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Lord Lipsey: That sounded pretty final and irrevocable to me. I rise with great temerity, because if the noble Lord can call the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, naive, I hesitate to think what he will say to me after my remarks. If we are talking about naivety, it is strange to cite in evidence of the horrors of this proposal Mr Mark Thompson and Mr Greg Dyke, who, great though their skills and talents are, are of course competitors of the people about whom we are talking. So, unsurprisingly, they do not want them strengthened. But we will let that pass.
I want to make some brief points, because I do not support the amendment. First, we must separate issues concerned with cross-media ownership from those concerned with foreign ownership per se. I have grave concerns about cross-media ownership, to which we shall come. Foreign ownership is a different matter altogether. It does not raise, for example, questions of cross-promotion distorting policy. One can be for foreign ownership and against cross-media ownership.
Secondlythis is such a naive point I hardly dare make itif we were just Britain and we could just have British television and companies could be owned only by the British I could support the noble Lord's point. But European companies under the EU can own companies. I am no raving Eurosceptic, but why is it fine for European companies to own them and not for American companies? We will come to one of the reasons cited in a minute. It is not in America that the head of the government owns and controls the broadcasting in this country. However strong the American broadcasters are, they are not yet Prime Minister or President. That argument has to be weighed.
Lord Fowler: Is not one of the points that the noble Lord should address that there should be some form of reciprocal arrangement? Is not that exactly the distinction that he is seeking? Members of the European Union do have that right. What the United States is doing is refusing to make reciprocal arrangements.
Lord Lipsey: I take the point made by the noble Lord. I should like to see reciprocity. However, the noble Lord will forgive me for saying that that is a rather plausible red herring, so to speak, because there is not the least possibility that Granada and Carlton are going to go to the United States and take over NBC; it is not conceivable to put that on the list. No British company would want to do it. While of course I should like to see reciprocity, I am not sure whether that would be advanced by keeping this restriction.
I turn now to what I think is the nub of the argument, which is the one advanced on dumping. It is said that they will send over all their lousy programmes on the cheap. Murdoch tried that in Asia and it failed. His take-over in Asia was in extreme danger until he introduced local presenters, local programming, and stopped dumping, whereupon he has enjoyed enormous success. That is the final and conclusive response to the argument.
Finally, if you want to deal with these issues, the right way to do so is through competition law. If competition law seems inadequate for the mediain some ways I think that it is, and I agree with my noble friend Lord Puttnam herethen competition law should be changed. But an arbitrary, anti-American ban, which is what is being proposed in the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, then it seems to be a gross error in terms of finding a way of dealing with the matter. I think that we can find better ways and I hope that the Government and this House will do so.
Lord Gordon of Strathblane: I rise to speak to Amendment No. 285A, tabled in my name, which is much more modest and addresses the simple issue of reciprocity. Regrettably I disagree with what has been said by both the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, and my noble friend Lord Lipsey. I shall not give a full answer to the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, except briefly to refer him to Clause 260 of the Bill. If Ofcom
I have already indicated that I am broadly agnostic about ownership; therefore I am not anti-American. I do not think that the Americans should be kept out for ever. In fact, they cannot be kept out for ever. Let us be realistic. Quite a number of the most popular programmes in this country are made in Australia and the United States. It is programmes that influence people, not the chief executive's office. I repeat, the programmes matter. So we are already receiving that input and, to be frank, with the increase in satellite traffic, programmes will come from all over the globe whether we like it or not. If they are popular then people will watch them.
This reminds me of the days of my youth when I listened to the American Forces Network to hear "big band" music at a time when the BBC thought it was far too jazzy for us. Today, satellite is the equivalent. We can access programmes from all over the world, so I am certainly not anti-American.
However, I do argue that we should have reciprocity. For my noble friend Lord Lipsey to dismiss that as a red herring is, if I may say, to fly in the face of a normal principle of trade. Some misleading statements have been made, I am sure unintentionally, by certain Ministers in another place. In rising order of objectionableness, the phrase, "It makes no sense that French, Italian or German companies can own television and radio stations when American companies cannot do so". The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, made the point: it is at the least relevant that there is reciprocity in the EU.
I hope that the Government will accept my amendment. It is fully in keeping with the traditions of British broadcasting. What the Government are currently proposing in the Bill marks a major departure from the traditions of British broadcasting.
The next mistakeI say that because, to be frank, it is not simply misleading, it is plain wrongwas made by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry in giving evidence to the committee chaired by my noble friend Lord Puttnam. She said that there was no restriction on the foreign ownership of radio. Since no one in the committee picked her up on that point, she warmed to the task and said that we would not have had Classic FM if we had placed any restrictions on foreign ownership. However, while Warner was
Undoubtedly things will change, but let us be clear about this. If the most powerful nation in the world, with a huge internal market and a dominant position in the wider international English-speaking market, will not allow any nation to own more than 20 per cent of an American media enterprise, why should we unilaterally give in and say, "Oh, please, you can come into our house. It may be ridiculous that we are not allowed inside your house, but do come into ours". That is nonsense and it is not the correct way to protect British interests. Furthermore, to say that no British company could possibly move into the United States is equally nonsensical.
Lord Lipsey: Could my noble friend explain why we should forgo the advantages of having American investment over here just because the Americans choose to forgo the advantages they would enjoy by having British programming and investment there?
Lord Gordon of Strathblane: I heard that argument raised when my noble friend and I attended the same Westminster Media Forum. The response to that is that just because they are behaving stupidly does not mean that we should behave stupidly.
Let us return to the principle of reciprocity. I take it that noble Lords think that reciprocity is a good idea. However, this could be a close call, so would noble Lords please concentrate closely: Do noble Lords think that we are more liable to get the Americans to agree to reciprocity if unilaterally we give in first, orthis is the tricky oneif we say, "Only if you let us in".? Answers on a postcard, please.
I repeat, let us be realistic. At present the Americans are saying no. I think that the Secretary of State was pessimistic when she said that there was no likelihood of it happening in the near future. I understand that the matter is presently under consideration in the United States because, like everyone else, the US recognises that people can receive services by satellite and that much of the regulation is out of date. All I can say is that I think the British national interest would be best served if we secured reciprocity and the ability, not for British companies to acquire ABC, but for them to be able to set up a service in Chicago or wherever. At the moment, that is not allowed.
Do not let us forget that one of our most distinguished Commonwealth citizens in the media field was forced to go through the humiliation of having to renounce his Australian citizenship, take a primary school test in American history, and apply for American citizenship in order to own anything in the United States. I do not think that he should have been put through that humiliation; I happen to admire Mr Rupert Murdoch a great deal. All I say is that if
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