HL Deb 19 December 1983 vol 446 cc485-96

2.56 p.m.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Elton, I beg to move that the Cable and Broadcasting Bill, placed before your Lordships on 30th November, be read a second time.

In the last two years your Lordships have debated the implications of technical developments in the means of distributing television and radio services on several occasions. These developments are capable of transforming the choice available to us from the television screen and transforming also the use to which we can put it. The two main developments, both of which are dealt with in the Bill before the House, are in the field of satellites and cable. Between them they provide the potential for many more television and audio services than we have now. Cable offers a large increase in such services; satellite offers a much wider coverage. Both offer new opportunities to British industry in developing the technology and exploiting it not only in this country but overseas. These are developments that we cannot ignore. It is up to us to provide the framework within which they can offer the widest opportunities and the greatest benefits to those prepared to apply them.

This Bill is the result of an intensive debate that has been undertaken in a comparatively short period but with great deliberation. A year ago we debated the conclusions of the inquiry chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Tanworth, who I am glad to see in his place today and whose contribution to the debate I look forward to hearing. In April the Government's policy on cable was published in a White Paper. Your Lordships discussed it in some length and detail in a debate opened by my noble friend the Leader of the House in July. Your Lordships are therefore familiar with our overall approach.

What I now bring before the House is an expression of that approach in the form of legislation, and I can remind your Lordships of it very briefly indeed. I believe that the development of new cable systems could pave the way for the growth of a whole range of new services of enormous potential for our economic, industrial and social life. It is not for the Government to prescribe just how this will happen. We have no intention of committing large amounts of taxpayers' money to the creation of a vast national grid. Our task is to create the right conditions so that private investment can be committed in the light of market research and consumer demand. Television services are central to the future of cable, not because they will always be most important but because they alone are capable of generating the finance which will justify the initial installation costs.

The areas covered by the Bill do not, in fact, coincide exactly with those covered by the White Paper. Two of the matters it touches on were not in the White Paper; and there are also two matters that the White Paper did cover but which the Bill does not. The first non-White Paper matter is the granting to the Independent Broadcasting Authority of powers to issue contracts for the provision of direct broadcasting by satellite services, or DBS. This follows the announcement by my right honourable and learned friend the Home Secretary on 16th September, and is to be achieved by the amendments to the Broadcasting Act 1981 contained in Part II and Schedule 3 to the Bill.

The second area covered by the Bill that goes beyond the area covered by the White Paper concerns copyright. Part I of the Bill contains a number of changes in the law of copyright intended to reflect the development of cable into a medium in its own right.

Your Lordships will recall that the White Paper dealt with both cable systems and cable services. It went into some detail about the rival merits of switched star as against tree and branch systems, and a number of other technical matters. The Bill, however, is not concerned with them. It is concerned with services, not with a system by which the services are to be carried—the trains, as it were, rather than the track. The cable systems do, of course, need both encouragement and regulation, but this is the subject of another piece of legislation; the Telecommunications Bill, which will also shortly be before your Lordships' House. In Committee, no doubt, we shall consider how they can best be kept compatible.

The second White Paper subject that is not in the Bill has been left out of the Bill because it is already being dealt with. I refer to the interim measures by which we have ensured that the impetus once given to cable was not lost while the legislation was perfected. We announced these in the White Paper debates in June and July. Much hard work has since been done by the Government, by the independent consultants commissioned to evaluate applications, by the advisory panel appointed to vet their report and, of course, by the prospective cable operators themselves.

On 25th November my right honourable and learned friend the Home Secretary announced that the Government hoped, subject to the satisfactory outcome of discussions on certain points, to be able to issue licences for 11 pilot projects, which he listed. We are also licensing a number of existing cable operators to carry a more limited range of additional programme services over their systems. Our objective is to develop, as quickly as possible, audiences big enough to make it worthwhile for companies to start providing programme services—services that will have to be attractive if cable is to succeed.

So much for the scope of the Bill. Your Lordships will now wish me to summarise its provisions. It may be helpful if I start by giving a brief outline of the Bill's overall structure before I turn to the details. The 45 clauses and four schedules fall into three main groups. The first deals with cable. Clauses 1 to 21 and Schedule I establish the cable authority and set out its powers and duties and the arrangements which are to apply for the licensing of cable programme services. The second covers Clauses 22 to 34 and the other three schedules. It makes a large number of changes to existing provisions of the civil and criminal law to take account of the advent of cable. Many are of relative minor importance, but others are more substantial. In the latter category are the provisions on copyright, obscene publications and incitement of racial hatred. These two groups of clauses make up Part I of the Bill. The third group comprises Clauses 35 to 42 and takes up the whole of Part II of the Bill. It confers power on the IBA to appoint DBS contractors.

