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Mr. Renton : I have just quoted what my predecessor said. The Government accept the fact that the Community has competence in the issue of broadcasting--
Mr. Renton : I must explain the present position to my hon. Friend. The court has decided on many occasions that broadcasting is to be regarded as an economic service under the terms of the treaty. That is the final state of play. We have consulted legal opinion, which has confirmed that view.
I assure my hon. Friend that, despite his concerns and echoing back to the debate of 1987, I can now recommend the draft text to the House because all the amendments to it that we have achieved mean that it sits closely alongside the Council of Europe's convention on transfrontier broadcasting- -a convention that we have already signed.
Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South) : I thought that it might be convenient to clear the legal matters before we go any further. Leaving aside the question of the scope of the Single European Act, and in this case article 57, the hon. Gentleman's memorandum dated 7 June, which he deposited in the Vote Office, tells us that the proposal is presently conceived under articles 57(2) and 66 of the treaty. Is there any likelihood of any change in that? The phraseology suggests that there could be, although I rather doubt it. Before the hon. Gentleman concludes, will he tell us whether there is likely to be a vote on this? It is awaiting qualified majority and he may know the likelihood of its passage?
Mr. Renton : I am not aware of any likelihood that the proposal will cease to rely on articles 57(2) and 66 of the treaty. The Commission's regular view has been that those were the articles on which they relied, and I am not aware of any view that that should be changed. I cannot advise him of whether there is likely to be a vote on this. I believe, however, that it will be discussed at the Internal Market Council today. Obviously, that is something that we shall watch with considerable interest.
We came to the conclusion that the decision made by the European Council in Rhodes was satisfactory because it meant that the directive would follow closely the provisions of the convention. We felt that those provisions substantially met all the points in the draft directive about which we had had reservations in the past. It followed from that that this signalled the need for a different approach to the directive on our part. Given our acceptance of the provisions in the convention, it would have been unreasonable to argue that we could not support the same or similar provisions in the draft directive. That position has since been reinforced by our decision to sign the convention when it opened for signature on 5 May. Nine other member states of the Council of Europe joined us at that time in signing the convention, and I have no doubt that others will do so.
Before going on to comment specifically on the changes within the draft directive, I shall explain to the House why we considered it necessary to have some form of international regulation of broadcasting. That, of course, lies within the fact that until recently broadcasting has
Column 862been primarily a national industry, aimed predominantly at domestic audiences. However, it is clear that television will become an increasingly international medium as satellite broadcasting leaves its footprint throughout Europe. I have heard it forecast, for example, that within a few years about 200 international satellite television channels might be beamed down to the countries of Europe. All countries have developed means of regulating their domestic broadcasting services over the past 50 years, and those new technological developments will make desirable a measure of international regulation--minimal, I accept. There is a need both to avoid any regulatory loophole that might otherwise develop and, more positively--for the sake of British industry interested in this market--to promote a pan-European market in broadcasting.
It was not in our view sensible or desirable for satellite or cable broadcasting to develop completely outside national or international regulatory controls. As a result of the fundamental changes made to the draft directive, we believe that we can withdraw our earlier objections to the substance of the directive.
I shall list those main changes. The proposal for a 60 per cent. quota of broadcasting time to be devoted to European Community work has been amended in two ways. First, the provision is now couched in terms that require broadcasters to devote "a majority proportion" of their transmission time to European works where it is practicable to do so. There is no longer, therefore, any fixed or legally binding numerical quota. Secondly, the definition of European works has been widened to embrace works coming from Community states, non-Community states that are party to the Council of Europe convention and from other European states that have concluded reciprocal agreements with the Community. That provision is now sufficiently flexible to be compatible with the existing requirement in the United Kingdom law that broadcasters should show a "proper proportion" of European Community material. Our broadcasters regularly show about 65 per cent. of EC material within the definition that will apply to EC programmes in the directive.
Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North) : Does that mean that if the United States signs the European convention, as it well may, its work will be classed as a European production?
