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Column 1005

Fisher, Mark

Flannery, Martin

Foot, Rt Hon Michael

Foster, Derek

Fyfe, Maria

Galbraith, Sam

Golding, Mrs Llin

Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)

Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)

Grocott, Bruce

Hardy, Peter

Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy

Haynes, Frank

Heffer, Eric S.

Hinchliffe, David

Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)

Home Robertson, John

Hoyle, Doug

Hughes, John (Coventry NE)

Hughes, Roy (Newport E)

Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)

Illsley, Eric

Janner, Greville

Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil

Lambie, David

Lamond, James

Leighton, Ron

Lofthouse, Geoffrey

Loyden, Eddie

McAllion, John

McAvoy, Thomas

McKelvey, William

McNamara, Kevin

McWilliam, John

Madden, Max

Mahon, Mrs Alice

Marek, Dr John

Marshall, David (Shettleston)

Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)

Maxton, John

Meacher, Michael

Meale, Alan

Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)

Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)

Moonie, Dr Lewis

Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)

Nellist, Dave

O'Neill, Martin

Orme, Rt Hon Stanley

Parry, Robert

Patchett, Terry

Pendry, Tom

Radice, Giles

Redmond, Martin

Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn

Reid, Dr John

Richardson, Jo

Robertson, George

Rooker, Jeff

Ruddock, Joan

Sedgemore, Brian

Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert

Shore, Rt Hon Peter

Short, Clare

Skinner, Dennis

Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)

Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)

Steinberg, Gerry

Stott, Roger

Strang, Gavin

Straw, Jack

Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)

Turner, Dennis

Wall, Pat

Walley, Joan

Wardell, Gareth (Gower)

Wareing, Robert N.

Williams, Rt Hon Alan

Wilson, Brian

Winnick, David

Wise, Mrs Audrey

Worthington, Tony

Young, David (Bolton SE)

Tellers for the Noes :

Mr. Bob Cryer and

Mr. Ian McCartney.

Question accordingly negatived.

Column 1006


4.57 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hurd) : I beg to move,

That this House takes note of the White Paper, Broadcasting in the '90s : Competition, Choice and Quality (Cm. 517), and endorses the Government's proposals for the future of broadcasting contained therein.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean) : Order. I have to announce to the House that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment standing in the name of the Leader of the Opposition. Mr. Speaker has also asked me to say that a large number of right hon. and hon. Members wish to speak in the debate. He therefore intends to impose the 10-minute limit on speeches between 7 and 9 o'clock, but hopes that those who are called before then will bear that in mind.

Mr. Hurd : Today the House of Commons takes its part--a leading part, of course--in the debate on the future of British broadcasting which was launched by the publication of our White Paper. The Government have asked for comments from the rest of the world by the end of this month and after that we shall begin to take decisions on the contents of a Broadcasting Bill, which we hope to submit to Parliament in the reasonably near future. In shaping our proposals we shall of course take fully into account the comments made in this debate and, a few weeks ago, in another place.

The White Paper is the Government's child, but its godparents are Professor Peacock and his fellow members, my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) and the members of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. I know that my hon. Friend is hoping to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. One of the godfathers commented in The Times today-- [Interruption.] --on the whole favourably, on the progress of the infant, and possibly my hon. Friend will comment as we proceed. I pay tribute to their work as godparents, at least of this debate.

Everyone agrees that change is inevitable because of the wider choice that is now possible. That is the common ground from which all the representations that we have so far received start. The question is what the framework for such change should be. The proposals in the White Paper enable, but do not prescribe. We are not in the business of guessing in advance which of the possible new developments will come fast and which slowly--let alone of placing bets with taxpayers' money on such guesses.

Rather than describe in full the contents of a White Paper which has already been much discussed, I shall take this opportunity to talk about the philosophy that underlies it. I shall also comment on radio, because I believe that the changes now possible in radio are among the most exciting contained in the White Paper. However, for the time being I shall concentrate on television.

We are at a staging post in the history of British television. The first stage was one television service provided by the BBC. At that time, the BBC had to ensure that, as far as possible, its monopoly programme satisfied the tastes and interests of a widely varied public. Two channels followed, then three, then four.

Theoretically, we could ultimately imagine a television screen that had become more or less like a book shop. The

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customer in a book shop is protected against dishonesty, fraud and obscenity, but he is not tapped on the shoulder from time to time and told that he has spent long enough in the thriller department and should now go to the science department instead. Similarly, he is not greeted at the shop entrance by a gentleman telling him that he is welcome to visit all departments of the shop, but before doing so he must pay a fee that will go to benefit only part of the book shop. We are a long way from the television screen as a book shop, but we are approaching an intermediate stage. In the next decade there will be scope not merely for four but for dozens of television channels, most of which will be delivered, not by limited UHF spectrum but by satellite, cable or microwave. The core of this debate is how much specific prescription and regulation is required as we move to this next staging post.

Most of the discussion in answering that question has been about the quality of programmes--that is at the heart of the debate. Quality must not be equated with the preservation of existing interests, and neither should we exaggerate as perfect the quality of what we already have ; a certain hyperbole creeps in from time to time. Our constituents who press the button for ITV on a Saturday evening would be surprised to learn that they were tiptoeing into a temple of our national culture--that is not how they see it. There is much that is ordinary, as well as much that is good, in British broadcasting today. It is true that both the BBC and the independent commercial sector have many jewels in their crowns. I have been re-reading Lord Reith's speeches, and the pessimists who predicted in the 1950s that independent broadcasting would ring the death knell of quality-- he used some striking phrases--have been confounded. Perhaps there is a lesson here for today's pessimists.

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