§ House again in Committee.
Baroness Darcy (De Knayth) moved Amendment No. 182:
After Clause 32, insert the following new clause: ("Sign language programmes
.The Commission shall ensure that any Channel 3 licence or licence to provide Channel 4 or 5 shall include conditions requiring the licence holder to provide a sufficient amount of time for programmes with sign language in the licensed service.").
§ The noble Baroness said: The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that Channels 3, 4 and 5 broadcast some programmes with sign language for deaf viewers. It leaves it to the ITC to decide how much after weighing up the needs of deaf viewers against the question whether using sign language for some informative and educational programmes will be imposing too much on hearing viewers who may not wish to see them. It cannot be turned off in the manner of subtitling. This amendment is supported by the Deaf Broadcasting Council, Deaf Accord, and the RNID. The British Deaf Association is part of Deaf Accord. The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, is the president and he strongly supports this amendment. He has asked me to give his apologies because he has had to leave.
§ The organisations for the deaf warmly welcome the amendments to Clause 32 introduced in the other place at Report. They will mean that at least 50 per cent. of the programmes on Channels 3 and 5 are subtitled within five years of the new franchises. That is a great benefit to the 4 million deaf and hearingimpaired people. However, there are 50,000 profoundly deaf people whose only or preferred language is British sign language (BSL). Research shows that the average reading age on leaving school is under nine years for some of these handicapped people. Therefore, they find that rapidly changing subtitles are difficult.
§ Signing makes sensible use of positive visual abilities rather than of limited hearing abilities. That is a fundamental point. Sign language is visual and, therefore, television is the ideal medium for communication. It is recognised as being important as a means of providing education and information for the public in general. Therefore, it is essential for those 1067 who do not have access to other media. The Government have already recognised the importance of sign language when they want to get a message across. They have produced a video in BSL on the poll tax.
§ What does television offer in sign language at present? BBC 1 and Channel 4 each regularly broadcast a halfhour programme with sign language, but basically it is at offpeak hours on issues affecting deaf viewers. The most welcome recent development is Channel 4's news slot at 9 a.m. with sign language. That is the first signed network news in Britain. Of the 15 ITV regions only six provide any sign language and none of these is the large television companies. Two surveys in the regions both showed that more than 80 per cent. of the public agreed that sign language should be on some regular news programmes. There was no adverse public reaction.
§ Last September a conference held in Sweden on television production for the deaf produced some interesting papers. Sweden reported that their 20minute, weekly signed news programme had figures totalling three times the number of deaf people in the country. The viewing figures for Switzerland were way above the deaf population. Obviously, hearing viewers were looking at and appreciating these programmes as well.
§ Broadcasters have resisted sign language interpreters on ordinary programmes on the ground that it would distract the hearing viewers. However, they have acknowledged that that is only their personal view and they have no evidence to support it. It has not been possible to carry out network research because of insufficient examples to provide a serious survey. Until sign language is regularly shown on network television at peak hours, how are we to judge? We are in a chickenandegg situation. This amendment would nudge those television companies who do not provide some signing into doing so. As I have said, it can be a minimum amount.
§ Concern has also been expressed about technical problems, the cost and the small number of viewers who would be involved. I do not think that those are good arguments. The television companies which have provided signing have overcome any technical problems. The cost is low. It is £200 an hour which is half the cost of subtitling. In any case, is it really justifiable to reject sign language because subtitling benefits the majority of deaf viewers? Those who use sign language accept that subtitling should be the key service. They merely want some access to news, information and education.
§ At the international conference on television and deaf viewers which I mentioned earlier, the Swiss submission stated that they also tried to build a bridge between the world of the deaf and the world of the hearing. This amendment will help to ensure that deaf people are less isolated from events and from the hearing public. I hope that the Minister will reflect whether the positive benefits in communication, integration and understanding do not outweigh the unsubstantiated fears that hearing viewers may be distracted by signing. If at the moment he cannot give 1068 any positive response, I hope that he will at least agree to discuss the issue further before Report. I beg to move.
I support this amendment. My noble friend Lady David also strongly supports it. Unfortunately, she is not here to speak to the amendment. The supporters of this amendment are not asking for a great deal. They are asking that Channels 4 and 5 should include conditions requiring the licence holders to provide a sufficient amount of time for programmes with sign language in the licensed service. I do not think that this amendment can be seen as one making a very great demand.
The noble Baroness has put forward some very convincing reasons showing the importance of this amendment. She has pointed out the number of deaf people living in Britain. She has indicated that their only and preferred language is the British sign language. BSL is a true language with its own grammar and syntax. I did not know that it is Britain's fourth indigenous language. Public interest in it has grown considerably in recent years. Moreover, in 1988 the European Parliament took an interest in the subject. It passed a resolution calling on member states to recognise their own national sign languages.
I found myself very convinced by the argument that sign language is a visual language which enables deaf people to communicate effectively and fully in a way that they find most comfortable. Therefore, television is the ideal medium for conveying information in sign language. There is the added reason that, for most deaf people, it is difficult to understand English. Television programmes with sign language would give them access to information which they would otherwise be completely denied. According to the research carried out by the IBA in 1984, there is very strong support from the public for sign language to be included. The cost seems remarkably low.
We on this side of the Committee believe that there is very strong support for deaf people to have access to more television with sign language interpretation. This amendment allows the ITC to decide where to strike the balance between the needs of deaf people and the effects on hearing viewers.
Surely we should do everything we can to include deaf people in the life of the community. In so many ways deaf people must feel excluded and, as the noble Baroness said, isolated from normal daytoday life. There is little one can do to help them but this is something that can be done. I strongly support the amendment. It will do something to include deaf people in life. Television is a wonderful medium for that. Therefore I too hope that the Minister will look favourably on this important amendment.
I am delighted to support the amendment to which my name is also attached. Earlier the noble Earl the Minister talked to us about the virus of pessimism. I am bound to say that I feel optimistic about the amendment for a whole number of reasons which I shall now explain.
First, as Members of the Committee will know, the amendment has been moved by a noble Baroness who, 1069 although she now sits on what might be called a movable Bench, actually belongs to the CrossBenches. The amendment also has attached to it the names of noble Lords of all three parties. Had we been allowed to attach five names to it, I am absolutely certain that we could have had a Bishop as well. What I am saying is that the amendment is supported by Members of the Committee on all sides of the Chamber.
I should also have thought that an amendment designed to enhance the enjoyment of television for people with impaired hearing would by definition appeal to a Chamber such as this which is full of noble Lords whose hearing is impaired. I do not merely mean those who do not wish to hear; I mean the very large number of noble Lords—there are many in my own party as well as in other parties—who have certain hearing difficulties. There is a great understanding of the problems of people with hearing impairments. That is my second reason for feeling optimistic.
My third reason is that a long time ago I moved a similar amendment—or an amendment designed to achieve the same effect—to the Cable and Broadcasting Bill. That was warmly welcomed, as I recollect, by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, who dealt with the Bill on that occasion. Subsequently, the Government incorporated something of this kind into the Cable and Broadcasting Bill.
My other reason is a more personal one. A programme which I presented for Granada Television was the first programme in this country to be regularly and routinely signed for people with hearing impairment. A lady signed the programme. She appeared in the corner of the screen. This was greatly appreciated by all viewers. The lovely balletic movements of the sign language were not a distraction. The lady who signed that programme later signed all three party conferences—Conservative, Labour and my own, which perhaps shows proper consideration for what has come to be regarded as true impartiality.
What I have described was not an impairment of the programme. It enhanced it in many ways. But it did something else. It greatly increased the interest of other people in sign language. We found from our own experience that a large number of viewers of our programme, which went out four times a week, started to learn sign language. Not all those people had hearing impairment. They were people who appreciated that a knowledge of sign language would be very helpful to them in dealing with other people who had impaired hearing. As a result, a number of classes were set up which greatly increased knowledge of sign language not merely among people with hearing impairment but among people whose hearing was acute and unimpaired in any way. That is a public service.
I have two points to make. First, a measure such as this would do a great deal to increase and enhance the enjoyment and appreciation of television of those with hearing impairments in our community. That is a very 1070 large number of people indeed. Secondly, it would do something to increase understanding in the community as a whole of the problems of those with hearing impairment. Thirdly, it would encourage more and more people to learn sign language. I know that there has been a problem in this respect because there are a number of different systems of sign language. One hopes that in the end there will be just one system. As long as there is a system which people learn and which improves communication between those with full unimpaired hearing and those whose hearing is impaired, that is a social service of immense importance.
There is not a shred of evidence to suggest that the presence of that lady using very attractive and extremely expressive balletic movements to sign the programme did anything to impair the programme's acceptability to other people. I support the amendment. I hope that it is received with the same kind of encouragement as my earlier effort on the Cable and Broadcasting Bill was received some years ago.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Lord Swinfen
I support the amendment. If there had been room on the Marshalled List, my name would have been on it as well—possibly a sixth one following the right reverend Prelate. It may be of interest not only to the Committee but to the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, in particular, that the British Deaf Association is about to publish a sign language dictionary, which is funded by BP.
In Parliament we change rules where necessary. There is a rule that we cannot have dogs in the Palace of Westminster. In the other place there is a completely blind Member, the Member for Sheffield, Brightside. He needed his guide dog. Rules were changed so that he could bring his guide dog into the building and, I believe, even into the Chamber. There was a time when in this House we did not have a mobile Bench. I am sure the Committee would agree with me that it would be a great shame if we did not have a mobile Bench. All Members of the mobile Bench give the House great service. It is quite possible that a profoundly deaf Member will join this House. That Member would not be able to take part in our proceedings if provision for sign interpretation was not made. I am sure that we would make such provision.
If we are prepared, as I am sure we are, to make provision for an individual who needs this service, why should we not make provision for more than 50,000 who need it on television? They are an unfortunate group in our society in that they have the greatest difficulty in communicating in any way. As other Members of the Committee have said, their language is not English; it is sign. They actually need an interpreter to interpret from their language of sign into English. Yet they are citizens of this country. At least we can provide signing for them in their own language for such programmes as the news, documentaries and discussions. It would be rather difficult to have such provision for some of the films, 1071 as one might detract from those films. But for the more important programmes on television we ought to have sign language.
