HL Deb 23 January 1984 vol 447 cc91-129

House again in Committee.

Clause 5 [Applications for licences and prior consultation]:

Lord Aylestone moved Amendment No. 23: Page 5, line 16, after ("writing") insert ("(and an application fee of such sum as the Cable Authority may reasonably require must be paid)").

The noble Lord said: In connection with the last amendment that we discussed on this Bill, the view of your Lordships generally was that the Cable Authority might make too much money in a particular year, and they were concerned about that position. This small amendment of mine does the reverse. It tries to provide a little money for the authority when they have not got any. The object of the amendment is that when a consortium makes application for a licence they should accompany that with a small application fee. It may or may not be appreciated that the work of considering an application for a franchise—or in this case a licence—is very involved and takes a long time. Should five or six applications be made at the same time within an area, the authority will be involved in a great deal of work investigating, researching and looking at the financial structure of the applicant, the programme objectives, and so on, as required under the legislation. And at that time, starting afresh, they will have no money other than the loan made to them by the Government.

I do not think it will be a hardship if, on application for a licence, a consortium is charged a small fee, which will have to be determined by the authority—perhaps £250, but it is a matter for the authority—at the same time as they apply for the licence. That would be a considerable help at that stage to the Cable Authority as regards the work they have to do. I am aware that in a rather different field—that is, as regards independent local radio—in some cases as many as nine applications have been involved, some of them perhaps mischievous or facetious. That is not likely to happen in this case, where a great deal of capital is involved in the application, but I feel it is worth considering. I beg to move.

Baroness Trumpington

The Bill as it stands enables the Cable Authority to charge fees on the grant and during the term of its licences. These fees will supply the authority with the income it needs to carry out its functions. The amendment provides that the authority should also be able to charge an application fee in respect of any application for a licence. The proposal has its attractiveness from the point of view of the authority and its licensees. It would add to the authority's sources of income: and it would be advantageous to its licensees since it would help to keep down the level of their licence fees. On the last point it has of course to be remarked that it would not be all saving for the licensees, as they themselves would have been liable to pay the application fees, but obviously it would be of some benefit to them. More generally, the existence of application fees might serve, as the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, said, to deter frivolous applicants with no serious intention or ability to provide cable services, whose applications would needlessly waste the authority's time.

Now we come to the other side of the question. Against that has to be weighed the possibility that application fees might deter some serious applicants. The preparation of an application to provide a cable programme service calls for considerable investment of time and expense, as experience with the recent cable pilot project exercise has shown, and it might be considered unfair that the unsuccessful applicants should in addition have to pay a fee in order to reduce the licence fee payable by those who are able to reap the benefits of a successful application.

Where the balance lies is a matter which we should be happy to consider in the light of the debate. I am afraid I do not think that the amendment before us could be accepted, since the relevance of an application fee of this sort would be confined to those cases where there might be competitive applications. For some licences, such as those for restricted services under Clause 2(2)(b) of the Bill, competition will not arise; and in those cases it would seem odd, as this amendment would envisage, to require the payment of two fees. I hope therefore that the noble Lord will agree to withdraw the Amendment so that we could consider, if that were the wish of your Lordships, whether a more narrowly-drawn provision would be generally welcomed.

Lord Aylestone

In view of the fact that I have already had one amendment accepted, and in view of the generous offer that the noble Baroness has made, I am happy to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Mottistone moved Amendment No. 24: Page 5, line 25, after ("applications") insert "or (if any application or applications have been received by the Authority before publication of the said notice) other applications")

The noble Lord said: This is a small amendment which takes the point that at the moment the wording of subsection (2) of Clause 5 implies that the authority, before granting a licence, shall publish a notice which invites applications for the licence, That is perhaps over-abbreviated, but the point is that it does not allow for the enterprising chap who finds an area in which he might wish to lay a cable and approaches the authority and says: "I should like to have a licence". He says this on his own initiative. The authority might get that informtion and say, "Right, this chap has applied for his licence. He probably has something there; we have to have some competition and therefore we will act under Clause 5(2) and publish the notice inviting applications." But my chap has already applied and the object of my amendment is merely to allow his application, which he has already made, to be considered among the other applications that have come after the notice. That seems to me to be perfectly fair, because my fellow has taken the initiative and is a sensible chap. He will be more of a benefit to the public and will have what we want from these people.

So it is probably a matter of the wording of Clause 5(2) not being clear enough on this point. I shall listen very carefully to what my noble friend has to say, but I suspect that, even if the wording of my amendment is not quite right, we want to make it clear that people who have initiative and get ahead first should at least be given equal consideration, which at the moment the Bill does not appear to give them. I beg to move.

Lord Glanusk

I entirely agree with what my noble friend Lord Mottistone has said. Is it not possible to take this a stage further? If a satisfactory offer from a reliable contractor has been submitted, is it reasonable that the authority should, within the space of perhaps six months, be forced to advertise that area for a new applicant?

Baroness Trumpington

I hope for every reason that we can avoid making heavy weather of this, because I think that there is nothing between the Government and my noble friends on the substance. The problem arises simply from a difference of view of what Clause 5(2) means. The amendment seeks to make it clear that the enterprising friend of my noble friend Lord Mottistone can apply for a licence to provide a prescribed diffusion service without having to wait for the authority to solicit applications. In the Government's view, the amendment is otiose because the Bill already achieves that objective. The important point which my noble friends may have overlooked is that where a statute creates a licensing procedure it is open to anyone at any time to submit an application unless the Act specifically says something different. There is no need to state that someone can submit an application, because by definition he can. As paragraph 58 of the White Paper made clear, the Government accept that the market-led nature of cable will mean that the initiative for applications must rest largely with those who wish to make the investment. The authority, too, will be able to generate interest in particular areas if they wish but there is bound to be a two-way process. All that Clause 5(2) does, is to require the authority to give in all cases a general opportunity for applications to be submitted, whether or not one has already been made. In the light of that reassurance, I hope that my noble friends will feel able to withdraw this amendment.

Lord Mottistone

I take some of the points of my noble friend the Minister, but my noble friend Lord Glanusk asked: is there anything to jolly the authority along? One can imagine the situation in which an enterprising chap puts in his application and nothing happens. It is not strictly relevant to my amendment, but I notice that in Clause 5 there is nothing to ginger up the authority into taking action to create a notice when they have had pushing from behind. If there were, we should be a little happier. Otherwise, we might have to come back at the next stage of the Bill with an amendment to achieve a gingering process, in addition to the assurance that my noble friend has given us that there is nothing to stop us from putting in an application ahead of time.

Baroness Trumpington

In answer to my noble friend Lord Mottistone, the authority's general duty to promote cable means that it would not be at all proper for them to sit on applications and do nothing about them. But it must be right to leave the authority some discretion in the organisation of their workload. Obviously, they will not be able to do everything at the same time. May I suggest that my noble friend reads in Hansard the report of what I said first and I hope that that, together with what I have just said, will thoroughly reassure him.

Lord Mottistone

I am taken 95 per cent. of the way, but I reserve the other 5 per cent. to come back on at a later stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

9.5 p.m.

Lord Mishcon moved Amendment No. 25: Page 5, line 31, at end insert ("to this end shall cause to be published in that area a list of all applications relating to that area together with suitable extracts from such applications of the information supplied by each applicant under section 6(2) below; and")

The noble Lord said: If the Committee will be good enough to turn to the wording of Clause 5, Members will see a marginal note Applications for licences and prior consultation. The clause recognises in subsections (2) and (3) that there is a duty to ascertain public opinion before granting licences, so that the views of the public can be properly brought before the authority prior to their making a decision. That is very democratic and very fair. If your Lordships will now turn to Clause 6(2), there are set out there the various considerations which the authority have to take into account. That means that there should be an application and, one assumes, a questionnaire which will anticipate that answers will be given to the matters which the authority have to take into account.

If your Lordships ally what I have said about Clause 5 to what I have said about Clause 6, you will observe that there is nothing in the Bill which deals properly with what has to be brought to the public's attention before they can make any useful observations, and, quite obviously, what ought to be brought to the publics attention is a list of all the applications relating to the area and suitable extracts from the answers that have been given to the questions posed, in order that the material matters mentioned in the Bill and the answers made by the applicants can be before the public in every respect.

I have spoken in terms of suitable extracts, so it is not a question of a very long document. So long as there are suitable extracts, that is all that is required. They can be published, which will ensure that this is not the mere, empty camouflage of a public relations exercise but will enable the public in a particular area to take an intelligent interest in the various applications and to put forward their views. It is in that spirit that I move the amendment.

Lord Elton

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, for bringing forward this issue. At present there is nothing in the Bill to stop the Cable Authority from doing what he wants. The present drafting of the Bill is similar in this respect to the obligations placed on the IBA by the Broadcasting Act. The practice of the IBA is to make available to the public copies of applications for ITV and ILR contracts. Applicants are allowed to indicate if there are particular pieces of information which are confidential. However, the Government are prepared to accept the noble Lord's argument for some strengthening of the Cable Authority's obligation on this point.

The amendment as it stands needs some technical attention. The Government would wish to consider further just how a new duty might be framed, particularly in order to ensure that it does not have the effect of preventing the authority from receiving any material from applicants on a confidential basis. On the understanding that the Government will prepare an amendment to bring forward at a subsequent stage of the Bill, I hope that the noble Lord will be content not to press his amendment.

Lord Mishcon

It is absolutely wonderful what a dinner recess can do to the noble Lord the Minister in making him so agreeable. Obviously I am very happy to accept his undertaking. In those circumstances and with, I hope, good grace, I ask for the Committee's leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Glanusk moved Amendment No. 26:

Page 5, line 36, at end insert— ("( ) Where an application for a licence is for the provision of a prescribed diffusion service in any area by the person who is at the time of the application providing a prescribed diffusion service in that area or a substantial part of it ("the existing prescribed diffusion service") the Authority' may grant a licence without complying with the requirements mentioned in subsections (2) and (3) above, where the Authority is satisfied as to the following matters—

  1. (a) that the applicant has not failed to any material extent to comply with any conditions of his licence for the provision of the existing prescribed diffusion service:
  2. (b) that the programmes included in the existing prescribed diffusion service have been of a high general standard in respect of their content and quality; and
  3. (c) that the terms and conditions upon which the applicant has provided the existing prescribed diffusion service to subscribers have been reasonable.").

