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Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: Four of my family's six Members of Parliament in the past 170 years were Liberal MPs, so I have a strong genetic prejudice in favour of free trade. We are a maritime nation, and we should have an open seas policy. I recall getting into trouble with constituents in central London for arguing against legislation to prevent foreigners from buying houses and flats there, so I have suffered for my principles.
In principle, therefore, I support my Front Bench in both Houses on their general thesis, but on American ownership of the media, which is the subject of the amendments tabled by my noble friend Lord Crickhowell, and on the issue of reciprocity, which is the subject of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, I am influenced by experience in two other areas of the communications industries. The first is the film industry, with which the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, is very familiar. Any Minister who has wrestled with the problem of the future of the British film industry is ineluctably brought back to the control of distribution by the Americansthat control was surrendered in past yearsand the consequences that that has. He will find himself persistently in the position of the Irishman who, on being asked the way, said, "If I wanted to get there, I wouldn't start from here".
The second example from the communications industries is air transportation. I recently read the biography of the first Earl Swinton, for reasons that are not relevant to the debate. I followed him through the series of conferences that he held with the
Lord Bragg: I support the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. Until the past three or four weeks, when more evidence came to light and I thought harder about it, I used to think that foreign ownership could be accepted and protected in this country and in our industry. I speak as someone who, as has been pointed out, is part of a companyGranadathat could, perhaps, benefit commercially from foreign ownership.
My views have been modified for three reasons. The first is the forceful representations made over the weeksexpressed privately, publicly and in the Houseabout reciprocity. I take the argument made by my noble friend Lord Gordon of Strathblane and by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth. They made powerful arguments, as did anyone else who talked about reciprocity. To go in without some sort of reciprocal agreement would be foolish, in the sense that we would have to fight for itif we were to get it at allfor years afterwards.
The word that I have picked out most from what was said so eloquently by other noble Lords is "dignity". It would be deeply undignified for a massive broadcasting country such as ours, which is still tremendous on the world stage, to roll over. That is how it would be seen, and it would, in that way, be rolling over. That has become a powerful issue for me.
I can express the same admiration for a great deal of American television as my noble friend Lady Jay of Paddington expressed. I have worked with American television, and I have co-produced programmes with American television. I used to co-produce arts programmes with the American PSB television station. When I started, it did about 21 hours of arts programmes a year, as did ITV1. It now does six arts programmes a year, and they must all be American. They do not always fit our bill, so the co-productions have ceased. That is a digression, but it is not irrelevant.
Two other things have also made me change my mind. The first is the quotas that are supposed to protect the British interest, when foreign investment comes in. I am disturbed by the fact that there do not seem to be any ways of measurement laid out. How do we decide about the quotas? Do the companies that supply programmes for, say, ITV, have to be staffed by British people? Must those people be British-born? Must they be British residents? What percentage must be British? Must the companies do British subjects? Must they use British locations? Must they use British back-up in all the infrastructure? How are the quotas measured? Are quotas of people really involved?
In ITV, for instance, we do programmes in drama, which is the mainstay of British television. Recently, there was "Dr Zhivago", which was very expensive. Why should anyone do that, unless he has come from a tradition that believes that, having had "The Jewel in the Crown" and "Brideshead Revisited", that is what he should do, because his peerspeers outside the House, that isdid it? That is the way that we went on. ITV took risks on major television with "Queer as Folk". That was an advanced, difficult drama. Such programmes would never have got on to American television. Why should anyone take such huge financial risks? "Dr Zhivago" was never going to get a mega-audience; it was going to get about half as much as "Coronation Street", if it was lucky. Why should anyone take a risk with subject matter, as with "Queer as Folk"? Who judges? How do we regulate for that sort of quality?
I can give personal examples. I could do arts programmes for about a fifth of the price that I do them now. Eventually, we would be found out, but we could toddle along for a while. I could buy from the mass of arts programmes circulating the world or the mass of cheap concerts. I could pull them down any time that I wanted. I could do cheap arts programmes any time that I wanted. They would look all right in the brochure, but they would not be what we have been doing for so many years. Such things worry me very much. There are benefits to be had from inward investment. I would welcome it but under the right terms.
I also think that Ofcom is heavily burdened. That matter could wait. It could be examined. Some of the questions that I have raisedthey are only a beginningcould be answered. In that spirit, I support the amendment.
