|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Gordon of Strathblane: My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. There is a fundamental difference which is that Signor Berlusconi owns Italian media which do not broadcast in the same language as we do. The American media do and therefore they have the opportunity of vertical integration, which I have previously said is often called "dumping" by the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, and his committee, in terms of the British media. That is the fundamental difference.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, my noble friend did not make that argument at all in his speech. Also he did not wait for me to make the opposing point that I now propose to make. My point is that investors, including those who would be allowed in by the amendment that was tabled and defeated on Report, must abide by our system. That includes quotas for original production, European Union production, regional and independent production, and it also includes the power of Ofcom to be able to review licence commitments on change of control to ensure that new owners maintain the standards of the old. How does that allow for dumping?
There are provisions allowing Ofcom to review licence obligations for regional programming and production, and original production, and news and current affairs programmes at any time and, after consultation, change the licence. Ofcom will also have to protect the local content of radio. Ofcom will also be able to vary the licence conditions when local licences change control in order to preserve the local character of the station, and to maintain the quality and range of the service.
Unlike the United Statesthe debate has been very much about the United Stateswe also have rules preventing broadcasters from using their companies to further their own political agenda. Broadcast news must be accurate and impartial and companies must not use television or radio in order to express their own views on politics or current public or industrial policy. Ofcom will have the power to regulate these provisions, imposing fines where necessary, and ultimately, revoking licences of broadcasters who do not fulfil their licence obligations. All those powers will be available to Ofcom to ensure that the quality of our broadcast media will be retained, regardless of the nationality of its owners.
Again, the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, does not choose to recognise the fact, but we shall also have the protection of the new plurality test. We can intervene and investigate an acquisition even if it serves only to replace a significant player rather than consolidating. In those circumstances we can look at the need for the availability throughout the United Kingdom of a wide range of broadcasting which (taken as a whole) is both of high quality and calculated to appeal to a wide variety of tastes and interests; and the need for persons carrying on media enterprises, and for those with control of such enterprises, to have a genuine commitment to the attainment in relation to broadcasting of standards objectives set out in the Bill.
I recognise that the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, and my noble friend Lord Gordon and others have argued honourably and consistently for the amendment. I recognise their sincerity although I believe that they have failed to keep up with the changes that have taken place in the Bill, particularly the changes that took place on Report as regards foreign ownership and today on plurality.
I believe that this is an opportunistic amendment. Bearing in mind that the House voted last week at Report stage for opening up to foreign investment, to attempt to frustrate and to reverse that decision of the House at Third Reading is an undesirable proposition. If the amendment is moved to a Division I hope that it will be defeated.
Lord Fowler: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Crickhowell, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, for their support. All the Back-Bench speakers who have spoken in this debate have supported my proposition. The only person who has spoken against it is the Minister.
In particular, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, that the man in the street will regard it as unbelievable that we should be giving away our rights in this way. Clearly, that will be the view of many people in this country. The Minister at one stage slightly criticised the media knowledge of the noble Lord, Lord Gordon. Perhaps I may say to him that I suspect that the noble Lord's knowledge of the media is rather deeper than that of many on the Government's Front Bench.
The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, is also wrong in saying that I am arguing against foreign ownership. I am not; I am saying that if there is to be foreign ownership, there should be reciprocal arrangements. That is the argument. It is fairly simple and straightforward. It is not being put opportunistically, as he says; it is the argument that I and my colleagues have been putting consistently during the passage of the Bill.
I shall not repeat all our arguments. I want to make two points. In no way is this an anti-United States amendment. As I have made clear at every stage, I am strongly pro-American. In no way is this anti-free trade. I am also strongly in favour of free trade: businesses competing with one another on a level playing field. But in the case of television and broadcasting, the playing field will be anything but level. Basically, the Bill allows United States' companies to buy ITV in Britain, and now ITN with itso ITV and ITN, quite a purchasewithout any reciprocal arrangements for British companies. That is what the public will find when they understand the implications of the Billand that is what they will find so hard to understand. They will also find it hard to understand why this House and both Front Benches back that particular proposition.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.