§ 3.12 p.m.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Earl Ferrers.)
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, before we go into Committee on the Bill there is something that I feel I ought to say. Last Friday evening 46 printed pages of government amendments emerged, having been tabled very late after the House had risen. It is very hard to be faced on Monday morning with such a tremendous batch of difficult to comprehend amendments.
The Minister was as helpful as he possibly could be yesterday. I saw him and he also saw noble Lords from the other Benches. He explained that it had been difficult to get the amendments ready. It amazed all of us that although the Bill has now been running for many months and has been worked on for the past couple of years at least, when it comes to this House there are still amendments tabled at this very late stage. There have been other Bills which have been extremely late but this seemed to me the last straw. I know that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, is very sorry about the situation. He has done what he can but it has not greatly helped.
It is not only the Opposition who are affected. There must be noble Lords on all sides of the House 1325 who find it very difficult to be faced with what is in effect another complete Marshalled List of amendments.
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos
My Lords, in the interests of the whole House I must support the protest of my noble friend. The situation has occurred before under this Government and in successive years. As I said the other day, it makes it necessary for us to rise and inform the Government that it makes discussion extremely difficult during the Committee, Report and Third Reading stages of Bills when amendments are tabled in large numbers at a late hour. This has happened again in connection with the Broadcasting Bill.
It means that it becomes difficult to process the Bill properly. There is not the time, and this affects noble Lords on all sides, in particular those who are responsible for the Bill on the Front Benches, those behind me, the Liberal and the Social Democrat parties and noble Lords opposite who take a keen interest in the Bill.
The House deserves an explanation of why this occurs all the time. It leads to a possible charge of incompetence on the part of the Ministers in charge. I do not like to go beyond them. The buck stops with them. I do not like to blame anyone else. They must take the responsibility. The situation is not good enough. I warmly support the protest made by my noble friend.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
My Lords, before the Minister comments, I should like to associate these Benches with the protests that have just been made. There are nearly 50 pages of new amendments. They are extremely technical amendments. Apart from the grave discourtesy to the House and the great inconvenience to Members from all sides, some of these amendments must affect the interests of outside parties who have had no opportunity to examine them properly and make representations so that the debates might reflect their interests. It is a very unhappy situation indeed.
My Lords, I am not surprised that noble Lords have complained in what is, if I may say so, the most courteous of ways, about this array of amendments which has been tabled. I shall certainly be the first to apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition, the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, and everyone else involved with the Bill. There are a lot of amendments and they have been tabled at a late hour.
Naturally one would not wish such a thing to have happened if only for the fact that understandably it gives rise to such great distress among noble Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, is quite right to say that the buck stops with Ministers. Indeed it does. I take full responsibility for the fact that the amendments have been tabled so late. All I can say in mitigation is that, although they comprise a very substantial body of amendments, the majority of them are technical, drafting and consequential amendments.
1326 This is a complicated Bill and some of the amendments have arisen as a result of discussions with interested parties although, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, rightly said, the interested parties themselves have not seen them in final form. Nevertheless, they have arisen as a result of discussions.
It occurred to me to wonder whether it would be better to put down the amendments for Committee stage and receive the wrath of noble Lords or whether they should be left to Report stage. Because they are technical there is an advantage in tabling them at Committee stage. If noble Lords were to feel that it would be appropriate to put them into the Bill, there is the period of time between now and Report stage in which they and interested parties can make their representations, and there is an opportunity to adjust them again at Report.
The other alternative would have been not to have moved them and to have left them until Report. I rather fancy that I should have been castigated vigorously for bringing forward so many amendments at Report stage. Rightly or wrongly, I therefore decided to table the amendments now. I apologise to noble Lords for the inconvenience that this causes and I am even more sorry for the discourtesy which it implies.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The PRINCIPAL DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES in the Chair.]
§ Clause 43 [Additional services]:
Lord Thomson of Monifieth moved Amendment No. 196A:
Page 41, line 36, leave out ("and") and insert:
("(bb) if it is a frequency on which a Channel 3 service or Channel 4 or Channel 5 service is provided, to the need for descriptive services to be provided in connection with programmes included in the service.").
§ The noble Lord said: This amendment is tabled in my name and the names of the noble Lord, Lord Constantine of Stanmore, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Birk and Lady Darcy (de Knayth). As the Committee will see from those names, this is an all-party amendment that enjoys support from all quarters of the Chamber. The amendment is grouped with Amendments Nos. 196C, 197A, 197D and 211ZA. It might be for the convenience of the Committee if I speak to these amendments as a group.
The amendments relate to some exciting technological developments in broadcasting which could enable 1 million blind people and perhaps several hundred thousand partially sighted people for the first time to enjoy television and new forms of access to the media generally. More than half of those blind and partially sighted people by the nature of their disability are housebound and therefore television and radio are of great importance to them. The technique that is being proposed for television is already employed in some theatres in the United Kingdom. The Royal National Institute for the Blind reports one theatregoer user saying:
Truly for the first time since I lost my sight, it has brought back the complete joy of coming to the theatre. I saw the play for myself".
§ It is against that background of human disability and human need that we move this group of amendments. We seek the Secretary of State's approval to protect part of the spare frequency capacity on the television signal, on the teletext signal, for these new developments as the Government have already done for the deaf with teletext sub-titling. The Government have already shown their sympathy to this general area of broadcasting policy.
§ We also believe that the Independent Television Commission (ITC), which will replace the IBA, should, like the IBA, give impetus to these developments by conducting urgent research and development in the interests of the deaf as regards broadcasting. All those developments, of which I shall speak in more detail in a moment, are already in practice on quite a substantial scale in the United States and Australia. I fully concede that there are still problems in adapting them to British broadcasting technology and there is need for urgency in that respect.
§ They are very dramatic developments. There are two separate technological practices involved. The first is what is called audio-description. It enables a blind person watching television to hear, through an electronic device that does not interfere with the other viewers in the household, a commentary that describes what is going on on the screen during the periods of silence when no dialogue takes place. I am told that it has worked remarkably effectively in the places where it has been practised. Audio-description can be provided by using the spare capacity within the TV signal. It is that aspect which I wish to stress in the amendments.
§ The second associated development, which is dealt with in Amendment No. 197A, offers the possibility of providing blind people with what I suppose might be called a digital daily newspaper. It offers the possibility of using the digital technology which is now the dominant technology in broadcasting for opening up media to the blind. In this case experiments are going on. For example, the Guardian newspaper has been running a pilot project for some time in which it transmits digitally to blind people the whole of the newspaper, using part of the TV signal.
§ The data can be received in audio, braille or in large print format. The transient braille display is particularly valuable to deaf/blind people, whose access to newspapers is very restricted indeed. The paper is transmitted on the day of issue. A typical issue of the Guardian or any quality newspaper is about 100,000 words, which take about an hour to broadcast. It is an exciting development, which gives blind people in the UK access to the full text of the day's newspaper. In the past, blind people have had to wait for weekly extracts on a cassette tape or to ask friends to read the paper to them, as, in the case of 1328 television programmes, they have had to rely on a friendly relative or neighbour telling them what is on the screen when the opportunity arises.
§ The new system allows blind people to skim through the paper in the way that you or I would do and to choose what they read. Indeed a search facility allows the user to skim through in less time than it would take a sighted person. This pilot scheme will run for six months. If it is successful it may be extended to three or four newspapers. Similar schemes are under development in other countries—Germany, Finland, the Netherlands, France and Italy. The digital daily newspaper is one example of the technological advances that rely on television air time to be broadcast.
§ The Bill gives the Secretary of State the power to protect teletext from the competitive rigours of the market place. In these amendments we ask that the same power be extended to services for blind people as have already been extended to those who are deaf, so that they too can have access to the air waves which would otherwise be too costly.
§ The amendments have been tabled because we believe that it would be difficult for those valuable services for the disabled blind to compete against more commercially lucrative services. The Government have agreed that the Secretary of State should be able to set aside as much or as little spare capacity for teletext services as he chooses. We believe that he should be similarly empowered to set aside capacity for services for disabled people apart from the deaf.
§ The amendments have been drafted in order, first, to unveil to the wider world these very exciting new technological possibilities for those who suffer the great disability of blindness. But we have tried to draft them in an appropriate and modest way to give the Government the maximum flexibility. The Government will not seek to require the Secretary of State to do what is set out in the amendments. However, they will give the Government the option to act, and we very much hope that they will view them sympathetically. I beg to move.
§ Lord Constantine of Stanmore
I wish to speak very briefly to the amendment. I do not wish to make the House tired of long, technical descriptions. Such descriptions are issued by the Royal National Institute for the Blind and are available to all who wish to read or study them. I am sure that they would be made available to any of the Members of this Committee who wished to study them.
For a moment I should like to speak of the human aspects of these amendments. I speak as a man whose wife has recently become blind. She is a woman who loved the colours of her garden, the joy of great visual art and the bright and living depth of modern colour television. Those are sadly now out of her reach and, although she can receive on her radio and follow some programmes on the television, television plays must be described to her to bring them more closely to her comprehension. Since 1984, in the United States, the American broadcast companies have used these 1329 descriptive radio commentaries to make life more pleasant and easier for people who are blind. I ask the Committee from a human point of view to support the amendments.
§ Baroness Ewart-Biggs
I too should like to give my very strong support to the amendments. The noble Lord, Lord Thomson, has made abundantly clear how modern technology, if used, can absolutely revolutionise the lives of the blind, the partially sighted, the deaf and the disabled. He has made quite clear how modern technology can be used through teletext.
As noble Lords may imagine, these amendments are very strongly supported by the Royal National Institute for the Blind, by Deaf Accord and by the Deaf Broadcasting Council, which have also stressed how, on an international basis, such modern technology is way ahead of ours. They point out that audio description has been used at the Cannes film festival and that the service is to be launched in France, Canada and Australia. This modern technology is currently used in the United States. There can be no doubt that the radio is a lifeline for the blind. I hope that the Government will accept the amendments and so enable the blind, through modern technology, to be increasingly included in this part of life and in such entertainment.
§ 3.30 p.m.
Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)
As my name is attached to the amendment, I wish to add a few words of support. The exciting new technology has been vividly described by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, and comprehensively covered by other Members of the Committee. The amendments are modest; they are allowing rather than requiring. They are important if we are to ensure that the blind and partially sighted can enjoy the benefits and advances of television technology.
Audio description will be uniquely for the blind. Digital information will be of great benefit to many other severely disabled people; for instance, those who cannot manipulate newspapers. In particular, I support Amendment No. 211ZA. It will allow the ITC to undertake research and development. At present Clause 64(5) discourages the ITC from undertaking research, but I believe that in this instance it would be the ideal body. Therefore, I support the amendments most strongly.
§ Lord Swinfen
I too strongly support the amendments. With an ageing population, there will be more blind people in our community for whom the services will become essential. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), I am attracted to Amendment No. 211ZA which encourages the commission to undertake or make arrangements for research. However, I am concerned that, if included in the Bill as it should be, the amendment will clash with Clause 64(5) (b), which states:The Commission shall secure that, so far as is reasonably practicable … any work carried out under arrangements made in pursuance of subsection (3) (a) is to a substantial extent financed by persons other than the Commission".If the commission is not allowed to arrange some funding for such experimental work it may lapse. We 1330 should also bear in mind that successful research in this field may enable our commercial organisations to export the technology all over the world.
§ Lord Milverton
I too am happy with the amendments. I hope that the Government will support them. It is only right and proper that those who are blind, deaf or disabled should be helped to enjoy good programmes on radio and television.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Employment (Viscount Ullswater)
These amendments taken together require the ITC to undertake research to promote the access of disabled people to television broadcasting; to use spare capacity in order to provide services for disabled people; and, in particular, to use spare capacity in order to provide a descriptive service for blind and partially sighted people.
I am aware of the strength of feeling in the Committee about the need to give greater opportunity to people with disabilities. We have already had two debates in Committee—one relating to equal opportunities and the other relating to sign language provision—in which Members of the Committee strongly expressed their views on assisting people with disabilities to participate fully in society, in particular in regard to televised services.
Naturally, the Government are also sympathetic to the idea of extending television services to disabled people, and in particular to those with hearing or sight difficulties. Members of the Committee will be aware that on many occasions we have argued that BBC1, BBC2 and Channel 4 as public service broadcasters will continue to carry the full public service remit. That embodies the principle of promoting greater access to television services for every part of society, including those people with disabilities. These terrestrial services taken together win on average an audience of more than 60 per cent. of viewers.
Some Members of the Committee have argued, or may think, that there are some people who watch only ITV. Very few people ever watch only ITV; most people dip into all kinds of programmes on all channels. Therefore, the public service broadcasters' contribution to promoting access to television services for people with hearing and sight disabilities is no small contribution. Public service broadcasters are fully committed to providing services for those with disabilities.
But we have not stopped there. The Broadcasting Act 1981 contains no requirement in relation to programmes for the deaf. The Cable and Broadcasting Act 1984 contains in Clause 7(2) (g) a requirement that cable services should include in the programmes matter which is calculated to promote the understanding or enjoyment of programmes by persons who are deaf. I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, had a hand in bringing about that requirement.
Before the current Broadcasting Bill was published organisations representing the deaf and those who are hard of hearing made representations to the Home Office. I suspect that they were not overly optimistic. 1331 It is therefore, I believe, fair to say that they were both surprised and delighted when the first draft of the Bill contained in Clause 32 a requirement for Channels 3 and 5 licensees to provide subtitling. For the first time a statutory requirement specified that in the first year of the licence the licensees should provide 10 per cent. more hours of subtitling than was achieved on average by the ITV companies in the previous year. The ITC was thereafter to set a reasonable target for an increase in subtitling.