These provisions are an important part of the Bill although they cover only a small fraction of the space devoted to cable. These three groups of clauses, which together make up Parts I and II of the Bill and its schedules, contain all the key provisions. Minor and formal provisions appear in those clauses of Part III.

Part I sets up the new cable authority and gives it the powers to grant licences for the provision of cable services in specified areas and to supervise, though with a light touch, the services which are provided. The provisions setting up the authority itself, are in Clause 1 and Schedule 1. The authority will have a chairman and six members. We want them to start work as soon as the Bill is enacted. and we therefore hope to announce who they will be while it is still going through Parliament. They will be appointed by the Home Secretary and obliged to report to him annually. The authority will be a totally independent body, and it will have to support itself financially from the fees it charges to its licensees.

Those provisions are straightforward. I wish I could say the same of Clause 2. Clause 2 sets out what it is that will need a licence under the Bill. Its meaning does not, I regret, spring readily from the page. It may therefore be helpful if I say a little more about what kind of services will need a licence from the authority. The control will bite essentially on services which are offered in some way publicly; which are offered, that is, to two or more private homes at the same time, or to a place where members of the public congregate to watch them, as in a cinema or a public house. A service which is private in that it is sent, via a telecommunications system, from one point for reception at only one private house or any other place where the public do not have access to it, will not need the cable authority's licence. Clause 2 contains a number of other provisions emphasising that what the Bill is concerned with is essentially what we normally regard as television and radio.

The cable authority is also to have some functions in encouraging the kind of interactive services that will be available via the home television set. The Government believe that these could represent a development of growing significance. However, the later subsections of Clause 2 limit the scope of the Bill. Simultaneous two-way communications. such as the ordinary telephone or video-conferencing, are excluded. This exclusion exempts text services such as Prestel from the requirement to have the cable authority's licence.

Clause 2 also provides, in subsection (3), a power for the Secretary of State to prescribe by order certain descriptions of diffusion service, the provision of which, under Clause 4(8), it will be the authority's duty to promote. The Government's intention is that the authority should give precedence to applications for licences for services provided over wide-band systems as against those provided over narrow-band systems in the same area. I should add here that we intend that existing systems should be allowed to continue in operation only if by so doing they do not prejudice the development of wide-band systems. The distinction is also appropriate in relation to the kind of licensing process which the cable authority will have to undertake before authorising the provision of services over a new wide-band system. Clauses 5 and 6 therefore provide that it is only for diffusion services prescribed under Clause 2 that the authority will have to invite competitive applications, consult local opinion and weigh the applications against specified criteria.

As the White Papers set out, cable, with the multiplicity of channels it will be able to offer, is not to be regarded as a form of public service broadcasting. It has the capacity to generate tremendous variety, and it should be allowed much greater freedom so that it can develop in accordance with what consumers want. The more the channels that are provided, the weaker the justification is for telling the service providers what kind of service they have to provide. The Bill therefore makes minimal requirements. But those requirements will be insisted upon.

A part from the general requirement that cable operators should live up to the promises they make in applying for a licence, there are two main obligations. First, cable systems will have to include among other channels the ordinary broadcasting services of the BBC and the IBA, both of television and of radio, and including future DBS services. The authority is not to have a discretion to waive this requirement. Nonetheless, there could be special circumstances where it is inappropriate, and Clause 12 of the Bill enables the Secretary of State to make exceptions by order.

The second obligation on cable operators is to give priority to British programmes and to stimulate British production. We recognise that in the early years there may be a lack both of readily available British material and, before cable expands significantly, of audiences big enough to justify expensive new productions. In the short term, therefore, cable may have to look to less expensive foreign material to fill a substantial proportion of its channels. Much of it is likely to come from America. But they will be expected to increase the amount of British and reduce the amount of foreign programme material as cable finds its feet. I ought to make clear that "British" in that context includes material from elsewhere in the European Community. As to the matter of a specific quota, the White Paper said that the statutory requirement on the cable authority will be exactly the same as that on the IBA. Section 4 of the Broadcasting Act 1981 requires the IBA to ensure that "proper proportions" of the programmes broadcast are of British origin.