The noble Lord said: Clause 5 makes no attempt to differentiate between the applicant applying for the first time for a licence in a new area and the contractor applying after his first term for the eight-year extension. At the same time, Clause 5 lays down an elaborate procedure which the authority has to go through before granting a licence. This includes holding public meetings, consulting the local authority and inviting applications from various contractors. This can lead to very lengthy delays before the authority is in a position to say whether or not it will grant a licence. It can even, in an extreme case, result in the service to the public in a particular area being cut off.

We believe that the position of a contractor applying for the renewal of his licence is somewhat different and should have different criteria attached to it. We believe that, provided he fulfils the three conditions laid down in this amendment—namely, that he has kept his nose clean and has behaved himseff, that his programmes have been satisfactory and that the terms and conditions he has offered to his customers have also been satisfactory, including the cost—he should be granted a renewal. I beg to move.

Lord Elton

The amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Glanusk would have the effect that companies licensed to provide prescribed diffusion services could normally expect to have their licence renewed unless they had fallen short in some specific way, whether in respect of the licence conditions relating to the general quality of the programmes or in respect of the terms on which the service is provided to the subscriber. It is to the general principles of the renewability of licences that we should turn our attention rather than to the phrasing which my noble friend adopts in suggesting that we should do this in a different way.

That is because his intention is, I fear, in conflict with an important principle. That principle was spelt out clearly in paragraph 74 of the White Paper. Although the Bill in no way rules out the provision of more than one prescribed diffusion service in an area, in practice such services will inevitably constitute, in a normal case, a de facto local monopoly—at least for the foreseeable future.

Given that situation, it seems wholly right to the Government that every company, however good its performance, should be required to demonstrate to the authority at the end of the licence period that it is the best candidate for the succeeding licence. We see no reason why a person licensed to provide a prescribed diffusion service should have a right, short of specific default, to continue to hold his licence in perpetuity.

The Government are convinced that competition is in the interest of the consumer. We believe also that what is in the interests of the consumers must in the end be in the interests of cable. A company which has done well and which can show that it is likely to do a better job than any rival applicants will in any case have nothing to fear. Equally, if Company A has performed adequately but another clearly superior application is made by Company B, it would be quite wrong if the public were denied the benefit of a better service simply because the existing licensee had an entrenched right to stay on.

More cogently, it would also be wrong if the merely adequate Company A were to be sheltered from the invigorating knowledge that Company B was likely to get the licence unless it started to deliver more than a merely adequate service towards the end of its licence period. We believe that the correct approach is for the authority to re-advertise licences once they have expired and to invite competitive applications. The authority will also have to undertake local consultations before they grant a fresh licence. This will give subscribers an opportunity to make known their views about the existing service and any new proposals. In this way, the existing licensee, if he is seeking a fresh licence, will have positively to justify to the authority and to the public that he ought to be allowed to carry on. Under the amendment, he would merely have to show that he had not stepped over any one of three rather broad lines.

Although this amendment might well be in the interests of the cable companies, I believe it would not be in the interests of open competition or of the consumer—nor, in the long term, to the benefit of cable development itself. I am afraid that my noble friend has not persuaded me that the position we took in the White Paper was wrong. I hope that on reflection he will be able to tell me that he shares my view of the beneficial effects of competition, and that he will not press his amendment.

9.17 p.m.

Lord Mottistone

As your Lordships will know, I am absolutely dedicated to competition and think that all noble Lords opposite who do not believe in it do not understand how life works. In this particular case, there is one point I should like to put in the mind of the Government. There is a great deal of difference between the investment which a company will have to make to get cable going and the investment which has to be put in by companies which are operating in independent television. There is just a possibility that the question of going through the application exercise again before being granted a new licence is dictated in the way that it is in the Bill by the experience gained with ITA's similar system.

There is an immense difference between the amount of money that has to be invested to get a cable going and that to provide a programme. I can say this because I have no interest in cable television at all; some of my friends cannot say that. The Bill keeps the two as separate operations. We heard about this earlier. The providers of the cables come under the British Telecommunications Bill and the providers of the programmes come under this Bill. In most cases they are the same people, and they are having to invest a great deal of money and to take an enormous risk. What they have learnt from the other side of the Atlantic is not an encouragement to them.

In order to provide this great service, as I believe it will be, they are having to take a great deal more on their shoulders financially than any other similar bodies. I am not arguing against competition. I believe there ought to be competition, and to that extent our amendment probably requires some rehashing. But when it comes to the question of relicensing, I believe it would be more fair if there was something other than a rehash of the original notification and licensing procedure; an easier way to give a slight advantage to those people who have taken the risk in the first place. I do not know whether I have got my arguments across, but the picture is different from what I believe the Government thought it was.

Lord Mishcon

This is not the time, at 20 past nine in the evening, to indulge in comparative political theory. I would say only that the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, misinterprets the view of the Opposition, which favours in a mixed economy that there should be competition in the private sector. It is only when there is unfair competition with the public sector that the Opposition raises its voice in a most eloquent and powerful way—but nevertheless fails to persuade the noble Lord on every single occasion.

Having said that, may I say that I agree with everything that the noble Lord the Minister has said. It obviously would be quite wrong to alter the wording of this Bill—because that is what the amendment would effectively do—by granting a licence for 12 years, with an option for the licensee, provided he has behaved himself, to renew for another 12 years and then for another 12 years; in other words, it would be an eternal licence provided he behaved himself. Then he would shield himself completely from the competition which the noble Lord seems to be able to support on every conceivable occasion in theory; but once we deal with it in practice and it hits at some of the people he is trying so fervently to protect, all of a sudden his ideal of competition fails him. This is a bad amendment and should be opposed.

Lord Glanusk

May I say this in defence of the amendment. We have given the contractor a fairly rough ride so far. We have said to him, "You can have a licence. It will have lots of conditions attached. None of them means anything, because we are going to alter them whenever we like. We are going to charge you a licence fee; we are not going to tell you how much it is; we can vary that whenever we like. Now we are saying that there is going to be no continuity without heavy competition, even though you have behaved yourself, your prices are right, your programmes are good; there have been no objections in the past 12 years from your public; still you cannot have a renewal of your licence." I think that is a fairly tough proposition to offer to a man who is going to invest several million pounds if not fifties of millions of pounds. I think that is fairly tough on him, and you still do not give any way.

Lord Drumalbyn

May I interject one point here? Is it quite fair when admittedly the licensee has done pretty well and has not put a foot wrong, to allow someone else to come along, without being able to give any proof whatever, and say, "I can do better than that", and merely on argument convince the authority that it would be worthwhile trying him? I am not sure that is quite fair. I wonder whether there is not some means of getting over that difficulty. For example, would it not be fair to allow the authority to put to the licensee, "Yes, you have done pretty well but that does not mean you have been perfect. We should like to discuss with you ways in which you could improve your performance, and compare that with what the new applicant says he could do". Then they could make a decision. They could say, "On the basis of what you have done we can find no fault in that; but we have seen an application from somebody else and it looks to us as though it could make improvements on what you have been doing". But it may not do so; the authority may prove to be wrong.

Earl De La Warr

It seemed to me that the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, had understood the intention of this amendment slightly differently from my understanding of it, as to the number of years. He said this is perpetual motion: you can go on for 12 years and another 12 and another 12. I had understood it—it may be that I am wrong, and it may be that it would have to be redrafted to achieve it—that the intention was to let the initial man who had had it for 12 years go on for another eight years, and that would be all. If we have failed to do that, so be it, but it may be something which the Government could consider, having regard to the points that my noble friends have made.

Lord Elton

I am very much obliged for the support from the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, and I only hope that it has not rendered my noble friends more suspicious of my advice than they otherwise would have been. May I say this to them? My noble friend Lord Glanusk movingly pointed out the difficulties and risks which beset the original applicants for the original licence. We have already reflected this in the Bill by the granting of a licence initially for 12 years and subsequently, as my noble friend Lord De La Warr rightly reminds us, for eight years. Therefore, the initial risk has been taken account of and there is the further consideration that the clock will not run until the programmes go out, which we discussed on an earlier amendment.

The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, is right that this amendment envisages that the original successful chap, who may have won by a whisker—perhaps wrongly—from someone else, gets his 12 years and reckons it is worth spending the money, has genuinely taken the risk as a good investment, knows that he may not have more than 12 years in which to recoup his money—goodness knows, that is a long time in most commercial terms—may suddenly be given, as a sort of bonus or windfall, the right to remain for ever in situ provided he keeps his nose clean.

My noble friend Lord Drumalbyn now asks whether there is some compromise and would it not be possible to have a procedure in which the initial contractor says what he proposes to do in the next eight years and others would say what they propose. That is exactly what we suggest. That is the relicensing system as we see it and which, as I read the amendment, my noble friend Lord Glanusk wishes to avoid. Therefore, I hope I shall not be quite so vigorously supported by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, on the next amendment, when I hope to be reasonably well disposed towards my noble friends, in case I fall out there. But I cannot happily take on board what they recommend now.

Lord Glanusk

I think I recognise when my noble friend on the Front Bench has turned his toes in, and I ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 5 agreed to.

Clause 6 [Matters to be taken into account]:

9.28 p.m.

Earl De La Warr moved Amendment No. 27: Page 6, line 24, leave out paragraph (d).

The noble Earl said: Clause 6(2) gives guidance to the authority on certain aspects of the applicant's intentions with regard to the programming: the range and diversity, the origin, the educational and what I call the participative content that is envisaged. With one exception these are very reasonable things to look at, and they have my full support. However, what is not clear to me, at any rate, is the purpose of paragraph (d): the extent to which the applicant or each applicant proposes to include programmes provided otherwise than by himself or by associates of his".

That seems to add nothing to the guidance that is given to the authority. Because something that is short on meaning can often cause confusion, I believe that for the sake of clarity this particular paragraph would be much better left out. I beg to move.

Lord Mottistone

I support my noble friend Lord De La Warr. Paragraph (d) really does not mean anything at all. There is not much more that I can say. It has no significance within the framework of the other paragraphs in the subsection. I entirely agree that it therefore detracts from the value of the Bill and would be best out of it.

Lord Elton

Perhaps I can explain what I believe the paragraph means. Ever since the report of the inquiry chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Tanworth, it has been recognised that each local operator is likely to have the monopoly of the supply of cable programme services in his area, at least for the foreseeable future. Against that background it is important that the Cable Authority should be in a position to see that its licensees use that privilege in a way that is in the best interests of consumers. One particular consideration which, in the Government's view, needs to be borne in mind is that operators might be tempted to acquire a disproportionate amount of programming from sister companies of theirs within the same group. A situation could arise, therefore, in which the local operator unreasonably restricted the range of programme sources from which the local blend of services was constituted. In other words, he might use his monopoly position to the detriment of the consumer who would be denied access to a wider range of programming simply because of the corporate links of the licensees.