Lord Harris of High Cross: I hope that, even at this late hour, the Committee will be patient. There has been a well developed and orchestrated campaign in favour of the amendments. I can see some force in some parts of the argument. Emotionally, I often feel drawn, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, to
It is regrettable and deplorable that the Americans perpetuate restrictions on the ownership of television and so forth by foreign nationals. It is unforgivable. However, we should not indulge in what, in student days, was called beggar-my-neighbour restrictionism. People think that because they are doing us down, we must try to do them down and that good will emerge from that. Reciprocity is, of course, an ideal to be aimed at, but, in the last resort, we must decide which way to go. Traditionally, the way that we have gone, in goods and services, has been in the direction of freedom of commerce and so on. There are down-to-earth, practical reasons for that, as well as reasons of high principle.
The case against following the Americans, if they will not agree with us, is that we would be denying ourselves access to some parts of the trade that would be in our favour. We would be excluding investment, know-how, challenge, stimulus and the other consequences of a competitive regime.
The anxious tendencythe nervous tendencythat we detect around the House ignores the two safeguards that foreign companies will still be subject to the same content control and other programme requirements as British broadcasters. Secondly, whatever the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, says, all experience confirms that local content is generally the best way to win and retain audience interest.
If we come to lofty principle, I simply assert that the maximum freedom of trade in goods, services and capital is the universal, global route to interdependence, mutual understanding, peace and prosperity in the long run. The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, quoted examples of American companies coming in and sacking various people. He referred to the big bang that led to sackings and redundancies in the City. That may be the short-term impact, but the inevitable long-term consequences of this global spread of interests and investment is the expansion of competition, output and choice.
I wish the Americans would open up their market; I think in the long runnot the very long runthey will be compelled to open up their broadcasting frontiers. Unlike many other speakers who are nervous, I believe that now is the time to set an example and display confidence in our own culture and industry to stand up to competition from all comers. To talk about it being undignified to continue to accept rival competition from abroad seems to be stretching it a good deal.
Despite the absence of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, whom I miss very much, I repeat my appeal to the Liberal Democrat Benches. So much of their view on these issues is restrictionist, backward-looking and conservativeit is actually Tory. This is restrictionism, protectionistit is nothing to do with liberalism and not an awful lot to do with democracy.
Lord Puttnam: I support the amendment put down by my noble friend Lord Crickhowell, of which I am a co-sponsor. I shall try to be brief. There is not a little Englander bone in my body. I spent 22 very happy years of my 30 years in the film industry contracted to the largest media organisation in the worldTime Warner. So I certainly do not come to this from the perspective of a little Englander's sense of what is right. But I have two things to say. To my noble friend Lord Lipsey, I say this is not a rejectionist amendment. Were I the Secretary of State, I think I would be looking back 10 months to the time when our Joint Scrutiny Committee report first came out and thinking, "Why on earth didn't I embrace its sensible suggestion to pause, to think, to gather evidence and to ask Ofcom for a sensible recommendation?". It is pretty galling for us. The sub-theme from the Front Bench is, "We're not allowing Ofcom to get on with things". Yet here we are asking Ofcom to get cracking. In a number of amendments coming up, we suggest leaving it to Ofcom, taking its advice and allowing it to gather evidence. The Government, in this sense, appear to want it both ways.
Let me add a little factual background to the excellent amendment put down by the noble Lords, Lord Gordon and Lord Fowler. I believe that 2001 was a very bizarre year for the Government to change their mind, for it was the year in which the first intimations came out of the United States that with the on-rush of the next round of GATT talks, the Americans would have to start making some concessions if they were to win the concessions they sought. I agree with all noble Lords who have said that entering negotiations knowing the other side has already decided that it has to move a bit to get a bit, and hobbling our negotiators with the sense that we have already given up, is pretty bizarre. I get the sense that the left hand may not know what the right hand is doing. Right now, some poor devil at the DTI is engaged in the detail of the next round of GATT negotiations and we are pulling the rug from under his chair. This is not a particularly sensible position for the Government to be in.
I sincerely support the amendment despite the fact that the Government's initial response to content regulation as a way of dealing with much of the problem was admirable, prompt and entirely satisfactory. I commend them on that, but I do not think their present position is sustainable.
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