There is a great move at the moment to train more sign interpreters and so the problem of producing interpreters will decrease. I can see no reason why the Government should look unfavourably on this amendment. They may wish for it to be reworded in some way to fit in with the Bill but I hope they will give it serious consideration and allow something of this kind to be included in the Bill. We are not asking for every single programme to be signed; just a proportion of them. I heartily support the amendment.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
I am afraid that I cannot speak with the same experience or knowledge as the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), and the other speakers who have taken part in the debate. However, I should like to add my voice in support of the amendment. I do so against this background. Ten or 12 years ago there was very little provision on television for those who were hard of hearing. But since that time steady and good progress has been made. The IBA took a leading part both through its technologists and through the research work which it financed at Southampton University.
I know that the Government have shown themselves to be sympathetic in this area by way of the amendments which they have already accepted to Clause 32 of the Bill. Although there are always practical difficulties about such matters, my own experience is that when sign language has been used in television programmes it has proved a great deal less intrusive than people had imagined before the decision to include it was taken. Therefore, I am an optimist about steady and sensible progress being made as regards this sort of provision.
Although it is true that subtitling is the best way to help the great majority of people who suffer from impaired hearing, there are 50,000 deaf people for whom the British sign language is probably the only means of access to television programmes. The amendment is modest. It seeks to ask Parliament to show its commitment to the principle of some sign language provision on television. I hope that the Government will be able to respond sympathetically.
The Lord Bishop of St. Albans
As I entered the Chamber this evening the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, was volunteering me as someone who would support the amendment. Therefore, I am very happy to put myself on record as doing so. It is an important and valuable amendment and one which I hope the Government will take seriously.
Two particular mental images come to mind in this connection. One occurred when I paid my first visit to a club which was exclusively for the deaf. I was the isolated person. I was unable to communicate with a group of people who were communicating with each other remarkably well, almost exclusively by the use of sign language. I was the intruder, even though I was the bishop who was visiting the community. I was meeting people whom one never normally meets in the 1072 normal run of conversation and social intercourse. They had their own subculture of relationships, clubs, societies and organisational life which does not normally impinge upon the rest of us. Therefore, we are not talking about the typical minority; we are talking about another world and one which we need, through the main channel of the media, to communicate with. These people need to know that they are accepted as part of the vast wider community from which they are at present isolated.
My second memory is of seeing on television the screening of an American programme. It featured an address being given by an American president or senator. In the corner of the screen one could see the person who was doing the signing for the benefit of that channel. The very fact that this was being done carried powerful weight with me on behalf of the speaker. I felt that sensitivity was being expressed, as well as a desire to embrace all those who were able to see the programme.
Similarly, on the rare occasions that I have been preaching or addressing a meeting where someone has been signing for the benefit of a group of people, there has been something deeply emotive about the way it has been done. Therefore, any company which offers this service will earn for itself rich rewards and, at the same time, gain much credit. If the amendment were to be accepted it would not be seen as an intrusion by an interfering government on behalf of a poor minority. Instead, we would be doing something which seems to be right and which would be acceptable to the viewing public. I commend the amendment to the Committee.
§ Viscount Ullswater
I am sure that noble Lords will agree that the subtitling provision in Clause 32 represents a significant advance for viewers who are deaf or hard of hearing. The noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), and other speakers paid tribute to the fact that this is recognised in the clause. The advantage of subtitling is that it makes television programmes accessible to all deaf or hard of hearing viewers.
§ Lord Swinfen
I am sorry to interrupt my noble friend so early in his speech. I trust that he will forgive my intrusion. He is quite wrong in his assertion. Subtitling does not make television available to all those who are deaf or hard of hearing. Indeed, there is a large proportion of people whose only language is signing and who cannot properly read English.
§ Viscount Ullswater
I take my noble friend's point. The same could be said of those who do not come from our country and who also cannot read English. However, sign language is much more limited. It is generally not learnt by those who are simply hard of hearing and its use is confined essentially to the severely deaf. Sign language is clearly not a satisfactory substitute for subtitling and would add little to a programme which is already subtitled. Moreover, sign language suffers from the additional disadvantage of taking up space on the screen which would be likely to be distracting to nondeaf viewers if it were used with any great frequency. We do not consider that there is a good case for imposing any 1073 statutory requirements for sign language on Channels 3, 4 and 5. Therefore, I must tell the noble Baroness that Amendment No. 182 is not acceptable.
The noble Baroness, Lady EwartBiggs, said that the proposers of the amendment were not asking for a great deal. That is true. It is accepted by the Government. However, the use of sign language on television is not ruled out. There may well be programmes in which sign language could play a valuable role. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St. Albans drew attention to the fact that if companies wanted to provide a sign language service, that would be a good selling point for them. There is nothing in the Bill to prevent or discourage individual programme producers introducing sign language in such contexts.
The noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, said that people gain a great deal of enjoyment from watching programmes which provide a sign language service. I agree. I am sure that it brings great enjoyment to those who possibly cannot read, as my noble friend Lord Swinfen said, thus enabling them to enjoy the programmes. I should like to point out that Section 7(2) (g) of the Cable and Broadcasting Act 1984, provides that the Cable Authority should have regard to the extent to which cable services include matter which promotes "the understanding or enjoyment" of programmes by the deaf. However, that would equally be met by subtitling which is provided for by the Bill under Clause 32.
I thank the noble Viscount for mentioning the earlier Act. I hope that he will forgive me if I remind him that that provision arose from an amendment of mine which the Government graciously accepted. I know that what counts is what is written in the Bill. But our debates at that time covered various aspects to which the noble Viscount has referred, including subtitling and sign language. They were very much in our minds when the Government accepted my amendment. It was a matter of principle and not a compelling matter.
§ Viscount Ullswater
I appreciate that fact. However, the present Bill goes much further. In Clause 32 it sets out the subtitling arrangements which must be included by the licensee, whereas the other provision was an encouragement to provide services for the deaf.
The Government have consulted the chairman of the BBC to see what approach the corporation will take on signing. He said:At present, there are two programmes on BBC2—'See Hear', which is weekly, and 'One in Four', transmitted monthly—which employ signing. We have experimentally provided signing for special events such as the Budget speech and some aspects of party conferences. Our review will certainly look at options for extending signing but there are, I believe, real difficulties here. Signing is undeniably unobtrusive—whether it is provided by a 'box' in the corner of a screen, or by a 'companion' presenter in vision. If the `box' is used about onefifth of the screen is taken up, which creates particular difficulties in, for example, a current affairs programme including sequences of graphics. The advantage to a small number of viewers has to be balanced against the loss of picture information to the rest of the audience. There 1074 are other problems, too, with signing, especially for network output. The total number of potential beneficiaries—the prelingually deaf—is, I believe, around 50,000. As you know, two varieties of sign language are in common use in this country, so the number benefiting from the chosen languageBSL, which I should have thought would probably be the most commonwould be yet smaller. Even when the language used is common to both signer and viewer, misunderstandings can easily occur—especially in programmes dealing with complex issues. It seems to me at the moment that it makes sense for the BBC to concentrate on expanding and improving its teletext service, with the aim of making a range of output accessible to the deaf, while experimenting with the provision of signing for some special events".I believe that the line the BBC is taking is the right one. Of course we want to expand the range of services for people with disabilities, but we cannot do everything at once. It is right initially to move forward in the direction which will bring the greatest benefits in terms of access to people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
§ 8.30 p.m.
Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)
I thank all noble Lords who have taken part. As the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, said, the amendment had allparty support. It was strong and informed support from all sides of the Committee. What the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, said about the attractiveness of the sign language interpreter is right. It is something that the Government have not taken on board. They look upon the signing interpreter as a little ogre in the corner of the screen. The research available seems to indicate that that is not so. I am grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, with his great experience, and for the timely entry into the Chamber of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St. Albans, and his contribution, and to the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, for his contribution.
The Minister will not be surprised when I say that I find his argument disappointing. Yet again it is that we must concentrate on subtitling and do the greatest good to the greatest number of people. It is not good enough. We must at least start to do something for those who are most in need of help. The Minister said that the Bill does not rule out sign language—that there is nothing in the Bill to prevent or discourage the use of sign language. There is nothing in the Bill to encourage it. The words "sign language" are not mentioned.
I shall not press the matter tonight. It is an issue about which deaf people feel strongly. I want to get the amendment right before I go further. Is the Minister willing to enter into discussions during the Recess with the organisations concerned with the deaf? It would be helpful if he could indicate that even if his mind is not open there is at least a tiny crack showing.
§ Viscount Ullswater
The Government are willing to meet the noble Baroness and any of her advisers so as to take these points in hand. Clause 32 talks about subtitling. It provides:'Subtitling' means subtitling for the deaf whether provided by means of a teletext service or otherwise".1075 That would include signing.
Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)
I should be a lot happier if the Bill said "signing". It is only implied.
Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)
I thank the Minister for that intervention. I thank him for being willing to discuss the matter. As I said, I shall not press the matter further at the moment, but we need a specific mention in the Bill. We shall see what it will be. As the noble Baroness, Lady EwartBiggs, said, we need something so that we can include deaf people and help them participate in the life of the community. Perhaps we can have discussions and return to the matter in the autumn. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 33 agreed to.
§ Clause 34 [Announcements of programme schedules]:
Viscount Ullswater moved Amendment No. 183:
Page 34, line 9, after ("4") insert ("and, where any part of the area for which the licensed service is to be provided is in Wales, programme schedules for programmes to be broadcast on S4C").
§ The noble Viscount said: The amendment fulfils an undertaking given in another place that the Channel 3 licensee covering Wales will be required to give announcements of S4C's programme schedules in the same way as Channel 3 as a whole will give Channel 4's announcements. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 34, as amended, agreed to.
Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 183A:
After Clause 34, insert the following new clause: ("Promotion of equal opportunities in relation to employment by licence holder
.—(1) Any Channel 3 licence or licence to provide Channel 4 or Channel 5 shall include conditions requiring the licence holder—
(2) In subsection (1) "racial group" has the same meaning as in the Race Relations Act 1976.").
§ The noble Earl said: I shall speak at the same time to Amendments No. 190A and 297E. The amendments give effect to the undertaking given by my honourable friend Mr. Mellor on Report in another place that the ITC and the Radio Authority would be placed under certain duties in relation to equal opportunities. In preparing the amendments we have taken account of points made in subsequent discussions which my honourable friend held with the honourable Member who moved the original amendments on behalf of the Opposition and with his advisers.
§ The new clause to be inserted after Clause 34 places the ITC under a duty to attach conditions to Channels 3, 4 arid 5 and domestic satellite service licences requiring the licensees to make arrangements to 1076 promote equal opportunities in matters of employment as between men and women and people of different racial groups, and to review those arrangements from time to time. The new clause to be inserted after Clause 101 places the Radio Authority under a similar duty in relation to national commercial radio licences.
§ It may be helpful if I outline how we envisage that those provisions might work in practice. In advertising the licences concerned the ITC and the Radio Authority could indicate that the successful applicants would be subject to an equal opportunities condition under their licences. They could therefore be invited to explain what arrangements they would propose to make on equal opportunities. The ITC and the Radio Authority would then be able to judge whether those arrangements would be adequate. Once licences were in force the equal opportunities condition would be enforceable in the same way as any other licence condition. It would be open to the ITC and the Radio Authority to satisfy themselves that their licensees had proper arrangements in place, and that they reviewed them from time to time.
§ The ITC and the Radio Authority will not, however, have any locus in monitoring the outcome of the equal opportunities policies. They will not, for instance, have any role in monitoring the composition of the licensees' workforce. That will be a matter for the licensees themselves. It would, however, clearly be useful for some information on licensees' progress on equal opportunities to be published. We understand that the IBA has it in mind that the equal opportunities condition will include a requirement on the licensee to publish such information in their company annual reports. I beg to move.
I thank the Minister for explaining the amendments so clearly. We very much welcome them as they provide new clauses relating to equal opportunities. However, I am not sure that I go much further and agree with the Minister that these amendments reflect the commitment that the Government, in the shape of Mr. David Mellor, made at Report stage in the House of Commons. From my knowledge, the commitment was slightly different.
Perhaps I may ask the Minister about the assurance that I believed had been given. I understood that the Government indicated that the new clause would also cover, first, a specific reference to all aspects of employment such as application, promotion and training; and secondly, that it would cover disability as well as gender and ethnic origin. I wish to know why the disabled have not been included in the clause. After all, there must be many opportunities for the disabled in industry and it is important to include them in the clause. Thirdly, despite the noble Lord's explanation of the commitment by the ITC, I had understood that the clause would cover the obligation to monitor these duties and publish the findings in each licence holder's annual report, which would be lodged with the ITC.
Perhaps the Minister implied that the ITC would impose much stricter monitoring than is provided for in the clause, which is merely to review those 1077 arrangements from time to time. That is much vaguer. However, we understood that there would be a commitment that monitoring would be carried out annually, which is important, and that it would be published in the annual report, which would be lodged with the ITC.
I add one further comment about the previous debate in your Lordships' House on the amendment. To begin with, we feel that the same requirement should be extended to independent producers who provide programmes for inclusion in the licensed services in exactly the same way as Government Amendment No. 112 does, which we debated during the last Committee stage. That amendment lays down a requirement to promote training. We wonder why equal opportunities should be treated any differently from training. That is another question.
Also at Committee stage we proposed Amendment No. 6 to try to place equal opportunities' obligations on the ITC in relation to its staff, but the Minister was not willing to accept it. He argued that other statutory bodies might also need to be subject to a similar duty if the ITC were placed under this obligation. However, in moving that amendment we believed that all statutory bodies should be placed under a similar duty. The precedent of the ITC would not automatically have a knockon effect on other bodies. The Government felt that it was less important for ITC staff to be subject to equal opportunities' provisions than for the more influential programme makers. Again, that does not seem to be a logical argument.
We are pleased that the Government listened to the arguments put by my honourable friend Mr. Mark Fisher in another place and agreed to include an equal opportunities clause in the Bill. However, we are disappointed that it falls short of our expectations. It is not as specific as we thought it would be and is more wideranging. Perhaps the Minister will say why he excluded the disabled from the clause.
Again, will he kindly explain the reasons for not insisting in the Bill on a requirement to monitor the duties to establish how well companies are succeed-ing? Why should the requirement not be extended to independent producers? Why should equal opportunity regulations not be imposed on the ITC in relation to its staff? After all, no doubt the legislation will have to last a long time and it is important to get such a vital requirement right. Otherwise, who knows, European legislation may be brought in and supersede the equal opportunities clause in the Bill. I should be grateful if the Minister would answer those questions.
§ 8.45 p.m.
I thought that the noble Baroness would be pleased with the amendment, instead of which she poured a bucket of cold water on it. She said that we ought to have gone a great deal further. All employment in large companies is covered under existing equal opportunities legislation. However we took the point and considered that it was important, after representations had been made to us, that it 1078 would be suitable and appropriate to spell out the provisions more specifically in the Bill. That is what we have sought to do as a result of the observations made by Members of another place. The reference to employment in the clause includes matters such as training, promotion and so on. Therefore it is a fairly wide description.
The noble Baroness was concerned about discrimination against people with disabilities. She asked why it was not included. I understand from the Department of Employment that the whole subject is under review at the moment. The Government have recently issued a consultative document called: Employment and Training for People with Disabilities which addresses the issue. It discusses the present quota system which will require licensees to employ a minimum proportion of registered disabled people. It considers the potential of other legislative and nonlegislative approaches. The period of consulta-tion lasts until 31st December. We felt that this was not the right time to preempt the outcome of that consultation. Nor do we believe that the Broadcasting Bill is the right context in which to tackle a general issue such as disability.
The noble Baroness also referred to monitoring. We did not believe that it was appropriate for the ITC to monitor the composition of the licensees' work forces. It is more a matter for the licensees themselves. The IBA has indicated that it does not wish the ITC to have a monitoring role. I can best put it to the noble Baroness in this way. In the licence there will be conditions for equal opportunities. The licensee will be expected to say what provisions he intends to make for equal opportunities. Part of his licence, which he accepts, will be the requirement to fulfil those conditions.
The noble Baroness asked why the ITC would not monitor it. We do not believe that it is right for the ITC, on its own initiative, to knock on the doors of various licensees and ask, "What are you doing about disability and equal opportunities?" We expect that those licensees will put forward in their annual report exactly what they have done with regard to equal opportunities. That will be the way in which the ITC will monitor what the licensees have done. Indeed if they do not fulfil the requirements of their licences for this matter—that is the case with any matter covered by the licences—their licence will be at risk.
The noble Baroness asked why we did not also apply that requirement to the ITC. The Independent Television Commission will be in the same position as all other employers. It is subject to the general law on discrimination. Licensees will be especially influential in this regard. That is why these specific and general obligations are put on licensees.
I hope that the noble Baroness will understand the reasoning behind the measure. The fundamental position is that licensees will be responsible for what they do and for what they say they will do. The ITC can check whether they are carrying out those intentions by studying the annual report that the licensees will have to produce every year.
I wish to press the Minister once again on the question of disabled people. I did not understand what he meant when he said that this matter was under review and he did not feel this was an appropriate moment to include the disabled. However, if he included the other two groups why could he not also include the disabled? After all, once the research that the noble Earl referred to has been carried out, it will be too late to include them. I hope the Minister can clarify that.
A review is being carried out at the moment. That review will consider the present quota system. If there are any alterations to that, they will be included in the general law and all licensees will be obliged to come into line with the general law. However, as this review is being carried out at the moment, I think it would be a pity to preempt its outcome by trying to write a provision into this Bill when the results of that review will cover far wider areas than merely broadcasting.
I hope the Minister can clarify one point a little further. He said that the ITC will check whether companies are fulfilling requirements by asking them to make an annual report. However, it all depends on what they are asked to include in their annual reports. There would be nothing easier than for a company to state in its annual report that it was an equal opportunities employer. Employers up and down the country, starting with the Government, claim to be equal opportunities employers. However, that does not prove anything until one can see figures and movement in some direction. One wants to know what changes have occurred in, say, the numbers of people employed from ethnic minorities. That is the only way in which one can monitor such matters. Bland statements about being an equal opportunities employer are not worth the paper they are written on. Unless an annual report contains more specific information, one will not find out anything.
The ITC will not be numb over this. If an annual report states that a licensee considers himself to be an equal opportunities employer fullstop, the ITC is perfectly entitled to ask such a licensee what he is doing to warrant that status. The ITC could say that a licensee had stated he would do such and such when he applied for a licence, and that it had to check how he was fulfilling those conditions. If a licensee had not fulfilled the conditions that he said he would meet, his licence would be at risk. Licensees are supposed to state what they have achieved in their annual reports. If they were to come out with some bland statement, it would not be unreasonable for the ITC to ask for a more specific explanation.
§ Baroness Seear
If the ITC required quite specific information to be stated in annual reports and laid down what that specific information should refer to, that would constitute proper monitoring. However, anything less than that does not constitute monitoring.
That is entirely a matter for the ITC. If, in awarding a licence, the ITC stated that it wanted to know exactly what was being done on certain 1080 matters, it can demand such information. However, one must be careful about writing into legislation individual items on a variety of different matters which every company must report on in its annual report. I would say with the greatest of respect to the noble Baroness that she is being a little sceptical over this matter. Each licensee is obliged to fulfil its obligations and it is up to the ITC to see whether it has fulfilled those obligations. If the ITC is not satisfied that the obligations are being fulfilled, it can ask questions about those obligations.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 183B:
After Clause 34, insert the following new clause: Networking arrangements between holders of regional Channel 3 licences
.—(1) This section has effect with respect to the making of arrangements which—
(2) Any application for a regional Channel 3 licence shall, in addition to being accompanied by any such proposals as are mentioned in section 15(3) (b) to (d), be accompanied by the applicant's proposals for participating in networking arrangements made under this section; and—
(3) The Commission may publish, in such manner as they consider appropriate, general guidance to applicants for a regional Channel 3 licence as to the kinds of proposals which they would consider satisfactory for the purposes of subsection (2) (a); but before doing so the Commission—
(4) Each regional Channel 3 licence shall include conditions requiring the licence holder to do all that he can to secure—
(6) No arrangements made by the Commission under subsection (5) shall come into force at any time after 31 st December 1994.