This is also a consideration which the authority will need to take into account in exercising under Clause 7(3) its oversight of ownership arrangements which might lead to results adverse to the public interest. So there is a degree of overlap there. But we took the view that the authority should at the licensing stage be required to look at not just the range and diversity of programmes, as Clause 6(2)(a) requires, but also the range and diversity of programme sources, and in particular whether they extend outside the corporate family of which the applicant is a member. That is the reason for Clause 6(2)(d). I wonder whether in fact that explanation will satisfy my noble friend.

Lord Winstanley

In the light of the explanation of the noble Lord the Minister, since his concern apparently is not that an operator should include too little of other things but too much, should the wording not be: the extent to which the applicant or each applicant proposes not to include programmes provided otherwise than by himself or by associates of his"? Surely that is the sense which the noble Lord has expressed.

Lord Elton

It does not matter which side of a coin you look at, you still know what it is worth.

Lord Mottistone

My noble friend the Minister surely would agree that the criteria which he gave us for having paragraph (d) are entirely met by paragraph (c). The trouble with paragraph (d) is that it gives no guidance at all. It gives guidance only if one has a preconceived idea of what it means, and surely one of the things about the law is that one should not have a preconceived idea of what it means. The paragraph could mean that one wants the operator to have more programmes, which I think the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, was trying to say. Our objection is because the paragraph is meaningless and not because of the sense of what is required. I think that the provision is covered by paragraph (c). If paragraph (d) is to be retained, it needs to be reworded so that it conveys what the Government actually want it to convey, which it does not do at the moment.

Lord Elton

None of us wants to spend too long on this matter this evening. What worries me is that, although invited to do so, my noble friends will not rely on the provisions of Clause 7(3), which I thought that they might say render the proposal superfluous. That means that they intend to do dire and terrible things to subsection (3) in Clause 7. But that is merely a straw in the wind.

At this late hour, since so many experts in the English language tell me that paragraph (d) does not mean what I believe it means, I think that I had better take it away and maybe bring it back next time, or maybe not.

Lord Mishcon

I hope that the noble Lord the Minister realises that I responded to his suggestion made on the previous amendment, that in order that he could succeed in what he said I should not participate or give him support. I have tried awfully hard to obey his instruction.

Lord Elton

The idea did not seem to work, but I am grateful to the noble Lord.

Earl De La Warr

I am most obliged to my noble friend for his offer. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 28 not moved.]

Lord Ardwick moved manuscript Amendment No. 28A:

Page 6, line 29, at end insert— ("( ) the proposed charges and charging structure proposed to be levied on the licensee's customers;

The noble Lord said: This is an amendment to Clause 6, which is a splendid clause, stating what the authority should take into account when granting a licence. In a very grand subsection the authority is told to take into account, all matters appearing to them to be relevant".

However, not satisfied with that, the Bill goes on to list some of the very important matters, such as the range and diversity of the programmes, the extent to which the applicant proposes to include in the programmes matter from the EEC, as well as programmes of an educational nature and those relating to local affairs. That is splendid.

Our amendment adds to the list; it is a simple addition. No doubt the authority would take into account the matters that we propose, bearing in mind that it is to take into account all matters that appear to it to be relevant, but, just as certain matters are spelt out, we think that it is perhaps useful to spell out yet more. These include, for example, the charges that the company proposes to levy on the customers, the timescale for cabling the franchise area, the method of dealing with and redressing consumer complaints, and the quality of the technology which the applicant intends to deploy.

No doubt the authority would seek such information from each applicant, but it is as well to spell it out, and it seems essential that the rights of the customer should be as fully safeguarded as possible, bearing in mind that the successful licensee will have a monopoly cable service. The procedure should also ensure that the customer gets what he wants at a reasonable cost and that this should continue for the duration of the licence. I beg to move.

I should like to add that, in order to save time, in moving Amendment No. 28A, I have spoken also to Amendments Nos. 28B, 28C, 28D and 28E:

Page 6, line 29, at end insert— ( ) if appropriate the time scale within which the applicant proposes to cable the franchise area; at end insert— ( ) the method which the applicant proposes to adopt to deal with consumer complaints about the cable service provided and for handling problems of consumer redress; at end insert— ( ) the extent to which the applicant intends to provide services through a physical system deploying the most advanced technologies; at end insert— ( ) the extent to which the applicant intends to provide, or secure the provision of, telecommunication services;").

I do not think that there is very much in them that is controversial; at least I hope that there is not.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Alport): Amendment proposed,

Page 6, line 29, at end insert— ("( ) the proposed charges and charging structure proposed to be levied on the licensee's customers;

Lord Elton

I understand that the noble Lord the Deputy Chairman is referring to a manuscript amendment which I have not seen, but which I have heard referred to, but that we are actually speaking to the amendment on the Marshalled List.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees

I am under instructions that I am to call not Amendment No. 28, but Amendment No. 28A, which is as I have read out to the Committee.

Lord Mishcon

Perhaps I may briefly clarify the position. As one would expect, the noble Lord the Deputy Chairman is absolutely correct in what he has said. Our proposals are divided into five amendments. For the convenience of the Committee, my noble friend Lord Ardwick has spoken to all five, though technically he is moving Amendment No. 28A.

Lord Elton

I am most grateful; help is coming in on every side. I was aware of what was intended, but I had thought that it was not going to be pursued. If I may, I intend to speak to all the amendments—including presumably Amendments Nos. 28A. B. C. D and E—and I hope therefore to expedite matters because, I regret to say, there is quite a lot that I have to say, though I shall try to compress it.

This matter broaches a wide and interesting area, and there is indeed a wide range of factors which the authority will need to consider before granting a particular licence. That is recognised in Clause 6(1), which requires the authority to take into account all matters appearing to be relevant. Those matters will of course vary from case to case, depending on the type of licence and the specific circumstances in which each is granted. Nor could we expect to produce a list of considerations which was absolutely complete, or which contained nothing that was irrelevant to any particular case. Experience might well prove that some factors are unnecessary, but much more likely, and I should say much more importantly, experience would reveal that some which had been omitted were in fact very important.

Your Lordships might therefore ask why are we ourselves proposing a list at all under Clause 6(2). The list is there because the Government take the view that there are certain particularly important matters concerning the services which an applicant intends to provide which the authority should always consider before granting a licence for the provision of a prescribed diffusion service.

I shall not enumerate examples. Cable offers a pathway for more than cable television. For that reason, the authority will in all cases have to consider what related services may be provided alongside the television channels, and that is worth referring to. Applicants will therefore be able to make promises about what they will provide for this sort of service. Where they make promises, the authority will have power under Clause 4(6) to insert conditions in the licence to hold them to those promises.

I now turn to the five additional considerations to which the noble Lord has referred. I believe that I am right in saying that three of them, as drafted, are outside the scope of the authority's powers and duties. The actual cabling of an area, which must mean the installation and running of the physical system, is, as we have now established, a matter for my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, the Office of Telecommunications and the Telecommunications Bill. Of course it is true that the Cable Authority will, in parallel, be concerned with the rate at which services are to be extended through a particular area. Indeed, under Clause 4(8) it has a duty to use its powers in the manner best calculated to promote the provision of cable services. This must mean that an applicant with plans for developing services throughout an area at the earliest date will, other things being equal, take precedence over someone with a less dynamic approach. We believe that this is sufficient provision without a specific duty in Clause 6(2) and that the other structural aspects in the noble Lord's third and fourth proposals fall properly outside the Bill.

Questions relating to cable technology and telecommunications services are for the telecommunications licensing authorities rather than the Cable Authority. Two further criteria are offered in the list which the noble Lord so ably urged upon us. The first relates to charges. The Government do not believe that it is necessary or, indeed, right to give the Cable Authority a role in controlling or overseeing charges which cable operators make to the public for the services that they provide. Cable companies will have to work very hard to persuade consumers to subscribe and to continue subscribing when there are other competing claims on their pockets in the home entertainment field, including particularly the video cassette recorder and later, of course, other technologies. The Government do not favour price controls as a normal tool of economic management. We do not see a need to depart from that general principle in this area.

The final criterion is on consumer complaints. I agree that the Cable Authority may well wish to satisfy itself, particularly once a service is operating, that the licensee is taking appropriate steps to deal with them. But the Government do not believe that this is a point that needs to be picked out for special mention in Clause 6(2), particularly as, at that stage, it is doubtful whether any applicant would be in the position to offer more than the most general of assurances. I hope that I have not spoken too fast or left out too much but the noble Lord will gather that I do not like, on the whole, what he proposes.

9.43 p.m.

Lord Mishcon

With that, one has to be democratically content. Nevertheless, it is still possible to urge upon the Committee, on what is really a completely non-political matter, commonsense and justice. Again and again, Members of the Committee on all sides of the Chamber have shown that they are worried about the artificial severance of the Telecommunications Bill from this Bill. To hear the Minister say on behalf of the Home Office, which he represents with such elegance and ability, that this is really a matter for another department and another Bill when we all know that the things are interconnected just underlines the difficulties that we are all under as a result of the severance of these departments when looking at Bills which are relevant one to the other.

When the point is made that two of these provisions are really within the purview of the Telecommunications Bill and the other department, it shows the absurdity of this artificial separation and underlines the need for us to see in this Bill that the two considerations that ought to apply are in fact applying to those who are granted licences. That is an obvious clarification, I hope, of the duties of the authority; I have no doubt, in conjunction with the other department.

What we are endeavouring to do, as the noble Lord the Minister has fairly said, is to put in this Bill the essential requirements before the public—who are entitled to comment—and the authority grant a licence. If you have that aim, in my submission and that of my noble friend who, as the noble Lord the Minister graciously said, very ably moved this amendment, what is in our mind is purely and simply those essential ingredients that the authority and the public ought to have in their minds.

To say that the question of proposed charges is something that the authority does not want to oversee, merely leads one to the public relations exercise that I referred to before. I assure the noble Lord the Minister that the public are interested in this and if, indeed, there is a choice between two, three or four applicants, and one or two of those applicants intend to make an excessive charge if they get this monopoly for 12 years, but the others when offering rather similar services are prepared to offer them more cheaply, that is obviously something that will activate the minds and the views of people in that area and ought to be very relevant to the authority when they are considering applications. That is the first point. I have dealt with the technological matters.

