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There are two points that I should like to make. First, in no way is this an anti-American amendment. I am strongly pro-American. In the media field, Mr Murdoch deserves great credit for what he has done in this country, particularly in the newspaper area, sweeping away some of the old restrictive practices that were moving a great number of our newspapers towards bankruptcy. He therefore deserves a great deal of credit for that.
Secondly, in no way is this anti-free trade. I am strongly in favour of free trade and of businesses competing with one another on a level playing field. In the case of television and broadcasting, the playing field being created by this Bill is anything but level. Basically, United States companies are being allowed to buy ITV in Britain without any reciprocal arrangement for British companies to do anything like the same in the United States.
With respect, the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, consistently seems to miss the contrast with the position in the European Union, with which there are reciprocal arrangements. Here, we are introducing a new measure without any reciprocal arrangements. The noble Lord, Lord Gordon, and I find it quite inexplicable in pure business terms. I cannot understand why any country would want to do that.
I think that the arrangement is neither sensible nor in our national interest; apart from the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, I have found few people who do. It is a complete mystery why the Government are introducing this change. Only a few months ago they, too, took my view. Going back to November 2001, the view of the Government was,
In Committee, I asked what factors had persuaded them to conduct this extraordinary U-turn in policy. Unfortunately, time was such that the Minister never got round to that point in her summing up. Perhaps the new Minister can say why there was this change of mindafter what consideration and after what meetings. Perhaps he can even say who lobbied for this change in legislation. The extraordinary thing is that the Government, apparently, still want reciprocal arrangements with the United States.
On the face of it, giving away one's strongest negotiating card before the negotiations have begun seems the most extraordinary negotiating tactic, if that is the case. Free trade does not mean simply rolling on one's back, kicking one's legs in the air and allowing the negotiations to be settled in that way.
Perhaps I may put it another way. For a moment let us imagine that we had reciprocal arrangements with the United States, but not with Germany and France. Nevertheless, without any reciprocal agreement, we allowed France and Germany to enter our market unchecked. It is perhaps just conceivable that attitudes therefore might be a little different. My Front Bench might be opposing this measure and not supporting it. Whips might be bussing in old friends of mine who I have scarcely seen in the first two years of my life here.
In the debate so far, I have not heard one argumentI have scarcely heard an argument of any kindput by either Front Bench which even half persuades me to go along with the Bill on this issue. I strongly support the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, and will most certainly vote for it.
Baroness Cohen of Pimlico: My Lords, I rise not exactly to support the amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Gordon, because I suspect that the issue of reciprocity may be something of a red herring. I have some regret in saying that although my noble friend Lord Puttnam has taken his name off this amendmentas a fellow member of the committee, normally I support the noble Lord in everythingin this case I cannot go along with him. I do not believe that plurality regulation will amount to the same thing as an ownership restriction. Ownership restriction, which I unhesitatingly say must apply far more to any country which makes its programmes in English, I continue to believe is extremely important. I regret to divide the ranks of the committee further on this point but it is important.
I am not sure that reciprocity in the amendment is not a red herring. As I understand it, there are people in the DTI negotiating these kind of agreements through the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade arrangements at the moment. For me, the real point is not reciprocity but the whole problem of ownership of channels.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I believe that the United States is right in its policy. So many times it has been said that in dealing with cultural goods one is dealing with something completely different from virtually anything else. I am concerned that if we allow American investment in our television and radio channels, with the force of their wealth they might very easily and rather quickly invade the jewels of our own television and radio. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Cohen, I am not as sanguine as some may be that the Puttnam amendmentif I can call it thatwill come to the aid of our own television and radio companies in those circumstances. I fear that one is moving into a legal minefield in that circumstance. I note that the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, is gently nodding his head in agreement with my point.
The fact that we allow European Union members to have free access to ownership of our television and radio companies is a matter of history. Two wrongs do not make a right. In any event, there is a huge difference between the United States, with a common
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, I warmly support what the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, said and what my noble friend said in his very eloquent moving speech. I shall do so with real, not merely promised, brevity. The whole passage of this very complicated Bill has been a powerful reminder to me of how difficult it is to sustain standards. Standards tend to fall, not to rise. Someone quoted Sir Denis Forman on the qualities that those who are responsible for standards would need to show for them even to be sustained, let alone to rise. Surely, this is not a time when we should think of diminishing the defences that we have. I can see absolutely no grounds for getting rid of the need for reciprocity before doing so.
The amendments have not removed consumer choice from the high table at which it ordinarily sits these days: consumer choice has been told fairly firmlynot before timethat it does not own the high table; it has the privilege of sitting there.
It seems slightly unreal that we should leave this subject without referring to Mr Murdoch. I received a rather strange letter from News International, as did many of your Lordships. It told me one or two things which I knew before and something which I did not know beforethat is, that Mr Murdoch did not intend to bid for Channel 5but I was not quite sure what News International wanted of me. At this stage, I am left with the need to say that Mr Murdoch seems to me to have acquired a position of almost unparalleled influence over our affairs, and I see no possible reason for making it easier for him to expand on that.
I have said what I intended to say, and I have said it with all the conviction that I can muster. I warmly support my noble friend in his amendment and I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, only that I, too, prefer Amendment No. 194 to Amendment No. 193.
This is not primarily a matter of economic reciprocity, although it is a useful device in the argument. This is not primarily an economic issue; rather, we are considering the whole character and quality of the broadcasting system of this country, one which is distinctively different from that which has grown up in the United States; it has a quite different history. If we were to open our marketplace to American broadcasting capital, I think that Ofcom would have an extremely difficult job trying to preserve the essential character of broadcasting in this
Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, I had thought of wearing a form of flak jacket in your Lordships' House today in order to debate these amendments, because I am going to stand four-square with the Government. Her Majesty's Opposition does not support these amendments. Indeed, we are entirely in favour of lifting restrictions on the ownership of national terrestrial broadcasting licences.
As I made quite clear at Second Reading, we believe that lifting the restrictions will open up the broadcasting media to new sources of investment and ideas. Foreign investment has already enabled cable and satellite television to grow in this country. The concern that liberalisation will lead to a flood of foreign content is, we believe, misplaced. Commercial companies operating in a commercial marketplace simply cannot afford to ignore consumer demand. Moreover, all the evidence suggests that domestic programming is popular in the United Kingdom and therefore any media company that wants to be successful in this country must provide the local content that people want or it will not survive. In essence, content is driven by consumer demand, not by ownership, and the two issues should not be confused.
My noble friend Lord Crickhowell was right to point out that I did say at Second Reading that we should have more confidence in our culture and allow the consumer to choose, but I take issue with his suggestion that, in a sense, I sought to take a different view from that of, as I recall, the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, on that occasion. I say that because we stand four-square with the Government in the light of the fact that, unlike the United States, we have already, and will continue to have, what has been set out so clearly on the face of the Bill: strong content regulation. That, we believe, makes all the difference.