It is the IBA's own decision that determines that the amount of material from outside the European Community shall not exceed 14 per cent. Similarly, it will be for the cable authority to determine how to implement its obligation under Clause 9(1)(d) of the Bill to ensure that "proper proportions" of British and European material are shown. This provision is complemented by Clause 21 under which the authority is required to report every year on the way they have discharged this duty. That means that every year the authority will have to review what the proper proportions of British and European material should be and how cable operators should be kept up to the mark in their commitment to British programme production. Furthermore, Clause 6 requires the authority always to take account of plans to use British or European material in the programmes which an applicant for a licence proposes to offer before it grants a franchise.

The Bill sets out in Clause 7 the categories of people who are either debarred from holding a licence for cable operations or allowed to participate but subject to certain safeguards. The main objectives are to prevent control of licensees by foreign, political or religious interests; to limit the dangers of media monopolies by restricting—but not prohibiting—the participation of newspapers, television and radio companies; and to provide safeguards against the development of practices and arrangements arising from cross-ownership within the media and entertainment world which might be contrary to the public interest.

The number of things the Bill says that cable operators must do is relatively small; but there are also various things which it says that they must not do. As the White Paper made clear, the Government are determined that there should be no undermining of the kind of programme standards that we insist on for the existing broadcasting authorities. There is to be no scope for undesirable material of a violent or sexually explicit nature. The cable authority is therefore required by Clause 9 to do everything possible to prevent cable programme services from offending against good taste and decency; or encouraging or inciting to crime; or offending public feeling. Moreover, like the IBA, the cable authority is to be under a duty imposed by Clause 10, to draw up a code on the portrayal of violence.

The authority is also required to draw up a code of standards in advertising. Under Clause 11, the authority must consult the IBA in drawing up its code. We expect their code and that of the IBA to have a common core but to diverge at certain points. In particular we expect that a degree of greater freedom may be appropriate on the more specialised cable channels. Clause 11 also requires the cable authority to draw up the rules under which the sponsorship of cable programmes will be allowed. The same clause also contains the provision which will limit the amount of advertising. On cable channels comparable with independent television the amount of advertising will be limited to what is permitted under the existing rules on Independent Television. On other channels cable will have freedom to take as much advertising as it can get, even to the extent of devoting a whole channel to it exclusively.

Clause 13 contains a further safeguard for our existing broadcasting services. This is the provision which is designed to prevent ordinary viewers being deprived of popular events by means of cable "creaming them off" and selling them to those viewers who have cable and are prepared to pay extra for specific programmes or channels. This is an important provision for the future of public service broadcasting and of course for the large proportion of the viewing public who will continue to be reliant on it.

I have drawn attention to some of the central features of Part I of the Bill as it implements the policy in the White Paper on cable. The remaining provisions of Part I deal with the powers and sanctions that the cable authority will have for supervising cable programme services and apply to cable programmes the law on obscenity and incitement to racial hatred. Clauses 22 and 23 contain the amendments to the Copyright Act to which I referred earlier. These give cable operators copyright in their own output. They also reinforce the protection which other rights holders enjoy in connection with the use of their works in cable distribution.

Part II of the Bill paves the way for independent services of DBS. The IBA will be the broadcasting authority for such services, and we therefore attract the generality of the existing provisions of the Broadcasting Act applicable to the IBA's services, without the need to repeat them in the Bill. But there is one difference in the scheme to which I should draw attention. Under Clause 36, the IBA will not be responsible, as it is for its terrestrial transmissions, for providing and maintaining the transmitter network: in the case of DBS, the satellite system. The Government's intention is to create opportunities within which private investment can seek to satisfy the demands of the market. Their success will depend on their offering to the public services which they wish to buy at a price which they are prepared to pay. Thus it will be for the DBS contractor rather than the IBA to negotiate for the provision of a satellite system and to take the financial risk involved. The IBA will retain responsibility for the technical aspects of the transmission and will in this way be able to exercise the same control over the services as it exercises over ITV and Channel 4.

Because the DBS contractor will have to take his own responsibility for the satellite system, we think it right that the contract for the provision of DBS services should be longer than that for ordinary ITV services—it should be for up to 12 years, as Clause 36 provides. But the life of the IBA is at present due to expire in 1996 and there is plainly, therefore, now a need to extend that life to enable it to enter into a contract of such length from the time that DBS services might be ready to start, say in about 1988. Clause 40 therefore extends the life of the IBA until the year 2001. This extension was already possible by order under the Broadcasting Act, but the Government considered it appropriate for the change to be made as part of the amendments provided by the Bill.

