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Mr. Calum Macdonald (Western Isles): The Secretary of State will have received numerous representations praising the good work of the BBC in promoting Gaelic broadcasting in recent years. Does she agree with those representations? It is important for that work to be preserved in the pledges for the future.

Mrs. Bottomley: I hope that I made it clear that the tradition of the BBC to promote diversity throughout the country is extremely important. I hope that it will be possible to develop precisely the concerns that the hon. Gentleman mentioned in the "Statement of Pledges".

As I made clear, it is vital that there is increased accountability to audiences and, as a citizens charter for the BBC as it were, the "Statement of Pledges" will play an important role.

Mr. William Cash (Stafford): I tabled the amendments on impartiality to the Broadcasting Bill in 1990--they are

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included in section 6 of that 1990 Act--and I notice that a new requirement is being imposed on the BBC with respect to enhanced impartiality and a new mechanism. There is also reference to rules to be laid down in a code. My right hon. Friend referred to the fact that there should be accountability. How would that code be enforced? Is Parliament going to have an opportunity to see it in draft before it is brought into effect, bearing in mind the extreme importance of impartiality, which is what the consumer, listener and viewer are often primarily concerned about?

Mrs. Bottomley: As my hon. Friend will discover, I hope to say a little more on impartiality later. We make it an explicit requirement that the governors ensure that the elements are properly enforced. My hon. Friend might want to discuss that matter in more detail when the Broadcasting Bill reaches this place.

We have emphasised the BBC's independence. We have established its direct accountability to its audiences for its programming, but we have not lost sight of the need to reinforce high standards. That is an issue on which the House and I feel strongly. Some argue that violence and sex constitute only a small proportion of television output, but they have a disproportionately powerful effect on impressionable minds. We cannot become complacent on these issues. I discussed that with the chairmen of the BBC and the ITC, and they take it seriously.

To ensure that standards are maintained, we have brought into the heart of the corporation's charter and agreement its responsibilities for taste and decency. The BBC is under obligations equivalent to those on other broadcasters under the terms of the 1990 Act. Our proposals in the Broadcasting Bill for a new broadcasting standards commission will further underpin the work of the BBC governors and of the commercial regulators in maintaining standards of taste, decency and fairness.

One of the fundamental standards that we require of all broadcasters is impartiality, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash) referred. As he rightly said, he made an important contribution in the 1990 Act. The BBC is a highly respected and trusted source of news and information. It has a special obligation to the public not to abuse that trust. We have introduced additional requirements that the governors establish an impartiality code giving programme makers clear guidance on the standards expected of them. The governors must ensure that the corporation, its employees and all programme makers engaged by them comply with the codes or guidelines covering programme standards. That is a clear legal requirement on the governors and corporation under the new charter.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Blackpool, South): While I greatly welcome what my right hon. Friend has just said, does she recognise--I am sure that she does--that the viewing public's main concern is that the standards being laid down should have teeth? Irresponsible journalists who carry out biased journalism--sadly, that happens in all branches of the media, including, occasionally, the BBC--should be able to be disciplined and held publicly to account.

Mrs. Bottomley: I strongly endorse my hon. Friend's comments. He will have seen a copy of the producers' guidelines, and I refer him to the section on impartiality.

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There is a copy of the document in the Library of the House. The director general has made it quite clear that those seeking employment in the BBC should explicitly recognise those producers' guidelines, whether they are directly employed or independent producers. A number of other mechanisms have reinforced the seriousness with which the matter is regarded.

Mr. Cash: Now that my right hon. Friend has reached this part of her speech, will she be kind enough to give an assurance that the code--on which the issue of impartiality will ultimately turn--will be presented to the House in draft form, so that we can have the opportunity to consider it? The nuts and bolts will be sorted out in the code.

Mrs. Bottomley: I am not able to give my hon. Friend that assurance, although I can discuss with the governors of the BBC what further steps they will take to ensure that there is absolute confidence in the code that they introduce.