Mr. Renton : There is a difference between the United States and non -Community states that are party to the Council of Europe convention. I have not heard any suggestion that the United States might sign the Council of Europe convention. It is an interesting thought, but it has not crossed my desk. Perhaps my hon. Friend will develop that idea in his speech.
The broadcasting services, such as satellite channels that depend on a substantial amount of programmes imported from the United States and elsewhere that would not find it practicable to devote the majority of their transmission time to European works, will not be impeded by the provisions. The House will be reassured, therefore, that the flexible nature of the provision will not threaten or prejudice the constitutional independence of British broadcasters. Freedom of choice will continue and there will be room for programmes from non-EC countries.
Mr. Teddy Taylor : Will my hon. Friend give way?
Mr. Renton : With respect, I have given way to my hon. Friend three times. Time is short and, given that his amendment has been selected, it would be better if he made his own speech.
The proposed 10 per cent. quota of works from independent producers can now be achieved either as 10 per cent. of programme budgets or as 10 per cent. of transmission time, on which member states can choose. This is less stringent than the 25 per cent. targets which the Government have already set the BBC and IBA in relation to independent productions.
The provisions on the duration and insertion of television advertising have been changed to reflect the corresponding provisions of the Council of Europe convention. Advertising is now limited to 15 per cent. of the daily transmission time, or 20 per cent. if it includes tele-shopping services. The amount of spot advertising within any given hour shall not exceed 20 per cent. Television advertising within the United Kingdom already falls comfortably within those limits.
Detailed rules are laid down for the time and frequency of advertising breaks. Some member states favoured grouping advertisements between programmes rather than inserting them in natural breaks. But thanks very largely to proposals we formulated and tabled, in particular on the need to retain natural-break advertising, we believe that we have secured provisions which will not adversely affect British broadcasting and advertising interests. Although the draft directive continues to contain a ban on the advertising of all forms of tobacco products, this is in line with the corresponding provision in the Council of Europe convention which the Government accepted in order to secure agreement to the convention as a whole.
The requirement for a right of reply has been widened to refer to a right of reply "or equivalent remedies". That will enable us to continue to rely on the existing procedures operated in the United Kingdom through the Broadcasting Complaints Commission, and we will not be required to introduce any further measures. The provisions on copyright have been withdrawn.
We are also satisfid that the provisions on the protection of minors, which are in themselves unexceptionable and indeed desirable, should not have undesirable consequences for Community competence in other sectors.
It is our view that the Commission's proposals now represent a satisfactory outcome. We have successfully resisted the arguments of some member states for protectionist measures which would have imposed greater restrictions on European broadcasters and, instead, we have achieved a substantial deregulatory text fully in line with that of the Council of Europe convention.
I stress, finally, that a prime objective in supporting the directive is to foster the free flow of television programmes throughout Europe. In that context, article 2 of the draft directive is in my opinion much the most important. I firmly believe that this will promote and encourage the growth of the broadcasting industry in the United Kingdom.
I do not need to remind the House about the approach of 1992. This will be an opportunity for all British interests--and broadcasting is no exception- -to expand into the European market. The potential is enormous. The development of cable and satellite technologies that ignore frontiers has created opportunities for a new and expanding market.
Column 864There is already a large gap between the European demand for television programmes and their supply. In 1987 western Europe needed 125,000 hours of programming but produced only about a quarter of this itself. By 1990 western Europe will need at least 300,000 hours of programming. The balance of trade in this field is currently very much in the United States' favour. Europe is an importer of programmes and clearly more European co-operation and co-production in making programmes that are attractive to all the European market is necessary and will be helped by the abolition of trade barriers against the sales of such programmes that is implicit and explicit in the directive.
This is a formidable challenge for the British broadcasting industry but I believe that it is one that we are very well placed to meet, for British broadcasting already has a high reputation abroad. We have, as the House knows, the creative talent, the commercial enterprise and the production and distribution infrastructure to make the most of the expanding markets elsewhere, and the development of the independent production initiative in this country in recent years is an example of how we can take advantage of an opening in the market.
We should be in the vanguard to take advantage of these new opportunities throughout Europe in the broadcasting world to the benefit of broadcasters and viewers alike. It is on that basis and in expectation of our obtaining a wider share of this European market that I ask the House to endorse our view that the draft directive should now be welcomed.
Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington) : I must confess to being a little puzzled by what I will describe as the Minister's muted euphoria over these proposals. As the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) reminded the House, in January 1987 the Minister's predecessor stood at the Dispatch Box questioning the need for a directive and indeed the competence of the Commission in this matter.
I have no doubt that some of his hon. Friends will quote from the advertisement in the Sunday papers which warns voters that if they do not do a certain thing on Thursday 15 June they will be living on a diet of Brussels. I do not want to make too much of this because the mere mention of the Euro elections pours salt into the grievous wounds of the differences between the Prime Minister, the former Prime Minister and others over this Government's real attitude to the Community.
At the last debate--and the Minister knows this--virtually the whole House, not to mention the programme makers and the advertising industry, shared the view that a better way ahead lay with the Council of Europe, and that was indeed the view of the Opposition. As the Minister has confirmed, in essence what has happened is that the Commission has now decided to follow the Council of Europe, and generally, although with some reservations, that is welcomed, I believe.
I must state my reservations about the watering down of the original proposal arguing that 60 per cent. of broadcasting time should be devoted to works originating in the Community. That has changed in two ways, as the Select Committee on European Legislation helpfully
Column 865noted. The 60 per cent. has not merely become a majority proportion--which in plain English I take to mean at least 51 per cent.--but is hedged with a qualifying phrase--
"where it is practicable to do so".
It is not within any time limit ; it implies that this will go on for ever unless we are invited to consider another directive. I hope that the Minister will tell me what that means. I accept that some countries would find even that provision for a majority proportion difficult to move towards immediately. For example, I understand that in Greece and Portugal virtually all programmes during peak-time viewing are of American origin.
Would it not have been better to make exemptions for some stated period for such countries rather than to weaken the provision for those well able to cope? Do I take it from the Minister's remark that the current United Kingdom position of the use of about 65 per cent. of EEC originated material remains, in the Government's view, the one to which we should hold rather than the looser, weaker formula of a majority proportion?
My fears are these. Because of cross-considerations, the demands of advertisers and the need here to recoup as quickly as possible the cash laid out for a franchise, the pressure will be on the programme makers and programmers to cut costs. Unless we are careful, that can only mean more American-made programmes. Or, to put it another way in the words of the Home Secretary in an interview with Independent Radio News today, "more rubbish programmes". Those were the words that he used when discussing the announcement that he had made earlier in the day to the House. The absence of a binding numerical quota means that competition will not be so much on programme quality as on programme cost.
There are some other objections as well. There is no reference to the times at which the programmes are shown. I understand, but do not accept, that the Government want as light a regime as possible, nationally and within the EC. In the context of a majority proportion of European originated works, that could mean that some programmes are pushed, either mainly or wholly, into the off-peak, late-night hours.
In that context--it is interesting that the Minister made no reference to this--we should all be properly conscious that transfrontier broadcating should not squeeze out or threaten the rich and varied cultural backgrounds of the countries joined together in the Community. It is perfectly possible --I call the Prime Minister as witness--for individual nations to preserve their essential identity while willingly co-operating. National identity need not be sacrificed upon the altar of European co-operation.
Mr. Teddy Taylor : How can the hon. Gentleman talk of co-operation when the directive makes provision for the Commission to implement the majority, and when, in paragraph 3, there is legal provision in five years' time for any new percentage to be laid down by majority voting? There was certainly co-operation in the old Council of Europe directive, but this proposal is something quite different. It gives the Commission the power to implement whatever percentage is arrived at, and paragraph 3 makes it abundantly clear that whatever percentage is not appropriate can be changed.
Mr. Corbett : I understand exactly the hon. Gentleman's point. He will not thank me if I say that when we come nearer to the position that he mentioned in five
Column 866years' time, the Minister may be on the Opposition Benches and somebody else on the Government Front Bench.