The next point is this. The noble Lord the Minister made an excellent point when we were discussing an amendment which was not clear to me—and I frankly say it in my ignorance. I did not realise, as I told the Committee, that the time of 12 years started from the commencement of the actual programmes; I thought that it started from the grant of the licences and that would be the time when the licence was granted by the authority. I see other noble Lords nodding their heads and I think they were under the same misapprehension, if misapprehension it is.

If that is so, again one of the most material considerations before the public and the authority will be paragraph (b) which is, if appropriate, the time scale within which the applicant proposes to cable the franchise area. One applicant may say: "I am doing this on the cheap and I must admit it. That means that I have got a contract here to cable the franchised area which is going to take me seven years because the contracting party supplying the cable says he is prepared to do it as economically as that if he can put it behind all the other work he has in priority, and if you give him five years in which to do it". Whereas of course another applicant may say: "I am perfectly prepared to see that this area which needs cabling is going to get the service within a very short period of time". That ought to weigh with the authority. It is an essential matter and it will weigh with the public.

Having said that, this is an attenuated if extremely high quality Committee at the moment, and I do not want in those circumstances—and nor do my noble friends—to start the Division Bells ringing, because in my judgment, it will not reflect the views of a full Committee or a better attended Committee. I hope that the noble Lord the Minister, listening to the arguments that have taken place, will say that maybe these are essential ingredients; and maybe, too, if other essential ingredients become necessary, the authority in its wisdom will rely upon the general provisions of the Bill that they have to take into account relevant considerations.

I hope he feels also that this most desirable relationship with the provisions of the Telecommunications Bill, the telecommunications authority and the department, will at least find its way into those matters which are relevant to both authorities when considering the grant of licences. If the noble Lord the Minister will respond with his customary generosity (not shown overmuch so far in the debates that have taken place, but coming their way slowly now and again) I hope that he will find it possible on this occasion to say that he will favourably reconsider.

Lord Elton

I am afraid that the noble Lord expects rather a lot of the dinner hour! I hope that my reply will be rather like the way in which the noble Lord described the Committee—attenuated, but of high quality. I am first opposed to the list before us, because I think lists are dangerous things and we already have as much of a list in Clause 6(2) as we want. My second and more particular response is to the technological arguments which the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, so persuasively put forward. Under Clause 4(8) the authority is bound already to push forward cable and although it is not responsible for "cabling", as it has been described, it is responsible for seeing that the opportunity to be cabled arises as quickly as it can. That is one of its statutory functions. Therefore, it is already going to consider that matter, although we do not propose to list it in Clause 6(2).

The noble Lord was also anxious about pricing. Here there is a difference of some importance between us because we believe that, if the contractor offers too high a price, then he will not get subscribers, he will not make a profit and he will fail. If he offers too low a price, then he will get lots of subscribers but he will not make a profit and he will fail. That is the operation of the market. We do not think that the authority ought to say, "You shall charge this price". But that is, in effect, what it would be doing if it had an auction and decided the licence on the basis of the auction.

The noble Lord does not find those arguments persuasive, but they must be enough to convince him of the reluctance with which I would take this matter away. In fact, I am reluctant to take the matter away, and I am afraid that I shall have to ask him if he would be so kind as to do so.

Lord Ardwick

Where there are competitors for a licence, the price that they are going to charge the public must be an important factor in the choice of which company is to have the licence. Surely that must be so. That is the intention of the provision.

Lord Elton

Indeed, and that is why we have Clause 6(1) which demands that the authority shall indeed: take into account all matters appearing to them to be relevant". I am sure that they will share the noble Lord's view, which is mine.

Lord Mishcon

Quite obviously the great difficulty is leaving things vaguely in a Bill; taking it for granted that the authority will consider whatever it may be, and leaving over the argument to applicants that it would be quite wrong for the authority to consider prices because in the matters of importance that were set out on the applications, the price charged to the consumer was not even mentioned.

There is no purpose in my wearying your Lordships with further speeches or arguments on this matter. It is obvious that the Minister in his wisdom or on the advice that he has received—and the two are not always the same—has decided to be reluctant about promising anything in regard to these amendments. These are important considerations and I believe that the sensible course, if my noble friend agrees, is to withdraw these amendments—and I know that I am only speaking to Amendment No. 28A—at this stage, and to bring them forward again at the Report stage when it would be my hope (hope being eternal in the human breast) that the Government, on reading the report of what has been said, will find it possible to concede at least some of these amendments. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 28B, 28C, 28D, 28E and 29 not moved.]

Lord Mishcon moved Amendment No. 29A:

Page 6, line 29, at end insert— ("(f) whether the applicant is (either alone or in partnership with one or more other persons) entitled to the benefit of one or more existing Licences granted under the Act and; (g) where the applicant is a body corporate whether that body corporate or any associate of that body corporate or any participant in that body corporate or in any such associate is—

  1. (i) entitled to the benefit of one or more existing licences as aforesaid; or
  2. (ii) a participant in a body corporate so entitled or included among the persons so entitled; or
  3. (iii) a participant in an associate of a body corporate so entitled or so included;
and having regard to any matters ascertained by them under this subsection, the Authority shall consider whether, if the proposed licence was granted, any one person would, in any one or more of the capacities mentioned in paragraphs (f) and (g) above or in any combination of any such capacities, have an aggregate interest in the benefit of two or more licences. If in such circumstances it appears to the Authority that an applicant would have such an aggregate interest and that having regard to the nature and extent of that aggregate interest and any other circumstances appearing to the Authority to be material to the existence of that aggregate interest it would constitute an undesirable monopoly either regionally or nationally, the Authority shall refrain from granting the licence to such an applicant. ( ) In this section "participant", in relation to a body corporate, means a person who (whether alone or jointly with one or more other persons, and whether directly or through one or more nominees) holds or is beneficially entitled to not less than one-twentieth of the shares in that body corporate".)

The noble Lord said: This looks like a long and complicated amendment. However, if your Lordships will pay me the courtesy of not reading every word of it but of listening to what I hope will be a simple explanation of it, it may make life easier and, indeed, expend less time. The Broadcasting Act 1981 saw fit to include in Section 26 provisions which stated that where it looked as though there was a harmful monopoly, a contract under that Act would not be granted. We are not dealing with contracts; we are dealing with licences. However, in my submission, the same provisions should be included in this Bill when we are dealing with licences and where the authority is satisfied that an applicant is interested in another licence which has been granted.

Noble Lords would probably immediately round on me if I left the argument there because they might well take the view that in certain cases it would not be harmful, and the authority could not reasonably find that it was harmful, that someone—be it a company, individual or a firm—who was interested in another licence should be precluded from a second licence. Therefore, noble Lords will see that I have met the point—as, indeed, the Broadcasting Act met the point—merely by saying that this is one of the matters that the authority, on finding that there was an interest in another licence, should consider with a view to seeing whether it would constitute an undesirable monopoly, either regionally or nationally, and then and only then (and I continue with the last line and a half of the amendment before I reach the manuscript amendment): the Authority shall refrain from granting the licence to such an applicant.

So it is only in a case where it is seen by the authority to be an undesirable monopoly, either regionally or nationally, that the authority is being called upon to refuse that application.

Perhaps I may now explain the manuscript amendment. This was my fault; in tabling this amendment, I redrafted—but only making changes where they were necessary—Section 26 of the 1981 consolidating measure. What I omitted to do—and I only realised it this morning—was to define the word "participant", which is defined in the Broadcasting Act 1981. When I discovered that this morning I took the liberty of asking the ever helpful Public Bill Office whether they would kindly ensure that this came before your Lordships' Committee as a manuscript amendment in order to complete the amendment before your Lordships.

I repeat, this is the spirit of the section of the Broadcasting Act carried into this Bill and it is not mandatory upon the authority to refuse; it is only within its discretion when it finds that the grant, as it were, of a second licence or perhaps a third would be harmful within the wording of the amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Elton

It is widely recognised that the provision of cable services will constitute a local monopoly, at least for the foreseeable future. I have said that once or twice; I think I shall leave it out of my next speech. That is not because the Government favour the creation of monopolies as a general principle. Indeed, there is nothing in the Bill to preclude the authority from granting more than one licence in a particular area if it judges that that would be in the best interest of the development of cable. But economics seem certain to dictate that one operator per area will be the norm.

The noble Lord's amendment seeks to ensure that these unavoidable local monopolies do not become the launching pad for regional or national monopolies which might operate against the public interest. I am glad to see that the noble Lord has put in the hedges and has said that this is not to be mandatory—that everything has to be properly considered. I am not sure how likely it is that such developments might occur. It must be remembered that the Cable Authority is required to advertise each prescribed diffusion service licence separately, and in every case the authority will have to consider how the grant of the licence will assist the promotion of cable services generally.

It seems doubtful whether the authority would consider that the interests of cable and consumers were best served by the sort of situations which concern noble Lords opposite. But that said, I am ready to concede that there may be scope to deal with the point rather more specifically in the Bill. I congratulate the noble Lord for the care with which he has drafted the amendment and the diligence with which he revised it this morning. Nonetheless, it does not offer quite the right solution and, if noble Lords agree, and if the noble Lord agrees to withdraw it, I shall undertake to consider whether we can bring forward a Government amendment at Report stage which would go some way towards what he wants.

Lord Mishcon

With the passage of every minute upon the clock the noble Lord the Minister is mellowing more and more. In those circumstances, and having regard to the courteous way in which he has dealt with this amendment and the undertaking he has given, I am delighted to withdraw.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

10.2 p.m.

Baroness Faithfull moved Amendment No. 30:

Page 6, line 29, at end insert— ("(ff) the extent to which the applicant or each applicant proposes to commit resources to the production of programmes of social interest and concern to the local community, which should not be less than one per cent. of gross annual turnover of the cable operator; (gg) the extent to which the applicant or each applicant proposes to involve those living or working in the franchise area on the provision of the services provided under paragraph (ff) above.")

The noble Baroness said: I am slightly daunted in moving this amendment because on the amendment before last, in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, my noble friend the Minister said that Clause 6 had as much in it as could be managed. I move this amendment, which has a slightly different slant from the other recommendations in Clause 6.

This amendment is tabled in the names of my noble friends Lord Seebohm and Lady Carnegy of Lour, and of the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, and I hope is supported by others in your Lordships' Committee. The amendment is moved bearing in mind that cable programme services will be in a position to offer a social service to the local community by providing air time for local and voluntary organisations, local community groups and self-help groups, and will provide others with a genuine opportunity to be involved in the cable programme and to use cable programmes to disseminate information and act as a link between various voluntary organisations and individuals.

