Cross-media Ownership

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:31 pm on 23rd May 1995.

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Photo of Stephen Dorrell Stephen Dorrell Secretary of State for National Heritage 3:31 pm, 23rd May 1995

I was not entirely clear whether the hon. Gentleman was welcoming the document or attacking it. As he started by saying that he welcomed it I shall take him at his word. He said that there was a trail of unanswered questions. Some of the questions that he listed are in the document in interrogative form because the document starts a consultation process on precisely the questions that the hon. Gentleman raises. Perhaps I may go through his points one by one.

The hon. Gentleman asked why it has taken so long to produce the document. The issue is important, and it is important to address it in the short and long-term contexts. I make no apology for spending time thinking through the document's short and long-term proposals.

Secondly, the hon. Gentleman asked me—presumably this was one of his trail of unanswered questions—about the shape of the regulator. That question is avowedly unanswered in the document, which sets out the need for a regulator and invites opinions on the precise shape that the regulator should take. One way of approaching that would be to vest the power in the Director General of Fair Trading and the MMC. Another way is the one which the hon. Gentleman suggested—I take that as an early response to the consultation process.

The hon. Gentleman asked me whether normal competition rules will continue to apply alongside any specific regulation of media ownership. The answer is yes.

The hon. Gentleman then asked me about the public interest in quality. He was on to an important point, even though it is not directly germane to the regulation of media ownership. We focus on quality in our television system through the ITC, through the channel allocation system, and through the conditions imposed on allocation. The document examines the whole media sector.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not seriously argue for the introduction of statutory machinery to regulate quality in the newspaper sector, which is just as important a part of the media industry as television. The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question about quality is that all those provisions remain unchanged by these proposals—including the provisions in the ITC to protect the regional character of the ITV licensees.

There are no proposals to change existing arrangements governing foreign-owned companies. The Government do not believe that there is any need to change them, so we have introduced no proposals.

Community radio is an important success story from the last round of liberalisation of the radio industry; I look forward to similar success stories in other parts of the media industry, coming on the back of the deregulation that I have announced today.

The hon. Gentleman suggested that the document is silent on the subject of conditional access. It actually devotes a whole page to the subject, between paragraphs 5.12 and 5.16, where it sets out clearly the Government's position. That is that protecting the fair operation of conditional access is fully and adequately achieved by existing competition law arrangements. The DGFT has already demonstrated his willingness to use his powers in that area this year.

So I disagreed with the hon. Gentleman's concluding comments about the balance between the old and the new. The document consciously sets out to deal with today's problems and to show the direction in which we go tomorrow, and I welcome his support for that approach.