I welcome the widening of the provision to embrace nations which have relationships with the Community. That is an important contribution to the growing interest in all European co-operation beyond the boundaries of the present Community and in the interests of what President Gorbachev has called "our common European home". I have doubts about the 10 per cent. quota for works from independent producers being tied to either a choice of transmission time or programming budgets. There is the risk that all the independents will be allowed to do is the cheap game show, late-night, nodding heads type of programme with whatever high-cost, often high- quality, drama or current affairs is done, left exclusively in house. I welcome the higher targets for independent productions, and I assume that the Government have no intention of seeking to reduce them.
We are used to joint funding of programmes by British and American interests. I welcome the growing co-operation with German and French co- sponsors in particular and hope that we shall see more. That can only help to protect and promote national and Community programme co-sponsorship--the better to resist the American invasion. Perhaps the Minister can say whether American companies will be tempted to establish production facilities in Britain or elsewhere in the Community to get around the majority proportion rule. If the Americans make such an attempt, will they be permitted to succeed? Some may view the provisions as restricting the free flow of broadcasting across frontiers, but that need not happen. But in the wake of developing technology we must ensure that nothing destroys the best that British broadcasting and that of other countries has achieved. We must never risk the single European market offering only a choice of soaps or game shows made in Britain, France, Germany or Italy. That does not represent real programme diversity, quality or variety. We want proper choice, not just more of the same. I regret that provisions for a right of reply were dropped, and the Minister knows that I do not accept that the Broadcasting Complaints Commission represents a serious alternative. But that matter will have to wait.
Article 8 deals with television advertising and rightly proscribes any that discriminates on the grounds of race, sex or nationality. That is important, and should give another push to progress made in this country and elsewhere in ending sexual and racial stereotyping. It may be a laughing matter to some people, but it is hurtful and offensive to those who are its targets.
I particularly welcome the provisions in article 8 for ensuring that television advertising will not encourage behaviour prejudicial to health and safety or to the protection of the environment. The latter is a welcome addition and properly recognises growing concern in this country and in others about the need to stop and to reverse pollution and destruction. There is every reason why responsible advertisers, using the most powerful medium, should be part of that process.
The Minister and other right hon. and hon. Members may have noted the recent Mintel survey reported in the Daily Mail today. The report stated :
"The vast majority of shoppers are willing to pay up to 10p in the pound extra for products which do no harm to the
Column 867environment Seventy-seven per cent. of shoppers will pay 5p to 10p in the pound extra for environmentally friendly' washing powder, falling only slightly to 72 per cent. for organic food and 66 per cent. for toiletries not tested on animals."
There is a powerful message in those results both for manufacturers and for advertisers.
I hope that the House will welcome the tight restrictions on alcohol advertising, which must not be aimed at minors, claim that it enhances physical performance, or give the impression that it aids social or sexual success. I say in all seriousness that the alcohol problem in Britain and in the rest of the Community affects far more people, across a much wider age range, than does the real menace of drugs--and it causes more social and economic damage. Alcohol abuse must be taken seriously, and the proposals help in that.
I hope that the Government will learn the lessons from sporting and other events in this country that attract young people. The Minister's predecessor was critical of the earlier draft's provisions for the protection of children. They are now covered by articles 12 and 14, and, although they represent the minimum, they are none the less welcome. Responsible advertisers--and it is manufacturers or service providers who must take proper responsibility--have nothing to fear from the provisions. In any event, it would be entirely wrong to allow them to stand aside. As we have seen with British newspapers, all too often it is one product--the example I have in mind is the sewer Sun --that inevitably drags down standards among its competitors.
The original copyright proposals were almost universally unacceptable. I regret the absence of new proposals, but we are better without what was originally on offer. This problem must be tackled. I hope that voluntary contractual agreements work, but I wonder whether the provision for arbitration will, perversely, discourage rather than encourage agreement, since it happens after retransmission. As the Minister has explained, the copyright proposals weaken the position of owners of rights, although the proposal seeks to preserve the present position for cable. These proposals fit fairly comfortably alongside the Council of Europe's directive, but they are not the end of the matter. Experience will doubtless show that other provisions will have to be made. As I have said, we need proposals which will not impede the free flow of television across national boundaries but which, at the same time, do not impose what Jeremy Isaacs, when he headed Channel 4, called "Euro-puddings".