This Bill enables us to move forward on the advancing frontier of communications technology and to do so without the dead hand of bureaucracy. The pattern of development will not be decided by Government telling the people what they ought to want but by private enterprise giving the people what they do want. Together with the Telecommunications Bill it harnesses the public demand for entertainment to the development of a communications infrastructure that will I believe have a profound effect upon our way of life in the next decade. And it guards against the domination of any area of communications by interests that might be hostile to the public interest or offensive to private taste. It is an important Bill and I commend it to your Lordships' House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Baroness Trumpington.)

3.19 p.m.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, the voice was the charming voice of the noble Baroness; the pen was the mighty pen of the noble Lord the Minister, Lord Elton. We well recognise the reason for his having been delayed. We therefore wish to thank both of them for the introduction of this Bill.

If follows almost from the last remarks of the noble Baroness that it is perhaps a truism to say that we are discussing this afternoon a Bill of great social and economic significance. We are engaged in writing a new legislative chapter, should this become law, in the history of mass media. A great responsibility therefore rests upon this House, if I may respectfully say so, to see that the Bill leaves us for another place should it be accorded a Second Reading this afternoon after which we have exercised the utmost vigilance and we have ensured that we have neither shut gates in the face of technological progress nor recklessly opened them too wide so that we have admitted unwelcome and possibly socially dangerous forces.

May I make the position of the Opposition quite clear? We realise to the full the inevitability of technological evolution and that it is good to widen the choice of the viewing and listening public. We recognise and want to sustain the opportunities which present themselves in this field for our national inventive genius in engineering, electronics and entertainment. We welcome anything that can add to the enjoyment of people and which can create employment. For these reasons we shall certainly not oppose the Second Reading of the Bill.

Having said that, we on these Benches think that the Government have given too little thought in a hastily-prepared measure to many vital aspects. This we think will become apparent at the Committee stage of this Bill. In our view the Government have also been all too careless in their failure adequately to protect the existing broadcasting services and the quality of our national life. One wishes that the rapidity with which this legislation has followed so closely upon the committee report and the White Paper could have been the lot of other legislation in vital social and industrial matters. As I have intimated, we on this side will be pressing for safeguards in various directions during the further stages of this Bill.

When one talks of technological evolution in this area, I am aware, and so are my noble friends, of the existing possibilities which could in time alter the lives and habits of many of our people, not least the physically handicapped. I refer particularly to the two-way communication capability known technically as "interaction" which allows information to pass in two directions. I quote from the Hunt Report presented to Parliament just a year ago and so instructively debated in your Lordships House, which says: cable operators can put questions to viewers through the television set and get their response; viewers can have fire or burglar alarms which can alert the emergency services; and, more fundamentally, interactive channels can provide rapid communications between businesses and between them and their customers. At its best therefore cable can help both business and the individual by providing new methods of working, buying and selling, direct from the home; increase facilities for education and training in the home; services like electronic mail and tele-banking; and a greatly increased and enriched choice of home entertainment". Here comes the first warning before the trumpets sound forth too triumphantly. I quote again from the following words of the report, At its worst, however, it could lead to a waste of resources, risks to privacy and a lowering of the quality of broadcasting. It is therefore crucially important that the right decisions are taken". There is nothing in the Bill, other than a recital of certain broad concepts, to guide the new authority to be set up. Incidentally, I ask the Minister whether I am right in thinking that its members will be on a part-time basis? There is nothing to guide the new authority to be set up to control such services as we are now considering. The noble Baroness seems to have taken some pride in her opening remarks in the fact that there was such little guidance save in general terms.

They could be so good, or, alternatively, a veritable evil—as Hunt envisaged as possible—if we were not careful. Surely the Government should have issued or should now issue guidelines as to the conditions to be attached to proposed licences instead of leaving such conditions to the unguided will of this new authority. Possible applicants for licences are entitled to such guidance and so is Parliament before passing this legislation.

I am looking at the need for care and for very adequate safeguards in the general licensing and overseeing of cable operators. It may also be that the programme makers and providers, who have responsibility for many relevant matters, have been overlooked in the Bill. I have researched with great personal interest debates which took place in your Lordships' House and elsewhere some 30 years ago during the passage of the Television Act 1954. As your Lordships will recollect, that Act created independent television and permitted for the first time commercial advertising in our television services. Such were the fears of what commercialism could do to a valued national television service that one noble and learned Lord, the very wise and learned Lord who usually graces the Woolsack in your Lordships'House—almost as effectively as the noble Baroness who now occupies it—and to whom I gave notice of the fact that I would be quoting some of his speeches, defied his party's two-line Whip. I may find it necessary at other stages of this Bill to invite both him and other noble Lords opposite to follow that courageous example.

