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Lord McNally: I strongly support the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. Listening to the noble Lord, Lord Desai, earlier I was reminded of a definition of economists; that they are men trained to predict the past. Broadcasting legislators, too, are men and women skilled at predicting the past. We always seem to be behind the game. I suspect that in this Broadcasting Bill we shall find ourselves behind the game, such is the rapid change in technology and the structure of companies.
I do not know whether it is a sign of the times that the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, left by one door and the noble Lord, Lord Hollick, came in another. I do not know whether they are pairing to cover the Bill and that that is a sign of what we will see in the future in the new arrangements. Knowing both of them, though only vaguely, I am sure that their marriage was not arranged by one of the computers that puts together compatibles.
I want to remind the Committee that, despite all the changes and the number of times that the legislators have got behind the game in relation to broadcasting, one stroke of genius has stood out over the years, right back to 1950; that is, the setting up of commercial television on a regional basis. That has been a massive triumph and one which, as the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, pointed out (and attention was drawn to it last night at the Royal Television Society) is an enduring achievement. Those of us who want to see that achievement retained see Clause 63 as an iron pole in terms of the ITV network. The dangers referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, of the ITV system with 15 companies gradually concentrating into three big groupings, all of them based in London, is a danger to that regional strength in which we take pride.
My background is from the North West and I was proud to grow up in Granada-land. It is very much in my mind, as I see the developments in television, what a privilege it was to live in Granada-land in the 1950s and 1960s and have a regional television company that had social interests, quality and regional pride. In talking about Granada this evening, I realise that I must sound a little like the character in the Victoria Wood sketch who talks about the gritty realism of the North and the softness of the South. After a long diatribe he finally confesses that he lives in Woking. I am afraid that at present I live in the gritty north of Hertfordshire, but have many business, political, social and family ties with the North West that make me feel concerned to retain those regional strengths.
I happened to be in Liverpool on the day it was announced that Granada was moving the broadcasting of its successful morning programme from Albert Dock in Liverpool to London. The feeling was akin to that aroused by the closure of a large factory. Liverpudlians felt that they had lost to London a major national programme which gave identity to the region and to the City of Liverpool.
I understand the problems. Twin forces are at work. On the one hand the ITV companies say that they must increase in size to be able to play nationally and globally and must acquire critical mass. At the same time, there is no doubt that the bean counters are within the walls and testing each little bit of regional initiative against its cost-effectiveness. All I would say to those people in the ITV companies who are fighting against the bean counters is: "Clause 63, however strong it eventually ends up, is intended to help you. If we do not accept it I fear that, just as we have discovered in other parts of broadcasting where our good intentions are pre-empted by the realities, so the regional strengths of ITV--not only the small companies, but also the big companies--will be gnawed at by the realists, the cost-accounting bean counters, who do not see the strength and value that the commitment to regionalism has given over the years".
Perhaps I may relate an anecdote which applies to Granada, but could apply to any of the other big regional companies. A colleague in this Chamber who had a long tradition in and experience of broadcasting said, "In the past I have defended Granada right down the line when it was under assault from Rank and when it was under-bid at the time of the licence renewals. I am not sure that I would go to the wall for it today".
I remind the big companies within ITV that if they lose the commitment and the support which regionalism has given them, they may be losing more than they yet know. I warned Granada that I would be mentioning it and so, quite rightly, it sent me a great bundle of facts and figures about its regional commitment. I respect that. But the worry of many colleagues is what I would call the body language of the ITV companies. That body language sees the regional commitment not as an
Lord Elis-Thomas: The debate on regionalism in this series of amendments echoes a similar debate we had on the BBC Charter in which we spoke of the importance of regional production in terms of the region itself and also in terms of inter-regional broadcasting within the UK and within the wider European context.
It gives me pleasure to support the amendment for the reasons already set out and for a few others. Regional television looks at least two ways. It reflects regional culture. I have always lived on the borders of HTV-land, Granada-land and almost into RTE-land. I have been able to get different regional and national messages from different areas. There is the creation of employment within regions. There is the creation also of centres of regional journalism, drama and cultural activity. The region is able to express its identity and contribute to a broader cultural picture. If that sounds like last night's guest list revisited, perhaps I may refer back to the RTS dinner and to the excellent and distinguished speech of the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth. At the dinner we were celebrating not only the work of David Glencross but the particular regional strengths of the ITV system.
What concerns me is that, as a result of the Bill and the changes in ownership which are now taking place, we may well see a reversal. ITV was clearly more regional in its accents and its culture than the BBC which relied on its heavily centralised network channels with opt-outs. However, after the assurances given by the BBC centrally as a result of pressure and our debates on the Charter, we may well see a BBC which is more decentralised while the ITV Channel 3 system becomes more centralised. It is for us to voice those concerns.
When we raise issues we are not being critical of the ITV network centre or the work of the ITC as a regulator. Our concern is that we have a cultural remit in this area. We need to ensure that when changes of ownership take place they do not result in disenfranchising regional populations from having their own internal cultural life reflected and from having the communication between regions which is an important part of national, international and inter-regional life.
The Wales-based company HTV has made its own distinctive contribution to the network but has also been rooted within its region through a network of offices which enable it to report on its region and to contribute that reporting not only to the whole of Wales but beyond. For all those reasons I press on the Government the importance of maintaining the distinctive regional identity of ITV at a time when there is a great danger that ownership concentration may undermine the very distinctiveness which the Channel 3 system has so far maintained.
Lord Prys-Davies: Those of us who see the existence, the strength and the vitality of regional broadcasting as being good are grateful to the Government for Clause 63. But we believe there is need for more safeguards. I trust that the Minister will listen
Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde: I support the amendments. The difficulty every Member of the Committee has had in speaking to them is that it is like dealing with a jigsaw puzzle. One amendment overlaps another so it is difficult to compartmentalise the debates.
There is no doubt that the requirement on Channel 3 companies to regionalise under the previous legislation helped considerably with the quality of broadcasting and with the regional input. The Bill allows for larger concentrations of ownership. We are told that that is necessary to ensure that our companies can compete. We are also seeing a concentration of ownership anyway. I suggest that it is essential to have within the Bill protection for regional programming for our television companies.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, referred to Granada-land. I remember Granada-land very well. I am very proud of it, as I come from that part of the world. I also remember Granada's nervousness when it was coming up to its licence review. There had been complaints that Granada was not dealing with regional programming in the way that it should. That is one of the reasons why the Liverpool studio, to which the noble Lord, Lord McNally, referred, was opened.
Under the 1990 Act the ITC was given quite wide-ranging powers to ensure protection for regional programming. It carried out those duties well. I suggest that more powers should be available to the ITC to protect regionalisation of programming. We are pleased to support the amendments.
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