Individual, national, cultural and other traditions must be guarded as an essential ingredient of transnational television. If the proposals strike that balance and protect us from any form of loss of national and cultural identity, they will have been shown to be worthwhile.
Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South) : I beg to move, to leave out from "activities" to the end of the Question and add instead thereof :
but can see no merit and no benefit whatsoever in having the content of broadcasting in the United Kingdom or any other member state being subject to a European Economic Community directive ; expresses concern about the extent to which the non-elected Commission is being given powers to
Column 868implement the directive ; believes that broadcasting and artistic merit should be the basis of broadcasting selection rather than Euro protectionism ; and trusts that Her Majesty's Government will vote against this absurd proposal which is an insult to the high standards and objectivity traditionally displayed by the United Kingdom broadcasting media.'.
If a Home Office Minister was, in normal conditions and daylight hours, to come to the Dispatch Box and introduce legislation which dictated restrictive new Government terms and conditions with which television and broadcasting companies had to comply in order to put out more than half their own air time, the outcry and vehement denunciation of censorship and state control would soon ring up and down the length and breadth of this country. It says much for the nocturnal, almost clandestine, way in which we continue unsatisfactorily to monitor EC legislation that this very same offensive principle of placing state or, in this case, EC controls on half the transmission time of broadcasting companies should be greeted almost soporifically by the House at 1.47 am as a virtual non-event.
My hon. Friends and I do not think that it is a non-event. We believe that the directive is an extremely important and seminal event. My hon. Friend the Minister should feel deeply unhappy and ashamed at having to support the directive in the way in which he has been forced to do so tonight. The oddest part of his speech was his brave, or perhaps brazen, attempt to make it sound as though his speech this evening flowed naturally with and matched up to that made by the hon. and learned Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor) when he was the Minister at the Dispatch Box, debating much the same directive on 20 January 1987.
Leaving aside the two personalities, if one read the two speeches with any objectivity one would feel that it was not a harmonious flow, but Tweedledum and Tweedledee having a battle. Time and again the statements made in either one or the other cannot conceivably be matched up. If I had to pick out one clear and demonstrable clash between the two diametrically opposed speeches, I would refer to the statement made by my hon Friend the Minister tonight about how the Government had always believed that majority voting would apply to this directive.
The hon. and learned Member for Putney said :
"The point I am putting to my right hon. Friend is that we shall argue with might and main that this is such a contentious matter that it should be dealt with only by way of unanimity."--[ Official Report, 20 January 1987 ; Vol. 108, c. 855.]
I could find half a dozen other examples in the two speeches. In the previous speech, they are usually accompanied by rhetorical flourishes such as "tooth and nail" or "might and main". However, at the end of all that, we received not a bang, but a whimper of a defence of what is being brought in tonight.
Mr. Renton : I know how strongly my hon. Friend feels on the subject, but I think that he is misquoting me. I did not say that we had always believed that majority voting should apply ; I quoted my predecessor, saying that he had accepted in the opening of his speech that the Community had competence in respect of broadcasting, in particular because of the economic base.
I said earlier that the court had confirmed European Community competence in important aspects of broadcasting, which is a service within the meaning of the treaty. I would indeed argue that my speech flowed on from that made by my predecessor in January 1987. Not only, however, have we managed in the intervening two years to
Column 869amend all the points in the draft directive that we previously found objectionable but the key case on European competence--the Dutch cable case--arose and was decided only after the Commons debate.
Mr. Aitken : I suggest that, instead of engaging in textual arguments on the Floor of the House, hon. Members read the two speeches. Let us look at the two examples defended by my hon. Friend. My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) asked :
"Is it my hon. Friend's view, and the view of the Government, that the Community should have competence in this issue?".
My hon. Friend the then Minister replied :
"No. I think it is our view that the Community's competence in this issue is extremely limited and should remain so."--[ Official Report, 20 January 1987 ; Vol. 108, c. 843.]
