Standing Committee A
Thursday 8 February 2001
[Mrs. Irene Adams in the Chair]
Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): On a point of order, Mrs. Adams. We do not have the second part of the Hansard report of our proceedings on Tuesday. It is therefore impossible for members of the Committee to refer back to that debate.
The Chairman: The matter is being investigated and the Hansard report will be in the Room as soon as possible.
Television and radio broadcasting
The Minister for Public Health (Yvette Cooper): I beg to move amendment No. 47, in page 5, line 28, leave out from `Broadcasting' to `section' in line 29 and insert
`Corporation or Sianel Pedwar Cymru (the Welsh Authority referred to in'.
This minor amendment would remove a misprint in the Bill, which refers to the British Broadcasting ``Authority'' instead of the corporation, and set out the full name of the Welsh fourth channel authority. Both the BBC and Sianel Pedwar Cymru are excluded from the scope of the Bill. BBC services are regulated by its board of governors while the Welsh fourth channelS4Cis regulated by the Broadcasting Act 1990. Their exclusion is in line with the decision to exclude from the scope of the Bill those broadcasting services that are already well regulated by statute or charter.
Mrs. Caroline Spelman (Meriden): I welcome you to the Chair, Mrs. Adams. I have not served under your chairmanship before, and I look forward to doing so.
I thank the Minister for her explanation of the amendment. It would clarify which Welsh broadcasting authority is covered by the Bill and correct the original reference in the Bill to the ``British Broadcasting Authority''. The Minister said that the BBC was regulated by its board of governors. The amendment would correct an elementary matter; I am surprised that the reference to ``Authority'' was not noticed when the Bill was first drafted. However, I have been a member of Standing Committees that have debated Bills containing many more elementary mistakes than the Bill that we are currently debating. Parliamentary draftsmen are under enormous pressure, and mistakes can happen.
The Minister will know that, occasionally, we are concerned about the role of the governors of the BBC and about their fulfilling the requirements placed on them. Although we associate advertising almost exclusively with those commercial television channels that are legitimately allowed to advertise, some of the problems that have arisen under other clauses of the Bill that deal with product placement are just as much a problem in BBC programmes. Unfortunately, such matters are not regulated sufficiently tightly by the Bill. We are requiring the governors of the BBC to be far more vigilant than previously in ensuring that tobacco advertising that might fuel the prevalence of smoking does not slip through. We see product placement on television despite the ban on commercial tobacco advertising. I would like the Minister to impress upon the governors of the BBC that the BBC is affected. They may say that they do not, and never have, carried any tobacco advertising because the BBC does not run advertisements. However, when programmes are being vetted, precautions should be taken to avoid letting through other forms of advertising that we know to have a potent effect on young people.
I do my level best to stop my children from watching soaps because I have severe misgivings about the values that are imparted through them, but children coming home from school often plonk themselves down in front of the television and watch soaps in which role models openly smoke. That is an illustration of how product placement can creep in. It was a grey area when we debated it. Although there may not be official sponsorship agreements between television stars and tobacco companies, the potency of seeing a revered television star smoking on screen is enough to inspire young girls to take up the habit.
I remain concerned. I do not want the amendment to go by without putting on record my concern about the new responsibility that will be placed on the governors of the BBC.
Mr. Ian Bruce: I may want to speak further about the clause in the clause stand part debate. I am concerned about how we define what the BBC is, not least because BBC World is broadcast on satellite television. The BBC is being encouraged through the new communications White Paper and the opportunity to earn money other than that which it receives from licence payers, to separate out its duties. I am worried that unless one defines the BBC, it may be able to carry advertising that the Government do not intend, especially if its programmes are beamed overseas.
If one goes down and looks at the BBC's facilities for making programmes for transmission on satellite channels in other areasin Europe or in the United Kingdomthere is a man with an automatic machine, which feeds in a pile of cassettes with all of the different programme items. The transmission is beamed via an uplink to a satellite. That satellite zooms it over to another satellite and it comes down in China or wherever. Every 15 minutes or so the programme stops, and the advertisements are dropped into the programme breaks in those countries that are receiving the transmission. The whole delivery may be the responsibility of the BBC, or an independent television company.
