend.
For all those reasons we must try to get it right. However, "getting it right" does not necessarily mean preserving the status quo. British broadcasting has had notable successes. As many noble Lords have said, it is the envy of many other countries. I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, admitted that change is on the way and that our problem is how best to achieve it.
The Government have produced a White Paper with green edges. The noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, has chivvied us for the green edges but I hope that he will not chivvy us for the White Paper. At least it has given the House an opportunity to consider what should be done. In the kind of climate which exists, the Government's proposals are necessarily far reaching. They attempt to create a sensible but flexible framework which encompasses all the aspects of the broadcasting industry with the minimum necessary restrictions on each part.
It is not a question, as the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, suggested, of the more the merrier and the better the cash tills will ring. Within the framework the kind of innovation and creative programme 920 which is British broadcasting at its best will be able to make the most of the new opportunities which are available. Independent producers have brought in fresh talent and the White Paper envisages a growing role for them.
The success or failure of the new technologies will depend upon performance in the market without artificial interference by the Government, and diversity and competition will feed off each other. Our proposals are carefully designed to ensure that that is not done at the expense of quality.
Many noble Lords were concerned about standards. The noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, referred to that as window dressing. When we produced this White Paper I hoped that we should take the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, along with us. After all, this is something which gives freedom to people and encourages them to use their inititative. I was disappointed by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter—only what he put in it and not the fact that it was he who made it. I begin to think that, if I ever find that the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, agrees with the Government, then they have probably got it wrong. On this occasion he said that it was a false presentation and political gerrymandering. That is extravagant language even for the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter. He said that television would be put into the hands of the highest bidder, into the money bags and into the supporters of the Conservative Party. If the noble Lord is sufficiently ingenious to read that into the White Paper then I believe that he must have a very ferret-like mind that tends to go down the wrong holes.
Perhaps I may say that the noble Lord contradicted himself. At one stage he said that standards would go down the drain and then he said that members of the Conservative Party were the self-appointed guardians of our lives. It seems to me that those two are not exactly consonant with each other. At one moment he said that it would be a free-for-all where success would go to the highest bidder and then he said that this was a rigidly doctrinaire policy. When the noble Lord reads his speech and perhaps when he makes his next speech, he will have to decide which horse he is going to ride because he cannot ride both.
He gave us a very interesting and amusing glossary when he referred to the BSC. He introduced the new verb "to mogg", which he said was to bowdlerise. That should have been part of the glossary or dictionary because I was not quite certain what he meant by that. I thought that he might have included two other words in his glossary; namely, "ostrich", which is one who puts his head into the sand and pulls it out, and "Bonham-Carter", which is one who puts his head in the sand but does not pull it out.
A number of your Lordships were concerned about standards. That is a legitimate area of concern. When change comes about as it is likely to come about, everyone is quite correctly concerned about standards and how they will be achieved. The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, was particularly concerned that standards would be lowered because of competitive tenders. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St. Albans was concerned about standards, as was the 921 noble Lord, Lord Annan, who said that we should look again at the matter because the standards were weak as did the noble Lord, Lord Willis.
I should like to put this matter to your Lordships as clearly as possible. There will be quality tests which will include consumer protection requirements and these matters about which we have all talked; that is, taste, decency, accuracy and balance. They will be part of the essential first hoop through which any applicant has to go. However, quality tests go further. As I explained, each channel will be required to show certain programmes which have been produced in its own region and the service must appeal to a variety of tastes and interests. In putting forward the menu of what will be done, each licensee must show that high quality news and current affairs will be shown. All those will form, if I may use this word, the "menu" which the applicant will have to put forward before he is entitled even to make a bid. It is only when he has passed those tests that the ITC will say, "You have passed those tests. You may now put in a bid". Therefore, it is up to the ITC to ensure that the standards are sufficiently high.
The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, asked whether satellite broadcasting would be subject to local control. All satellite services originating from the United Kingdom will be subject to regulation by the ITC and all consumer protection requirements will apply. Foreign satellite services will be controlled by the proposed Council of Europe Convention and the proposed offence of advertising on unacceptable satellite services.
The noble Lord, Lord Blease, asked about the monitoring of television. This will be done by the ITC which will have sanctions to apply if there are breaches. The monitoring will also be done more strategically by the Broadcasting Standards Council which will pass comment about any programmes which give it serious concern. Of course, in the end the ITC has the right to remove licences. Those are pretty stout standards and they are continuing standards.