The organisations representing the deaf were, I believe, frankly amazed at what happened next. My honourable friend Mr. David Mellor looked again at the provision. He was concerned that, although offering the prospect of continuing improvement in the amount of subtitling in the future, the Bill did not go far enough in establishing a properly challenging objective. In order to set a more vigorous target for Channels 3 and 5 licensees he therefore announced that the Bill would be extended to require them to achieve subtitling of at least 50 per cent. of their programmes within five years and, thereafter, such additional subtitling as the ITC may consider it reasonable to require. Everyone recognises that those were major steps forward in ensuring that people who are deaf or hard of hearing can enjoy the broadcasting services.
I am sorry to have wearied the Committee with a long chronology of events but I wished to demonstrate that the Government have not taken a blasé attitude in relation to people with disabilities. On the contrary, we have taken steps to recognise services which provide a valuable aid to those with disabilities and we have sought to promote them. We shall continue to do so. But we need to draw a distinction between facilities which have a wide use and are operationally feasible and those which may become feasible and widely used in the future.
Subtitling is a technically feasible, operational, widely used and appreciated service. But other ways in which spare capacity on broadcast signals can be used are not all as well developed or widely used. I do not doubt that as technical developments continue to emerge there will be an ever widening set of uses to which the spare capacity on television broadcast signals can be put. The difficulty for the Government is that they do not know when these technical developments will have reached the stage where they will be operationally feasible, nor the extent to which the services that could be offered would be taken up. These amendments would effectively mean that certain parts of the spare capacity would have to be reserved for purposes which are not yet fully realisable and the demand for which is uncertain. They would pose a difficulty for the ITC in determining exactly how much spare capacity to hold in reserve.
That does not mean that we want to turn our back on these objectives. But there may be other ways of securing the same results. Amendment No. 196A would require spare capacity to be reserved for an audio descriptive service for blind or partially sighted people. As I understand it, this service, which is used 1332 on some stations in the United States, as my noble friend Lord Constantine informed the Committee, is provided on a separate sound signal on which an over-dubbed voice describes the visual images in order to assist blind or visually impaired people to appreciate the action. The noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, also told us about the development in theatres in the United Kingdom. It is not necessary for such a service to be carried on an additional sound track. At present there is a capability of transmitting, with the normal mono sound signal which all television sets are capable of receiving, an additional stereo signal which can be received by those television sets which have the stereo receiver capability. It is perfectly possible to use one of these two stereo signals, which are already technically operational, and which do not involve the use of spare capacity (since the stereo signal is part of the overall television service) to provide an audio descriptive service.
Indeed, this was the approach which was put forward in a letter from the Royal National Institute for the Blind to my honourable friend Mr. David Mellor at the Home Office. I am aware also that my noble friend Lord Constantine has corresponded with my noble friend Lord Ferrers on this subject. We have made it clear that there is nothing in the Broadcasting Bill which would prevent such services being provided, but we do not think that it would be right to require the stereo signal to be used in this way. Licensees themselves will wish to determine the extent to which they wish to use the stereo audio signal capability to send stereo sound in association with the television pictures. To the extent that they do not, they will of course be perfectly free to offer an audio descriptive service. Indeed, such a service might be to their commercial advantage since it would potentially gain the audiences of blind and partially sighted people who might not otherwise choose to listen to the programmes.
As regards the requirement for research specifically to promote access to disabled people, I do not think we need fear that there will be any cessation of research into the ways in which additional facilities can be built into television signals. The prospects for the future are exceedingly bright. In the future digital television could be a very real possibility, though regrettably not soon enough for it to be a real consideration in this Bill. Such a development could revolutionise the use to which the broadcasting spectrum could be put and open up a whole plethora of additional opportunities for broadcasting and ancillary services.
The noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, made a point about digital daily newspapers. I am told that with the developments of digital television it will be possible without using any additional space on the broadcasting frequency spectrum to have one television picture superimposed on top of another. Think of the possibilities that will bring. It would be possible for those who wish to receive a sign language service simply to switch on the overlay picture, while those who did not wish to see it need not do so. But that is not yet available.
1333 Moreover, there may be other exciting new developments and initiatives coming along. But I do not believe that the ITC as a regulatory body ought to have the responsibility for research in this area. We can be certain that research can be conducted on a wide range of fronts in this country and elsewhere. I am sure there will be no shortage of ideas about how these developments can take place, and equally I am sure that licensees will wish to take advantage of all opportunities presented to them to expand their audience or to provide a better service to their audience. On that basis, I hope that Members of the Committee will agree that on balance we should not seek to make specific provision for services which are as yet not fully developed, but rather, as possibilities for services emerge, to enable licensees to consider how best to exploit to the full the potential that they offer.
I have listened very carefully to what has been said in this debate. Members of the Committee on all sides of the Chamber have characteristically, in contributing to the debate, demonstrated their commitment and concern towards helping people with disabilities. I expected nothing less.
Perhaps I may summarise the Government's position thus. I am unable to accept the precise wording of these amendments. They have minor drafting discrepancies which make it inappropriate for them to be accepted as they stand. I have indicated that I cannot accept the intention behind the amendments because I genuinely do not believe that they represent the best way forward. However, I certainly accept the spirit behind the amendments, which in essence is to promote greater access to television services for people with hearing and sight disabilities. I should like to take away the views which have been expressed and study them most carefully and consider how we might best make a provision in the Bill which would give effect to this highly commendable objective. If the noble Lord is prepared to withdraw his amendment I shall give an undertaking to consider how best to accommodate the principle of greater access to television services for people with hearing and sight disabilities.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Baroness Phillips
Before the noble Lord replies, perhaps I may enter a small plea. This is the first of a number of amendments. The Minister could have said what is important in five minutes. He has read a long and rather boring brief. We are in Committee. Perhaps Members of the Committee will make speeches rather than read prepared briefs, which is becoming a habit. What the noble Viscount said at the end is important and the noble Lord would have accepted that. Reading is one thing and speaking is another. We are in Committee. Let us have some speeches and not so much reading.
§ Viscount Ullswater
I much regret that I have upset the noble Baroness by the length of time I have taken to answer this amendment. I have always thought that the subject of disabilities is extremely well taken in this Chamber. It is a very serious subject on which anxiety has been expressed on a number of occasions. In 1334 reading from my brief, to which I must admit, I sought to demonstrate that the Government have taken on board those points, that they have done a great deal on the Broadcasting Bill and seek to do more.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
I throw down my notes in deference to the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips. I am sure that those of us who have laboured long and late on this Bill are very glad to welcome her to these proceedings. I hope that she will stay and take part in the debates.
Before I comment upon the noble Viscount's remarks, perhaps I may offer him my warm congratulations on his new appointment. We shall miss his presence in future broadcasting debates; but the habits of this Chamber being as they are, perhaps he will take that as part of his portfolio of responsibilities.
I thank the noble Viscount warmly for the care with which he responded to the amendments. For my part, I did not take amiss that he set out in chronological perspective the approach which the Government have taken as regards dealing with disability problems in relation to broadcasting. I sought to say in my opening remarks, although I said it briefly, that we recognised the Government's sympathy on this matter and in particular what they have done for the deaf in terms of teletext.
Having said that, I join issue with the noble Viscount on what I believe is the central thrust of his argument. I concede—and I know that this is a weakness in the position for which we are arguing—that in terms of successful technology British practice is still some way behind American practice. Work needs to be carried out on it. It is not ready to be put into operation immediately. Indeed, no Member of this Committee would wish to raise the expectations of those suffering from blindness by saying that something can be done quickly when it is not immediately available. Further research and work undoubtedly needs to be done, but not very much.
I disagree with the noble Viscount in two respects. Research and development, on which the IBA did notable work, concerning deafness and hearing difficulties needs positive and statutory support in terms of the looser arrangements for broadcasting regulation. To rely on the market place as the impetus for research is unsatisfactory.
The Royal National Institute for the Blind and many Members of the Committee are concerned that these new and specialist services are unlikely to be provided quickly if commercial profit is involved. The facilities and the spectrum are limited. There will be quicker, easier and surer ways of making a proper profit out of commercial broadcasting other than undertaking such innovative new techniques. It is for those reasons that we feel the blind need the special protection of the Government in terms of broadcasting policy and that there should be a provision included in the Bill.
Nevertheless, we appreciate the way in which the Minister has approached these matters. We appreciate that he shares our concern, though we may differ 1335 about the best ways of meeting that concern, and that the Government are ready to look at the matter further before Report stage. For my part, in the light of that assurance, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Viscount Ullswater moved Amendment No. 196B:
Page 41, line 43, after ("taken") insert ("for the purposes of this Part").
§ The noble Viscount said: It may be helpful to the Committee if, in moving Amendment No. 196B, I speak also to Amendments Nos. 197B, 197C, 203A, 204A, 204B, 205A, 207A, 234B, 302A, 302B, 304A, 304B, 305A and 305B. They are largely technical amendments intended to improve the drafting of the provisions.
§ Members of the Committee will wish to note particularly Amendment No. 197C to Clause 44, at page 42, line 36, and Amendment No. 302B to Clause 108, at page 90, line 24, which make clear that a person who is disqualified from holding an ITC or Radio Authority licence cannot be authorised by the licensee to provide a service as a sub-licensee.
§ The amendment to Clause 46, at page 44, line 44, makes clear that the exceptional circumstances provision may be used by the ITC in the context of more than one licence, so bringing the clause into line with Clause 17 in that respect.
§ The other amendments to Clause 46, and their radio equivalents, are intended to clarify the provisions relating to failure to provide a service. They make it clear that these provisions apply also where a sub-licensee fails to provide a service.
§ The amendments to Clauses 50 and 113 simply allow the ITC to specify a time limit within which a financial penalty has to be paid. The remaining amendments are drafting improvements. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 196C not moved.]
§ Clause 43, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 44 [Licensing of additional services]:
Lord Swinfen moved Amendment No. 197:
Page 42, line 27, at end insert:
("(2A) In fulfilling their duty under subsection (2) above the Commission shall ensure that the licence to provide teletext services shall require the service to include news, sport, childrens pages, community services, pages for the deaf and consumer information to support programmes carried on Channels 3 and 4.").
§ The noble Lord said: When moving Amendment No. 197 I shall speak also to Amendment No. 206. I believe the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, will speak to Amendments Nos. 198 to 201 and 203, which are grouped with this amendment.
§ Baroness Birk
Although the amendments are grouped with Amendment No. 197, as has been said, we can speak to them separately. It may make the task of the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, easier if he is aware 1336 that I shall deal with the other amendments afterwards. They are a little outside the group and I shall not speak to them within the group.
§ Lord Swinfen
It may therefore be for the convenience of the Committee if we deal with my Amendments Nos. 197 and 206 only, as the noble Baroness obviously wishes to deal with her amendments separately. I appreciate that. Perhaps I may say that the noble Lord, Lord McColl, whose name is attached to Amendment No. 206, has asked me to make his apologies. He has been called from the Chamber.
The purpose of Amendment No. 197 is to ensure that the most important public service features currently carried on teletext are retained, especially those such as pages for children and deaf people which are likely to appeal to minority audiences and are therefore in the greatest danger of being cut.
I have been briefed for these amendments by Deaf Accord and the Deaf Broadcasting Council. It is obvious that they wish to ensure that information of particular importance to deaf and deaf/blind people is safeguarded. They are concerned that to minimise expenditure on the franchise, the franchise holder could reduce the number of services offered on teletext. Services to those small audiences could then he lost.
I understand that there are approximately 6.5 million teletext sets installed in this country-that is around 30 per cent. of households-and the number is rising rapidly. It is expected that by 1992 the number will rise to 9.6 million. I understand that some manufacturers are only making teletext services. I am a little in the dark on this because I do not have a teletext service.
I understand that Oracle provides 39 different services compared with Ceefax, which provides five, but that the number of lines given to teletext services in the future is likely to be much less. It is essential that those services are retained to provide a valuable service to the public. People who use teletext expect a comprehensive service. For many disabled and elderly people it is especially important; it is the only method by which they receive valuable information. Deaf people in particular greatly value the increased access to information that they are able to obtain through the service of teletext.
The noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, mentioned this matter in his reply to a previous amendment. Therefore it would be invidious of me to speak for a long time on Amendment No. 197. Amendment No. 206 enables the ITC to refuse to renew a licence for the provision of teletext services if the present licence holder has failed, or is likely to fail, to provide services that are required under the licence conditions. The amendment would give the ITC power to refuse renewal of a licence if the conditions were not fulfilled. Those powers would be similar to the powers that the ITC has to refuse a licence for Channel 3 if it is satisfied that the applicant would not fulfil those requirements.
1337 If the Bill is amended to specify the types of services to be provided or some other form of quality threshold, it is important that the ITC is able in some way to ensure that the licensee fulfils the commitments made when bidding for the franchise. The amendment will enable the ITC to give the licence to another company when the licence comes up for renewal if the first company fails to fulfil its commitments. I beg to move.
§ 4 p.m.
§ Baroness Ewart-Biggs
I support the amendment, which was so clearly introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen. The Broadcasting Consortium is anxious that the quality of these services should be maintained because of their great importance to the organisations that the consortium represents and the people with whom they work. The consortium wants to ensure that the information which is of particular importance is safeguarded. In order to minimise expenditure the franchise holder could reduce the number of services offered on teletext and those services with small audiences would be lost. That is the consortium's great fear.
It is a fact that another very vulnerable group in regard to teletext and the importance of maintaining quality is children. Market research has shown that children are the most avid users of teletext and it could therefore be an important educational tool. At present there are pages covering 20 different subjects for children, including pages on the news, wildlife and the environment. There is also an opportunity for children to write in and have their views expressed on children's teletext. It is therefore an important service for vulnerable groups and avid viewers such as children.
As regards community services, teletext pages currently include a community noticeboard which provides a free service for charitable groups and non-profit making community groups. It publicises events and fund-raising activities, and it seeks voluntary help. There is a similar service on environmental matters. I should very much like to see that service continue.
The noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, has already mentioned the importance of the teletext service to the disabled, the deaf and the blind. In regard to consumer information, teletext provides support material for Channels 3 and 4. These programme-related services provide a necessary and useful adjunct to the television programmes themselves. They help to broaden and enhance viewers' understanding and enjoyment. Therefore, Amendments Nos. 197 and 206 are important and we on this side of the Committee support them.
Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)
I added my name to Amendment No. 197 and I meant it to be added to Amendment No. 206 but somehow it was left off. Most of the advantages of these amendments have already been comprehensively covered by the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, and the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen. However, it is worth stressing the importance of teletext for deaf children whose reading age is considerably lower than that of their hearing 1338 peers. Teletext can be read at your own speed, and, by becoming familiar with that, deaf children can become more adept at reading the more swiftly-moving subtitles.
The magazine programme for the deaf was mentioned. I watched "Earshot" yesterday. It is a 10-page magazine programme which is updated twice weekly. It gives national and international news, deaf news, job opportunities and training opportunities and draws attention to the fact that a video on the poll tax is available in sign language. I wholly support these amendments.
§ Lady Kinloss
I support Amendment No. 197 in particular. There are about 11,000 people in Britain who are both deaf and blind. They cannot obtain access to information very easily. They cannot read regular newspapers, watch television or listen to the radio. In this respect I quote the Deaf Broadcasting Council:However there are a growing number of deaf-blind people who are able to access teletext services using a microcomputer controlled tuning device, and process them through a special braille computer called a Versebraille. Thus they read the information on teletext in braille.Deaf-blindness is a very isolating handicap. For those who can neither see nor hear but want to live as independently as possible, having access to instant, reliable up-to-date information is invaluable".I also support the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), in regard to deaf children finding that they can read teletext pages at their own speed and thereby gain confidence in reading what is on the television screen—a skill that they rely on so much with subtitles. It can also help with education.
§ The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Lord Sanderson of Bowden)
I understood that we were discussing these amendments as a group, and perhaps the remarks I make can be taken by the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, as covering the points that she may want to make. I leave her to make that decision.
I should like to be clear as to what precisely we are doing. I understood from the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, that she intended to move her amendments in this group later and that we would debate them separately. Does that have the agreement of the Committee? Those amendments are in the names of the noble Baroness and myself. Are we to debate them separately after we have dealt with the present amendment or does the Minister propose that we deal with them together?
§ Baroness Birk
Perhaps I should explain the position. The amendments in my name are different from the other amendments in the group. I do not know how they came to be grouped together. However, the list of groupings states clearly that it is,open to any Peer to speak to an amendment in its place in the Marshalled List".It would probably cause confusion to include these amendments with those moved by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen. Moreover, it would be a little odd if I were to be given an answer to something I have not yet said.
§ Lord Swinfen
I agree with the noble Baroness. Clearly the Government, when preparing their briefs, should prepare answers to each of the amendments even if they wish, for their own convenience, to group them together. With the greatest respect to the powers that be, nobody ever troubles to telephone us to find out our views. Most of us are doing other work during the day and only come to the Chamber for Bills, or parts of them, in which we are specifically interested.
§ Lord Sanderson of Bowden
Members of the Committee are allowed to speak to any amendment that they move at the appropriate moment. I thought that it would be convenient for the Committee to hear my answer to the amendment moved as it might colour the views of those who wish to move later amendments. It would then be up to them.
I am pleased to be able to tell my noble friend that the Government broadly accept the principle behind this set of amendments. We will bring forward suitable government amendments at Report stage. That applies to all amendments in the group: Amendments Nos. 197, 198 to 201, 203 and 206.
We amended the Bill in another place to safeguard the position of a public teletext service under the additional services regime. The place for such a service is now protected by Clause 44(2). In making that amendment our intention was to ensure the continuation of a service with the same general characteristics as the present Oracle service, though not necessarily provided by Oracle. Since then, concern has been expressed that in the absence of positive regulation requirements as to the nature of the service it might not provide a wide range of information services in the way that Oracle does now. The fear was that it might instead provide specialist information services or consist largely of services other than information.
I have to say that the Government are not overwhelmed by the force of these arguments. Many of the public service features of teletext—news, travel reports, and so on—would, I suggest, continue to be provided in the absence of regulatory obligations simply because they are highly valued by viewers. However, the Government accept that there can be no certainty that services of that kind would be provided in the absence of regulation. For that reason we have concluded that it would be right to lay down some positive requirements for public teletext services.
Specifically, we propose that the Bill should require the service to include high quality news, including international news, and other information services, including regional information, and catering for a wide variety of interests. Those requirements are broadly in line with what has been proposed by the IBA. Taken together, they should ensure the continuation of a service which is recognisable to viewers of Oracle and Ceefax. We made clear that the amount of spare capacity to be allocated to a teletext service has yet to be determined and will be subject to careful consideration. These proposals do not imply that the public teletext service would occupy a greater proportion of the spare capacity of Channels 3 and 4 than we previously envisaged.
1340 My noble friend Lord Swinfen mentioned children's programmes, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs. I doubt whether a requirement to provide material for children is justified. I am interested in what they said and I shall look at what has been said. The provision of suitable programming for children has already been safeguarded by the addition which the Government made in another place to the quality threshold for Channels 3 and 5.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, also asked about high-quality programming. The requirements that we are proposing, taken together, should ensure the continuation of a service of comparable quality to that currently provided by Oracle. I doubt that a general requirement to provide high quality programming would add anything. Indeed it is hard to see what such a requirement would mean in practical terms in the context of a teletext service.
The operation of the quality threshold will be the same as for Channels 3 and 5 under our proposals. We intend that the winning applicant's proposals will be written into his licence and his performance against those promises will be monitored by the ITC. I withdraw my reference to Amendment No. 202 because I understand that it no longer exists although I have not checked.
§ Lord Swinfen
I thank my noble friend Lord Sanderson of Bowden for his response to my two amendments. I shall read what he has said with great interest. I look forward to seeing the amendments that he will be putting down in due course. I still reserve my right to table my amendments again. I may not like his amendments, although I suspect that his amendments will be better drafted than mine. I shall wait to see. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 197A not moved.]
Viscount Ullswater moved Amendments Nos. 197B and 197C:
Page 42, line 35, leave out ("other person") and insert ("person to whom this subsection applies").
Page 42, line 36, at end insert:
("(4A) Subsection (4) applies to any person who is not a disqualified person in relation to an additional services licence by virtue of Part II of Schedule 2 to this Act.").
§ The noble Viscount said: I spoke to these two amendments with Amendment No. 196B. I beg to move these amendments en bloc.
§ On Question, amendments agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 197D not moved.]
§ Clause 44, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 45 [Applications for additional services licences]:
Baroness Birk moved Amendment No. 198:
Page 43, line 22, at end insert ("and
(iii) where the licence is for the provision of the teletext service, that the licence is for the provision of that service;").
§ The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 199, 200, 201 and 203. As I believe the noble Lord, 1341 Lord Swinfen, accepts, these amendments are different from the amendment which he will move, I hope successfully, on Report. It is not because I do not want my amendments to be grouped with his but because I do not believe that the subject matter fits very easily with his amendment.
§ The first of these amendments requires the ITC to indicate to applicants that a separate teletext service is to be provided on an additional service licence. The insertion of this provision would avoid any confusion because it would ensure that a teletext provider is licensed for that service only and that a separate licence will be required for any other form of broadcasting service.
§ The amendment forces the ITC to make specific provision for teletext services as opposed to the language of the Bill which permits subtitling and other services. Amendments Nos. 199, 200 and 201 together provide public service broadcasting requirements for teletext services. Teletext is now received in a significant and increasing number of television homes. It is no longer a minority and purely supplementary service.
§ Therefore, we believe that it is now appropriate to subject teletext services to the same public service broadcasting requirements as those that apply to all other services transmitted on terrestrial television. These requirements comprise: first, a sufficient amount of high-quality national and international news and current affairs programmes; secondly, a sufficient amount of other high-quality programming; thirdly, programmes appealing to a variety of tastes and interests; and, fourthly, a sufficient amount of regional material.
§ Existing teletext services can and should continue to comply with these requirements. In the other place there was some confusion as to whether the Bill's other quality control requirements apply to teletext. This matter is dealt with in Hansard at cols. 589 and 874. These amendments make it absolutely clear that teletext services are required to be of the same standard as other TV services and provide a safeguard against a lowering of standards and any use of less savoury material. It is very important that this provision should be on the face of the Bill.
§ Amendment No. 203 retains the full exceptional circumstances provision for additional licences. Clause 46(4) (a) omits the cross-reference to that part of Section 17 which has the effect of defining and explaining the meaning of exceptional circumstances in which a licence could be awarded to other than the highest bidder. There is no reason why the full definition of exceptional circumstances should not apply to additional services' licences.
§ For those reasons paragraph (a) should be deleted and a cross-reference to Section 17(4) should consequently be retained. I appreciate that in detail these appear to be rather complicated amendments but, taken as a whole, I believe that the objective is quite clear. It is to maintain the standard of the 1342 teletext services and also to ensure that licences are granted only for them and do not apply to other broadcasting requirements. I beg to move.
§ 4.15 p.m.
As my name is attached to these amendments perhaps I may say a word or two, but not too many. It is my understanding of the Minister's earlier remarks that, broadly speaking, he accepted these amendments and he was going to take them away and return with something to the same effect. If that is the case then perhaps the less I say the better lest he should subsequently change his mind.
§ Baroness Birk
I do not know whether I am mistaken. I thought the Minister said that he would accept the two groups of amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen. He began to explain why he was not so happy about these amendments. If I am wrong I shall be delighted to be put right.
I am sorry, but I was speaking and the noble Baroness intervened. I believe that the noble Baroness is wrong and will subsequently he delighted. I believe that the Minister will confirm what he said a few moments ago. Without amendments of this kind there is no guarantee that the kind of teletext service that a very large number of people—6.8 million people at some personal cost—are now receiving will continue as it is. As a result of market forces if nothing else, there is no guarantee that that service will remain substantially the same. The Minister said earlier that most of the provisions will continue. He said that the news will continue. I remind him that the news service is, without doubt, the most expensive part of a teletext service. The news service would be in jeopardy if the provision was left purely to market forces and if there were no kind of prescription whatever.
The national commercial teletext service currently available on ITV on Channel 4 operates profitably, efficiently and continues to expand and develop. The rules governing the allocation of the net teletext franchise expose viewers to the danger of a severe curtailment of the service. That is what we think. The Minister does not wholly accept that there is that danger but I assure him that there probably is. I hope I am right in thinking that he said that the Government are aware of the difficulties.
At an earlier stage in another place the Government made it clear that they wished to see a commercial public teletext service provided broadly along the present lines. That is not likely to happen unless there are certain consequential amendments. The amendments before us are those consequential amendments but I should be grateful for any other consequential amendments from the Government Benches. I hope that the noble Lord will presently tell me that I was right in my understanding of what he said to the Committee a little earlier.
§ Lord Goodman
I must apologise. One thing is not yet obvious. If one suffers from a disability which makes it difficult to get to one's feet, one has very little chance of speaking in this Chamber.
1343 I came here this afternoon with one object only. I was skilfully and successfully lobbied by what I may call the teletext lobby. It persuaded me that it had a good case. The Minister made an encouraging remark about his intention to embody the substance of various amendments. I want to ask whether that undertaking extends to all the four conditions contained in Amendment No. 141.
§ Lord Swinfen
I support the amendments. Perhaps I may say to the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, that I shall always be delighted to be grouped with her.
§ Lord Sanderson of Bowden
This has been a useful exchange. I thank the noble Baroness for moving the amendment and for making clear her concerns. I shall want to look closely at what she has said when we come to produce our own amendments for Report stage. I repeat my commitment that we are accepting the principle behind this set of amendments. That covers all the amendments and all parts of them. The noble Lord, Lord Goodman, asked me a direct question. Yes, indeed, we shall look most carefully at those points. My noble friend Lord Ullswater informed the Committee on 11th July that the Government intended to bring that teletext service within the consumer protection requirements in the advertising provisions in Clauses 6 and 9 of the Bill. That is only half the story. The other half has to be dealt with by amendments which we wish to bring forward at Report.
I shall make one further comment at this stage. Exceptional circumstances will apply but we are not planning to introduce an equivalent to Clause 17(4). That is simply because that provision bites on the quality test. As has been explained before, that test does not really work for teletext.
I shall read carefully what the noble Baroness has said. The spirit of her amendments and of the amendments moved by my noble friend will be taken into account in the amendments that we bring forward at Report stage.
§ Baroness Birk
I thank the Minister for that very good and quite unexpected news. I owe the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, an apology. However, I thought it was important to get the matter in detail on the record. I understand that the Government will bring forward amendments at Report to deal with the hardships explained by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, and that they are accepting the public service implications of my amendments. If that is so, I thank the Minister and eagerly await what the Government bring forward. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 45 agreed to.
§ Clause 46 [Procedure to be followed by Commission in connection with consideration of applications for, and awarding of, licences]:
§ [Amendments Nos. 199 to 201 not moved.]
§ [Amendment No. 202 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]1344
§ [Amendment No. 203 not moved.]
Viscount Ullswater moved Amendment No. 203A:
Page 44, line 44, leave out ("subsection (4)") and insert ("the provisions of subsection (4) down to the end of paragraph (b)").
§ The noble Viscount said: I spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 196B. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Lord Sanderson of Bowden moved Amendment No.
Page 44, line 45, leave out from beginning to ("and") in line 46.
§ The noble Lord said: This amendment was spoken to with Amendment No. 109. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Viscount Ullswater moved Amendments Nos. 204A and 204B:
Page 45, line 6, leave out from second ("that") to ("or") in line 7 and insert ("none of the services in question will be provided once the licence has come into force,").
Page 45, line 9, leave out from first ("that") to end of line 10 and insert ("none of those services will be so provided,").
§ The noble Viscount said: These amendments have already been spoken to. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendments agreed to.
Lord Sanderson of Bowden moved Amendment No.205:
Page 45, line 12, leave out ("revoke the licence,") and insert ("serve on him a notice revoking the licence as from the time the notice is served on him,").