The problem lies in two aspects: the first is money and resources, and the second is methods. The groups of people to whom I refer are the vulnerable in our society—vulnerable as individuals and vulnerable as voluntary organisations. Voluntary organisations in this day and age and at this time are running into severe difficulties and have great financial problems to face. The amendment first recommends that 1 per cent. of the annual turnover of the cable organisation should be allocated to programmes which will help these groups in the community who for real reasons are not altogether able to help themselves.

Secondly, there are the methods. Many of these organisations are small. It is true that there are large voluntary organisations, such as the Spastics Society and Dr. Barnardo's, that have a good income, but I am concerned with the small organisations which have a very small income but which in the community are doing a good and essential job of work. They are not able to produce programmes; they do not have the mechanism by which to produce programmes. Therefore, it is hoped that one of the matters to be taken into account under Clause 6 would be that these organisations could be helped by the cable organisation to produce their own programmes.

Therefore in some ways this amendment, which is perhaps not as well worded as it might be, is to some extent an extension of the amendment of the noble Lord. Lord Mishcon, but it has a different slant and it refers to people and organisations who are vitally important in our society but who themselves have not got the resources. I beg to move.

Lord Seebohm

At this late hour I shall not delay your Lordships for long, but I must refer to the words used by the noble. Baroness, Lady Trumpington, when she moved the Second Reading of this Bill on 19th December last. I quote from col. 486 of the Official Report. The words are these: 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".

Nobody could possibly disagree with those words, but unless some resources are made available it just will not happen. A number of voluntary bodies, such as the Volunteer Centre, Age Concern, the National Council of Voluntary Organisations and so forth, have been discussing this for some months. They have gone into the matter at great depth and I will quote now from one of their statements, which says this: It is clear from our own experience with existing broadcasting services and from cable services in America, Canada and Australia, that badly-made programmes will not get an audience".

We know that that is true. We also know that the voluntary organisations, which are now playing a greater and greater part in our social life, have neither the training, the resources nor the expertise to make programmes. But they must do this if we are going to have any effect at all. Nothing is worse than bad programmes: in fact they are more harmful than good. This will need money and there must be some form of resource centre where the money will come from. I cannot say that we have necessarily put down the right answer, but money will have to be found if those splendid words of the noble Baroness are to be implemented.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

It is unfortunate that this particular amendment is being taken at this late hour because I believe it to be extremely important to the very fabric of the Bill and the potentiality of cable in this country. The amendment is an attempt, as my noble friend has said, to ensure that so far as possible in future not only do cable operators intend to offer programmes of local interest and concern and intend to employ local people and local groups but that this does actually happen, that it happens to an adequate extent, that it happens from the outset and that it happens successfully.

It is now widely accepted throughout the community that cable television is a potentially vital tool for the expansion and support of the work of voluntary organisations at local level. It is not clear, however, whether potential operators or indeed. I fear, the Government, appreciate how important this may turn out to be. In the Second Reading debate, my own small contribution was the only one specifically relating to this aspect, and in his summing-up the Minister did not in fact refer to the subject at all, although he has since written me a very helpful and courteous letter on the subject.

This is important not just for the voluntary organisations themselves but for the whole national strategy at the present time. The Manpower Services Commission's adult training strategy intends among other things to encourage people of all ages to use their spare time to keep themselves up to date and to keep involved for the sake of new work skills and for the sake of improving basic education in a variety of ways through such mechanisms as the Open Tech, through broadcasting and by many other means. This also has to happen through cable.

The whole field of preventive health care is involved. By remaining active and involved locally in local groups and local activities, older people, unemployed people and disabled people are far more likely to keep themselves happy well and active. In the field of crime prevention, especially among the young, clubs, societies, hobbies, interest groups and service projects are an important key to the problem of crime.

Voluntary organisations need ways to contact many more young people and involve them in a greater variety of activities, particularly in the great cities. The voluntary organisations have an enormous part to play in all this. They are willing to involve themselves to the hilt and are increasingly keen to do so through television. At national level, they already help the BBC and the ITV companies with back-up information and research for programmes in their particular area of concern. Some, indeed, have been appointed officials with media experience. But local programmes by local groups and local people present a very different problem.

We do not yet know how franchise operators will arrange their obligations under Clause 6, because so far these have not been published. Impressions in the areas concerned are being formed that access channels will be the way. The problem here is that companies will want voluntary organisations to produce programmes, and voluntary organisations will keenly desire to do so, but at this local level they simply do not have the money or the expertise to do so. The only way that this crucial interaction between voluntary organisations and the community can happen is if cable companies provide a good deal of help, of consultation, of advice in working up programmes, of script writing, of production, of camera team help and so on. Some mechanism has to be found to ensure this.

I accept that the Government do not want to limit the freedom of action of operators and I do not think anyone in the Committee wants that. But this amendment requires more precision in the consideration of the application, in so far as those areas in Clause 6 are concerned. It proposes that the resources to be devoted to this should be quantified and suggests 1 per cent. of the gross turnover of the operator. This would not be an enormous imposition. The customers of cable will be very interested indeed in what is local. It is likely to put up the number of customers and to increase the revenue of the company. Commercial viability is likely to be enhanced if this amendment is adopted. I hope that this, or at least some similar mechanism, can be adopted by the Government, if cable is to fulfil this particular function which is such a very important one for the nation.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

Voluntary organisations need all the help that they can get. The Government are most helpful to many such organisations, giving them grants to help them with their work; otherwise, some could not carry on. Our British voluntary organisations are the envy of many countries throughout the world. TV is the easiest way of getting a message across to the public. I hope that cable will give voluntary organisations an opportunity to do this. It will happen only if they can afford to do so. I gladly support the amendment.

10.15 p.m.

Lord Howard of Henderskelfe

I had not intended to intervene, but this amendment raises certain wider issues which relate to the community as a whole. I referred very briefly to this point in my Second Reading speech. One of the problems about television has always been that it is too large in its present form—with the independent television companies and the regions of the BBC—to do anything for communities which is really meaningful. The areas are too big and the number of inhabitants is too great. We see a much better picture of what might happen in local radio, again whether it be independent local radio or local radio provided by the BBC.

Where I differ slightly from the sponsors of the amendment is in the thought that you need a lot of professional help to achieve it. You do not. You need a minimal amount. It is quite extraordinary what can be done by volunteers within a community, whether they be official voluntary bodies or others. May I quote the example of Leeds local radio which was run for a week entirely, from top to bottom, by the school children of Leeds. They produced the programmes, wrote and read the news, went out and did all the interviews. All this is possible. All that is needed is only a minimal amount of help and resources and somebody to make sure that from the beginning there is a commitment to it. This is why I believe that this is one of the factors which should be written into the requirements for local cable companies.

If local cable can be fully involved with the community in this way—and I have no doubt that in most cases it will be, because it will be an audience-inducing potential—I believe that we can greatly enhance the community life of this country. Therefore I support the amendment.

Lord Mottistone

I support the principle behind the amendment but I should like to add a caveat. I cannot support the motion to write in the amount of money which should be put forward by the cable operators. This has spoiled two good points, in particular the first. It must be appreciated that the cable operators will not make a profit for several years. They will not be producing programmes of any kind for themselves for several years. Not less than 1 per cent. of the gross annual turnover of the cable operator is a vast sum. It would be much better to put it in other terms, if it has to be put in at all. It flaws an otherwise good amendment. The amendment speaks of the extent to which the applicant will commit resources to the production of programmes of social interest. If they are going to commit resources, then they are going to commit resources; you do not have to tell them what resources to commit. For those reasons, I do not support the amendment, although I support the principle behind it.

Lord Mishcon

On behalf of my noble friends and myself, may I say that we completely support the spirit behind the amendment. Obviously we await what the noble Lord the Minister has to say about any difficulties that there may be, which it is hoped can be ironed out. However, we wholeheartedly support the spirit behind the amendment.

Lord Winstanley

Just so that the noble Lord can be aware of the strength of the forces ranged against him—if they are ranged against him, which is not yet known—may I indicate that I and my noble friends on these Benches fully support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Faithful!, and the two very important points made in it. I agree with those noble Lords who have expressed some reservations about the detail. I do not disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone. It would perhaps be a mistake to insert one per cent., half a per cent. or any other kind of per cent. In general terms, however, my noble friends and I on these Benches are not wholly enamoured of the idea of imposing upon the authority all sorts of constraints and instructions as to precisely what they should take into consideration on this or any other matter. We believe, however, that the two particular points contained in the amendment are at the very heart of the whole purpose of cable. The noble Lord, Lord Howard of Henderskelfe, is entirely right. The old BBC regions were too big. The BBC is too national and the area which it covers is too large. This has resulted, in a way, in television not being used much for the purpose for which it is ideally suited—that is, an information service and a community service. With cable, we have something catering for the community; something which can give real opportunities to community organisations and which can provide a genuine information service in the locality. It would be tragic if the cable operators did not undertake responsibilities of this kind.

In supporting the amendment of the noble Baroness, and if something of this kind is incorporated into the Bill, I should point out that we are not placing any kind of onerous burden on the shoulders of the cable operators. It is my view that sensible and wise cable operators will wish to do this. They would find it acceptable, good for their programmes, cost-effective, and good for the whole enterprise that they are heading.

Do not let us imagine that we are placing some terrible burden on cable operators. We are merely encouraging them to do what I believe any enlightened cable operator would wish to do. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to respond favourably to this amendment.

Baroness Lockwood

Perhaps I might add one further point to the excellent points which have been made in favour of this amendment, which I certainly support. At an earlier point in the Committee, when we were talking about representation on the authority, I made the comment that we really needed someone who was involved in grass roots issues and who knew about the feelings and the needs of the local community. In replying to that discussion, the noble Lord the Minister stated that consumers had one excellent weapon in their hands; they did not have to take cable, and that the success of cable depended on how many subscribers there were—that people could always withdraw from subscribing if they were not satisfied.

The amendment gets us away from that concept of cable and takes us into an entirely new area, where cable television need not be just another commercial channel but can actually become part of the community itself. It is in that sense that I believe this amendment needs supporting. Whether or not we should go for 1 per cent. I do not know, but there is a need to have some resources available. The only resources which could be available would have to come from the television companies themselves, and like many other noble Lords and Baronesses who have spoken, I believe that this would be a very good investment on the part of the programme makers.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

Before my noble friend the Minister replies, I may remind your Lordships that people are prepared to pay a great deal to belong to different clubs and societies in which they are involved for the purposes of different hobbies. This could become a very large proportion of the income of a cable authority. Some noble Lords have regretted that a suggested figure of 1 per cent. of gross turnover is in the amendment; but if it has succeeded in exploring the issue by being worded in that way, then it was worthwhile. In fact, there could be a lot of money in this for a cable authority, and there could be a lot of money forthcoming from inner cities and from great housing schemes. The money may well be there, but it will only be forthcoming if there exist attractive programme enterprises in which people want to be involved.