Never at a loss for a gentle phrase the noble and learned Lord expressed himself in these terms on that Bill at Third Reading. The first quotation reads as follows: The noble Earl the Postmaster General is always so personally agreeable in his approach to controversy that I think those of us who oppose this Bill in principle would be glad, if we followed our own inclinations, to smash a bottle or even a Rehoboam of champagne upon the bows of this singularly unseaworthy and ill-constructed vessel as it proceeds on its melancholy way down the Parliamentary slips towards the inscrutable ocean of political history.—[Official Report, 22/7/54; col. 1335.] It is bettered in eloquence by the second excerpt: but I think I can honestly say that since my father took office in Mr. Bonar Law's Administration in 1922 I have followed in record almost every major Parliamentary occasion in either House of Parliament. I must say that I can recall no occasion whatever in your Lordships' House during that period of time in which a major Bill proposed by a Conservative Government has met with such a chorus of opposition from quarters normally either independent or friendly to the Convervative cause, stretching from the most reverend Primate to noble Lords of unrivalled experience in public service on all sides of the House".—[col. 1336.] And the last excerpt is possibly the best of all: Lastly, I must say that I am unalterably of the belief that in broadcasting in a free country there are two equal evils to be avoided. The first is Government control which offends against the principle of freedom; the other is the tyranny of commercialism, by which in relation to broadcasting an editor of a broadcast programme unlike the editor of a newspaper, even though the editor of a newspaper may derive a great portion of his revenue from advertisements, is compelled to study not the real desire of his viewers but how to achieve the highest common factor of what those viewers will tolerate at a moment of time when the advertisements come on the air".—[col. 1337.] Those are good excerpts. I only wish that I were capable of the same eloquence in addressing your Lordships on this occasion. But such were the noble and learned Lord's fears of commercialisation—and I am speaking here quite seriously—of this form of media and the introduction of advertising and all that went with it. They were echoed in many parts of your Lordships' House and outside it.

In looking at the provisions of this Bill and reviewing the history of the 30 years since the Television Act was passed, we might, I suggest, have two important considerations in our minds. ITV was not always as it is now, a medium which gives satisfaction and employs pretty high standards in regard to the control of its programmes. It had a shaky beginning when it went all out to capture audiences so that, in turn, it could capture advertising revenue; and the programmes, as some of us can remember, were for some years not very much to its credit. Having got some security however behind it by having attracted the audiences and the advertising, the standards of the programmes improved tremendously. If we are lacking in care in this Bill to insist upon proper safeguards, do we not again imperil the security of ITV and thereby cause them to drop standards in a different and much fiercer competition? And is the competition fair?

Both the BBC and ITV have built-in responsibilities. They are publicly accountable not only to maintain high programme standards with a large amount of original material but also to put out a balanced selection of information, education and entertainment. As to the BBC, in the language of the Hunt Report, "they are shielded from direct commercial pressures in their programming". No similar constraints are put in this Bill on the cable licensees. The authority set up under it, in the language of the Government in its White Paper—repeated, I noted, by the noble Baroness this afternoon— "will employ a light hand".

The Bill, in Clauses 9 and 10, in other clauses relating to obscenity and race relations, says what every licensed service should not do and, in regard to news in programmes originating in the United Kingdom, the news should be presented with due accuracy and impartiality and undue prominence should not be given to the views of particular persons or bodies in religious or political matters et cetera. Nowhere is there any positive duty, such as is laid down in regard to the BBC and ITV, as to the contents of programmes apart from such matters as violence when they are, for example, primarily intended for children and young persons. I appreciate that, for some channels, such positive requirements might be quite inappropriate and indeed impossible; but for others where such requirements are appropriate, they should surely be in the Bill or at least be promulgated in the guidelines issued by the Government now as to the conditions which the authority should impose on licensees.

I turn next, if I may, to another aspect of programme content which not only has important social but important industrial implications. No quota has been laid down for imported items of entertainment coming from countries outside the European Community; and, again, the noble Baroness seems almost to glory in this and to forecast what we might have to whet our appetite by way of American films. We all know that there will be a grave temptation for cable importers to import cheap American films and other entertainment products from non-EEC countries. I take the point that some allowance should be made in the initial few years after the substantial capital investment has been made for the fact that an excessive requirement to purchase good but expensive British or other EEC films or items of entertainment could be too onerous.