§ The noble Lord said: This amendment was spoken to with Amendment No. 135. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Viscount Ullswater moved Amendment No. 205A:
Page 45, line 17, leave out ("he will not provide the services in question") and insert ("none of the services in question will be provided").
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 46, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 47 agreed to.
§ Clause 48 [Duration of licences, and renewal of licences for provision of services on assigned frequencies]:
§ [Amendment No. 206 not moved.]
Lord Sanderson of Bowden moved Amendment No. 207:
Page 47, line 47, leave out from ("holder") to end of line 3 on page 48.
§ The noble Lord said: This amendment was spoken to with Amendment No. 154. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 48, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 49 agreed to.
§ Clause 50 [Enforcement of additional services licences]:
Viscount Ullswater moved Amendment No. 207A:
Page 48, line 18, after ("pay") insert (", within a specified period,").
§ The noble Viscount said: This amendment was spoken to with Amendment No. 196B. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 50, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 51 agreed to.
§ Schedule 4 [The Welsh Authority: Supplementary Provisions]:
Viscount Ullswater moved Amendment No. 207B:
Page 162, leave out lines 20 and 21.
§ The noble Viscount said: This amendment removes the disqualification in paragraph 5 of Schedule 4 on members of the Welsh Authority being members of the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Broadcasting Act 1931 allowed members of S4C to be Members of the House of Commons or the Northern Ireland Assembly. Since S4C is to be supported by moneys voted by Parliament under the Bill, we considered that there was a possible conflict of interest between membership of the Welsh Authority and membership of the House of Commons. However, on reflection we see no conflict of interest between membership of the Welsh Authority and membership of the Northern Ireland Assembly if it is reconstituted. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Schedule 4, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clauses 52 and 53 agreed to.
§ Clause 54 [Requirements to be complied with in relation to S4C programmes]:
Lord Sanderson of Bowden moved Amendments Nos. 208 and 209:
Page 50, line 23, leave out ("and") and insert:
("(cc) that due responsibility is exercised with respect to the content of any of its programmes which are religious programmes, and that in particular any such programmes do not involve—
- (i) any improper exploitation of any susceptibilities of those watching the programmes, or
- (ii) any abusive treatment of the religious views and beliefs of those belonging to a particular religion or religious denomination; and").
Page 50, line 35, leave out from ("policy") to end of line 37.
§ The noble Lord said: These amendments were spoken to with Amendment No. 9. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendments agreed to.
§ Clause 54, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 55 [Advertising on S4C]:
§ 4.30 p.m.
Viscount Ullswater moved Amendment No. 210:
Page 51, line 18, leave out ("that connection") and insert ("respect of such matters").
§ The noble Viscount said: Amendment No. 210 is a minor drafting improvement to Clause 55(3), in line with similar amendments to other advertising clauses in the Bill. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 55, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clauses 56 to 60 agreed to.
§ Clause 61 [Requirements relating to transmission of Channels 3, 4 and 5 and S4C]:1346
Viscount Ullswater moved Amendment No. 210A:
Page 54, line 13, leave out ("a") and insert ("the").
§ The noble Viscount said: This amendment is purely a drafting one. It reflects the fact that there will he only one licence to provide Channel 4 in force at any one time. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 61, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 62 agreed to.
§ Schedule 5 agreed to.
§ Clause 63 [Certain receipts of Commission to be paid into Consolidated Fund]:
Lord Sanderson of Bowden moved Amendment No. 211:
Page 54, line 41, leave out ("or forfeited to them under section 18") and insert ("to them by virtue of section 18(7)").
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 211, which was spoken to with Amendment No. 209.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 63, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clauses 64 to 66 agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 211ZA not moved.]
§ Clause 67 [Local delivery services]:
§ [Amendment No. 211A not moved.]
§ Clause 67 agreed to.
§ Clause 68 [Licensing of local delivery services]:
Viscount Ullswater moved Amendment No. 211AA:
Page 57, line 32, leave out ("the services in question are to be provided") and insert ("such licences authorise the provision of such services").
§ The noble Viscount said: This minor amendment is simply a drafting improvement. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Viscount Ullswater moved Amendment No. 211B:
Page 58, line 3, leave out ("other person") and insert ("person to whom this subsection applies").
§ The noble Viscount said: With this amendment I should like to speak to Amendments Nos. 211C, 211D and 217B.
§ The first two amendments—that is, Nos. 211B and 211C—to Clause 68 are intended to make clear that a person who is disqualified from holding a local delivery licence by virtue of Part II of Schedule 2 cannot be authorised by the licensee to provide a service as a sub-licensee. The third amendment, No. 211D, is a drafting improvement to clarify that any licence conditions apply also to any sub-licensee.
§ Amendment No. 217B to Clause 71 fulfils a commitment made by my honourable friend the Minister of State in another place. It makes clear that the exceptional circumstances provision could apply where an applicant for a local delivery licence was offering to provide a service covering a substantially greater area than the highest bidder. I beg to move Amendment No. 211B.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.1347
Viscount Ullswater moved Amendments Nos. 211C and 211D:
Page 58, line 5, at end insert:
("(5A) Subsection (5) applies to any person who is not a disqualified person in relation to a local delivery licence by virtue of Part II of Schedule 2 to this Act.").
Page 58, line 7, leave out ("any such provision of a local delivery service") and insert ("the provision of the licensed service to any extent").
§ The noble Viscount said: I beg to move Amendments Nos. 211C and 211D, to which I spoke with Amendment No. 211B.
§ Viscount Ullswater
I do not know if I can help the Committee, but I sought to group that with Amendment No. 211 B and I spoke to it.
§ Baroness Birk
The specific matter on which I wanted to speak was Amendment No. 217B. As I understand it, that defines the exceptional circumstances in relation to cable services as being when the applicant's technical plan proposes to cover a substantially greater area than the highest bidder. Exceptional circumstances for the Channel 3 applicant are defined as a service of substantially or exceptionally higher quality, but this amendment implies that the greater the potential audience the better the service. I do not think that that follows.
The intention seems to be to encourage cable services to undertake the connection of a greater number of households. It does not mean that the quality of service provided to the public will be better. If this is so, why are the Government not applying a similar test of exceptional circumstances as the definition of substantially or exceptional higher quality for Channel 3 licences? If the number of houses cabled up may be the key to securing a licence, do the Government accept that the viewers in that area will probably have to accept a lower quality bid?
Recently Oftel criticised the existing cable franchise holders for not fulfilling their plans for households as promised. This amendment seems to be a rather curious way of encouraging the connection of cable services to the public.
The key problem for the cable operators has been lack of investment in the infrastructure. As the recent OFTEL report criticised the failure of the existing cable operators to fulfil their agreed targets for cabling, do the Government have any evidence to confirm that the technical plans for coverage proposed for new local delivery licence will be met in practice? Could the Minister tell us what proportion or number of homes in any cable district would be regarded as substantially greater in order to secure successfully a local delivery licence in exceptional circumstances?
This amendment may achieve an increase in the number of houses cabled up, but it is certainly marginal to the broader financial problems of the cable sector and also to the reliance on stability of quality. I therefore object to it.
§ Viscount Ullswater
The difference between the Channel 3 regions and the cable areas is that the 1348 regions cover the whole countryside; the cable areas do not. The noble Baroness almost answered her own question by saying that there had been a distinct lack of investment. The coverage is the main issue here. It would be possible for a cable operator to cable up a very densely populated area and bid a higher price than it would if it had to extend that cabling to include outlying areas.
That was the exceptional circumstance that was considered. It was considered as an amendment to the Bill in another place. In my original remarks I sought to say that it fulfilled a commitment that had been made by my honourable friend the Minister in another place. The technical quality of the services will still be regulated by Oftel.
§ Baroness Birk
I thank the Minister for that reply. I heard him say before that there had been a commitment, but, as we are examining the Bill now, naturally we are not bound by that ourselves in Committee at this moment. As he quite rightly said, I also pointed out the cash problem and the problem of setting up an infrastructure. However, it makes it all the more worrying to try to solve the problem that way because it does not solve the problem and may result in a wrong definition of better quality. According to the Bill, it appears to depend on greater coverage. If, as the Minister agrees, there appears to be a scarcity of cash with regard to cabling, the only result will be cheaper and worse programmes.
§ Viscount Ullswater
I sought to stress that that would not be the case. Coverage is an important factor and cannot be considered in the same way when one talks about a Channel 3 licence. The application procedure will not relate to programme quality. I sought to demonstrate that point.
§ On Question, amendments agreed to.
§ Clause 68, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 69 [Applications for local delivery licences]:
Lord Rees moved Amendment No. 212:
Page 58, line 31, at beginning insert ("Subject to subsection (2A),").
§ The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendment No. 213. Both amendments stand in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Elliott of Morpeth. In so doing, I should declare an interest as a director of a company that has been awarded a cable television or local delivery franchise.
§ As the Committee is no doubt well aware, Clause 69 provides that the commission shall, among other things, specify the fee payable by an applicant on any application for a franchise for a local delivery service and a percentage of the qualifying revenue for each accounting period that would be payable by an applicant under Clause 72 if he were successful and were granted a licence. The commission is empowered but is not obliged by Clause 69(2) to specify different percentages for different accounting periods and may even specify a nil percentage in relation to any accounting period. However, that is absolutely in its 1349 discretion. It is not mandatory that it should specify a nil percentage and I am told that it will be difficult to challenge its determination in the courts.
§ Or present experience, it takes a considerable period before the large investment needed to cable the houses in a franchise area and to connect them with, for example, a telephone system can be recouped. Not to put too fine a point on it, there may be losses for some years. It seems to me and to other of my noble friends that the Bill does not adequately provide for that. If it is sensitive, the commission may fix a small annual percentage, but it is a prospective determination. It is not obliged to fix any particular percentage and, so far as I can see, it has no power to alter the percentage retrospectively if, as events unfold, the percentage proves to be unduly demanding of the applicant.
§ The point of the amendments is to ensure that a nil percentage operates for any period when the qualifying revenue defined in the Bill would be insufficient to provide a proper return on the initial capital costs of embarking on this expensive undertaking. If the Government were not minded to accept the amendments, the consequences would be as follows. First, many people would be deterred from tendering at all. It must narrow the field. Secondly, it might deter applicants from installing a wide range of services for the householders. On one of the previous amendments only a few moments ago the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, referred to doubts about proper investment in the infrastructure. Again, that might be a consequence if the Government took too harsh a view. Finally and paradoxically, it might even lead the commission, if it were in a sensitive frame of mind, to fix too low a percentage so as to cover the possibility that there might be a loss in certain years. As I said, there might even be a loss to the public revenue.
§ My noble friend the Minister is well known for his courtesy and fairness and will, I am sure, see the point of these modest amendments. I hope that he will see that justice is done and accept them. I beg to move.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Lord Elliott of Morpeth
I should like to support my noble friend in his moving of the amendment. In doing so, I too declare an interest. I am chairman of a cable company.
Speaking to the previous amendment, the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, quite rightly suggested that there had been a great reluctance on the part of investors to invest in cable and the cable industry in general, which had held up the advance of this new and exciting industry. However, things have changed rapidly. We now have a great deal of investment, the major portion of it coming from North America and Canada. The cable industry is now poised and ready to give great service to the country, not only in the narrow sphere of television programmes but in the many services that will emanate from the introduction of the cable industry into our country.
As my noble friend said, the purpose of the amendments is to give confidence to the cable industry. It has lacked confidence. We need to 1350 encourage it. Through legislation, we need to give it a go-ahead and not in any way hold it back. If the amendments are accepted the cable industry will receive considerable encouragement; so I have great pleasure in supporting them.
I understand the concern behind my noble friend's amendment. He wants to ensure that local delivery operators are not required to pay a percentage of their revenue during their early years before they have moved into profit. That is an understandable and perfectly honourable position to take. I sympathise with that aim. That is why the Bill enables the Independent Television Commission—exceptionally in the case of local delivery licences—to set the percentage of qualifying revenue at nil for any specified years.
Before advertising franchises, the ITC will no doubt estimate the financial prospects of the future franchise holder. It will therefore have a good idea of the time that it will take him to move into profit. That forecast will be important when the ITC comes to set the minimum price. The ITC will be guided in the use of its discretion to set that price at nil for a certain period by its general duty in Clause 2 to discharge its functions so as to ensure that there is a wide range of services available throughout the United Kingdom. There will clearly be a strong case to set the percentage at nil for the period before the franchise holder could be expected to move into cumulative profit.
However, I see difficulty in taking the further step proposed by my noble friend which will require the ITC to set the percentage at nil during that period. The problem is one of timing. The minimum licence price will be set at the point at which the franchise is advertised. At this stage, the ITC may be able to forecast the financial prospects of the eventual franchise holder, but it will not know them for certain, so it would be unable to comply with a requirement of the kind that my noble friend proposes.
Furthermore, it must be remembered that potential applicants will be aware of the minimum licence price before they make their applications. If the ITC were to set unrealistic figures, there would be no applicants and the ITC would need to reconsider the terms of the advertisement. That would therefore be an effective check on unreasonable behaviour by the ITC. I believe that my noble friend seeks to enable the ITC to offer a licence to a variety of applicants who will know the conditions when they make their offer. The ITC may anticipate a nil percentage of qualifying revenue for the first few years. Out of the various applicants, one will be given the licence. When he finds that he has not moved into a state of profit by the time the first qualifying revenue is required, my noble friend wants the ITC to say, "Oh dear, you have not moved into profit. You need not pay any qualifying revenue this year". That would not be appropriate because the licensee will have obtained his licence in open competition with others.
There are further complications. If we were to accept the amendments other parts of the Bill would be affected. If, as my noble friend suggests, the ITC were obliged to set the qualifying revenue at nil for 1351 local delivery operators until they come into a state of profit, one might ask why that should apply only to local delivery operators. Why should it not apply also to television and radio licensees? Those affected by other parts of the Bill will understandably say, "If local delivery operators do not have to pay the qualifying revenue until they are in a position of profit, what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Why should that not be the case for us as well"?