The clear implication is that at that time the Government did not believe that the Community necessarily had full competence. Here we are talking about whether unanimity applies. It is obvious from what my hon. Friend said then that he considered that it would be essential, but tonight we are saying that it is not.
Instead of engaging in arcane textual argument--important though it may be to resolve the battle between Tweedledum and Tweedledee--let us get on to the gut issues. My hon. Friends and I feel that we should oppose the directive vigorously, on several different grounds. First, it has nothing to do with the single market or with free market forces. Those of my hon. Friends who voted for the Single European Act must be amazed to find that the Act that they thought was all to do with free trade and the toppling of barriers is now forcing television companies to accept a whole set of restrictions. I think that television companies should be free to put on any or all of the best and most popular programmes : that is true broadcasting freedom. But the freedom of the air waves will now be restricted in an astonishing seizure of new powers by what I believe to be the ideological Euro-nannies and Euro-meddlers of Brussels.
What really sticks in our gullets is the statement--which has changed only marginally--that the majority of airtime from now on will have to be given to Euro-programmes from European sources. I think that such a restriction is anti-viewer, anti-populist and, indeed, anti-American. Anti-Americanism provides much of the rocket fuel inside the EEC in favour of the directive.
I am disturbed at the hostility towards the culture and history of the English-speaking peoples that is now emanating from Brussels. Anti- Americanism is a disease that is spreading through the Commission. The fact is that, for better or worse, the taste of the British viewer--and now, we hear, even the Portuguese viewer--is strongly in favour of the United States popular culture, from Alistair Cooke's "Letter from America" to great epics such as "The Winds ofWar" and popular programmes such as "Cagney and Lacey", "Hill Street Blues", "Dallas" and "Dynasty". Those are the shows that viewers apparently like to watch and listen to--and do not let us forget the growing input from other parts of the English-speaking world, such as the Australian popular programme "Neighbours". Those programmes and their successors will be placed in jeopardy. Big brother in Brussels knows what the average British family enjoys watching and he wants to stop it. Not having been able to beat the popular television
Column 870culture of the English-speaking peoples on the ratings, the Euro meddlers now want to drive these programmes off the screens by restrictive legislation. The Government should be pretty miserable at the idea of blessing a proposal that encourages that.
The Government have had to stand on their head. In January 1987, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Putney said that he would not shrink from voting against a broadcasting Euro directive of the type that was then contemplated. For all the fine words of the Minister of State, attempting to show us that things have changed in the intervening period and that great concessions have been won, the reality is that in June 1989 we are debating only a mildly diluted version of the same unpalatable legislative brew. Far from shrinking away from it, we are asked to swallow it almost whole.
I have said that the Government are standing on their head and I must say how strange the posture of my hon. Friend the Minister looks on the issue of the right of reply. He is the Minister who has done his best to thwart the admirable private Member's Bill, the Right of Reply Bill, which has been promoted by an Opposition Member and which many Conservative Members support. My hon. Friend used strange methods. His oratorial technique in killing off that Bill could be broadly described as "praising with faint damn". He blocked the Right of Reply Bill when it came forward in the House as British legislation, but, lo and behold, this European directive contains a firm commitment to introduce the right of reply on the air waves. It is odd that my hon. Friend can be "Mr. Facing-Both-Ways" on the right of reply issue within such a short time.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) touched on the issue of advertising. Some of his points are to be commended, but I see others in a different light. I should like to raise a technical point that could have great implications for British television companies. Does the phrase in the directive, the duration of the programme--referring to the amount of advertising time--apply to scheduled time or running time? We appear to be confident that the British interpretation will be accepted, but there may be a triumph of hope over experience.
Mr. Renton : I should like to reassure my hon. Friend immediately. It is agreed that scheduled time is acceptable within the draft directive.
Mr. Aitken : I am glad to hear that, as no doubt will some television companies.
Article 8, which the hon. Member for Erdington praised highly, contains many noble sentiments. We are all in favour of such ideas as preserving decency, the environment and the dignity of women, but we should look at the small print. We are told that advertising must not
"offend against prevailing standards of decency",
"encourage behaviour prejudicial to the protection of the environment"
"employ forms of expression which contravene respect for the dignity of women."
