Select Committee on Broadcasting Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Parliamentary Broadcasting Unit Limited (PARBUL)


  1.  Parliamentary Broadcasting Unit Limited (PARBUL) is the company which provides to broadcasters the television pictures of the proceedings of the House of Commons, the House of Lords and of committees of each House. It does this by employing CCT Productions Limited to operate the cameras located in the Palace of Westminster and by making available to broadcasters as they request the resulting pictures (with a sound feed attached). The company holds copyright licences from the Speaker (for the House of Commons) and the Clerk of the Parliaments (for the House of Lords) which allow it to do this. All those concerned in this process are obliged to operate within the rules of coverage set by the relevant authorities in each House.


  2.  All broadcasters who have access to the television feed from Westminster pay a fee. Those broadcasters, who are also shareholders in the company, receive the feed in return for funding the company as described in paragraph 8 below; other users of the feed pay a fee freely negotiated with PARBUL.

  3.  PARBUL is owned by the major broadcasting companies. The company has eight issued shares as follows:

No of Shares

British Broadcasting Corporation
(BBC1, BBC2, BBC News 24 and BBC Parliament)
Independent Television Association Limited
(Channel 3)
Channel 4 Television Corporation
British Sky Broadcasting Limited
Channel 5 Broadcasting Limited

  4.  The board of PARBUL consists of up to 19 directors who are currently as follows:

ChairmanSir Alan Haselhurst MP
Commons Directors
Appointed by the SpeakerThe Rt Hon Margaret Beckett MP
Eric Clarke MP
Roger Gale MP
Andrew Stunell MP
Lords Directors
Appointed by the House of LordsLord Boston of Faversham QC
Lord Thomson of Monifieth KT
Lord Burnham
Lord Morris of Castle Morris
Supervisor of Parliamentary Broadcasting Margaret Douglas OBE
Shareholder Directors
British Broadcasting CorporationAnne Sloman
Peter Phillips
Neil Dormand
Roger Mosey
Independent Television Association Ltd Steve Anderson
Channel 4 Television CorporationDavid Lloyd
British Sky Broadcasting LimitedNick Pollard
Channel 5 Broadcasting LimitedChris Shaw
Appointed by all shareholdersPaul Mathews

  All directors have one vote and the Chairman has a casting vote in the event of a tie. The Secretary of PARBUL is Martin Webster, a partner in the firm of Biddle, solicitors.

  5.  The board usually meets twice a year; in February or March prior to its AGM, and in the Summer to approve a budget for the forthcoming year beginning 1 October.

  6.  At the February/March board meeting each year the board is asked to review the authority granted to an executive committee of the board to see to the running of the company on a day-to-day basis. Paul Mathews is a member of the committee and is a part-time employee of the company. The other members of the committee are Margaret Douglas, the Supervisor of Parliamentary Broadcasting, and Peter Phillips who, with his staff at the BBC, looks after the company's accounting function.

  7.  At each board meeting the Executive Directors report on matters arising since the previous meeting and answer questions from the other directors on the company's affairs. Any director is entitled to convene a meeting of the board at any time.

  8.  The shareholders have entered into an agreement between themselves and PARBUL whereby they agree to fund PARBUL's gross expenditure each year to the extent of the budget previously agreed by them and adopted by the board at its summer meeting. (This shareholder's agreement expires in 2001 when the copyright licences from the House of Commons and the House of Lords referred to in paragraph 1 above may be terminated by the Speaker and the Clerk of the Parliaments.) This arrangement ensures that, as PARBUL's liabilities are unlikely to be fully met from its income, the shortfall will be met by the shareholders.

  9.  PARBUL should thus never find itself trading while insolvent and its directors will consequently avoid liability under the Insolvency Act 1986 for wrongful trading.

  10.  The broadcaster shareholders agree that PARBUL works well as a mechanism. We are convinced that its 10 year history proves its worth as a useful forum for shareholders, broadcasters and representatives of Parliament to discuss coverage and ongoing issues.

  11.  The system has stood the test of time to such a degree that we believe it is mature enough to allow a reassessment of the rules. In Scotland and Wales, where the Parliament and Assembly are now up and running, coverage is free of many of the limitations and restrictions in force at Westminster. We believe it is time to modernise the rules, in order to allow better and more modern coverage of Parliamentary proceedings.

  12.  Also, we believe that we are at the point of substantial reassessment of the cost of re-equipping the Chamber. This process has to happen in the next couple of years. The models adopted in Scotland and Wales contrast with that of Westminster. They reflect a more realistic balance in investment and expenditure between Parliament and the broadcasters, and recognise the different relationship that exists now compared to 10 years ago.

October 1999

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