I understand my noble friend's position and what he seeks to achieve. When he looks at the matter, I hope that he will realise that he is asking for a change in the Bill's underlying philosophy.
§ Lord Rees
My noble friend has not fallen short of his normal standard of courtesy, but he has, if he will allow me to say so, fallen short of his normal standard of perceptive appreciation of what is being moved. I am not asking for any favours for any one applicant. All applicants will be tendering on the same basis—all in the knowledge that if for any year they were unable to recoup their capital outlay, a nil percentage would be specified. There would be fairness. I take his point about the provision spilling over into other parts of the Bill. I have to say, I hope with suitable diffidence and humility, that it may be that other parts of the Bill deserve closer consideration, but it is not for me to suggest that to my noble friend.
If my noble friend were to reflect a little longer—I know that he has given great thought to every part of the Bill, and we have admired his mastery of a complex subject—and say that he and I might possibly have words before we reach Report stage, I should be disposed to withdraw the amendment. I hope that he will be able to accommodate me to that extent. I hope I do no injustice to him, and I do not want to sound discourteous, but it seems to me that his brief may well have been drafted by his devoted officials who have not fully grasped the point that I was endeavouring to make, however lamely.
My noble friend never makes a point lamely. I entirely understand the point that he has made. If he has not understood what I said, that was no doubt the part of my speech that was not drafted by my officials but to which I gave vent myself.
I shall be delighted to speak to my noble friend about this issue because I do not want to misunderstand him. I want to make the point—to make it clear that I have understood this aright—that when a person applies to the ITC for a local delivery operator's licence, there might be a number of applicants. Part of the process will include the knowledge that there might, for instance, be a three-year period when no qualifying revenue will be payable. All applicants will know that in advance, and it is upon that that they will base their applications.
Out of six or 10 applications, one applicant will receive the licence. I believe that my noble friend is saying that when that one person has the cherry, as it were, he will begin to operate his licence, and if at the end of three years he is not in profit, of course he will 1352 not have paid the qualifying revenue fee. However, if in the fourth year he also finds that he is not in profit, perhaps as a result of bad management or whatever, my noble friend is saying that the ITC should be able to say to him, "You are not in profit so you need not pay the revenue this year". It would be difficult to maintain that position when that person has tendered against other applicants. I shall of course take into account what my noble friend has said. If I have it wrong and if he wishes to see me, I shall be delighted.
Before my noble friend withdraws the amendment, perhaps I may be impertinent and suggest that there is a mischief in it in that the ITC's power to set a percentage must, in principle, not be mandatory but discretionary. His amendment provides that the setting of the nil percentage be mandatory. That is a mischief. Perhaps he will be good enough to consider that point before he brings back the matter on Report.
§ Lord Rees
Perhaps I may correct one point. It would be mandatory only for whoever tendered and whose application was successful in the event of him being unable to recoup, by a fairly rigid definition, his capital outlay. In view of the courteous words of my noble friend the Minister and in the hope that we may be able to find common ground before Report stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 213 not moved.]
Lord Thomson of Monifieth moved Amendment No. 213A:
Page 58, line 38, at end insert:
("(aa) the applicant's proposals for providing a service that would comply with the requirement specified in section 70(1) (c)").
§ The noble Lord said: The amendment is grouped with Amendments Nos. 215A and 217A. The three amendments seek to apply a relevant quality threshold to the allocation of local delivery licences. The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, on a previous amendment discussed the Government's view of what created exceptional circumstances in terms of the quality of the application of a local delivery licence. It appeared at that point that the Government's main criterion was the size of the area for which the applicant was prepared to bid.
§ The amendments seek to apply qualitative criteria in terms of the quality of the service that the local delivery operator will bring to bear in the area that he serves. Taken together they, first, stipulate that an applicant must include programmes for local programming in the application to the ITC for a licence.
§ Amendment No. 215A requires the ITC to include those proposals for local programming in the information about the application which must be published. The third amendment stipulates that the ITC cannot consider any application which does not include those proposals.
§ I know as well as any one the difficulties that the development of cable systems in this country has faced, how sluggish that development has been, and 1353 how, despite the Government's pride in the creation of an enterprise economy, the only enterprise that has begun to get cable moving has been achieved by inviting American entrepreneurs to do the job. What concerns us on this side of the House is that there is a tremendously important and absolutely vital opportunity open to those who hold local delivery licences; that the provision of local programming. All the evidence of broadcasting in this country has shown that there is a great thirst for purely local programming. In the case of television and terrestrial television, technology has made the development in a small area rather difficult, though it is possible that some of the difficulties may be overcome by technology.
§ Cable offers the opportunity for genuinely local programming. It ought, in our view, to be an essential condition of enjoying one of these local delivery licences. A number of the present operators already provide local programming in one way or another to some degree. For example, Aberdeen Cable currently runs an access channel, with all the programming being produced by local non-profit-making organisations. Swindon, Coventry and Clyde, to take a wide geographical range, also provide local programming produced by local organisations.
I was interested to note the comment made by Richard Dunn, the current managing director of Thames Television and chairman of the ITV Association. He cut his teeth originally in his broadcasting career in Swindon. Recently, in connection with his early experience of Swindon, he said:
I think that the government would be wise to make a condition of cable franchises, that there is some facility for local community programming. That there are community organisation facilities, and that there is requirement on the cable operator to provide that and to encourage local people to participate. I think without that it is probable it won't happen in most areas".
§ That is, without statutory encouragement. It is that statutory encouragement that these amendments seek to bring about. I beg to move.
§ 5 p.m.
§ Baroness Birk
I support the amendments dealt with by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth. He explained them all so clearly that I do not wish to rehearse it all again. I wish to stress that Amendment No. 213A, which he moved clearly and powerfully, concerns local programming, which is enormously important, and we have heard in previous amendments of some of the financial problems that cable companies have had. It is possible to rely on syndicated national or even international satellite to cable channels. It can be less expensive both in money and personnel to take these programmes rather than to introduce local programming. However, curiously enough, cable is a particularly useful potential medium for providing local programming unless commercial pressures cause operators to prefer syndicated material.
I agree with the noble Lord that if one is to bring this about, it is no good just expressing pious hopes and trying to bring them into the Bill, which would be 1354 quite wrong. The provision needs to be built in. When we look at the provisions in the Bill we should be concerned not with profits for the operators but service to the viewers. That means that the viewer receives a better quality and more interesting service if local programming is built into the Bill. I entirely agree with everything the noble Lord said on Amendments Nos. 215A and 217A and I hope that the Government will accept them.
As the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, explained, his amendments would introduce a discretionary procedure for the award of local delivery franchises by the Independent Television Commission. The noble Lord moved Amendment No. 213A and we are discussing Amendments Nos. 213A, 215, 215A, 216, 217A and 219A. Under Amendments Nos. 215 and 216 the Independent Television Commission would have to choose between applicants on the basis of criteria relating to programming and technical matters and the response by applicants to any comments which had been made by the public on their original proposals. There would be no cash bid under this procedure. Under the other amendments the extent to which local programming was provided would be important.
As the Bill stands, applicants would first have to satisfy the ITC about their technical competence and their business plans. That would be a first prerequisite. The licence would then, other than in exceptional circumstances, be awarded to the applicant who had submitted the highest cash bid. This strikes us as a fair and open way of allocating local delivery licences.
The regulatory system under the Bill deliberately distinguishes between the person who provides the service—that is, the cable or local delivery operator; for example, Swindon Cable or Westminster Cable—and the person who provides the programmes; for example, Sky or Vision Channel. This was a deliberate departure from the present regime in recognition of the fact that the cable industry has developed in such a way that the cable operator does not, with limited exceptions, have much editorial control over the programmes which he carries. In the main, he simply retails programme services which are provided by others.
Local delivery operators will essentially offer viewers a convenient means of receiving a wide range of channels, most of which would be available to them by other means such as satellite. The range of channels which different applicants would propose to carry would be unlikely to differ significantly from them. As such, it would be difficult for the Independent Television Commission to make a sensible discretionary judgment based solely on programming criteria.
I also doubt whether a requirement to provide local programming would be apt against this commercial background. Local programming has proved to be extremely popular where it has been provided. I have little doubt that it will continue, and indeed grow and improve in quality, over the coming years. An operator will be successful only if he provides the mix 1355 and range of programming which the viewer likes and values. However, this should be a commercial decision for him and not a matter for the regulator.
I acknowledge that the criteria which are proposed by the noble Lord and the noble Baroness draw on similar discretionary powers in the Cable and Broadcasting Act 1984 for the award of cable franchises. However, I do not think that I am giving away any secrets if I say that the cable authority has not found it possible to give as much weight to programming criteria as to other considerations in reaching its decisions. The authority has, quite properly, found it appropriate to take careful account of whether applicants have the technical and financial resources to build a cable network. In constructing this Bill, we have learnt from the authority's experiences and have expressly provided in the Bill that the ITC should have to satisfy itself on these matters. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, will see the reason why we have put it in the Bill.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
I fully follow the Government's reasoning and I am not surprised by what the Minister said. However, the Government are missing a great opportunity with the new Broadcasting Bill to take a fresh look at the cable situation. I teased the noble Earl sitting on the Government Bench a little about the fact that the enterprise economy and cable had to await American enterprise coming in. Nevertheless, it has come in. Cable is said to be on the move. The chairman of the Cable Authority told me the other day that he was happy, now that he is about to give up office towards the end of the year, that he will leave two-thirds of the households in Britain, I think he said, within reach of franchises that have been awarded to licensees. Whether the transmitters will be erected and at what pace is of course another matter.
There is the opening of a fresh chapter—those who believe in cable believe it is a fresh chapter—in the development of cable. I should have thought that that fresh chapter offered the opportunity to enhance the range of services that are available to people on their television screens. However, I keep saying that it does not matter tuppence to the ordinary viewer how the programme reaches his screen or whether it is from the BBC, ITV, Channel 3, BSB or Sky. It is the nature of the programme that is important to him.
Cable offers an opportunity for a much wider range of programmes than is possible with the terrestrial system. The Minister conceded that local programming is popular programming. If it is properly done, it should also be profitable programming. However, the truth is that it is too easy for cable local delivery operators, faced with the kind of commercial pressures that they are under, simply to become, as the Minister has said, retailers of syndicated services from the outside world.
It is a great pity that the Government are content to leave the matter like that. Under the current cable legislation I understand that, although it is not obligatory to have local programming as part of a package, many of those who apply for these licences 1356 have in perfectly good faith put forward propositions for running local programming. However, under commercial pressures they have sometimes dropped those proposals quite quickly. I believe that in the United States it is a condition of obtaining a local licence that the licensee provides local programming. The Federal Communications Commission in the United States would not let companies get away with not providing local programming. However, I wish to put the matter positively. Here we have a new opportunity with a new Bill and with a cable system that will be available—that is what is claimed—to a substantial proportion of British viewers. I am deeply disappointed that the Government have not felt able to take a more positive attitude towards this aspect of the development of cable.
I have often been in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, and I stretch myself to reach agreement with him. The noble Lord said that it was a pity for the Government to leave the matter like that. I believe those were the words he used. The noble Lord was referring to local delivery operators being purveyors of other people's wares. He will know much more about this matter than I do, but I believe that that is the way that most local delivery operators work. They do not make the programmes themselves and they are not constructors. They have what other people make and they put those programmes into the cable system. If one is to award a franchise, it is difficult to start to take into account the kind of mixture that a cable operator will provide.
The noble Lord, Lord Thomson, said that local programmes are popular. That is perfectly true. If such programmes are popular, local delivery operators will provide them because they will make money out of doing so. We have changed from the original system under the present legislation because we found that the cable authority did not find it appropriate to give much weight to what local delivery operators were providing from the point of view of programming for the very reason that most of the latter used other people's wares. I hope I may put it in that way. It is not the case that the Government are being rather unenterprising in this matter.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
I can see that I shall not move the Government any further on this matter. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 5.15 p.m.
Baroness Birk moved Amendment No. 214:
Page 58, line 42, after ("service") insert ("and the provision proposed by the applicant for the reception and immediate transmission of the programmes included in the television broadcasting service provided by the BBC (and Channel 4 and S4C) for reception in that area.").
§ The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 217, 222 and 223. These amendments apply to the must-carry obligations of cable TV in respect of the main terrestrial TV services. It has been said, although I do not know by whom, that no self-respecting cable supplier will offer a service that does not include other 1357 terrestrial channels. In the new environment it might equally be said that no broadcaster will supply more than is strictly required by the Bill.
§ Cable services have operated and will continue to operate under different and less exacting standards than the main terrestrial channels which are constrained by the requirement to operate under certain public service broadcasting criteria. These criteria are based upon the notion that all citizens should have access to the same range of quality material. Therefore it is important that cable services should continue to carry such material.
§ The Bill repeals the provisions of the Cable and Broadcasting Act 1984 which obliged broad band cable operators to carry BBC channels on their cable services or ensure that they were available to customers as part of the package. Therefore there was a potential problem for MVDS providers offering a limited number of channels and for some cable systems as the 1984 Act required them to carry nine channels designated as public service channels, including ITV and DBS, in addition to their own services. However, transmission systems are changing and it is interesting to note that experience in other countries such as the United States has shown that aerials are no longer properly maintained once areas go over to cable. In other words the infrastructure of terrestrial channels crumbles as cable takes over.
§ Legislation which is currently being considered by Congress would ensure must-carry protection for public service channels, taking account of the capacity of cable services. If such safeguards are not incorporated in our own legislation, cable operators will be able to take advantage of the removal of the important must-carry requirement by dropping one or more of the terrestrial services. Licence payers who do not have cable—either they do not want it or they cannot afford it—could find that they no longer have access to public service channels. Cable operators would no doubt wish to offer BBC I as part of any package designed to attract customers. However, BBC 2 and Channel 4 could be less attractive commercially than, for example, a revenue earning subscription service offering a share to the cable operator.