10.24 p.m.

Lord Elton

My noble friends have drawn together a formidable and very distinguished alliance—if I may use that term without causing confusion—in support of what is obviously an idea of very great interest, some originality, and great attraction. We are a nation in which the voluntary spirit is very strong. You have only to look at the latest edition of Social Trends to see how strong it is. We rightly reiterate how fortunate we are to live in a society in which kindness to others and charity are regarded as things which should be expressed by people with a personal concern and not by Governments or institutions.

My right honourable and learned friend was fortunate enough to receive a delegation from Concern on Cable the other day, the members of which were very interesting in telling him what the voluntary movement was already doing to inform cable companies of the role which they would like to play in the development of cable. This is an important subject, and during your Lordships' debate an interesting and rather more appealing image of cable has emerged than existed before. I think it was Lord Howard of Henderskelfe who first referred to it as being intimate, which is a new concept. It was a cold light winking in the basement at one stage, in the back of my mind, but now it has become something warm and rosy.

What the noble Baronesses and others propose is that companies shall be selected, among other things, on the extent to which the applicant for a licence produces programmes of social interest and concern to the local community. It then puts a requirement that that proportion of their turnover devoted to this should be not less than 1 per cent. Finally, it says that a further consideration is the extent to which people living locally are drawn into the production of programmes. Noble Lords and Baronesses have explained how this would be done, in a really quite fascinating debate, I thought.

I will pass over the question of the list because the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, was kind enough to make the point for me about our aversion to lists. I would turn, instead, first of all—and this is not a quibble—to the terms of what it is the amendment asks us to favour. I think I know what is meant. I do not think it is what is in the amendment, and I am not certain that it would be very easy to draft what is meant. A programme of social interest and concern to the local community might well be a programme on how to live with a handicap in the community, or it might be about the developments planned in the area which might affect the ecology, and so on. But in fact "a programme of social interest and concern" is a term which you can apply to "Dallas", I regret to say. It is in fact an absolutely all-embracing term. I am not saying this as a quibble, because I am sure a quibble would not be accepted and at this time of night I would not be brave enough to bring one forward.

Lord Winstanley

If the noble Lord would allow me to interrupt, if he refers to the text he will see that it says "of social interest and concern to the local community". Does he mean that "Dallas" is of interest to Dallas?

Lord Elton

If the noble Lord chooses to go to any local community he will find that "Dallas" is, I think, 16th on the list of popular viewings in the national hit-parade. I think it is "Coronation Street" which is at the top, and that is a programme of local interest and concern; it is full of social issues. If the characters in that programme conduct themselves towards each other in a way in which the voluntary agencies think is appropriate, I suppose they would favour this definition, and if they conduct themselves with cruelty and inhumanity perhaps they would not.

I will not go on with this because I am sure that on reflection your Lordships will see that there is a very important point here: that the amendment does have to say in much more specific terms what it is that this 1 per cent. is to be devoted to before it will have the effect that my noble friends and others wish.

My second comment is couched in terms grateful to my noble friend Lord Mottistone for bringing in a reference to the economics of this matter. If, as the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Henderskelfe, suggested, this is a profit-inducing idea or if, as my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour suggested, this is going to generate profit, it is something that the companies are likely to do anyway. But, as my noble friend Lord Mottistone said, it will be some considerable time before cable is into profit at all. Indeed, what worries most critics of our policy is that cable is not going to succeed because it will be so difficult to make a profit.

I am not a businessman, but it seems to me that one can have an enormous turnover and virtually no profit. This amendment requires a company with a turnover of £1 million to pump, I believe, £10,000 into this operation, but the company's total annual profit may be only £12,000. So my next anxiety about the proposals put forward by my noble friends and others is that the mathematics are wrong. If we favour anything like this at all, I should be very reluctant to see this sort of arithmetic. In fact, I am not sure that I want to see any arithmetic at all in what is proposed because, on the one hand, I should not want a company with a turnover of £20 million and no profit to have to put £250,000 in, and, secondly, I should not want anything in the Bill which amounted to a levy on a programme; if your Lordships object to the word "levy", I use it only because I do not like using the phrase in my draft which states that cable is a long- term high risk investment and it would, in the Government's view, be wrong that any part of its revenues should be mandatorily hypothecated for a specific purpose. I tried to avoid that phrase but I now have it on record so we all know what I mean.

Your Lordships will see that I am greatly attracted by the motivation and ideas of your Lordships and deeply impressed by the numbers of your Lordships who have rallied to the amendments of my noble friends and others. Sympathetic as I am to what is proposed—that local money should go to local good causes or general good causes with a local application; that I entirely applaud because I have campaigned for charities often enough myself—I have never felt entirely happy with the idea of compulsory charity.

The terms on which this amendment is drafted are seriously vague because they do not illustrate precisely what it is. I say this to my noble friends, or such of them as can follow me, that if what they want to happen could be spelled out in the precise terms that would be necessary to make it legislatable, we should be in a different position. However, at the moment they are using what I regard as dangerous mathematics to advance an imprecise cause. I must therefore ask them—with great regret, because I do sympathise with them—to think rather harder again.

Lord Mishcon

Can the noble Lord the Minister build on that sympathy which he has expressed and which we are all sure is sincere? I do not think that one should enter onto what I believe is called a pilpulistic argument—I am rather proud of that word—and deal with a very serious subject, as the noble Lord the Minister admits, in a rather narrow way.

We all know what we mean by matters of social interest and concern. The noble Baroness and those who support the amendment have certainly not used the words "popular interest and concern", which I should have thought would be the proper language to define what the noble Lord the Minister was talking about when he mentioned all the machinations of JR and Dallas. Indeed, I should have thought that at all times those activities would cause concern to all those who had any business, marital or commercial transactions with him. What is intended here is that the word "social" obviously means, to those of us who have caught the spirit of this amendment, matters of social need. It also covers matters of interest socially to the members of the local community. It is to be a local concern and of specifically local interest, although that interest may be shared by others.

I hope that the Minister will be able to do this. It would save the risk at Report stage of words that may be used by any of us in trying to put forward a helpful amendment to support the proposal of the noble Baroness which we may again be told do not properly define the provision in what the noble Lord the Minister called legislating language. The noble Lord knows perfectly well what we intend.

Let us for one moment take for granted the point of the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone. I have a lot of sympathy with what he says about not specifying a minimum or indeed any sort of contribution. Could the Minister undertake to look sympathetically at the idea and bring forward a Government amendment in order to see that this is one of the matters that the authority takes into account? That is all that the amendment means. It does not say, as the noble Lord the Minister implied, that anyone who does not put forward these proposals will not get a licence. It merely says that it is among the things that the authority should be concerned with and will take into account.

I hope that this matter will be dealt with rather more affirmatively. Otherwise, we could be lost at Report stage merely by the use of language. If the noble Lord the Minister, with all the advice he has at his command, could bring forward an appropriate amendment to deal with the spirit of this proposal but in language which his advisers feel is suitable, that would be a helpful outcome of this debate.

10.37 p.m.

Lord Airedale

I thought that the Minister made rather heavy weather of the drafting difficulties of expressing the amendment so as to be clear. I can well appreciate that he is right when he says that "Dallas" might well be of social interest to the local community. But if one put the word "local" at the beginning instead of at the end of the phrase, so that it read, "of local social interest", I do not think anybody could suppose that "Dallas" was of local social interest. I know that we cannot draft while we are sitting in Committee, but I put forward that suggestion.

Lord Winstanley

I join the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, in asking the noble Lord the Minister to think again and in particular to give what assistance he can in his official capacity in drafting a more satisfactory amendment. I find it impossible to believe that the noble Lord did not understand the amendment. I know that it has certain defects.

Lord Elton

Perhaps the noble Lord would be kind enough to tell me, not in the exact terms, but in the length that one would expect in a subsection, what precisely he means. He will find it extremely difficult. I have not hit on a way to do it.

Lord Winstanley

I hope that the Minister will be able to hit on a way to do it, and perhaps a better way to do it. But I think we know what we want done.

Lord Elton

I apologise for intervening again. I mean that I cannot do it in conversational language. I am not addressing myself to the difficulty of drafting language. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, has a crystal clear feeling in his heart that certain things are good and should be promoted in the locality; my noble friend Lord Mottistone has an equally clear view but one which is quite different. I do not doubt that the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, is similarly keen on different things. Somehow we have to find a criterion which fits all the views. Until that is done I cannot offer an amendment. That has to be done first.

Lord Winstanley

The noble Lord will be aware that the Independent Broadcasting Authority requires television programme contractors to include in their programmes a certain quota of local and regional material—and that quota is vastly more than 1 per cent.—and those contractors are not working in localities in the true sense that cable is.

I put the point to the noble Lord in the following way. If the cable authority turns out to be the kind of body which we are led to believe it will be, and it sees that one of the contractors to which it has given a licence to provide cable services fails to make proper use of local community activities, and fails to give proper information about the local community, including social trends and voluntary bodies, I would expect it at the end of the day to be extremely reluctant to renew the licence. If on that basis the authority is going to be reluctant to renew the licence at the end of the day, surely it ought to make that clear before the day starts.

Lord Elton

Perhaps for the sake of elucidation I may ask my noble friends whether by activities of local social interest—or the other way round, as the noble Lord put it—they mean local community activities; that is, activities which are going on in the local community? That is not the idea that I had. I thought that what were in mind were matters to do with Age Concern, the handicapped and so forth, which are quite different from matters to do with the local rugby club and the migration of the neighbourhood flora and fauna.

Baroness Faithfull

First, I should like to thank all noble Peers who have spoken to the amendment and my noble friend the Minister. There is no doubt that there is one matter on which we are all agreed—including my noble friend the Minister—and that is the spirit of the amendment. It is perfectly true that we are not agreed on the way that it has been presented, and for that I apologise to your Lordships' Committee.

I quite take on board the point of the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, and as the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, said, putting in the 1 per cent. quota has at any rate focused everyone's attention on the point that money is required. I am also most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Henderskelfe, for talking about the production of programmes. The interesting point was that he said that a minimal amount of help was necessary. It need not be a great deal of help, but some is necessary. I am also very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Airedale. I think that we all know what we mean, but like the characters in Alice in Wonderland, we do not say what we mean, and this is the difficulty that we are all in at the moment.