(7) Each regional Channel 3 licence shall include conditions requiring the licence holder to give effect to any arrangements made by the Commission under subsection (5).
(8) Where any arrangements have been approved by the Commission under subsection (4) (a), no modification of those arrangements shall be made by the holders of regional Channel 3 licences unless it too has been so approved.
(9) Without prejudice to the generality of their power to refuse to approve any arrangements or modification under subsection (4) or (8), the Commission shall refuse to do so if they are not satisfied that the arrangements in question, or (as the case may be) those arrangements as proposed to be modified, would be appropriate for the purpose mentioned in subsection (1).
(10) In this section—
regional Channel 3 licence" means a licence to provide a regional Channel 3 service;
the relevant date" means the date which the Commission determine to be that by which any such arrangements as are mentioned in subsection (4) would need to have been made by the holders of regional Channel 3 licences in order for the arrangements to be fully in operation at the time when those persons begin to provide their licensed services.").
§ The noble Earl said: In moving Amendment No. 183B I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 183C to 183H, 183HA, 183HB, and 183J.
§ The Government's new clause is a new provision requiring Channel 3 licensees to participate in networking arrangements agreed between those licensees to provide programmes for broadcasting in all regional Channel 3 services.
§ Licensees, on appointment, will be free to seek to conclude whatever networking arrangements they wished. The expectation will be that should voluntary arrangements not materialise within a specified period of the award of the licence, the ITC would be able to impose a scheme of networking on the licensees. Any imposed arrangements would last for a maximum of two years, or for such shorter period as was agreed among the licensees themselves.
§ Any networking arrangement, whether agreed voluntarily or imposed by the ITC, will need to be based on the principle that all programmes offered to the network should be considered on the basis of value for money. It is particularly important that network arrangements do not continue the current practices 1082 which involve production quotas for certain contractors, nor should larger companies be able to abuse their dominant position. Subsection (3) of the clause requires the ITC to consult the Director General of Fair Trading before issuing any illustrative guidance on networking. Our intention is that the Director General of Fair Trading should be required to assess the implication for competition of any networking arrangement, whether imposed by the ITC or agreed voluntarily between licensees.
§ We are still considering with the Office of Fair Trading how this can be most effectively achieved and in particular whether modifications to existing competition legislation are needed. If we conclude that they are, we shall bring forward amendments on Report.
§ I now turn to the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, and the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, to the Government's new clause on networking. Amendment No. 183C inserts a reference to scheduling of programmes. The networking arrangements addressed by the new clause are essentially concerned with the commissioning and acquisition of programmes to be shown on the network. The precise mechanism for the scheduling of those programmes is a matter which we believe should be left entirely to the licensees themselves. We therefore see no need for any such reference to scheduling in the new clause.
§ Amendments Nos. 183D and 183E seek to relate access to the network to the size of the regional Channel 3 licensees. This would impose a far more rigid quota system for the provision of programmes to the network than that which the ITV companies operate at present. It would mean presumably that a company having a 20 per cent. share of total Channel 3 revenue would be limited to providing no more than 20 per cent. of the networked programmes. This is wholly unacceptable because it would run directly counter to the Government's belief that programmes should be commissioned on the basis of the best value for money. Licensees must certainly have fair and free opportunity for access to the network, but their contribution to the network should be based on the excellence and competitiveness of their programmes rather than on their size.
§ The other day noble Lords made such a great deal of fuss about quality that one would not expect them to approve this amendment. However, we wish to see that quality is the basis upon which these programmes are made.
§ Amendments Nos. 183G and 183H would remove the time limit on the power of the ITC to impose networking arrangements, if the licensees had been unable to agree to such a provision among themselves. We want those arrangements to be agreed voluntarily by the Channel 3 licensees if at all possible and for the ITC to intervene only as a last resort. Voluntary agreement would be less likely if the ITC could step in at any stage during the currency of the licence to impose an alternative network. That would mean that a single reluctant licensee could frustrate the whole agreement in the hope that he would get a better deal 1083 from an ITCimposed system. The Government's intention is for the ITC to use its powers in the early stages of the Channel 3 licence period, if necessary, to prevent a possible breakdown in the provision of the service but thereafter to withdraw and let the licensees negotiate their own arrangements, which will almost certainly evolve throughout the period of the licence.
§ Amendments Nos. 183F and 183J would bring forward the "relevant date" mentioned in subsection (5) (a) of the new clause on which the ITC could impose an arrangement to the time when the Channel 3 licences were to be advertised. Clearly at this point it would be impossible for potential applicants to reach any network agreement because no one would know who the successful applicants would be. The amendments would therefore effectively give the ITC no option but to impose networking arrangements. I do not believe that that would be right because it is not compatible with our desire to see the networking arrangements concluded on a voluntary basis.
§ My noble friend Lord Gray has tabled some amendments, but he is not here this evening. The Government are in favour of as much openness as possible in the dealings of the Independent Television Commission with its licensees. Therefore we see merit in Amendment No. 183HA, which would require the ITC to make public its approval of any networking arrangements for Channel 3 and any modifications to them. We shall take that into account and if necessary at Report stage produce a suitable amendment on those lines after we have consulted the IBA about any practical difficulties.
§ I am afraid, however, that we would find it difficult to accept Amendment No. 183HB, also in the name of my noble friend. It would require the ITC to ensure that networked programmes were provided from a wide range of Channel 3 regions. Given the federal structure of Channel 3 and the Clause 3 requirement on the ITC to ensure fair and effective competition, that is likely to occur in any case. However, in order for the ITC to guarantee it there would have to be some form of quota system for networked programmes. That would be unacceptable. The network arrangements themselves will ensure that all Channel 3 licensees have the opportunity to offer programmes to the network but we believe that networked programmes on Channel 3 should be commissioned on the basis of the best value for money rather than the place of origin of the programme. Our philosophy is that one can guarantee that everyone has a fair opportunity to compete but one cannot guarantee that everyone will be successful. I beg to move.
§ 9 p.m.
Baroness Birk moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 183B, Amendment No. 183C:
Line 5, after ("for") insert ("and schedule").
§ The noble Baroness said: I thank the Minister for his explanation of the new clause put down by the Government. We have all been worried for some time that nothing would come forward on networking. We have inquired of the ITV companies what was to happen and they said that they were working on it. We 1084 were very conscious that it would create a number of problems if the Bill received Royal Assent and nothing had been agreed on networking.
§ The main weakness of the new clause is that the relevant date to be determined by the ITC for the conclusion of a networking agreement is linked to the beginning of the provision of the licensed services in January 1993. The clause places the obligation on the new Channel 3 licence holders to reach agreement on networking arrangements between the award of the licences in early to mid1992 and the relevant date by which the arrangements need to be agreed so that they are fully in operation by 1st January 1993.
§ Applicants cannot seriously bid for regional Channel 3 licences without knowing the full implications and cost of the networking arrangements. General guidance from the ITC will not be sufficient for that purpose. It would therefore seem sensible not to leave the new Channel 3 licence holders to reach agreement and to specify that the relevant date by which networking arrangements must be agreed should be the date of publication of the notice inviting applications for regional Channel 3 licences as required in Clause 15(1).
In Standing Committee in another place on 18th January the Minister, Mr. Mellor, said at col. 200 that if George Russell, the chairman designate of ITC,
and his colleagues were unable to reach an agreement, he would have difficulty allocating franchises, or considering proposals from various groups to become franchise holders, without a framework against which to assess those proposals".
§ It seems that we are still in that position. even with the amendment.
§ In the other place the Government refused to concede proposed new clauses establishing a network agreement because the ITV companies were in the process of deciding upon one and if they did not do so by the target date of summer 1990 the ITC would be given the power to impose networking arrangements. The summer has now been reached—and probably will soon be past after this hot spell—with the ITV companies showing no immediate prospect of resolving their differences in reaching agreement before Channel 3 licences are advertised. It seems to us that the ITC should be given a clear date by which the ITV companies should either have concluded an agreement or an agreement is imposed upon the new Channel 3 companies.
While it is preferable that the ITV companies should agree a network agreement by a specific deadline it should also be remembered that the networking arrangements will only cover future Channel 3 licences. Not all of the ITV companies will retain their franchises, so the ITC must be given a central role in bringing about effective network arrangements. New Channel 3 licence holders cannot be left with that responsibility in the short period of less than six months in which to reach agreement. The IBA has said that,
we believe the creation of a new network system before next year's licensing round is vital and we believe that the initiative for developing this should be with the companies".
§ The trouble is that if the companies do not come to some agreement themselves the whole process will be held up even further.
§ The new clause refers to networking arrangements which provide for programmes enabling a nationwide system, but it does not explicitly require the regional Channel 3 licensees to schedule their programmes collectively. Government and Opposition amendments tabled at Report stage in another place provided not only for the supply of programmes but also for their scheduling, although that was one of the points from among the amendments that I am moving which the Minister did not seem to like.
§ The debates indicated that there was unanimity on the content of the amendments but not on the timetable for implementation of the networking arrangements. If the government amendment is accepted, will the applicant's proposals for networking arrangements be considered as a matter upon which representations from the public could be made? It seems that we have not got quite so far as we had hoped. We need to know from the Government what will happen. Will there be a stronger requirement on the ITC? Otherwise, as I said much earlier, referring to what the Minister said in another place, if an agreement is not reached there will be great difficulty in allocating franchises because nobody will know what cost is implied for them.