§ We believe that BBC 1, BBC 2 and Channel 4, which remain designated as public service broadcasting channels under the Bill, should continue to be available to all viewers irrespective of the form in which they receive their television signal. At present these channels are available to 99 per cent. of the population through terrestrial transmitters. Although cable has so far developed more slowly than expected in this country, amendments made to the Bill may encourage franchise holders to commit new investment.
§ It would be ironic if as a result of the Bill a delivery system which could complement the terrestrial services' aspirations to universal coverage were instead to curtail the availability of the channels whose public service remit the Bill confirms. This must-carry obligation is covered for cable suppliers in the amendments I am speaking to which seek to ensure 1358 that national services are automatically available to subscribers. The amendments are crucial to the Bill. I beg to move.
§ Lord Bonham-Carter
I wish to support this amendment on the must-carry obligations. As the noble Baroness rightly said, this position has been brought about by the repeal of the provisions of the 1984 Cable and Broadcasting Act which obliged companies to carry the public service broadcasting channels on cable. Bearing in mind the capacity that cable has, I do not understand why the Government should have deliberately acted as they have. One sometimes gets the impression that they feel public service broadcasting is in some way dangerous to the health of the community. I believe that if one pays a licence fee, one should be allowed to see the programmes which the public service broadcasters on the BBC and on Channel 4 are providing.
It is now the case that in some places,—such as Milton Keynes, one is not allowed to have a television aerial and therefore one has to have cable in order to receive television services. That is a different reason from those explained by the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, which are perfectly true, concerning the fact that where there is cable people do not maintain their aerials. If one is an inhabitant of a new town such as Milton Keynes and if these amendments are not included in the Bill, one might be deprived of all public service television programmes. That seems to me to be wrong both in principle and in practice.
I hope very much that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, will help us on this point because it is a matter of real public importance that public service broadcasting should be available to as wide a public as possible. At present it is available to 99 per cent. of those who have television sets. As the noble Baroness said, it would be truly ironic if the passage of the Bill were to reduce the number of people who have access to public service programmes.
I should like to point out to the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, that his point about aerials in Milton Keynes is not valid. It is quite clear that he has not been crawling around in an attic trying to install an aerial. Most modern aerials will work internally and do not have to be attached externally to a chimney stack or the roof. That is not a fair point.
The fundamental issue is that broadcasting is only one of the services that can be carried on a cable. There are a myriad other services that can also be carried on cable. It is important that Her Majesty's Government should stress the fact that the more quickly the country is cabled up the better it will be for the telecommunications structure of the country generally. That will be helped by the provisions of the Bill. For that reason I support every encouragement being given to the cable companies to dig into the ground and lay cables for the provision of services, not just broadcasting services.
§ Lord Sanderson of Bowden
Having heard what the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, and the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, have said about the amendment, it is right that I should clarify the position regarding 1359 the Government's view on the "must-carry" obligations. Our general approach is that cable operators should be free to decide on commercial grounds which channels to carry and so we do not intend to continue the "must-carry" rule unnecessarily into the future. We therefore propose that local delivery operators licensed under the proposed new regime and new SMATV operators should not have any "must-carry" obligations but that cable operators licensed under the existing regime should retain their "must-carry" obligations.
A large number of existing operators will either opt to continue or will have no choice but to continue under the existing regime. So there are likely to be a considerable number of cable systems which will have "must-carry" obligations. Some new operators will not have those obligations, but given the present popularity and reach of the terrestrial services they are likely to form an essential part of any package which is attractive to subscribers. It is up to the BBC and Channel 4 to ensure that that remains the case by continuing to provide services well regarded by the viewers. Indeed the same applies to Channel 3 licensees who would not be caught by the amendments. I know that that will come as a disappointment to those who have moved the amendment.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Morris that these days one does not need to have an aerial on the roof. However, Channel 4 and BBC 2 will continue to be available to all viewers, who will have to have an aerial. I believe that this is where we part company with noble Lords opposite on the philosophy behind this part of the Bill. I cannot accept the amendments.
Before the noble Lord sits down, I should like him to clarify one point. I listened to him with great care but I fear that my hearing is not as acute as perhaps it should be. I seem to recollect that at one stage in his remarks he referred to certain operators retaining the "must-carry" obligation. Can he explain that and tell me who those operators are?
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
Would the noble Lord care to expand on the rationale behind having two classes of cable operator?
§ Lord Sanderson of Bowden
The intention is to move to a situation in which there is more choice for those operating cable services. That is why we feel at this stage that the "must-carry" rule should not apply to all who are involved in the transmission of cable.
§ Baroness Birk
It is very interesting that the Minister should say in answer to the question put to him by my noble friend Lord Thomson of Monifieth that the Government believe that there must be more choice for cable operators. He did not say anything about the choice or lack of choice for the viewer. That seems to sum up the position.
This is an extremely important part of the Bill. It should balance what we have tried to include in the 1360 Bill regarding the terrestrial channels and radio. The Minister's reply was so dismally uncompromising that I shall divide the Committee.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 214) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 84; Not-Contents, 123.1361
|Division No. 1|
|Addington, L.||Lawrence, L.|
|Airedale, L.||Leatherland, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||Listowel, E.|
|Aylestone, L.||Liverpool, Bp.|
|Birk, B.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.|
|Blease, L.||Lockwood, B.|
|Bonham-Carter, L.||Longford, E.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Mason of Barnsley, L.|
|Bottomley, L.||Mayhew, L.|
|Bradford, Bp.||Molloy, L.|
|Brain, L.||Monson, L.|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Morris of Castle Morris, L.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Mulley, L.|
|Carter, L.||Nicol, B.|
|Cledwyn of Perhos, L.||Ogmore, L.|
|Clinton-Davis, L.||Oram, L.|
|David, B.||Peston, L.|
|Davies of Penrhys, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Diamond, L.||Prys-Davies, L.|
|Ennals, L.||Richard, L.|
|Ewart-Biggs, B.||Ritchie of Dundee, L.|
|Falkland, V.||Robson of Kiddington, B.|
|Foot, L.||Russell, E.|
|Gallacher, L.||Seear, B.|
|Galpern, L.||Serota, B.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L. [Teller]||Shackleton, L.|
|Grey, E.||Shepherd, L.|
|Hampton, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Harris of Greenwich, L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Hatch of Lusby, L.||Swann, L.|
|Hirshfield, L.||Thomson of Monifieth, L.|
|Hollis of Heigham, B.||Tordoff, L.|
|Howie of Troon, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Hughes, L.||Varley, L.|
|Hunt, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Jay, L.||Walston, L.|
|Jeger, B.||Whaddon, L.|
|Jenkins of Putney, L.||White, B.|
|John-Mackie, L.||Williams of Elvel, L.|
|Kagan, L.||Willis, L.|
|Kilbracken, L.||Winstanley, L. [Teller.]|
|Aldington, L.||Broadbridge, L.|
|Alexander of Weedon, L.||Brougham and Vaux, L.|
|Allerton, L.||Caccia, L.|
|Alport, L.||Caithness, E.|
|Ampthill, L.||Caldecote, V.|
|Arran, E.||Campbell of Croy, L.|
|Ashbourne, L.||Carnock, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Carr of Hadley, L.|
|Balfour, E.||Cavendish of Furness, L.|
|Beloff, L.||Clitheroe, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Coleraine, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||Colwyn, L.|
|Birdwood, L.||Constantine of Stanmore, L.|
|Blatch, B.||Cork and Orrery, E.|
|Blyth, L.||Cornwallis, L.|
|Boardman, L.||Cox, B.|
|Borthwick, L.||Dacre of Glanton, L.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Davidson, V. [Teller.]|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Downshire, M.|
|Bridgeman, V.||Eccles of Moulton, B.|
|Brightman, L.||Elibank, L.|
|Elles, B.||Montgomery of Alamein, V.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Morris, L.|
|Elliott of Morpeth, L.||Mottistone, L.|
|Faithfull, B.||Munster, E.|
|Fanshawe of Richmond, L.||Napier and Ettrick, L.|
|Ferrers, E.||Nelson, E.|
|Fisher, L.||Norfolk, D.|
|Fraser of Carmyllie, L.||Onslow, E.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Orkney, E.|
|Gainford, L.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Gardner of Parkes, B.||Oxfuird, V.|
|Gisborough, L.||Pearson of Rannoch, L.|
|Goold, L.||Pender, L.|
|Gray of Contin, L.||Peyton of Yeovil, L.|
|Harmar-Nicholls, L.||Reay, L. [Teller.]|
|Henley, L.||Renton, L.|
|Hives, L.||Rippon of Hexham, L.|
|Holderness, L.||Rodney, L.|
|Hood, V.||Romney, E.|
|Howe, E.||St. Davids, V.|
|Hylton-Foster, B.||Saint Oswald, L.|
|Jenkin of Roding, L.||Sanderson of Bowden, L.|
|Johnston of Rockport, L.||Sharples, B.|
|Joseph, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Kimball, L.||Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, L.|
|Lauderdale, E.||Stockton, E.|
|Lloyd of Hampstead, L.||Stodart of Leaston, L.|
|Lothian, M.||Strange, B.|
|Lucas o f Chilworth, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Lurgan, L.||Strathmore and Kinghorne, E.|
|Lyell, L||Swinfen, L.|
|Macleod of Borve, B.||Swinton, E.|
|Mancroft, L.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Margadale, L.||Thorneycroft, L.|
|Marsh, L.||Tollemache, L.|
|Massereene and Ferrard, V.||Tryon, L.|
|Merrivale, L.||Ullswater, V.|
|Mersey, V.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Middleton, L.||Whitelaw, V.|
|Milverton, L.||Zouche of Haryngworth, L.|
|Monckton of Brenchley, V.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ [Amendments Nos. 215 and 215A not moved.]
§ [Amendment No. 216 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]
§ Clause 69 agreed to.
§ Clause 70 [Procedure to be followed by Commission in connection with consideration of applications for licences]:
§ [Amendments Nos. 217 and 217A not moved.]
§ Clause 70 agreed to.
§ Clause 71 [Award of licence to person submitting highest cash bid]:
Viscount Ullswater moved Amendment No. 217B:
Page 60, line 30, at end insert:
("(3A) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (3), the Commission may regard the following circumstances as exceptional circumstances which make it appropriate to award the licence to an applicant who has not submitted the highest bid, namely where it appears to them that the coverage proposed to be achieved by such an applicant as indicated in the technical plan submitted by him under section 69(3) (b) is substantially greater than that proposed to be achieved—
§ The noble Viscount said: I spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 211B. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Viscount Ullswater moved Amendments Nos. 218 and 219:
Page 61, line 44, leave out ("revoke the licence,") and insert ("serve on him a notice revoking the licence as from the time the notice is served on him,").
Page 62, line 7, at end insert:
("(14) In a case where a local delivery licence has been awarded to any person by virtue of the operation of this section, in accordance with any provision of this Part, on the revocation of an earlier grant of the licence, subsection (11) shall have effect as if—
- (a) paragraph (b) were omitted; and
- (b) the matters specified in that subsection included an indication of the circumstances in which the licence has been awarded to that person.").
§ The noble Viscount said: I spoke to Amendments Nos. 218 and 219 with Amendment No. 135. I beg to move the amendments together.
§ On Question, amendments agreed to.
§ On Question, Whether Clause 71, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?
§ Baroness Birk
We are opposed to Clause 71. Like the earlier Clause 17 it goes right to the heart of the Bill and reinforces the auction and cash bid system that we have been trying to eliminate. As we pointed out, the Government's guiding principle, clearly expressed, particularly in Clauses 17 and 71, is that the most money and not the highest quality should be the fundamental arbiter of licence allocation. Despite the extremely good work of the other place in defining "exceptional circumstances" in Clause 17(4), that is still the primary and overriding part of the clause.
Clause 71 states clearly that,
the Commission shall, after considering all the cash bids"—
in Clause 17 the same provision applies to the applicants for a Channel 3 licence—
award the licence to the applicant who submitted the highest bid".
§ I shall not go into great detail. I am afraid that it would be more or less a repetition of our previous observations. However, that does not make our arguments any less urgent or less true.
§ Clause 71 represents the root and branch of this part of the Bill in the same way that Clause 17 did earlier. For the Bill both to make moral broadcasting sense and to be constructive and positive this clause needs to be ripped out and replaced by the plan that we have put forward on several occasions in order to get rid of the awful concept of the auction bid and the primacy of money over quality.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, that it is otiose to go over the arguments that we have already had on the principle 1363 of giving these valuable contracts to the highest bidder. In the case of the cable awards the process is even more naked than it is with regard to the commercial television awards. However, I shall not repeat the arguments. It is the heart, the principle, of the Bill. We sought very hard to persuade the Government to modify their position further than they have been prepared to go. Because it is a matter of principle we are bound to oppose the Motion that this clause stand part of the Bill.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
I do not see how the Government or the Committee could accept the amendment without admitting that the decisions at which we have already arrived were completely wrong. Satisfaction has been given on the main points. The Committee has so decided by its votes. I suppose that one admires the tenacity of the noble Lord and the noble Baroness in saying the same thing again and again. I do not believe that the Government or the Committee could retain credibility if at this point they went back on decisions already taken after a great deal of detailed discussion.
I do not know whether it is the desire of the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, or the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, in moving this amendment to go back on decisions already made, as the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, said. I thought that it was an opportunity for the noble Baroness and the noble Lord to complain vigorously about a system for which they do not much care.
Obviously there is a difference of opinion. It is fundamental to this part of the Bill that competitive tenders should operate. The noble Lord, Lord Thomson, said that it was otiose to go over the arguments again, and understandably he then did so very briefly. I can only emphasise again how the local delivery operator's business will differ from other types of licensee and hope to persuade the noble Baroness and the noble Lord. Whether or not I shall do so remains to be seen. However, I fancy that the chances are pretty slender.