The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, and the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, referred to the lighter touch. All that means is that there is less intervention in the scheduling, but not in previewing programmes, and that there is less bureaucracy. However, the ITC will enforce quality tests through warnings and directions and possible licence withdrawal. The ITC will also interpret the proposed quality test. That is how the lighter touch will be made to work. It does not mean that there will be a free-for-all.
In a remarkable display, if I may say so, of humility which was consonant with his cloth and his personality, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester described himself as a microbe in a bottomless pit. All I can say is that, if that is so, it is no more than an amoeba who now addresses your Lordships. He was understandably concerned about religious broadcasts, and he has a great knowledge of those. It is true that programmes such as "Songs of Praise" and "Highway" attract large audiences. That gives ground for optimism that religious programmes will be able to take advantage of the increase in the number of channels and find their places in the schedules in the future.
922 The noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, and my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing also expressed concern about religious broadcasts, as did the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St. Albans. He said that there was a drastic diminution in religious broadcasting. I hope that will not be the case and I do not think that it will necessarily be so. Perhaps it will be less guaranteed than it was, but there will be many more opportunities because many more channels and outlets will be available. There are plenty of programmes on religious matters in the United States and it will be up to those who make religious programmes to seize the increased opportunities which will exist.
My noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing and the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, referred to controls on religious ownership. These proposals are not designed to prevent religious broadcasts. They can happen now and there will be greater opportunities for them in the future. The proposals are designed to prevent people seizing control of television stations and using them to peddle particular and perhaps extremist religious viewpoints. Many people, including many Christians, would find that offensive. If there are problems of that nature I am certain that the ITC will be concerned to ensure that they do not come about.
Many noble Lords referred to competitive tenders. My noble friend Lord Buxton was concerned that ITV companies should not be owned by tycoons. If I may say so, his contribution was helpful in so far as he explained that that was not the case. People do speak in a rather grandiose way about tycoons. My noble friend gave the example of his own company as one that is not run by tycoons; but there are others which we might look at and on which we might come to different conclusions.
The noble Lord, Lord Willis, also asked whether the bids would be open to the public. My noble friends Lord Orr-Ewing, Lord Harmar-Nicholls and Lord Ridley also referred to the anxieties of competitive tenders. The competitive tender was recommended by the Peacock Committee in a slightly different form from that proposed in the White Paper. A very thorough inquiry was made by the Home Affairs Committee, in the course of which it took oral evidence on 13 occasions and there were 14 memoranda. Its report made in June of this year states that,A suitably regulated tendering process would continue to provide a good return to the Exchequer while satisfying the demand for quality television and good housekeeping by the television companies. We therefore recommend that such a system be introduced when the franchises are next due for renewal in 1992.I do not believe that there is necessarily anything wrong with competitive tendering as such.
My noble friend Lord Buxton referred to ownership and the takeovers. He was concerned about Anglia Television. The Government would welcome detailed comments on how the rules should be formulated. If a licensee is taken over there is no guarantee that its employees will be taken on by the new licensee. The increase in competition and the new channels should create many new opportunities for jobs in broadcasting.
923 The noble Lord, Lord Willis, was concerned about competitive tenders and whether the bids should be public or not. The White Paper states that both stages of the procedures will be open to public scrutiny. It will be for the ITC to work out the details of the procedures. My noble friend Lord Ridley asked why it was necessary to have a levy if the monopoly has gone. The competitive tender and the levy go together. Those tendering will take account of the levy when deciding the level of their bids. The levy is needed in order to ensure that there is a fair sharing of risk between the licensees.
A number of your Lordships referred to the licence fee. The noble Lord, Lord Barnett, in his distinguished position as Vice-Chairman of the BBC, said that he was anxious to keep the licence fee as low as possible. He said that the public had very good value for money at £5 per month from the BBC, whereas there were others who charged £12 a month. That is an example of competitive operation. The noble Lord was quite right to point out the advantages of the BBC licence fee. He said that we should not use subscription too quickly, but he was not averse to it.
I was grateful to the noble Lord for saying that because many people feel that if the subscriptions were to come to the BBC, this would be the most appalling event that had ever happened. I was glad that from the position that the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, holds, he did not feel that was such an infringement of existing practice.
The noble Lord, Lord Annan, referred to viewers and said that the White Paper did not mention them. It does because in paragraph 1:2 it states that,The Government places the viewer and listener at the centre of broadcasting policy.That is fundamental to the whole of the approach of the Government to the problem. The noble Lord, Lord Annan, also complained about the listings duopoly. We are examining the Home Affairs Select Committee's recommendation to see whether there is scope for relaxation of the present arrangements, but our consultations are not yet complete. We shall announce our conclusions in a further response to the committee as soon as we can.