Perhaps I may suggest that I withdraw the amendment and that, with all those noble Lords who have spoken in the debate, I consider how it can be redrafted. I am sure that my noble friend the Minister will permit me to discuss the redraft with him—or perhaps not, as the case may be; though I hope that it will be so. Bearing in mind that we are all behind the spirit of the amendment, I suggest that I again bring it forward at the next stage. Therefore at this point I beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 6 agreed to.

10.43 p.m.

Lord Mishcon moved Amendment No. 31: After Clause 6, insert the following new clause—

("Code of Standards.

.—(1) Within one year from the enactment of this Act the Authority shall draw up and cause to be published a Code of minimum standards for the matters mentioned in section 6(2) above; and they shall not thereafter grant a licence for the provision of a prescribed diffusion service to an applicant who fails to meet the standards established in that Code.

(2) The Authority may from time to time revise the Code drawn up under subsection (1) above.

(3) Before drawing up or revising the Code provided for in this section the Authority shall consult with such interested persons as they consider appropriate and shall take steps (including the holding of public meetings)—

  1. (a) to ascertain the opinions of the public; and
  2. (b) to encourage the making of comments and suggestions by members of the public,
about the standards proposed to be set by the Code, and shall take into account those opinions and any such comments and suggestions received by them.")

The noble Lord said: I shall again try to be brief. Members of your Lordships' Committee will see that in the Bill there is provision dealing with the drawing up of a code affecting advertising. Your Lordships will also see that in Clause 10 there is a provision for drawing up a code dealing with programmes other than advertising and emphasising in particular what ought to be excluded by way of violence and matters of that kind.

In none of those provisions is there anything which deals with a time limit; there is nothing which deals with consultations with the public before drawing up the code, though the public is very much interested in regard to any code on standards. There is nothing which relates to the provisions of Clause 6, with which we have just been dealing, in order to ensure that there is a code which is available to all applicants, indicating the minimum standards for the essential matters mentioned in the clause which must be adhered to before a licence can be granted.

If we do not have that code of practice, then, of course, we are in danger, especially where there is only one applicant for a licence, of standards dropping very badly and of that having an effect not only on the provisions of this Bill and the standards that we are trying to keep in it but also, indirectly, on independent television, and possibly television generally. By virtue of the way that standards might cheapen, obviously, the public may be tempted away from following television on ITA or BBC, with the result that those programmes, too, may deteriorate in standard.

In my submission we have a very important duty to carry out. We should definitely lay down the time in which the code should be brought forward and published. We should see that the public are consulted about it. We should see that licences are not granted unless the code has been published and unless the licensee abides by the standards that the authority has laid down. I beg to move.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

I have had a great worry from several people that there may be far too many cheap American films that encourage gangster behaviour in our communities. I should like to support the amendment.

Lord Elton

I cannot be quite as brief as that, I fear. The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, is eloquent in the cause of the consumer. It is a cause in which we all sympathise with him. I should like to pause, however, to consider whether the means that he proposes for advancing that cause are entirely appropriate to our case. Clause 6, which immediately precedes the new clause, deals with the testing of applicants for licensing to see if they are fit to receive licences. That clause lists five matters to which the Cable Authority must give particular attention before it grants a licence, and I will not rehearse them. The amendment as drafted takes those matters for consideration and says that it is not enough only to consider them. Considering them will only sort out the good applicants from the bad. I suspect that it means some form of comparison and choice of the best, or, in some circumstances, no doubt, the choice of the least bad.

Noble Lords want to do better than that. They want to be certain that any applicant will offer services which in these respects are at least up to some specific satisfactory standard. Let that standard, therefore, be stated and, since this is a complicated affair and the authority has become expert in it, let the authority take a year to decide what those standards shall be and then publish them and try and alter them in the light of experience if the need should arise. That, according to the amendment, is the hurdle that every applicant should clear before he is accepted.

That seems very practical and effective at first sight, but it is on reflection that doubts begin to arise. As drafted, the amendment is not intended to act of itself as a regulator of what goes out over cable once a licence is granted although it could, of course, be so used by the authority. I take it, however, that the concern of the movers is specifically with the issue of a licence at the outset. The focus of the concern is those occasions when there may be a single applicant only for a licence. That is what I deduce. On those occasions we are to suppose that the machinery of Clause 6 is particularly unsuitable, or at least particularly inadequate.

If it was the case that Clause 6(1) read, in line 5, "In deciding to whom to grant a licence", or even if Clause 6(2) read, in line 9, "in deciding to whom to grant a licence", it would certainly be said that the process was designed to deal only with the competitive entry, because the assumption would have been that a licence had to go to someone willy-nilly. The only question then would be to decide to whom it should go. But the clause does not read like that. It reads: In deciding whether or to whom to grant a licence". So does Clause 6(2). The question that the authority is required to answer therefore is not, "To whom shall we give a licence?" It is, "Shall we give a licence to anyone; and, if so, who is the best qualified?" That is surely the question that noble Lords opposite want the authority to be forced to ask itself. I begin to think that there may be common ground between us because the Bill does quite clearly provide that it is always open to the authority to refuse to grant a licence at all, whether there is one or a hundred applicants.

What then are the considerations the authority is required to have in mind when deciding to grant, or not to grant, a licence whether there be a hundred applicants, or, as may happen, only one? They are, first, all matters appearing to it to be relevant and, second, without prejudice to that in Clause 6(2), the five matters listed in 18 in particular. Those are exactly the five matters to which this amendment seeks to direct their special attention as well.

This means that the essential change embodied in subsection (1) of the amendment amounts only to requiring the authority after reflection publicly to declare the minimum that it will be prepared to accept under each of the five headings in Clause 6(2) of the Bill. We have no objection to the authority making public the grounds for the choices it makes if it so wishes and, as I indicated in reply to the noble Lord's persuasive speech on Amendment No. 25, I have already agreed to consider requiring it to make available the information which prospective licensees include in their applications.

Moreover, if the authority is, as the Bill requires it to do, to consider the refusal of licences even to single applicants, it must follow that the authority must on those occasions at least have actual minimum standards in its own mind when it makes the determination. Their nature will become clearer with the growth of experience and the publication of the authority's considerations, perhaps under something like Amendment No. 25.

It follows therefore that all that lies between the noble Lord and the Bill as drafted is whether the minimum should be codified and published not in advance of all applications but in advance of those made more than twelve months after the enactment. My own feeling and that of the Government is that, first, even with the powers of revision given in subsection (2) of the amendment, this may introduce an undesirable level of inflexibility into the authority's remit. We also believe that considerations will vary quite considerably from place to place and that there might arise from a universal code a choice for the authority between fixing a threshold that was too high for some places and one that was unduly low for others.

I regret therefore that we do not favour the noble Lord's interesting idea of requiring the authority to publish a code on the lines suggested in the amendment. We believe that the test which the authority should be required to apply in each case is the one contained in Clause 4(8), which is: how can the provision of cable services best be promoted?

The other provisions in the amendment are actually dependent on the major principle, so the noble Lord will forgive me if I do not address myself to them, because I hope that the principle will be conceded.

Lord Mishcon

I have listened with interest and great respect to what the noble and learned Lord has said. It is his language which made me introduce the word "learned". I wonder whether the noble Lord realises that this was not only protection for the consumer and for standards, but also a protection for intending applicants. It is not enough to say that the authority, when the applicant reads the Bill, has to take certain matters into account which are very essential matters. What would guide the applicant as to whether he ought apply, or not, and what may guide the applicant to decide whether he ought to run the gamut of competition which may, indeed, affect his prestige if he is a loser in the competition, is the minimum standards in regard to those matters mentioned in Clause 6, which are of vital importance if standards are to be kept up. If you have minimum standards there, the guidance to the applicant is: "Oh yes, I can meet those standards; indeed, I can improve upon them." I think, therefore, that this will be of value to the applicants and will save the authority's time because it may be saved applications which have no merit.

Dealing with the Minister's next point, which is that of a possible variation in areas, I am trying to think practically in regard to where there could be such a variation in areas which would not satisfy a minimum requirement, because the matters which are mentioned in Clause 6 are, of course, of vital consideration when dealing with the question of licences. One cannot believe that there is not a national or even a United Kingdom minimum standard in regard to those requirements.

Having said all that, let me say that this is not the appropriate time to test the view of the Committee. I have an idea that the Committee is not really terribly anxious to debate the matter at length at this hour. The Minister has very courteously said that he has appreciated some of the points behind the amendment although he has found difficulties. In those circumstances I hope to be able to give consideration again to this amendment and I hope that he, too, will be able to give some consideration to it between now and the Report stage to see whether he cannot be more helpful.

Lord Elton

I shall look forward to hearing what the noble Lord has to say if he returns to this matter at the next stage. I rose to my feet in self-defence to say that I did avoid the words "mandatorily hypothecated". If the noble Lord, in a speech after the one which used the word "pilpulistic", calls me a noble and learned Lord, he must be the Lord Chief Justice!

Lord Mishcon

If the noble Lord the Minister had used the words "mandatorily hypothecated," I should not have called him "learned"! I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 7 [Restrictions on the holding of licences]:

10.56 p.m.

Lady Saltoun moved Amendment No. 32: Page 6, line 30, leave out from ("shall") to second ("that") and insert ("make sure")

The noble Lady said: With the leave of the Committee, I should like to move Amendment No. 32 and to speak to Amendments Nos. 33 and 34 at the same time: Amendment No. 33: Page 7, line 11, leave out from ("shall") to second ("that") and insert ("make sure") Amendment No. 34: Page 7, fine 22, leave out from ("shall") to second ("that") and insert ("make sure")

The object of these amendments is two-fold. The restrictions as to who may or may not hold a licence which this clause contains are, it seems to me, of paramount importance. The wording of the clause as it stands is not really quite strong enough. It says: do all that they can to secure",

which would appear to give the authority the loophole of being able to say, "Well, we did all that we could to secure and failed". Who is to be judge of whether they had in fact done all that they could? Failure in this duty cannot be acceptable, and must be out of the question since in this instance the ball lies in the authority's court and it is only a case of making adequate inquiries, and those inquiries would not, I should have thought, be very difficult to make.

I think and hope that the wording I am suggesting is stronger and, with very great respect, it is also better English. "Make sure" is normal good English. "Secure" means the same, but it is not normal usage. "Make sure" is rather like "begin", which is good Saxon derived English as opposed to the Latin derived equivalent, "commence", which is a horrible word. I beg to move.