The local delivery operator will not in general be creating programme material himself, with the possible exception of some local material. He will not even be commissioning, it from others. He will be offering the subscribers a convenient way of receiving a number of channels, most of which will be available through other means. He will in essence, as we said on an earlier amendment, be a retailer of other people's wares. He will be offering the convenience of what one might call one-stop shopping. One has cable and the programmes that go with it. That is why we believe that a discretionary licensee's procedure relying in part on programming criteria would not be apt. In view of the fact that he will be retailing the work of other people, it seems to us reasonable to say that the one who gives the highest bid should be the one who obtains the licence.
§ Clause 71, as amended, agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 219ZA not moved.]
§ Clause 72 agreed to.1364
§ Clause 73 [Duration and renewal of local delivery licences]:
§ [Amendment No. 219A not moved.]
Viscount Ullswater moved Amendment No. 220:
Page 64, line 13, leave out from ("holder") to end of line 19.
§ The noble Viscount said: This amendment was spoken to with Amendment No. 154. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 73, as amended, agreed to.
Lord Thomson of Monifieth moved Amendment No. 220A:
After Clause 73, insert the following new clause:
The Commission shall from time to time publish a report setting out an assessment of the programme service provided by each person holding a licence under this Part of this Act.").
§ The noble Lord said: I move the amendment to seek clarification from the Government. When the amendment was originally tabled we had not had our earlier debates on the reporting arrangements for the commission. I recollect that the noble Lord, Lord Sanderson, in dealing with the matter, gave an undertaking that we should have an annual report from the commission instead of the three-year study that we were proposing. The annual report would address any point of concern of the commission.
§ Would that general undertaking about an annual report cover the proposals set out in the amendment? If that were so, perhaps we could save time. I beg to move.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clauses 74 and 75 agreed to.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Clause 76 [Enforcement of local delivery licence]:
Viscount Ullswater moved Amendment No. 221:
Page 65, line 16, leave out ("subsections (4) and") and insert ("subsection").
§ The noble Viscount said: I spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 135. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendments Nos. 222 and 223 not moved.]
§ Clause 76, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clauses 77 and 78 agreed to.
§ Schedule 6 [The Radio Authority: Supplementary Provisions]:
Lord Sanderson of Bowden moved Amendments Nos. 224 and 225:
Page 166, line 3, after ("including") insert ("(subject to sub-paragraph (4))").
Page 166, line 4, at end insert:
("(4) The power of the Authority to borrow money (otherwise than under paragraph 13) shall not be exercised by them except with the consent of, or in accordance with a general authority given by, the Secretary of State.").
§ The noble Lord said: The amendments were spoken to with Amendment No. 218. I beg to move.1365
§ On Question, amendments agreed to.
Lord Winstanley moved Amendment No. 226:
Page 166, line 20, at end insert:
("( ) Two of the members of the Authority other than the Chairman and vice-chairman shall be persons who appear to the Secretary of State to be suited to make the interests of rural radio and community radio services respectively their special care.").
§ The noble Lord said: This is a simple amendment but perhaps the first of many, some in the groupings list and some not, which deal with the special problems of community radio. It is an immensely important subject and is different from many of those that we have been discussing.
The amendment requires that,
Two of the members of the Authority
—that is, the Radio Authority—
other than the Chairman and vice-chairman shall be persons who appear to the Secretary of State to be suited to make the interests of rural radio and community radio services respectively their special care".
I take the view that without special treatment and perhaps some additional resources community radio will be beset by so many problems that it will not survive
§ The amendment is fairly simple. The wording follows that of the amendment to Schedule 1 which the Government accepted on the membership of the ITC. That specified that members have special care for the needs of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I am not equating communities in rural areas with nations However, it is important to say that national needs are not so important in relation to radio because of the overwhelmingly local nature of the services. It could well be argued that the equivalent needs are for community radio and rural radio, given the specific problems of each.
§ Many of those problems will be referred to when we debate other amendments in the group and will be moved by Members with great knowledge of the subject. Other important amendments are not in this group; in particular, Amendment No. 227A standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, which I strongly support. This is the first of a group of amendments designed to ensure that community radio becomes and remains viable. That is particularly so in rural areas where there are special problems. The privatisation of the transmission system and the increased costs which will inevitably result mean that many rural areas will be deprived of community radio if they have it or will never obtain it.
§ Those issues need special treatment not merely by means of this simple amendment but by means of some of the other more important amendments which are grouped with it or will be dealt with later. I beg to move.
§ Lord Bonham-Carter
I wish to speak to this group of amendments, in particular to Amendments Nos. 230, 231 and 232. They all have the same thrust. I agree with my noble friend Lord Winstanley about the special nature of community radio and the need to distinguish it sharply from local radio. The two are 1366 quite different and both should be seen as being valid in their own right. Both have a place in the scheme; they are not rivals but are complementary.
Unless that distinction is respected and unless the Bill treats them separately, foreign experience indicates that community radio will go under and be smothered by local radio. The example to which I draw the Committee's attention is France, where that has happened during the years. It is now treating community radio separately and is trying to revive it. Where the two have been generally recognised as being distinct, as in the United States and Australia, community radio flourishes.
I understand that the chairman designate of the Radio Authority, who is present in the Chamber, has come round to a point of view somewhat along those lines and also recognises the importance of finding special ways of funding community radio. Although the then Minister in another place, Mr. David Mellor, claimed to recognise the importance, the value and the unique contribution of community radio, he took no steps to make its operation possible. There are a variety of answers to that question. One of them is that the problem should be looked at by a community radio committee as suggested in Amendment No. 230 standing in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk. The committee would have the difficult task of defining community radio and would also examine ways and means by which it could be funded. Funding is of the utmost importance in this area.
I conclude that community radio has a special, valuable contribution to make and a number of examples come to mind. However, it cannot make that contribution unless it is regarded as being a special kind of animal requiring special treatment, grooming and feeding. It is precisely towards grooming, treating and feeding this animal correctly that the amendments standing in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, are directed.
§ Lord Ardwick
Amendment No. 230 is not incompatible with that tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, but only slightly different. I understand that his amendment proposes that the authority shall appoint someone specifically for the purpose of community and rural radio instead of saying simply that a member of the authority shall have one of those areas as his prime responsibility. There is not a great deal of difference.
Under the Bill as it stands there is a tendency for any notion of a distinctive community radio sector to be lost under the general drive to create many new stations. There is a consequent anxiety that without particular attention to community radio issues the local radio sector will develop overwhelmingly on a purely commercial basis. The Radio Authority has the task of developing the new national and local commercial radio station services. Within that massive programme of work it would be easy to lose sight of community radio as a separate concern. That is why we propose a distinct sub-committee which has that area as its prime concern.
1367 Members of the Committee may well ask: what is community radio? Our amendment has the virtue of prescribing that community radio should be defined by the sub-committee that will be appointed to deal with it. That is a most sensible suggestion. "Community" can be made to mean anything one wants it to mean. A year ago the term was used as a synonym for local radio, perhaps because "community" can give a beneficent sound to a profit-seeking venture. However, "community" does not mean "local"; for example, there is no parish pump in the European Community.
We must ask ourselves what we mean by "community" and what role community radio should play. We must recognise that the word can legitimately have two meanings. It can mean a community of interests, such as an ethnic community whose members live at a distance from one another, or it can mean a close-knit geographical community. If it means the latter, how does it differ from a local radio station? It is simply because the programmes broadcast by community radio must be designed to keep it ticking over rather than searching for handsome profits for the shareholders. Indeed, its role is to reflect the events in and the thoughts of an area which regards itself as a community. It could be a small town or a suburb with its own characteristics and sense of identity. It will encourage and fortify local life just as a good local paper has over the years.
Radio, as we all once thought before the days of television, is a wonderful medium that is cheap and easy to run. Although I am not forgetting the rather gallant efforts of LBC, virtually the only spoken word station that is left is the BBC Radio 4, whose audience has shrunk. There is a big chance through community radio to bring radio back. Recently I heard that when the BBC was looking for sixth-form pupils to take part in a radio quiz on Radio 4 it came across intelligent teenagers who had never heard a spoken word on that wavelength. I hope that community radio will encourage people to listen as well as to view.
I said that radio was cheap; so it is in comparison with television. But it could still be beyond the means of an eager and dedicated community to set up and to sustain. Can the market support even the most moderately costed and efficient public service community radio? Alas, I doubt it, as I doubt the possibility of financing an independent national station devoted to the spoken word. I have even greater doubts about the commercial support for community radio in the geographical sense. Some people estimate that no station will be viable for a population of less than 100,000. As regards setting up a station, Sunset Radio, the ethnic station in Manchester, had to spend £250,000 to get on the air. That was double the original estimated cost.
There is said to be room on the air for about 300 stations. It would be sad if none of the stations could survive on a public service remit. A radio fund, which we suggest in the latter part of our amendment, is essential at least to start and possibly to sustain a well-founded community station.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Lord Colwyn
I feel that the time is now right to speak to my amendments—Amendments Nos. 293B, 296A, 297A and 297B—on the broad theme of community radio. The amendments are part of a general theme that I see as important to ensure that the kind of radio system the Bill delivers is one characterised by a variety of programme formats and where opportunities for market entry are not such that they deter the small operator or minority appeal programmer.
I shall speak on the subject of diversity in a subsequent amendment. I should like this and my other amendments on community radio to be seen as something of a stimulus to further reflection as to whether or not the Bill provides a structure suitably flexible and sensitive to give rise to a full range of programme providers in a variety of quite dissimilar circumstances.
Much of the pioneering work of community radio has been championed by the existing ILR stations. Help lines, charity appeals, local news and information services are seen by these stations as important building blocks for a successful local radio station. Our debate must be on whether there exists a further demand for radio services that falls outside this existing category of service that would be commercially sustainable and whether the Radio Authority has sufficient scope to accommodate such demand. The amendments in my name seek to provide a definition and a licensing procedure, taking into account the specific character of community radio.
As regards Amendment No. 297A, community radio stations give access to the airwaves for people in the communities they serve. They are often able to raise funds from sources not open to commercial stations and to bring new voices, cultures, listeners and partnerships into the radio world.
My definition, which has the support of the Community Radio Association, provides that a community radio service is one body, a majority of whom are residents of the area or members of the community of interest, and which is either not for profit or else a co-operative of workers or perhaps listeners. The definition is generous enough to exclude no body properly regarded as a community radio station but tight enough in its requirements of membership and structure to mark off community from commercial stations.
It is significant that those countries which have legislated to recognise the distinctiveness of community radio in licensing are those where community radio thrives most. In North America and Australia it is well developed and has clear status, but in France and Italy it is poorly supported. Many stations have either gone out of business or have been swallowed up by larger networks.
I turn now to Amendment No. 293B. There is a danger that the Radio Authority will be under great pressure to offer licences only in those areas where commercial stations have shown an interest by virtue of their numbers and influence. If we are to encourage 1369 the development of community radio groups, many of which are still in their infancy, we must give them adequate time to prepare themselves and to assemble the partnerships and finance necessary to make credible applications. My amendment provides them with the means with which to interact properly. The consultation process in my subsection (1A) together with the prevention of commercial takeover in subsection (1B) enables the authority to get the kinds of information it will need from the communities for whom it will be issuing licences.
It is necessary that the licensing process for local radio is carried out in a way which encourages community radio groups to apply for licences and which enables them to feel confident that they can compete. Nothing in my amendment would prevent the granting of licences for both community and commercial stations in any one area if it was thought appropriate. In fact the amendment provides that the authority may give an early preference for a commercial or a community station. Having done so, the second notice should state the character of the service to be provided under that licence.
The preference will be formed as a result of consultation for which my amendment, at subsection (1A), provides. During the incremental contracts initiative, the IBA sensibly designated certain licences ethnic, and multi-ethnic minority services, or community of interest. That initiative was a success and encouraged many ethnic groups to apply. My amendment would give the Radio Authority a mandate for continuing that kind of practice.
My proposed subsection (1B) provides that a community radio station, once given a licence, should not then be vulnerable to takeover. If people in a locality have been told that they will have a community station, that undertaking should be honoured.
Amendment No. 297B provides that the extent of local or interest group involvement in both management and programming should be factors to which the authority has regard when it determines to whom to grant a licence. The best way to encourage flourishing and competitive local radio is to encourage local people to get involved in the station and in programme making.
I understand that, in another place, my right honourable friend was not convinced of the necessity for specific recognition. Without a definition, there will be no mandate for the authority to encourage community radio. I hope that, following our debate today, my noble friend will not also say that there is no danger to community radio without specific recognition. Indeed the shadow radio authority has said that it considers it necessary that there be a definition of community radio.
In conclusion, a Broadcasting Bill should reflect the realities of the field of broadcasting. Unless we recognise the specific character of community radio and provide accordingly for licensing systems which encourage it, it may not continue to be a reality.
§ Lord Chalfont
As the chairman designate of the Radio Authority, it would obviously not be appropriate for me to become too closely involved in the philosophy of this debate. However, I said on Second Reading, and I have said also in conversation with Members of the Government, that I believe it to be important and possible to distinguish community radio from other forms of commercial radio.
To define community radio is not easy, as a perusal of these amendments demonstrates. Such a definition may be difficult to agree upon. My own feeling, without attempting any definitive formula, is that one distinctive feature of community radio should be that it does not distribute its profits. Another should be that its programmes are aimed at an easily definable small community—an autonomous community.
I believe also that it must at least be necessary to examine the possibility of some kind of noncommercial funding for community radio so defined. It will obviously be difficult for some stations to remain commercially viable if their sole source of income is the same as that of the ordinary commercial radio network; that is, advertising. However, as I have said, having declared my interest, it is not appropriate for me to enter more closely into this debate and certainly not to take part in any Division.