§ I hope that the Minister will take note of these amendments and perhaps give us a fuller answer when my noble friends (because they are joint amendments) have spoken to them. I beg to move.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
I should like to associate these Benches with what the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, has just said about the Government's new clause. This is one more case where we welcome the fact that the Government recognised that some new provision was required in the Bill and have moved. But our welcome is a qualified one, as the noble Baroness said. We hope that it may be possible to make further progress either tonight or by Report stage certainly. The positive achievement—it is a notable and major achievement to which I pay due tribute—is that we now have the words "networking arrangements" in the Bill and they will be in statute. That is a notable step forward.
It is important to recognise how vital a network is to a national television service, even though, as in this case, it is a national service which has a very strong regional federal identity. The fact is that, although the viewers in Peterhead or Penzance are not always aware of it, 95 per cent. of what they see comes from the present network. There is no ITV company which shows more than 30 per cent. of its own production.
There has not been any basic difference between the Government and the Opposition on the importance of having a network for the Channel 3 system. Any difference that arose came from the fact that the Government were inclined to feel that such a network would emerge from the hazards of a free market system. I am glad that they appear to have withdrawn 1086 from that position. It has taken a long time to convince the Government that it is essential to take positive action to sustain what is regarded as the familiar mix of programming, which is what people know as ITV and will know as Channel 3 once the new licensees are appointed.
The birth of the amendment moved by the Minister has, I can well understand, been a difficult one. I saw one version of it on Friday and the final version for the first time on Tuesday. There were some interesting and significant differences between the two. I shall not go into any textual analysis but it is quite clear that they reflected some of the problems between the Home Office and the DTI. But perhaps more particularly and more seriously, they pointed to the very real problem of defining the relationship between the ITC and the OFT.
Having tabled this amendment, the Government are still in a situation in which there is a real risk of confusion and regulatory clash. That happens under a number of the new arrangements under the Bill. It happens in terms of the role of the Broadcasting Standards Council to which we shall come later. However, if there is to be such confusion and clash between the ITC and the OFT, it would be disastrous for the launching of the new system. It is absolutely essential that, having completed the Report stage, at Third Reading it should be clear beyond peradventure that the lead responsibility in this matter is that of the ITC. If that is not clear—and there is still work to be done on that—instead of ending up with a network we might well finish up with a fair degree of anarchy.
I know that the ITV companies have some very serious legal reservations about the present state of development reflected in the Government's amendment. No doubt they will make the Government aware of it. I am not a lawyer. However, they fear that, unless the wording of the Government's amendment is strengthened quite considerably, it will not be clear that the ITC has the responsibility for those arrangements. The Channel 3 system will be sucked in under the aegis of the restrictive practices legislation and the activities of the Restrictive Practices Court. That may be good for the lawyers but it will certainly be damaging to the standards of Channel 3 broadcasting.
The Minister showed a great reluctance to accept the thrust of the amendments. He revealed that the Government are determined to believe that an effective and adequate network system can emerge primarily from the working of the free market system. For instance, he said that they declined to have the word "scheduling" in the Bill because the purpose of the network was to make arrangements for the production of network programmes. But network programmes are only part of the story. It is the time at which they are distributed that matters to the viewer so that there is a national character to the spine of popular network programming. I beg the Minister to reconsider that matter.
We seek to safeguard the regional character of the network productions with the provisions in the other amendments. The Minister said on two separate
1087 occasions that the Government wished to concentrate on what is best value for money rather than the place at which the programmes are produced. He thought that our amendment—which sought to have network production broadly proportionate to the size of the regions—was wholly contrary to that philosophy.
There is a very serious regional issue here. I regret that the Minister's colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Gray, is not here to argue it. Perhaps I may put the Scottish viewpoint, which I know best. Under the existing system, where the IBA has a fairly positive responsibility, the regional contribution to the network has not been satisfactory. For example, Scottish Television—which is the largest of the two and a half contractors covering Scotland—has a good record for producing network programmes. Some are very well known indeed. In Scottish politics there is the famous Goschen formula which was supposed to set the broad share that Scotland enjoyed of activities within the United Kingdom. If I remember rightly it was eleveneightieths. Scotland produces 1 per cent. of peak time network viewing on the present network.
In terms of independent production, the pull of the metropolis for independent producers is tremendously strong. If that is the policy that the Government wish to pursue, I shall tell them the consequence. If they wish simply to pursue the pure market position of best value for money, without considering the place where the programmes are made, they will end up with a network production system which is almost entirely concentrated in one or two of the great population centres in the Midlands and the South. I cannot believe that that is the Government's serious intention as regards the regional aspect.
Finally, there is the important issue mentioned by my noble friend Lady Birk. Again, with a halfhearted attitude towards sensible network arrangements, the Government wish to put a sharp time limit on the role of the FTC. I beg them to reconsider. No one knows precisely how many of the present ITV companies will be future licensees. Under the new system takeovers will be allowable and licensees will change from time to time. If the matter is left to obtaining agreement in such circumstances amid all the changes, the interests of the viewers of Channel 3 throughout the country will be put seriously at risk. The network could end up in changes. It is important to maintain a residual duty on the ITC so that if necessary it will make adequate network arrangements in the interests of the viewers.
I agree with the Government and hope that it will not become necessary. By far the best method is to have a network system which is not only fair among all participants but is voluntary among licensees. I can tell the Minister that the task of achieving unanimity even among the present ITV companies is more difficult than obtaining unanimity among the member states of the European Community. If one wants Channel 3 to work there will be a vital role for the ITC in maintaining the necessary spine of network programming.
The Earl of Stockton
I wish to speak to Amendment No. 183HA standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Gray of Contin who regrets that he 1088 is unable to attend today. I shall speak also to Amendment No. 183HD standing in the name of my noble friend who is a director of Grampian Television. I thank my noble friend Lord Ferrers for his undertaking as regards Amendment No. 183HA. It will greatly shorten my remarks.
During the debate on the Bill in another place my right honourable friend the Minister said that in his opinion the consequence of centring the arrangements on the largest five ITV companies was an increasing awareness both within the industry and outside that the big five were operating an unfair cartel. He also said that many of the views expressed in the debates in another place reflected the fettered atmosphere of that cartel which had long outlived its useful purpose.
My right honourable friend has long held that view, as he admitted on 23rd January in Standing Committee F in another place. He confessed that he was outraged four years earlier in a previous incarnation by the way in which the big five managed the networking arrangement. He said that he had not changed his view of the gang of five as an anticompetitive cartel.
It is to support the smaller regional companies against the cartel that I propose the amendments on behalf of my noble friend. If they are agreed by the Committee the ITC will have the power and the duty to ask why so little was being fed into the network from a particular regional company. If it was found that that was due to the operations of the network the ITC could rectify the position. However, if it emerged that a particular regional company was not offering programmes suitable for the network—and that would be part of its duties under the Bill—it could, so to speak, show that company the yellow card. I am disappointed that the Minister appears to have set his face against the amendments.
On a more general point, I share the anxieties expressed both inside and outside this Chamber that the clause gives the Office of Fair Trading a wideranging role while giving no guidelines on the impact of the Restrictive Practices Court Act 1976. Do the Government really intend that networking arrangements should be referred to the Restrictive Practices Court? If so, I believe that the networks will be running very much behind their programme schedules.
I urge the Government to lay down the authority of the ITC in this matter and to avoid confusion between the two regulatory authorities.
§ Lord Boston of Faversham
I should like to join in welcoming the government amendment introduced by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. I should like also to support the amendments proposed by my noble friend Lady Birk and the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth. I also support the two amendments proposed by the noble Earl, Lord Stockton, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Gray of Contin. It is very encouraging that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, has already indicated that he is able to accept 1089 Amendment No. 183HA. That enables me to shorten my remarks. I shall return in a few moments to Amendment No. 183HB.
As regards the Government's main amendment, there is no doubt that it will help to pave the way for the new networking system which is so necessary. My own company has been pressing for a new system for a long time and it is excellent that all the ITV companies—all the existing programme contractors —accept the need for a new system. Although final agreement has yet to be reached, it should not be overlooked that the ITVA has been carrying out very effective and strenuous work on this matter. I should like also to pay tribute to the encouragement given over a considerable period of time by the IBA and by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth. When he was at the IBA he was very much in support of improvements in the networking system and he encouraged those improvements.
I welcome particularly the Government's decision to empower the ITC to intervene to impose a networking system, if necessary. However, I would go further, as would my noble friends. I feel that the ITC should not just have the power to intervene in that way but it should be required to do so if necessary. Indeed—this was one of the points mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson—it should have a duty imposed upon it in the legislation to do that in the absence of a satisfactory system devised by the companies.
I should like to put that in the form of a question to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and ask him whether he will give further consideration to placing such a duty upon the ITC. If he cannot answer that immediately, will the Government consider bringing forward further proposals at a later stage?
There is another, closely related point. I believe that the Government's principal aim, as has been spelt out, is to see that there are proper networking arrangements to cover the transitional period, as it has been called, and to enable the ITC, if necessary, to impose a system to last for up to two years after the franchises have begun unless the companies agree on a shorter time.
That is most laudable, as far as it goes. But what happens after the two years if the companies or the new franchisees have not been able to agree to introduce a suitable networking arrangement for the years after that? What provision is there for that situation? What thought has been given to that possible problem? Let us face it; a hiatus could arise. We cannot leave it just to chance or to hope. It is an important matter. It amounts to the safeguarding, no less, of one of the nation's two principal terrestrial national network programme systems: the commercial one alongside that of the BBC—BBC1. The Government's aims rest on the provision of such a network.
Some of us feel also that it would be very difficult if not impossible for applicants for ITV Channel 3 licences to frame a bid where there is significant lack 1090 of certainty regarding the cost and content of the network schedule for eight out of the 10 years of the license period. The matter of cost has already been alluded to this evening by my noble friends, including my noble friend Lord Thomson of Monifieth. It is a serious problem, and I join in asking the Government to give it further consideration.