Lord Airedale

This is the first of a very large number of clauses in the Bill, as the noble Baroness has indicated, all of which begin with these rather curious words: The Authority shall do all that they can to secure that". I do not know whether those words have any precedent in the statutes; perhaps it does not matter very much whether they are precedented or not. But I should have thought that it went without saying that the authority would do their best to secure that the provisions of the Bill would be complied with. I should not have thought it needed spelling out in a large number of instances like this. If there is any doubt about it, surely it would be easy to insert early in the Bill a short clause which would say: The Authority shall do their best to secure that the provisions of this Act shall be complied with". The other point I wish to make on this is that what is to be done or not to be done according to the clauses in this Bill is at the will of Parliament. It is the will of Parliament that something is or is not to be done. To say that the authority, shall do their best to secure it is surely a rather secondhand way of impressing upon people what the will of Parliament is.

Why put the burden upon the authority in all these cases? It is for applicants and other people interested upon reading the Bill to see clearly what is permitted and what is prohibited. They must take the proper trouble to find out for themselves whether what they are applying for is permitted by the Act. If one says in almost every instance that the burden is on the authority to secure that the Bill is complied with, one is encouraging people to chance their arm. If there is a case of some doubt, the applicant will be advised, "Do not bother about that, you put in the application. It is up to the authority to secure that the provisions of the Act are being carried out; you do not have to worry about that". Why put all this burden upon the authority? Why not state in the clauses of the Bill nakedly and boldly what the mischiefs are which have to be avoided and what matters have to be complied with, so that everybody knows what they have to look at to secure that the provisions are complied with, and do not put the whole burden upon the authority like this. I hope that the amendment of the noble Lady will find favour.

Lord Elton

I am not sure that the amendment would have the effect that the noble Lord wishes, but the noble Lady has picked up an anxiety voiced at the Second Reading stage by the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Henderskelfe. I think therefore that I ought to explain that the duties on the authority in the Bill can in fact be divided into two types. The first is where the objective is one which is clearly within the direct power of the authority to achieve. In these cases the duty on the authority is absolute already. For example, Clause 11(1) says that the authority "shall" draw up a code governing standards and practice in advertising.

The second type of duty is where the means of achieving the duty is not within the direct control of the authority. I hope that the noble Lady will also allow me to speak not only to Amendments Nos. 32, 33 and 34, but also to Amendments Nos. 39, 46, 50, 51, 54, 61, 72 and 78, which will curtail our proceedings later in the day and, indeed, the week. In these cases, which are the subject of the amendments I have quoted, the Bill requires the authority to "do all that they can" to secure the objective. To take an example, the authority could not be put under an absolute duty to secure that certain rules were kept in the area of programme standards because the authority themselves do not control the transmission of programmes. However, I can assure the noble Lady that the duty is much stronger than she fears; indeed, within the conventions of parliamentary drafting it is the strongest possible duty in the circumstances, and is precedented in the 1981 Act. The authority's obligation is to use all the means at their disposal to secure the various objectives. This means that they must insert appropriate conditions in licences, they must invoke the various sanctions available to them in the case of a breach, and, in the last resort, they must use their powers to revoke a licence.

I have to assure the noble Lady that the revised wording that she suggested in actual fact could be held to be less stringent than what is currently in the Bill. I hope that this will reassure the noble Lady, the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Henderskelfe, and the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, that the Cable Authority's duties in the Bill as presently drafted are not deficient.

I entirely share the view of many noble Lords, notably the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, that our laws ought to be expressed in simple English strictly interpreted. In this case I think that the language is simple, and strictly interpreted it perhaps means a little more than it does in everyday conversation. I understand absolutely why the noble Lady felt it prudent to table her impressive list of amendments. The phrase to which she takes exception is certainly one that lacks force in everyday conversation. But legislation has its own style, and, as we all know all too well, within it words take on a new and sometimes more vigorous meaning. The terms we now have in the Bill place an inescapable obligation on the authority. I hope that in the light of that assurance the noble Lady will not feel constrained to press her amendment.

Lady Saltoun

I am very glad to hear from the noble Lord that the wording in Clause 7 imposes an inescapable duty on the Cable Authority to do what I think we all want it to do. I am slightly surprised to hear that the noble Lord thinks that the same applies to Amendments Nos. 46, 46A, 50, 51, 54, 61, 72 and 78, because in the case of those amendments the authority's duty is quite clearly to do its best to see that the instructions are carried out in a situation where it is not absolutely empowered to see that they are carried out.

In the case of the amendments we are discussing, there can be no question that it is up to the authority and up to the authority alone to make sure that the instructions in the Bill are carried out. Therefore, I shall not press these amendments to a Division in view of what the noble Lord has said, but I hope that he will have another look at them to make quite sure that they will make it absolutely mandatory on the authority to see that those duties are carried out and that no excuses are accepted.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 33 and 34 not moved.]

11.7 p.m.

Lord Mottistone moved Amendment No. 35:

Page 7, line 23, leave out from ("corporate") to ("does") in line 24.

The noble Lord said: With Amendment No. 35 I should like to take Amendments Nos. 36, 37 and 38. Amendment No. 36: Page 7, line 27, leave out from ("of") to end of line 28 and insert ("any shareholdings in that body corporate has led, is leading or is likely to lead to a person or persons exercising material control or influence over the content of the programmes included in the diffusion service or over the terms and conditions upon which the diffusion service is provided to subscribers in circumstances adverse to the public interest.") Amendment No. 37: Page 7, line 29, leave out subsection (4). Amendment No. 38: Page 8, line 13, leave out subsection (6).

The key amendment is Amendment No. 37, which is the deletion of Clause 7(4), and consequential on this is Amendment No. 36, which is important. The other two amendments, Nos. 35 and 38, are consequential because they are not relevant when subsection (4) is removed.

At Second Reading my noble friend Lord De La Warr said how curious it was to choose those mentioned in subsection (4) as the people, above all other types of shareholder, who were presumed to be in danger of leading the company in performing in a way that would be adverse to the public interest. He went so far as to say that most of these groups are just the sort of people who should have at least a modest holding in a cable company because their experience could be so valuable. In fact, the trouble with subsection (4) is that it is an exhaustive list of the types of shareholding which the Cable Authority might regard as contrary to the public interest. However, I would suggest to your Lordships that there are other types of shareholding which might affect the public interest adversely.

Thus, for those two sets of reasons I seek to remove subsection (4), but it is important to put into subsection (3) a proper definition of what would be adverse to the public interest, which I think is the purpose that the Government were seeking to serve in the first place. And so Amendment No. 36 seeks to put wording into subsection (3) which I believe is a much more sensible way of describing what the Government are trying to achieve and does not cut out all the people who might be of assistance to the cable company in running its business. As I said, the other two amendments are consequential, and I beg to move.

Lord Glanusk

We have heard from my noble friend the Minister twice earlier this evening about the advisability of sticking to the generality and avoiding the specific. Here in this clause the Government are doing exactly that, trying to be specific and leaving out a very large number of possibly undesirable shareholders who by omission may be allowed in. Otherwise, I support the amendment.

Lord Elton

Both my noble friends and I accept that the authority needs to have the power to intervene in circumstances where the public interest may be at stake even though one of the bodies listed in subsections (1) and (2) of Clause 7 has not actually acquired overall control of the cable company. Where we differ is on the best way of formulating that power. My noble friends' view is that the Bill goes too wide: I hope I shall be able to persuade them otherwise.

It is certainly the case that the list of bodies in subsection (4) of this clause is a long one, and I take the noble Lord's point about my leaping from the general to the particular in an ungraceful way, but I hope he will bear with me. The list includes a wide range of organisations in the entertainment and media field as well as local authorities and religious or political bodies. As my noble friend has said, many cable companies are likely to have some shareholders who come into one or other of these categories; but under the Bill the existence of these shareholdings is no more than a statutory trigger for the consideration which the Cable Authority has to give of the implications for the public interest. If I may change metaphors again, it is an amber light to warn the authority that they need to look a little more closely to ensure that all is well.

I entirely accept that there may be some shareholdings which are so small as to be of no consequence. In that case the authority will not need to waste much time thinking about them. It is much more straightforward, however, for the authority to have the discretion to decide when it needs to delve a little more deeply than to try and build some necessarily arbitrary threshold into the statute. The amendment does not help us in that respect. It is not the existence of the shareholdings which may give rise to difficulty for the operator but results, actual or potential, which are contrary to the public interest. In some cases quite a small shareholding might be sufficient to produce adverse results; in others, a large one.

What are the sorts of developments which the Government believe the authority will need to guard against? First, the grant of a licence could lead to the establishment of an undesirable concentration of editorial control in a particular area. Clause 7(2) also deals with that to some extent but subsections (3) and (4) go a step further. Secondly, there could be unacceptable religious or political influence over a company's programming policy. This might happen well before any particular group secured overall control of the company. Thirdly, there might be undesirable anti-competitive practices between companies engaged in related activities. The arrangements for the purchase of programmes and recorded music and the system of selling advertising time could all be distorted in a manner contrary to the public interest as a result of corporate links between the licensee and others in the media and entertainment world. Some of these developments, such as political influence of programming, would also be caught by my noble friends' amendments but others would not.

I believe therefore that these subsections offer important safeguards for consumers while in no way imposing unreasonable burdens on the cable companies. The effect of the amendments would be modestly to weaken the safeguards; and, for that reason, I am unable to give them the enthusiastic support that I should like.

Lord Mottistone

I suggest to my noble friend that they would strengthen them and that the main points that he made are better answered by my Amendment No. 36 than by his existing subsection (4). I ask him to think again about this. It is much too late to go on arguing about it. But, quite honestly, if he reads the report of what he has just said against the arguments that we put forward for this change, he will find that our proposals satisfy what he is seeking to do better than the Bill does at the moment.

The particular points about religion and local authorities are taken care of anyhow in subsection (1), and the other items are all dealt with very fully by my Amendment No. 36, which gets to the heart of the matter; that is, the person who is likely to mislead and act against the public interest—and we define the matter. The wording may be open to improvement, but the approach we have taken deserves the Government's much more thorough look in order to achieve their own objective better.

Having said that, I shall watch carefully to see what my noble friend does. I may have to put down either this amendment or another. But at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw this amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 36 to 38 not moved.]

Clause 7 agreed to.

Clause 8 agreed to.

Lord Denham

I beg to move that this House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

House adjourned at sixteen minutes past eleven o'clock.