All those high-sounding ideals are sloppy bits of legislation when it comes down to the possibility of television companies being prosecuted for showing advertisements
Column 871that, in someone's opinion, offend against any of those vague and ill-drafted sentiments. They sound fine but are very unsuitable when it comes to practicalities.
I return to the issue of principle and clothe it in the language of practicality. I think that I am the only Member who has had the experience of running a major television company. I suppose that there are those who would say that, in view of that company's history, it could not have been much worse if the entire EEC Commission had had its hands on the controls at the same time. Be that as it may, at least that experience gave me an understanding of what it might be like to operate a television company against the judgments of the directive.
A busy television station has feeds coming into it from all over the world. News stories are breaking all the time. The format of programmes is always changing. With all the hustle and bustle of major programme-making rolling on through the hours, it would be impracticable then to have to get out a stop watch and start to measure how many seconds of time are coming from which sources, which cartoons originate in the United States, which originate in France and to be faced--as one would be under the directive-- with very tight bureaucratic restrictions because of the need for the Commission to report regularly on the minutage of the contents of programmes and ensure the application of the provisions in article 2.
Broadcasters need to be given freedom to develop ideas. They do not need the very bad new principle that the directive would introduce. 2 am
Sir Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington) : I join other hon. Members who have criticised the ludicrous hour at which we are debating this important subject. I hope that the lesson will be learnt by those who are responsible, because it happens all too often.
I have a good deal of sympathy for the two-man band onslaught on European legislation that is waged so assiduously in the early hours of the morning. However, on this occasion I have to part company with it. As a member of the Council of Europe Assembly I have been involved in various ways with transfrontier television. I was in Stockholm when the original proposals that were much criticised--I think fairly--by my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) were thrashed out by the then 21 nations of the Council of Europe. I pay tribute to the excellent work that was done by my hon. Friend the Minister of State. But for his leadership I do not believe that we should have made the progress that we in fact made. It was a very good convention. As my hon. Friend explained, the directive follows closely the Stockholm proposals.
In this modern age, when television is bursting out in all directions, there must be regulations to govern transfrontier television. Unless a minimum set of rules can be devised, there will eventually be chaos and a great deal of undesirable material will appear on our television screens. I am one of the last to advocate the establishment of a nanny society. I echo some of my hon. Friend's criticisms of action being taken over advertisements. That could be difficult.
Column 872When the Council of Europe first considered the subject, it drew up three basic rules to govern what it was trying to achieve on behalf of the countries of Europe. I remind the House that they cover all the countries of Europe, not just those in the EEC. They were the integrity of the television company and the programme, honesty and decency.
The future will bring satellite television and the opportunity before too long to see other countries' programmes without too much difficulty. Sensible though not onerous regulation is needed. I am particularly pleased that my hon. Friend was so successful over natural breaks for advertising. I am sure that I am right in saying that this now follows closely the pattern of television advertising in this country. I think that it is appreciated by the public. If changes were made, they would be resented. The public are used to our comfortable arrangements. Advertising is not too intrusive, and it is often enjoyed and appreciated.
I sought to speak in the debate tonight to draw attention to one particular aspect which my hon. Friend the Minister should consider. Quite recently, one main French television channel has started showing hard pornography late at night. It makes the sleazy Soho cinema clubs of 10 or 15 years ago look like a vicarage tea party. It is shown on an open channel. We have four main channels in Britain and that material is shown on a main French channel. It does not take much imagination to realise that young people can stay up after 11 o'clock at night, and if they do not want to stay up they can video the programme to watch at some other time. I should like a categorical assurance from my hon. Friend when he replies to the debate that under the rules of transfrontier television in no way will it be possible for people in Britain to receive that French television channel, or any other such programmes as there is also a pornographic programme in Italy.
I am reasonably broad minded, but I was very shocked by that programme and I believe that most right hon. and hon. Members would also be shocked. The public is entitled to the protection offered by the convention and the directive to make absolutely sure that young people and others in society are not brought down to the standards to which I have referred. I hope that my hon. Friend will address that point when he replies to the debate.