There is also a great deal of concern that networking arrangements will not, as the amendment is at present drafted, be exempt from the Restrictive Trade Practices Act. I was encouraged by what the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, said, that minds are not closed on this matter. He stated that further work had to be done regarding this matter and the relationship with the Restrictive Practices Court and the Office of Fair Trading. That is encouraging. However, perhaps I could seek to ensure that that consideration is among those taken into account when the further work is carried out between now and October.
The network arrangements at the moment are exempt. Under that exemption, for example, tariffs for programmes are able to be established. The Committee will be relieved to know that at this time of night I will not go into any detail on the highly technical matter of the costing of network programmes and the system involving tariffs. Perhaps I could say, as many noble Lords will be aware, that tariffs for programmes are part of the basis for payment by the programme companies for programmes which go out on the network. If tariffs were to be eliminated and replaced by, say, negotiated prices, that would result in a significant distortion of the budget for the programmes, contrary to the apparent fairness of negotiated prices. Negotiated prices appear to be the fairest way to deal with these matters, but when one examines the situation more closely, that is not so.
That situation would also result in significant premiums being paid for certain programmes. Resources will not exist for the broad range and quality of programmes now transmitted; in particular, religious, children's and current affairs programmes. A significant rise in the budget could not be sustained without jeopardising the heart of the quality threshold regional productions. That again, as we have seen earlier in the Committee stage on this Bill, is something on which the Government place a high degree of priority.
I should like to emphasise that some of these matters which, on the face of them, are technical, and some matters which appear to go to the intricate machinery—for example, of networking—and to carrying out the practices of the ITV or Channel 3 system, actually have a much wider effect. They endanger part of the principle of a good broadcasting Bill; namely, to produce a good range of good quality programmes. Those are matters Which focus on and are liable to affect, unless they are dealt with properly, the aim that all of us here and all those of us involved in broadcasting seek to achieve; namely, a good range of good quality programmes for the viewer.
For those reasons I welcome the Government's approach to the matter in tabling their networking amendment. However, I join with all other Members 1091 of the Committee who have spoken in asking the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, to give thorough consideration to the matters, not least to the relationship with the Restrictive Practices Court and the Office of Fair Trading which goes much wider than simple financial matters. It goes to the heart of the matter.
This is an important part of the Bill, albeit a fairly technical one. The noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, is always generous in his appreciation of what the Government have done in this regard. I appreciate that because I realise that the Bill is not exactly close to his heart from the point of view of what he does and does not like. I appreciate it when 1 e says that the Government have helped to meet some of the points. The same applies in the case of the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham.
The noble Lord, Lord Thomson, said that he had seen the previous drafts and that they were not the same as the amendment. I would be the first to accept that this is a difficult matter. It is difficult to get it right. We shall take carefully into account all that Members of the Committee have said today. This is not a total blueprint for success. We cannot guarantee that it is wholly right and that it is the only possible result. The fact that it has been difficult to produce shows the problems that are related to it.
The general principle from which we started is that, on the whole, networking should be the result of the cooperation of the licensees. They should decide on the kind of things that they want networked. They should decide upon the scheduling rather than the ITC imposing it on them. That is the basic philosophy. In the past, that has not happened. They have been told what is to be networked and what the scheduling is to be. When one makes a great change like this, it inevitably throws up difficulties.
I was encouraged to see that the Independent Broadcasting Authority sent out a note dated oddly enough 18th July, which was only yesterday, saying that the 10 ITV companies,have proposed a new practical shape for networking. They were asked to do this by the end of July. Their new scheme is a most important step towards identifying how networking should develop in practice under the arrangements, and they deserve every credit for having brought the complex negotiation to the stage they have by this deadline".I echo that and congratulate them on having done so. It is a great step forward.
The philosophy is that it should be the licensees who agree the networking. It is only if they do not agree that the ITC must come in and impose a network upon them with the idea that that will provide a network for a time. At the end of the twoyear period, with any luck, they will have sorted out their differences and found a more suitable form of networking. If they have not, ipso facto they prefer the one imposed upon them by the ITC and that one will become the adopted system.
The noble Lord, Lord Thomson, said that he hoped that we would make it clear beyond peradventure that the lead should come from the ITC. The noble Lord, Lord Boston, said that a duty should be placed on the 1092 ITC. I believe he also said that there should be a residual duty on the ITC to provide the networking if there is no other. We intend to place the responsibility not on the ITC but on the licensees. It is only when the licensees fail to agree that the responsibility will fall onto the ITC. The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, asked whether the public can make representations about networking. They can do, but the ITC is not obliged to take account of them. She was worried about the time scale. The newlyappointed licensees will he able to seek to reach agreement as soon as they are appointed, which will be late 1991. It is only if they fail to reach agreement by, say, mid1992, that the ITC will need to step in.
The noble Lord, Lord Thomson, was concerned about the regulatory clash. At present we are looking at the precise role which the Director General of Fair Trading should play. That is a point with which the noble Lord, Lord Boston, was also concerned. We are anxious to avoid any possibility of a confusion of roles. If necessary, we shall bring forward at Report amendments to meet any possible problems in that regard.
It was the IBA itself which proposed that the new arrangements should be limited to the first two years of the new licence. The Government adopted its proposals. The noble Lord, Lord Thomson, referred to Scottish Television. It is precisely because the Scottish Television companies have had such poor access to the network that we want to change the system and give them a fair opportunity to offer programmes to the network. The assumption that, without quotas for programming from each individual region, only material from one or two regions would be selected for network, shows, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, said, very little faith in the ability of the regions as a whole to produce programmes which offer good value for money. It would be odd to require through a quota that some programming should be accepted that offers poor value for money or which is very questionable.
Again, the whole principle behind this is that in the past various companies had a certain percentage of the network as of right. If five big companies have a great hunk of the network it leaves the other poor minnows fighting each other. It would be difficult for them to compete. We wish to allow all companies to produce their programmes and whether they come from the large or small programme makers, they will be networked. It gives the smaller companies a much bigger opportunity.
My noble friend Lord Stockton and the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, were concerned about the Restrictive Trade Practices Act. It is not our intention that the arrangements should be referred to the Restrictive Practices Court. They will be exempt from the Restrictive Trade Practices Act because they will be provided for in the statute. As regards my noble friend's other point, I agree with his concern about the big five cartel. However, a regional quota system would take a straight bat to that system since it would, potentially, give the biggest quotas to the 1093 biggest companies. Fair opportunities for all, whether the companies are big or small, seem the right way forward.
I have moved this amendment because that is what the Government feel is right. We shall take seriously into account all that has been said this evening on what is a very technical matter. I hope that the Committee will accept the amendment.
§ Lord Boston of Faversham
I am sorry to intervene again but I shall do so briefly. At the outset of my remarks just now I said that I wished to say something about Amendment No. 183HB proposed by the noble Earl, Lord Stockton. I very much support the observations that he made about it. There is here a not insignificant legal problem which ought to be looked at further. I very much hope that the noble Earl will seek to do that.
§ 9.45 p.m.
As I explained when I moved the amendment, Amendment No. 183HB is not acceptable to us. I do not advise the Committee to accept it but I shall certainly look at the point which the noble Lord raised.
§ Baroness Birk
A great deal has been said all round and the Minister has been faced with a great many questions. May I take it that he will look into these matters and come back at Report with something different? In the meantime the companies may find some solution among themselves. It is not satisfactory to leave such a complicated matter quite like this tonight.
One of the problems is that it is difficult to be conclusive if one does not know who will be the licensees. The whole point of the provisions is that, when the licenses are granted and people know who the licensees are, at that moment the licensees will be able to get together to decide on the network. At the moment we do not know what that is and therefore there is bound to be, as the noble Baroness said, a vacuum. The reason there is a vacuum is that we do not know who the licensees will be. But the mere fact that the present contractors have got together and worked out a system is most encouraging.
I undertake to consider all that has been said today. The noble Baroness asked whether I will come back at Report with some alterations. I cannot possibly answer her because that will depend on the results of the consideration that we give to what has been said.
§ Baroness Birk
I understand that completely. By the time we come back at Report perhaps some solution will have come about anyhow. If it has not, we shall want to have another discussion to find out what can be done next. We are concerned that something concrete should be settled. We shall be in an unsatisfactory position unless a firm requirement is put on the ITC to institute a scheme itself.
A firm requirement is put on the ITC to do it if the licensees themselves cannot come to a conclusion. That is fairly clear. If one accepts the principle that it is for the licensees themselves to decide how they will network, then they will have to 1094 get together to decide how they will do it. Only in the event of their not being able to agree will the ITC step in. One has to be careful about making it possible for the ITC to come in at every juncture because that would allow any one licensee—it could be a small one—deliberately to frustrate agreement in order to get the ITC to impose a system.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
We all agree with the noble Earl that these are difficult matters on which it is impossible to come to a final conclusion tonight. The noble Earl referred to today's statement from the IBA. I was glad that he quoted the part which showed how far the present companies have gone in producing a scheme for the IBA that could provide an agreed basis for the network. I noticed that in the statement the IBA said that developments have occurred in the past few days. Some are provisional and will need further detailed consideration before the issues are in all cases clear. In the light of that we are in a transitional state. I hope the noble Earl will agree that we should not finalise the amendment and the amendments to the amendment tonight. Will he give an assurance that we will come back to these matters in a more final form at Report stage?
I cannot give a commitment as to what certain noble Lords may wish to do at the next stage of the Bill's proceedings. If they wish to table a further amendment on Report, they are free to do so. Similarly, if the Government believe that it is appropriate to bring forward an amendment, we shall certainly do so. However, I should prefer, if I may, to say that we shall leave the matter here and that we shall give it further consideration. It is only after such consideration that we shall be able to decide what kind of amendment is required, if indeed one is needed.
§ Amendment No. 183C, as an amendment to Amendment No. 183B, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 183D to 183J not moved.]
§ Amendment No. 183B agreed to.
§ Clause 35 agreed to.
§ Clause 36 [Power to impose financial penalty or shorten licence period]:
Viscount Ullswater moved Amendment No. 184:
Page 35, line 19, leave out subsection (4).