The original name of the BBC was the ``British Broadcasting Authority''. Now the better-known name British Broadcasting Corporation is being included in the Bill. We must be careful what we are defining. As I understand it, the Government are trying to ring-fence what is paid for by the licence fee. The Government are telling the BBC that it must set up separate organisations, which I think are different, specific legal entitieslimited companies, or even public limited companies. Those organisations are separate from what we know as the BBC of today, which is paid for through the licence fee. Activities such as running extra digital TV channels distributed by satellite, which may all have advertising in them, will be dealt with in a different way. I am happy to have a chance to analyse that; yet again a Government amendment prompts me to consider an issue, which is what exactly the BBC is now.
It may well be that the British Broadcasting Corporation controls what we know as the BBC, and also controls something like BBC World, which has a different remit and be financed in a different way. It may be financed by sponsorship, and is almost certainly financed by advertising. Have the Minister's ever-vigilant staff been thinking about that?
Mrs. Spelman: That is an interesting line of inquiry. Has my hon. Friend considered the reverse traffic? What happens when the BBC imports programmes from countries in which tobacco advertising is not so strenuously regulated? What responsibility will it have in such situations?
Mr. Bruce: I do a good deal of policy work on communications and it is my view, increasingly the Conservative party's view and even, dare I say, the Labour party's view, that one cannot have different regulations for the BBC than for any other broadcaster, because the BBC is no longer just a terrestrial broadcaster with two channels. It has a large number of channels[Interruption.] It is so nice to know that the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) is ready, chuntering away in the background.
The Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman is going a little wide of the amendment; perhaps he would pull his argument back in.
Mr. Bruce: I was about to sit down, Mrs. Adams. It is always difficult to keep track when a Committee member keeps a running commentary that is always too low for me to hear, but which is obviously designed to distract. Unfortunately, Mrs. Adams, you have not been here to see the Trappist tendency among Labour Members again. They do not want to put anything on the record and certainly do not care whether we track what we are supposed to be tracking.
Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West): I had the misfortune to serve on the Select Committee on Employment with the hon. Gentleman for many years. All his self-righteous nonsense amounts to exactly nothing.
The Chairman: Order. Can we come back to the Bill now?
Mr. Bruce: We are on the Bill. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is still on the Employment Select Committee in his own mind; I think that it threw him off some while ago. He has had a distinguished career on the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs; he is well known for that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Meriden was trying to direct attention to the fact that we have separate regulation for the BBC and for all those other organisationswhich is relevant to the Bill, if I may say so, Mrs. Adams. We need to be sure that the amendment is proper, given that the Government are attempting to stop tobacco advertising on the airwaves, whether by the BBC or any other broadcaster. The Minister may want to draw the provision even wider; she may consider that before the Bill returns to the Floor of the House on Tuesday.
Yvette Cooper: I belatedly welcome you to the Committee, Mrs. Adams, and apologise for not having done so when I first spoke.
The amendment is straightforward, simple and is merely a minor wording amendment, but I shall try to address the questions that members of the Committee have raised. The amendment's purpose is to ensure that services already regulated by broadcasting Acts are not doubly regulated, and to deal with overlapping regulation. The Bill, as amended, will exclude services regulated by statutory codes issued by the Independent Television Commission and the Radio Authority under the Broadcasting Acts 1990 and 1996 and the BBC. The services regulated by those Acts include ITV, channels 4 and 5 and public teletext as well as cable and satellite programme serviceswhen the person who provides the service is established in the United Kingdomdigital terrestrial television, restricted services, BBC commercial services and independent radio. Services that are not covered by the Broadcasting Acts include cable text, in-house broadcastingin shopping malls, for exampleand closed user services. Services not covered by the Broadcasting Acts are automatically covered by this Bill. The combination of the two should cover all the areas in which we have territorial jurisdiction, and where we are able to cover it.
Product placement is an issue that causes concern, but it is covered by the statutory codes and the Broadcasting Acts, which state that product placement of tobacco products should not be permitted on either channel. If there were any breaches of those codes, I would be interested to hear of them, to ensure that they are properly pursued. The codes that exist should be properly enforced, whether by the governors of the BBC or the Independent Television Commission.
The Bill is not intended to ban smoking on television; it would be wrong for us to seek to do so, and it is not Government policy. However, we intend to ban tobacco advertising, and that is clearly the intention of the Bill and the statutory codes.
Amendment agreed to.
Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.