The noble Lord, Lord Willis, asked why we had to go down market by making Channel 4 advertise. It now seems likely that under the present system the revenue from Channel 4's air time could enable it to fund its own service. If it funds its own service that will not necessarily make it go downmarket.
The noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, referred to radio and I was grateful for her proposals. One of the proposed new national commercial stations will be on VHF, so she will be able to listen to it on her car radio in stereo if she wishes. The noble Baroness produced some interesting arguments, in particular that all radio should be independent. That will be strongly opposed by admirers of BBC Radios 1 to 4. The White Paper says that the BBC should continue to provide public service radio.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St. Albans asked whether the Government could guarantee that the feared continued decline in quality would be 924 arrested. No one can give such a guarantee. All the Government can do is to set certain frameworks. It is not for the Government to dictate what the standards should be or whether they are acceptable. We believe that the process which we suggest in the White Paper should enable a reasonable standard of television to be continued and there are proper safeguards for it.
The noble Lord, Lord Swann, said that there was worldwide dismay and astonishment at the Government's proposals. I was surprised that he said that. I hope that there will not be worldwide dismay. We are trying to set a framework within which people can operate better in the new circumstances that are available. That will mean alterations to the present system. If there is dismay at the Government's proposals I am sure the noble Lord will realise that some people have said that we should alter the BBC at the same time. The Government have taken the sound advice that it is always best to keep one foot on the ground at any one time.
The noble Lord, Lord Willis, said that multichannel deregulated television provides only a bogus choice. He referred to United States television. The critics of the White Paper often point to the spectre of United States television. United Kingdom broadcasting has certain unique strengths which should be preserved. But the evidence from the United States does not mean that channel proliferation leads to what one might call wall-to-wall "Dallas"'. The United States has channels with more continous programming aimed at minority interest than any in the United Kingdom; for instance, the arts channel, the drama and music channel, the discovery channel, the educational and documentary channel, and the Disney channel which deals with programmes—
§ Lord Willis
Is the noble Earl aware that not a single drama—I am not referring to series like "Dallas" or "Dynasty"—has been produced in America during the past 20 years?
There is no evidence that if one has a good deal of television, it is all bad. If no proper drama has been produced in America, that presumably gives an opportunity for British producers as well.
The noble Lord, Lord Swann, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester asked about the abolition of the IBA. A single regulatory agency is needed to look across the independent sector—ITV, cable satellite and microwave. It was also recommended by the Home Affairs Select Committee. The ITC will need to be a licensing body rather than a broadcasting authority. There is a difference in that respect.
My noble friend Lord Morris referred to local television franchises. I was grateful for the attention he drew to this part of the White Paper which will allow microwave, as well as cable, to be harnessed for the benefit of the viewer.
925 My noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing said what pity it was that the BBC did not sometimes say, "Sorry, we have made a mistake". I think that if he looks at the recent past he will see that there have been several incidents where the BBC has done exactly that and that it has periodically made changes where it thought that such action was desirable.
The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, referred to transmission to the remoter parts of the country. He said that it relied upon cross-subsidy between ITV regions. Channel 3 will be universal in the same sense as ITV is. It will be up to the ITC to ensure that franchise holders can and do maintain this universality. The White Paper proposes introductions of microwave transmission for local delivery of television. It will be quicker and cheaper than laying cable and therefore it should make it easier to supply a wide range of channels over the entire country.
The noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, said that there would not be enough revenue to finance all the new channels. It is not the Government's approach to produce a blueprint that is based upon future revenue forecasts, which may prove to have been unreliable. We are trying to set the framework for those new facilities to operate if they want, if they can and if there is a demand for them.
926 My noble friend Lord Colwyn referred to licence dates. The present ITV franchises could not be renewed without fresh legislation. That is what the White Paper proposes. As regards the London Jazz Radio, the size of the 20 interim community stations will be for the IBA, but a London-wide station should be a possibility.
I realise that I have taken up too much time in replying to your Lordships' questions and that there are many which I have not answered. I can only say that I am grateful to noble Lords for the attention which has been given to this debate and for the advice which has been given to the Government. All that has been said will be taken into account most carefully because we want—to use those words again —to get it right as near as we reasonably can. We are most grateful for the advice which your Lordships have given.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.