§ The noble Viscount said: This amendment was spoken to with Amendment No. 109. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 36, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 37 [Power to revoke Channel 3 or 5 licence]:
Viscount Ullswater moved Amendments Nos. 185, 186 and 187:
Page 36, line 14 at end insert:
("(3A) If the Commission are satisfied in the case of any Channel 3 or Channel 5 licence
Page 36, line 24, after ("(3)") insert (",(3A)").
Page 36, line 30, after ("(3)") insert (",(3A)").
§ The noble Viscount said: These amendments were spoken to in connection with Amendment No. 135. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendments agreed to.
Baroness Birk moved Amendment No. 188:
Page 36, line 37, after ("determine") insert ("provided it shall be no longer than 18 months").
§ The noble Baroness said: The amendment limits to 18 months the length of time during which a Channel 3 licence holder may provide a licensed service for another region following revocation. It has the effect, first, of avoiding the uncompetitive extension of media ownership; and, secondly, of ensuring that a speedy replacement contract is established to cover the franchised area. If the amendment is not accepted, there is a risk of merger by default when one licensee is asked to take on the provision of programme services for another for an indefinite period.
§ The point should also be made that this amendment would help to ensure that no two contiguous licence areas could be owned or controlled by one company. The Government have indicated several times that the Bill would clarify this fault. The Home Secretary confirmed that fact on Second Reading and the Minister of State, Mr. Mellor, reaffirmed it in Committee in another place. It puts a time limit on what would otherwise be called a temporary situation. I beg to move.
Clause 37(7) enables the Independent Television Commission to invite a regional Channel 3 licensee to provide a service in an additional licence area, where the original licence had been revoked, for such period as the ITC may determine. It is certainly intended that this should be a temporary arrangement, until such time as the commission can arrange a new round of competitive tenders and allocate a new licence to the new licensee.
I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for tabling this amendment. We do not think that an arbitrary limit of 18 months should necessarily be set on such an arrangement as there may be circumstances where a longer period would be necessary. Therefore, if she will be good enough to withdraw her amendment tonight, we shall consider the matter further and decide whether to bring forward an amendment at the next stage which makes clear the fact that the arrangements should be of a temporary nature in such circumstances.
§ Baroness Birk
I thank the Minister for that reply. It has taken nearly four days for us to reach some agreement, but we have reached it. I withdraw the amendment with pleasure.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn
§ Clause 37, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 38 agreed to.
§ Clause 39 [Licensing etc. of domestic satellite services]:1096
Viscount Ullswater moved Amendment No. 189:
Page 38, line 2, at end insert:
("(1A) Without prejudice to the generality of section 3(2), a licence to provide a domestic satellite service may authorise the provision of a service which to any extent consists in the simultaneous transmission of different programmes on different frequencies.").
§ The noble Viscount said: It may be for the convenience of the Committee if I speak also to Amendments Nos. 193 and 211A. Amendments Nos. 189 and 193 make it clear that the ITC can award a single licence to cover programming on, for instance, the five BSB channels or the four Sky channels. That reflects the existing position in which the five BSB channels are provided under a single IBA contract. That does not affect the provision made by Amendment No. 51 to which the Committee agreed on 9th July. That amendment made it clear that the unit of currency for the purpose of the ownership rule would be the programme stream rather than the licence.
§ Amendment No. 211A is tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso. I should like to hear what he has to say about the matter before making my response. I beg to move.
§ Lord St. John of Bletso
I shall speak to Amendment No. 211A. I apologise on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, who wanted to speak this evening but who was unfortunately unwell and had to leave early. The amendment would encourage the sharing of satellite dishes by households. It addresses a situation where several different people, all of whom want to watch satellite television, may want to club together to install one dish which is then linked to all their homes. By sharing one dish, the proliferation of dishes is limited, as one dish per household is not needed. They can also share the costs of the shared dish.
My amendment is intended to make such arrangements as simple and nonbureaucratic as possible. Although the amendment relates to satellite television, it should technically be grouped with amendments to Clause 67, which deals with local delivery services. However, since I cannot be here next week the amendment has been grouped with amendments to Clause 40, and I am grateful to the Committee for agreeing to that.
Even those of us who are enthusiastic about the development of satellite television services sometimes find ourselves a little less enthusiastic about the visible proliferation of the dish aerials necessary to watch the new programmes. Most dish aerials are unobtrusive, but a few are becoming something of a blot on the landscape.
I am aware that the satellite industry is concerned to lessen the impact of dish aerials. I understand that the new model dishes are less conspicuous and that new installation techniques are being found to make those aerials less obtrusive. I am advised, however, by Sky and BSB that we can help to lessen still further the impact of aerials. That is the purpose of the amendment.
1097 It is an amendment which has the support of both Sky and BSB, which may be unusual, and also of the Confederation of Aerial Industries, a trade association representing the companies in the business of installing satellite systems. The amendment should appeal to all those who wish to see the protection of our visual environment. The amendment, as I have said, is intended specifically to promote the possibility of sharing aerials. I suppose one could call it a "sharial" amendment. I make no claim that the wording of the amendment represents technical perfection in legislative drafting. I hope that the Committee will be kind enough to consider the intended objectives. We may persuade the Government in due course to offer us a proper, regulatory approach to achieve our aim.
As some Members of the Committee may be aware, it is difficult today for viewers to share a satellite dish. Under the 1984 Cable and Broadcasting Act, even an informal agreement by two neighbours to share a dish is considered to be a cable television system subject to licensing. The requirements of licensing are burdensome and the result has been that dish sharing has not been a practical proposition. Wisely, however, the Government have recognised the difficulties in the 1984 Act and have offered assurances in the other place that licensing requirements will be significantly liberalised from 1st January 1991. They will permit in as simple a way as possible the sharing of dishes by those who live in single buildings such as blocks of flats, or in two adjacent dwellings such as a pair of semidetached houses, or in two neighbouring terraced homes.
At the same time, the Government suggested that this liberalisation might be extended to include dishes serving up to five terraced houses. It is here that I believe that the Government have not gone far enough. The amendment seeks to extend this liberalised licensing scheme to cover the whole terrace of houses. I can see no reason to limit the concession to just two terraced houses or even five. Surely the objective should be to allow the largest possible number of homes to view satellite television using the smallest possible number of dishes.
I hope that the Committee will agree that the principles underpinning the amendment are straightforward. Perhaps I may offer a brief word on the practicalities. The Government have already identified in the other place that the liberalised licensing scheme I have mentioned will be achieved through the means of a socalled class licence. Issued by the DTI under the Telecommunications Act, this class licence will provide blanket and automatic approval for those dishsharing schemes which come within its ambit. The general requirements of the class licence, as I understand them, are quite straightforward. They require that the system meet basic technical specifications so as not to cause radio interference and that the system carry only programmes approved by the Independent Television Commission.
However, I am concerned about the ambit of the class licence. It should not be limited to single 1098 buildings or pairs of houses. It should be extended to cover the case of a shared dish serving the whole terrace of houses. I hope that we may learn tonight that the Government are sympathetic to the amendment so that we can allow a greater choice of viewing in Britain without spoiling the view. I commend my amendment to the Committee.
§ 10 p.m.
§ Viscount Ullswater
I have some sympathy with the underlying idea of the noble Lord's amendment. The Committee may find it helpful if I set out briefly the present regulatory position on the sharing of satellite dishes and the Government's proposals for change. Any cable system serving two or more households requires a licence from the Cable Authority unless it carries only BBC services or channels regulated by the IBA. It also needs a licence under the Telecommunications Act.
The main purpose of the Cable and Broadcasting Act licence is to ensure the maintenance of acceptable standards of taste and decency. That is why a licence is not needed for systems carrying only BBC and IBA services since they are regulated separately. Where an application for a satellite master antenna television system—which is known as SMATV—licence is made within a franchise area, the Cable Authority offers the franchise holder the right of first refusal to provide a service. This applies irrespective of the size of the proposed system. If he takes up the right of first refusal, the franchise holder has six months in which to provide a service.
Turning now to the future, on 27th April 1989 the then Home Secretary announced that it was our intention to relax significantly the regulation of SMATV. Under these proposals, systems covering up to 1,000 homes will not need to be licensed under the Broadcasting Bill, although they will continue to need to be licensed under the Telecommunications Act. Systems covering single buildings, of whatever size, or adjacent semidetached or pairs of houses in a terrace will be covered by a class licence under the Telecommunications Act. I believe that that was the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso.
We have indicated that we would be prepared to consider extending this class licence to cover groups of up to, say, five terraced houses if there proved to be a significant demand for such systems from groups of neighbours. Larger SMATV systems would need individual Telecommunications Act licences. Where the proposed system was in a franchise area, the cable or local delivery operator would be given a right of first refusal.
We consider the right of first refusal is necessary in order to underpin cable and local delivery franchises, particularly as the latter are to be allocated by competitive tender. However, we intend that the right of first refusal should operate more briskly than is the case at present. We announced our detailed proposals on 6th June.
These proposals represent a significant, though not total, liberalisation of SMATV and they should allow 1099 more communal systems to develop. Indeed both Sky and BSB are working with SMATV operators and local authorities, and other large landlords such as housing associations, to provide their services to hundreds of thousands of flat dwellers.
The noble Lord has suggested that the class licence under the Telecommunications Act should be extended to cover complete terraces of houses. As I have said, the Government would be prepared to consider an extension to cover up to five houses in a terrace, but I do not think that we could go quite as far as the noble Lord suggests. We have to strike a careful balance between the interests of those householders who wish to share dishes and the need not to undermine cable and local delivery operators. We believe that our proposals get this difficult balance about right.
I hope that the noble Lord will see from this explanation that the whole thrust of the Government's proposals is towards meeting the objective of his amendment. We are keen to see sharing of satellite dishes where this can be practicably arranged. In the light of that explanation, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord McNair
Like many other Members of the Committee, I have noticed the prevalence of dishes in many areas. Any scheme which does away with the need for multiple dishes, while preserving the ability of people to receive satellite television, must be a good idea. I would hope that a satellite dish from each company could be shared so that viewers may have the choice of programmes from both satellite systems.