The BBC is highly regarded around the world for its standards and expertise. The standard of its programmes and its independence from political control are very much the foundation of its domestic and international reputation. The reputation of the BBC name provides a great opportunity for the BBC and its independent producers to export programmes and take up other commercial opportunities.

The new charter and agreement implement our policy that the BBC should be able to develop its commercial services. They provide a proper framework. We expect the BBC to re-invest a large proportion of the profit that it makes in UK productions and public service activities to the benefit of the licence fee payers.

The BBC sets the pace. My hon. Friends will be aware of the success of the recent series, "Pride and Prejudice"--10 million viewers watched that programme at home. That has led to the opportunity to sell the programme to 14 different countries, earning £2.5 million. The oscar-winning Wallace and Gromit earned video sales of 500,000 for their first two films, and "Wallace and Gromit's Grand Day Out" was sold to 30 countries. The commercial arm, BBC Worldwide, has licensed Wallace and Gromit merchandising through 35 deals. The pair, via BBC Worldwide, are earning millions, which can be reinvested for the benefit of BBC public services. We want to see more of those successes for the BBC--this is only the beginning.

My right hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South called his White Paper "The Future of the BBC: Serving the nation, Competing world-wide" and we do indeed wish to see the BBC competing worldwide. In allowing this development, we are determined to ensure that the BBC's commercial activities are separate, and seen to be separate, from licence fee-funded services. The agreement requires the governors to put in place distinct and transparent accounting, and to ensure that the BBC trades fairly, without cross-subsidy from the licence fee. The Broadcasting Bill, which is not yet in this House, will make the corporation's commercial services subject to licence and regulation by the Independent Television Commission and the Radio Authority.

We have agreed with the BBC that it should focus on those activities that have to be retained in-house, for reasons of cost or to ensure continuing high quality. The

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BBC's transmission facilities are not essential to its public service obligations. We have agreed that, subject to appropriate safeguards, the BBC's transmission services should be allowed to develop in the private sector.

By introducing the new charter and agreement, we have made clear our commitment to the BBC as a public service broadcaster. Privatisation of transmission will bring clear benefits to the licence fee payer by bringing downward pressure on transmission costs and by allowing more resources to be invested in the high quality services for which the BBC is known. The independent broadcasting transmission service was privatised in 1991.

The House will be aware that National Trans- communications Ltd.--NTL--the privatised company, now competes successfully for transmission and telecommunications contracts worldwide. The BBC's transmission staff have built a superb service. It is now time to set it free from public sector constraints to enable it, too, to play a full part in the commercial developments that lie ahead.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Mid-Staffordshire): Notwithstanding the fact that NTL is a world-beater, particularly in terms of research and development and compression techniques with digital transmission, will my right hon. Friend confirm that the sale of transmission facilities from the BBC will not be open to purchase by NTL? If they were, my right hon. Friend would simply be creating another monopoly.

Mrs. Bottomley: Such matters are subject to normal competition law, and would be open to consideration by the competition authorities.

The charter and agreement set out the future of the BBC. I hope that I have made it clear that the Government's view is that the BBC is highly regarded for its quality, fairness, accuracy and artistic excellence. It is a respected institution here and around the world--that was evident from the responses to our consultation paper. It is not a perfect institution, and some hon. Members will have examples where they consider it to have fallen short of its own high standards. The new charter and agreement set out a clearer framework of accountability to ensure that the standards aimed for remain high. The board of governors is responsible for ensuring that those standards are met.

The BBC's prime function is to serve the nation. At the same time, we are setting the framework within which the BBC can compete worldwide. I expect it to compete vigorously but fairly, and to minimise the call on licence fee funding, while maximising its contribution to the United Kingdom's economy and extending the reach of British culture. The new agreement--with the draft charter--provides the right framework for the BBC's continuance and its development over the next decade.I commend it to the House.

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