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Mr. Yeo: The right hon. Gentleman may have heard me say that I will be introducing a Bill to relax the ownership restrictions. That is something that we are doing that the Government are not doing. Will the right hon. Gentleman support that Bill?
Mr. Kaufman: I shall read it with great care. If it contains provisions with which I agree, I shall certainly support it. As the hon. Gentleman said to my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (James Purnell), if he cares to write to me about it, I will write back to him.
As the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) pointed out, the Bill comes forward as a consequence of a recommendation made in a report by the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport just under four years ago. That is quite fast in terms of a Government considering a Committee's recommendations. The Bill is important because it creates a framework for one of the most important industries that this country has.
The Department is a sponsor of the most important private sector industry in this country; namely tourism. It is a co-sponsor of the most important technological and manufacturing industry in this country; namely the converged industry of telephones, television and computers that we are looking at today. The more we consider those matters, the more we see that the convergence that the Select Committee looked forward to is, day by day, becoming a more discernible fact.
I regret that, so far, the Prime Minister has not followed up another recommendation that the Select Committee has twice made; namely that an industry of such great importance should have a single Government Department sponsoring it. We have two extremely able and efficient Ministers on the Front Bench tonight, but they come from two different Departments. It is difficult to co-ordinate adequately how the Government should approach such a major industry as this when two Departments themselves must co-ordinate.
This is a small Bill, but it has huge implications. I welcome what my hon. Friend the Minister said about the method by which the appointments will take place. I very much hope that as the Government consider who should be appointed to take charge of Ofcom, they will dispense with their list of the usual suspects; the great and the good whom both parties have consistently had on their lists year after year. With the Bill, we are beginning to turn over a new page in one of the most important developments that this country will see in the 21st century.
I very much hope that we get somebody who is not only knowledgeable about the industry, but has a dynamic and forward-looking view about where the industry should go. I very much hope that this office will not be added to the multifarious responsibilities of Lord Birt, who has so much to do now that he could not possibly fit in that particular responsibility.
In looking at those who will serve on Ofcom, and at its much wider remit, which the Government may propose in the major and substantive Bill, I hope that the Government will, as has been said earlier, look carefully at the regional dimension. The Independent Television Commission disappointed a great many people
Mr. Kaufman: I see that the hon. Gentleman agrees. A great expert from Sheffield was in correspondence with us about the way in which the ITC was closing down regional representation and regional libraries. I very much hope that when Ofcom is set up, the Government will make clear that there is a requirement to have a regional dimensionif necessary, they should include that requirement in the major legislation.
We are in a curious position at the moment. The hon. Member for Lichfield referred to the decline of ITV. There has been a massive burgeoning of communications, but the main way of watching televisioncertainly until analogue is switched offis through terrestrial stations. Whatever the ownership regulations for ITV may bewhether it continues as it is, or whether a single owner of ITV is allowedI very much hope that the requirement on ITV to maintain regional companies will remain.
Even if the regulations removing the right to have a single owner of ITV are brought forwardI believe that there is a strong argument for thatthat should not mean that there is one ITV company. There should be holding companies for those regional companies. As long as we have the present structure, it is important that the regional aspect be maintained.
Mr. Kaufman: One of my disappointments with ITV is that it has thought so little about its own future. Give or take one tenth of a percentage point, ITV is still the most-watched channel. The latest figures, over which there was argument a couple of weeks ago, show that it is pretty much neck and neck with BBC1.
It is disappointing that a company that has the ability to be dynamic and has a public service remit mixed with a commercial incentive should have been so unimaginative. There is a dullness and complacency about ITV that will limit its future as a viable company.
Despite his remarks about ITV's public service remit, will the right hon. Gentleman pay at least some tribute to regional ITV news? Does he agree that both Yorkshire Television in his region and Carlton in mine have been able to present news on a more local basis than ever before thanks to electronic news gathering, and that they are fulfilling their remit in that respect?
Mr. Kaufman: The hon. Gentleman has got it mildly wrong, as the regional news in my constituency is provided by Granada, although Granada used to own what is now Yorkshire Television. In those days, Granada provided a very good service, but I now find its general service somewhat disappointing. I was discussing with someone only today the really great days of Sidney Bernstein and David Plowright, which produced "The Jewel in the Crown" and "Coronation Street" and made Granada one of the most exciting and innovative television companies. Those days are gone. I strongly believe that we need regional news, but with digital television we can localise even further.
The Select Committee is to begin an inquiry into the major Bill later this month. I am interested in the nature of what is or is not to be regulated. As long as we can regulate terrestrial TV, we should do so, but we should understand the limitations of regulating converged visual communications. Once the internet takes over even more than it has done so far, the ability to regulate visual communications will be severely limited, and it would be foolish to foist on Ofcom functions and duties that it is physically incapable of fulfilling. I hope that the new Bill will be sensible in that respect.
I was surprised that the hon. Member for South Suffolk did not say more about the future of the BBC and Ofcom's role in regulating it. The Government need to think extremely carefully about that and take a much wider perspective. It is interesting that, a few weeks ago, in a letter to The Times in reply to an article about the need for Ofcom to regulate the BBC, Gavyn Davies said:
My hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde asked the hon. Member for South Suffolk about his views on the privatisation of Channel 4 and of the BBC. I believe that it would be outrageous to privatise Channel 4, because I cannot conceive of any private owner being willing to go along with its statutory remit, which I think is very precious.
My views on the privatisation of the BBC may be known to some hon. Members, but I will not state them here, as I do not want to offend my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde even in his absence. I hope, however, that when the Government produce the major Bill, they will accept that it is an utter anomaly for the BBC not to be regulated by Ofcom. The governance of the BBC is wildly out of date. The BBC was formed 80 years ago as the sole broadcaster of what was then only sound broadcasting. It was a company, then a corporation, of a unique nature, doing a unique thing. That is no longer the situation.
The BBC is now one of the most important broadcasting organisations in the world, and it is no longer appropriate for it to be run by a group of amateurs with very few qualifications in the world of broadcasting who give the chairman and the director-general their head because they have inadequate knowledge to control them.
I know that Sir Christopher Bland was enraged when I raised this in the Chamber before, but one need only look at what happened when the BBC launched its programme to publicise and promote Camelot's scratch cards. That the board of governors was willing to go ahead with turning the BBC into a branch of commercial advertising was deplorable. After I had been subject to the usual abuse, the governors then did exactly what I told them they should do. Ministers, too, may abuse me as much as they like, if they only go on to do what I recommend.
The BBC board of governors is a total anomaly. It is utterly out of date and should be got rid of and replaced with a board of directors with an executive chairman and a chief executive. My beloved friend Mr. Dyke should be the chief executive and no longer the director-general. Part of the rethink when the major Bill is introduced should be that the BBC should be subject to Ofcom in every particular that every other broadcaster is. It is about time the BBC stopped repeating the exordium that it is special, great and noble. It gets £2.5 billion of public money that many members of the public would not want