I believe that the reason for the restriction to one dish per dwelling is purely environmental. If that is the case, this amendment would obviate the need for such a restriction where sharing of dishes takes place. Perhaps the Minister would let me know the Government's thinking on the matter. I support wholeheartedly the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso. The scheme which he has proposed could be particularly useful for people who are prevented by planning constraints from installing individual dishes. I suggest that the logic in the suggestion of my noble friend is clear. He mentioned that a shared dish on the top of a tower block, linked to each flat, will be covered by a class licence. However, where homes are laid horizontally rather than vertically, that is in a terrace of houses rather than a block of flats, why should the same class licence not apply if the residents want it?
The potential for this amendment to encourage sharing may not be limited to the suggested and important extension to terraced housing. The regulatory experts may think of other ways to apply it. The important thing is the intention of the amendment. We must encourage sharing. I understand that the principle behind the amendment enjoys wide support. Indeed just this afternoon I learnt that the Association of District Councils has welcomed any moves which would have the effect of lessening the visual impact of dishes, without eroding the public's ability to receive new television services.
§ Viscount Ullswater
I have listened carefully to the noble Lord. I am sure he will read carefully my reply to the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso. I should inform the noble Lord, Lord McNair, that the Department of the Environment issued a consultation document on llth July which sets out the options for changes in permitted development rights for satellite dishes. This canvasses the possibility of allowing all buildings to have two satellite dishes without planning permission.
In the South and East both dishes could be the maximum 60 centimetres in diameter and in the North and West, where larger dishes are necessary to allow reception of Sky Television, one dish could be 80 centimetres in diameter and the second 60 centimetres. That would facilitate fair competition between the two satellite companies. Should that option be accepted, it is likely to be accompanied by a requirement that dishes should be sited in such a way as to minimise their effect on the buildings' external appearance.
It will be seen from what I have said that the Government are leaning at least some way towards the noble Lord's amendment. However, as I said in my original reply, I believe that we have the balance about right.
My noble friend Lord Ullswater, in his rebuttal of the case so ably stated by the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso, even if he was not aware of it himself, used the most chilling phrase. He referred to the Government's determination not to undermine cable and local delivery operators. He will be aware that since 1984 and the implementation of the cable Act the performance of the cable companies in laying down local delivery services by cable can only be described as abysmal. If my noble friend really wants to encourage the laying down of cable in this country he should encourage the receipt of signals by satellite. That will be the competitive element which will spur the cable companies to lay cables throughout the country.
I shall have time to consider with greater care his response to the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord St.John of Bletso, between the Committee and Report stages, but I strongly suggest that the Government should encourage the sharing of satellite dishes in order to spur the laying of cable in this country, to the greater benefit of the telecommunications infrastructure within the country as a whole.
§ Lord Ardwick
I should like to add a word from a personal point of view. This must be a dilemma which strikes many people. I live on a small estate of 20 houses comprising three rows of terraced houses forming a hollow square, with about seven houses in each block. We have a rule that no television aerial is to be erected. Under that rule we are forbidding the use of satellite dishes. Among the residents there are two journalists, two television writers, four or five actors and actresses. We all have a professional need to receive satellite television. However, we see no solution until we can have one or two dishes that can serve all of us without causing any offence to the eyes of our neighbours.
§ Viscount Ullswater
An application for a licence would not be denied, but the cable franchisee of the noble Lord's area, if his estate falls within a cable franchise area, would need first refusal. If the cable franchisee does not take up that opportunity of providing the cabling and the aerials, then a licence would be granted.
I have to say to my noble friend that there has been a great deal of investment interest in the cabling industry in the past two years and we believe that it would be a pity to disrupt that by liberalising the position too much.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Viscount Ullswater moved Amendment No. 190:
Page 38, line 4, leave out ("and") and insert:
("(aa) section (Conditions requiring holder of Channel 3 or 5 licence to deliver promised service), and").
§ The noble Viscount said: The amendment was spoken to with Amendment No. 156. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ 10.15 p.m.
Viscount Ullswater moved Amendment No. 190A:
Page 38, line 5, after ("sections") insert ("(Promotion of equal opportunities in relation to employment by licence holder) and").
§ The noble Viscount said: This amendment was spoken to with Amendment No. 183A. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Viscount Ullswater moved Amendment No. 191:
Page 38, line 14, leave out ("subsection (6)") and insert ("subsections (6) to (9)").
§ The noble Viscount said: This amendment was spoken to with Amendment No. 109. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 39, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 40 [Licensing etc. of nondomestic satellite services]:
Baroness Birk moved Amendment No. 192:
Page 38, line 27, at end insert ("or 16 (2) (g)").
§ The noble Baroness said: This is a simple short amendment. It requires nondomestic satellite broadcasters to include a proper proportion of EC originated material if they wish to be licensed to gain access to British audiences. While Britain may have little control over nondomestic satellite services unless they apply for licences, this amendment is an explicit reminder to such companies that what they are expected to offer should reflect the EC preference for EC originated material and that nondomestic satellites should not simply be the easy means by which United States or other nonEuropean material is able to flood the airways.
It also reflects the requirements for a suitable amount of EC material which are built into the EC directive on transnational broadcasting and the Council of Europe convention on the same subject, to each of which the British Government are a signatory. I beg to move.1102
I have nothing to add to the words so eloquently spoken by the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, in support of this totally admirable amendment except to say that I support it.
§ Viscount Ullswater
I am sorry to disappoint the noble Lord but I cannot accept this amendment, which would apply the European programming requirement to nondomestic satellite service licences. We have made clear that we shall impose the consumer protection requirements on such licences, but that otherwise their development should be left to the market. I believe that it would be heavy handed to apply a positive requirement of that kind to such licences.
The noble Baroness asked how the Government envisage that the UK should meet its obligations under the EC directive in relation to the European content of nondomestic satellite services. The directive provides that states may implement its provisions by law, regulations or administrative means. Implementation is to be achieved by October 1991. We envisage that in the case of nondomestic satellite services implementation of the directive's provisions on European programming will be done administratively. The ordermaking powers in Clause 173 could be used if necessary at some point in the future. We do not see that as an issue which should cause any difficulties. Both the convention and the directive recognise sensibly and realistically that the proportion of European programming may need to be increased progressively over a period of time. They also acknowledge that European content requirements should apply only where practicable.
Does what the noble Viscount said mean that there will be no limitation on nondomestic satellite television and the endless series of American programmes?
§ Viscount Ullswater
I do not believe that that is true. For instance, the news programmes from these satellites have a European content. Many of the sporting programmes have a European content and a lot of the ethnic programmes have a regional characteristic.
If the noble Viscount looks at the sports programme sin the morning he will find that it is largely American. If he looks at the films he will find that they are very largely American. Naturally the news programme is not.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
Perhaps I may pursue this matter for a moment with the noble Viscount. Her Majesty's Government are a signatory to those European conventions. They have a spirit as well as a letter. Are the Government saying that they will use the opportunity to deal with this matter administratively, simply by turning a blind eye to whatever happens?
Not at all. It is quite clear that the noble Lords opposite have not understood what my noble friend said. In effect he said that this amendment is totally unnecessary. It is quite unnecessary to make 1103 an amendment in a domestic statute when it can be perfectly capably handled by regulation. That is all that he said.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
I was not arguing in support of the amendment going into the present Bill. But I was rather shocked by what I thought might be the implication of what the Minister was saying: that nondomestic satellites will be treated extremely leniently, to put it mildly, in terms of the spirit of the European directive which the Government have signed.
§ Viscount Ullswater
I am grateful to my noble friend for leaping to my defence in some way. I thought that I had stated quite clearly that the directive provides that states may implement its provision by administrative means. I stressed that that is the way we intend to do it. The implementation of the directive is to be achieved by October 1991. I see no reason why that should not be done.
The power in Clause 173 could be used if necessary. We are not in any way trying to avoid the directive. I simply outlined the way in which the directive will be implemented. I drew attention to the fact that the power in Clause 173 could be brought into effect. However, I suggest that we do not need to write it on to the face of the Bill, as the amendment does.
§ Baroness Birk
It is very late. I had not considered the clause closely. It does not seem at a quick glance that Clause 173 covers this provision. It states:This section applies toThat is the end of the clause. It says nothing about nondomestic satellites.
- (a) the BBC;
- (b) the Independent Television Commission;
- (c) the Welsh Authority;
- (d) the Radio Authority;
- (e) The Broadcasting Standards Council".
§ Viscount Ullswater
That provision comes under subsection (2) (b) because the body is licensed under the ITC.
§ Baroness Birk
It is not very clear. It states that it applies to the BBC and the Independent Television Commission. It does not state that it is licensed outside. It is roaming rather far.
§ Viscount Ullswater
The ITC is not a broadcaster. But the broadcasting requirements are to be implemented by those licensed by the ITC.
§ Baroness Birk
I shall withdraw the amendment. That will give my noble friends and myself a chance to look into the matter further. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.1104
Viscount Ullswater moved Amendment No.193:
Page 38, line 27, at end insert:
("(2A) Section 39(1A) shall apply to a licence to provide a nondomestic satellite service as it applies to a licence to provide a domestic satellite service.").
§ The noble Viscount said: I spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 189. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Viscount Ullswater moved Amendment No. 194:
Page 38, line 36, leave out ("subsections (2) and (4)") and insert ("subsection (2)").
§ The noble Viscount said: This amendment was spoken to with Amendment No. 135. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 40, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 41 agreed to.
§ Clause 42 [Licensing etc. of licensable programme services]:
Viscount Ullswater moved Amendment No. 195:
Page 40, line 25, leave out ("on religious matters or").
§ The noble Viscount said: My noble friend Lord Ferrers spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 9. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Viscount Ullswater moved Amendment No. 196:
Page 40, line 39, leave out ("subsections (2) and (4)") and insert ("subsection (2)").
§ The noble Viscount said: I spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 135. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 42, as amended, agreed to.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House resumed.