What is quite unsatisfactory is I suggest the present Clause 9(1)(d) which merely puts upon the authority the duty to do what they can to require that there are included in the programmes "proper proportions" of recorded and other matters which originate in the EEC and are performed by nationals of member states. That general provision may have been sufficient for previous broadcasting legislation before we had the guidance that comes from experience. Established percentages have now been laid down. We are now legislating having had that experience. The quota, as the noble Baroness mentioned, is at present interpreted by the broadcasting organisations as a 14 per cent. limit for foreign-source entertainment. Can we not and should we not lay down a maximum foreign quota (if I may so term it) which is to be effective as from a certain date? And should not that maximum be the same 14 per cent.?

In any event, is it suggested by this Bill that the Authority should fix a general edict as to the proper proportion or is the Authority expected to carry out a detailed examination of each licensee's position and fix the individual quotas? I should have thought that the latter course would be a very difficult and invidious task. There will be nothing as the provisions stand, however, to prevent long-term contracts being entered into by licensees for taking foreign, imported items of entertainment and giving that as the excuse for not being able to fulfil any suggested quota restrictions— and, human nature being what it is, once the licensee may have enjoyed the economic advantages of these cheap imports and has got away with it with his audiences, there is a very great temptation to continue with them as much as he can.

To continue with the content of programmes, may I say that we were very glad to see that certain recommendations of the Hunt Report, excellent though that report was, have not been followed in this Bill. Among these is the suggested electronic lock on a specific channel where films not suitable for children or young persons could be shown at all times of the day. I remember in this context that we were reminded in a previous debate of the crusaders and chastity belts and the over-employment of locksmiths during that era of our history. Suffice it to say that this specific recommendation of Hunt has not been followed.

One other recommendation of Hunt which has not been followed is that relating to the important matter of permitting advertising content in cable programmes. The Hunt Committee thought that because of its ability to provide new opportunities to local and national advertisers seeking specialist or local audiences, cable could attract entirely new spending on advertising. They recommended that in the early years of cable development there should be no limit to the amount of advertising permitted. The Hunt Committee took the view that this would be unlikely to damage ITV or ILR to any significant extent in the short or medium term.

While one recognises that there are some types of advertising which cable might catch and which would not be available to IBA or ILR, there is a definite limit to the total limit of advertising which is procurable, and, with the present tight commercial and industrial budgets, there will undoubtedly be some fierce competition, especially between ITV and cable. To have unlimited advertising time would be unfairly damaging to the finances of ITV and would inevitably lead to a deterioration in services, quite apart from unleashing through cable what I believe most of your Lordships would regard as a social horror.

While wisely, as I feel, not following Hunt, and after providing for a code in regard to advertising, the Government have contented themselves with Clause 11(3). This clause is not good enough. Surely there should be a clear provision without any provisos, exceptions or grounds for dispute, that the same limitation should apply in a similar licensed service to that which applies to ITV. I understand that the present quota averages six minutes to the hour—and I believe your Lordships would think, "Quite enough too!".

Here again, is it envisaged that each and every licensee should be individually looked at and adjudicated upon? If there is to be a general ruling, should not the Secretary of State, in an important matter of this kind, seek the approval of Parliament by statutory instrument instead of it being left to his arbitrary determination in the event of a disagreement with the IBA—and "determination" is the word used in the Bill. I have limited my speech to these matters—important matters, I think—which relate to standards and the content of cable programmes, so that the Minister may have advance notice of some of the matters on which we are likely to concentrate during the following stages of the Bill.

I am very conscious of the fact that there are many other very important aspects—technical aspects involving the Part Report, the role which British Telecom could and should have played, and possibly can still play, and the social and other implications of creating favoured and non-favoured sections of our people whose reception or non-reception of cable will presumably be determined purely by commercial considerations.

I realise, too, that I have not touched on Part II of the Bill. There are. however, more quotas than advertising and foreign imports to be thought of in your Lordships' House. There is the quota which, in addition, dictates, by courtesy alone, that speeches should not exceed a certain time limit when there is a heavy list of speakers. I know that all these matters and many beside will be dealt with by subsequent speakers, including some of my noble friends. Suffice it for me to conclude my remarks by hoping that in our conduct of this Bill we shall earn the blessing and not the opprobrium of future generations because of the way this House has shouldered its responsibilities in legislating for a new technological era in the exciting, if in some aspects frightening, realm of mass communication.