However, I conclude by saying that it may be of interest to the Committee to know—and perhaps of special interest to the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley—that the shadow radio authority as at present constituted contains two persons who make the interests of rural radio and community radio services their special interest and care. Whether or not the concept of community radio eventually becomes part of the legislation, I hope that that will always be so.
This part of the Bill deals with a completely different subject in that we now come to community radio. Before I turn to the detail of the amendments perhaps I may be permitted to outline the Bill's general approach to community radio. Nothing in the Bill would either rule out or handicap an application from a non-profit community station provided that the proposed service looked financially viable. The incremental scheme operated by the IBA in recent months shows that community groups can win against competition from applicants which are more commercially minded.
The size of service area advertised by the authority will reflect its assessment of patterns of demand based on an initial sift of expressions of intent. That means that the pattern of services will be more demand-led and responsive to the wishes of listeners than hitherto. It will be entirely open to the authority to advertise very small stations right down to neighbourhood level. The Bill deliberately seeks to avoid making artificial distinctions in what will be a whole spectrum of independent local radio services—from such stations as Capital Radio and Radio Clyde down to the neighbourhood stations—all under a common regime.
I question whether a rigid distinction between community and commercial radio stations is right. The Bill would permit profit maximising as well as 1371 non-profit community stations, commercial community of interest stations and local stations with a strong desire to serve their local communities through social action programmes and initiatives, as many ILR stations already do. There is no need to create artificial difficulties as to which side of the divide such services should be on.
If some Members of the Committee are sceptical they may like to try the thought experiment of assigning each of the IBA's recent 23 incremental radio stations to either a community or a commercial slot. I can assure them that whatever answers they reach will be unlikely to command universal agreement.
Some Members of the Committee argue that if we want to see a real blossoming of new community radio services a flexible framework and good wishes are not enough. We agree. The Bill does much more for community radio than that. Under a significant relaxation of the proposals of the Green Paper, financial contributions from local and other public authorities will be permitted provided that in the view of the Radio Authority they do not exert political influence over stations.
There will be no local monopolies. Community stations may be licensed anywhere where frequencies are available regardless of whether the area is already served by an independent local station. Community stations will be able to have much lower start-up costs than under present legislation. They will not be subject to heavy regulation, and will be able to make their own transmission arrangements.
The ownership rules, if supplemented along the lines recently proposed by the shadow Radio Authority, will prevent groups from buying up large numbers of community stations. Above all, the Bill's licensing criteria will provide a strong impetus to community radio. That is because to run community stations applicants will be much better placed than those wishing to run another pop-based station—in competition with the local ILR station—to satisfy the criterion of adding to listener choice. Adding to listener choice is the key licensing criterion and is very powerful. Its effect will be that the greater the extent to which an application will increase listener choice the stronger will be its chances of winning a given licence.
Amendment No. 226, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, would require two out of six people who serve on the authority to make rural and community radio their special care. There is nothing wrong with that sentiment. But as a matter of legislative practicality I question whether it is right to write it into the Bill. The chairman and five members of the shadow Radio Authority have been appointed. Between them, their backgrounds cover a multiplicity of relevant areas such as the law, trades union, the new media, business, broadcasting regulation, science, community work and politics. When I first realised that, I questioned whether six people would have such an enormous panorama of interest and experience. They have. The chairman and members can rightly say 1372 that they all have a special care for community radio—not just two of them. I know that the subject has featured prominently in their recent meetings. Therefore, it would not be right to superimpose this categorisation on to a dynamic and lively new regulatory body which is already in action.
Amendment No. 230, in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, and the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, proposes a complicated bureaucratic structure to devise what we consider to be an unnecessary definition and separate licensing structure for community radio. It also includes the extraordinary feature that the authority would be able to override its other statutory duties in the Bill in the interests of community radio. That cannot be right. Amendment No. 228 creates a separate licensing category of non-profit distributing community-based radio services. For the reasons I explained, we do not believe that that is necessary.
Amendments Nos. 293B and 294 do not persuade the Government that the authority should have any obligation to conduct an elaborate and bureaucratic public consultation exercise every time they want to offer a local radio licence. By Clause 99 the authority is already required to have regard to the way a proposed service would cater specifically for the relevant area and broaden the range of programmes available there. An amendment in another place extends that to consideration of the extent of local support for an application.
By Clause 98(4) the authority is required also to make available an applicant's programme proposals to anyone who wants to see them. Beyond that, it is rightly left to the authority to devise its own methods for local consultation. The authority will be ready to receive and consider any information which the public may wish to forward to it, but should not be obliged positively to seek such information.
The shadow authority has already invited letters of intent from interested groups. Over 860 have been received. The authority will take account of those expressions of interest when deciding where to advertise a local service. The amendments would add a further stage to the procedure and, given the scale of the local radio licensing task which will be faced by the authority, would not be sensible. We are not talking of 15 ITV franchises, but of several hundred new radio services.
Amendment No. 296, in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, is an attempt to impose by statute a duty on local licensees which, while welcome to some, could prove a quite inappropriate burden to others. Applicants should be free to decide for themselves the extent to which they involve the local community in the output of their services. Some may wish to do so to a greater extent than others. The Radio Authority may normally expect to find a good deal of local participation in a neighbourhood community station but perhaps not so much in, say, a local jazz station. Applicants will need to assess the wishes of their audience and tailor their proposal accordingly. The 1373 Bill already ensures that the authority must take account of the extent of public support for an application.
Amendment No. 297, in the name of my noble friend Lord Colwyn, requires the authority, in licensing local services, to have regard to the extent to which applicants for a community-type service had local members or shareholders and the extent to which all applicants offered outlets for locally originated and independently produced material. Similar arguments apply here. These are criteria which will not necessarily be appropriate for the full range of possible local radio services. Any attempt to limit the criteria to particular sub-categories of local radio services is likely to run into problems of definition.
I am not convinced that the best of a number of competing applications for a community-type station will invariably be the one with the greatest proportion of local shareholdings. Locally originated programming may well not be what listeners want on, say, a locally-based country and western station. As to independent productions, the whole concept is far less applicable to radio than to television. What sense does it make to talk about independent production in the case of the programmes of a favourite radio presenter or disc jockey? The licensing criteria for local radio set out in Clause 99 are simple and powerful. They will ensure that radio expands in a way which enhances listener choice.
Finally, in relation to Amendment No. 296A of my noble friend Lord Colwyn, this subsection was amended in the other place with a view to making it clearer that the authority would normally, but not always, be expected to readvertise a local radio licence which had expired if it proposed to issue a further licence for the service. Since it is, of course, already the effect of subsection (1) that a local radio licence should be advertised, there would be no point in retaining any of subsection (5) if the exception it contains were deleted as proposed in my noble friend's amendment. However, we believe it is important to provide the authority with the power to decide not to invite further competition in certain circumstances. For example, it would be pointless to invite competitors to an existing service whose licence was due to expire in an area where the number of expressions of interest received by the authority was exceeded by the number of spare frequencies available. Such a situation will not occur in places such as London. But the possibility is not academic; it could occur, for instance, in parts of Scotland. In such a situation a competition would not only be pointless but bureaucratic, time-consuming, expensive and add needlessly to the costs of the authority's licensees.
The objective behind subsection (5) is that the authority, where it proposes to grant a further licence to provide a service whose licence is due to expire, must hold a further competition unless it appears to it that to do so would serve no purpose in relation to the general objective of broadening listener choice. I believe that to be the right approach.
1374 I have endeavoured to explain the ways in which the Bill will encourage and promote a great expansion of community radio services and I hope that that explanation is satisfactory.
§ Lord Bonham-Carter
The noble Earl's speech brings us back to the old problem that experience has shown both here and abroad, but above all abroad. Unless community radio is treated separately from commercial radio it will be smothered.
I understood the noble Earl to say that he thought that a distinction between commercial radio and community radio was so artificial that it was not worth trying to make, or that it was so contentious that no body of people would agree on such a distinction. Hence he has held to the position adopted by his right honourable friend Mr. David Mellor in the other place of speaking in praise of community radio and saying how much it has to offer but in fact not providing the circumstances which we know are the prerequisite for community radio to flourish. That is the experience in Australia, America and France. I suspect we will find that it is the experience here.
Therefore, if we follow the road the noble Earl has pointed to us we will find in a few years' time that, although there will be many local radio stations and many local commercial radio stations, many of which will be very good, there will be very few community radio stations carrying out the functions which some of us have endeavoured to define in our amendments.
§ Lord Ardwick
In his last few remarks the noble Earl spoke, if I heard him correctly, about great increases in community radio. Did he mean community radio or was he using the term in its old, very loose sense to include local commercial radio stations?
I believe that there will be a considerable increase in both but, in fact, I was referring to community radio.
The noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, implied that there is a difference between community radio and commercial radio. Indeed, there is. But the point I was endeavouring to make is that they all make up one huge spectrum of radio activity. That is why I should have thought, from the point of view of licensing, that the Radio Authority ought to regard them as one complete entity in which there are certain distinct differences. However, we did not think it appropriate to draw the distinction in the Bill.
Not for the first time today we find ourselves—perhaps I should say I find myself—in some difficulty because of the system of grouping the amendments. The grouping of amendments is, of course, essential in a Chamber which does not have any Standing Order providing for timetabling Motions.
It so happens that my amendment, which we are now technically discussing because I moved it, is the first of the group. Yet, without any doubt, it is technically the least important. It is the least important because it is a sort of longstop. Ideally, the Government should accept the separate designation of community radio and the need to subsidise rural radio 1375 costs. If they do not, this amendment provides a safety net. So my amendment is the least important of the group. It has now become even less important because the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, in his intervention, said that my amendment has already been met.
The fact remains that I am not wholly reassured by the general remarks of the noble Earl. I was even alarmed by one comment. The noble Earl explained about the loosening of arrangements whereby local authorities can now invest money in community radio. In this country we have always taken great care to keep national broadcasting and national government wholly separate. I believe that we should take equally great care to keep local radio and community radio—a very different thing indeed—entirely separate from local government.
A community radio station should not be the mouthpiece or spokesman of local government. It should often be its critic. I do not say that community radio stations should not benefit from grants from local authorities but there would need to be certain safeguards.
As I said, I am in some difficulty because of the nature of our procedures. I have no intention of pressing the amendment—
Perhaps I can help the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, out of his misery. We discussed this grouping because the amendments related to community radio. Each amendment will, of course, be called separately and if the noble Lord feels motivated to divide the Committee—and after hearing what I have said I am sure that he will not be so motivated—he will be able to do so on subsequent amendments.
I am most grateful to the noble Earl for his assistance but I am not being ungracious in saying that I did not actually need it. I knew that was the position.
It was my intention to seek the permission of the Committee to withdraw my amendment. In doing so I intended to say that I was, of course, aware that that would not in any sense stop other noble Lords pressing their amendments to a Division when we reach them. In any case, we shall come later to other amendments dealing with community radio which are not included in this group. So we have not finished our discussions on that subject. Certainly, we have not solved the very serious problems which community radio faces.
I believe that there is a threat to community radio. It is important that before we leave this Bill we should make absolutely certain that somehow community radio survives. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.1376
§ 6.30 p.m.
Lord Thomson of Monifieth moved Amendment No. 226A:
Page 167, line 13, leave out ("With the approval of the Secretary of State").
§ The noble Lord said: I hope that after these great issues of community and commercial radio, of auction bidding and the other great matters that we have been discussing, this modest little amendment will provide an opportunity for the Government to show how willing they are to improve the Bill. One of the thrusts behind it is concerned with deregulation and a lighter touch in general. For very nearly 40 years commercial broadcasting has operated in this country on the basis that the broadcasting authority is given its duties by Parliament. It has been able to get on with them without having to refer back to Whitehall and the Home Office for approval whenever it wanted to make some internal arrangement about delegating its authority.
§ I assume that that is an oversight in this case. I hope the Minister will feel able to accept this amendment and remove the need for the approval of the Secretary of State when, as in this case, the Radio Authority is seeking to engage in the normal kind of delegation to get on with its work. We have been discussing the need for delegating certain duties in respect of rural and community radio. In the experience of running any broadcasting authority there is a need to delegate and to be flexible in the arrangements. If the authority has to run to the Home Office every time it wants to make a change, it will be immensely cumbersome and rather silly.
§ In moving this amendment I have a confession to make. I should have drawn the attention of the Committee to this issue when the first schedule was discussed because it contains exactly similar wording in relation to the Independent Television Commission. I was half asleep and I missed my opportunity. If the Government feel that there is merit in this amendment for the Radio Authority, then at Report stage it will be possible to introduce consistency in respect of the Independent Television Commission. I beg to move.
The noble Lord, Lord Thomson, as usual, has been enormously helpful in putting forward this amendment and the reasons for it. He was also peculiarly candid in saying that he went to sleep when the opportunity arose earlier in the Bill to move a similar amendment. Schedule 6, paragraph 6(2) very closely follows paragraph 6(2) of Schedule 1 to the Cable and Broadcasting Act 1984, which requires the Secretary of State's approval for delegation of functions by the authority.
But there are also legislative precedents for not normally requiring such approval; for instance, in the case of the Civil Aviation Authority, under the Civil Aviation Act 1982, and in the case of the National Rivers Authority under the Water Act 1989. The noble Lord, Lord Thomson, said that he did not wish the Radio Authority to come running to the Home Office each time it wanted to delegate powers. We agree with that. If the Committee is happy to accept this amendment I shall advise it to do so. If that is the 1377 case, we shall undertake to bring forward the corresponding amendments to the schedule of the Bill dealing with the ITC and other statutory bodies under the Bill.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
I am greatly indebted to the noble Earl. There is no more to say. Thank you very much.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 227 not moved.]
§ Schedule 6, as amended, agreed to.
Lord Colwyn moved Amendment No. 227A:
Before Clause 79, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Establishment of a Radio Fund to Support Independent and Community Radio
§ (1) The Secretary of State shall, for the financial year beginning with 1st April 1991, establish an endowment fund for the benefit of the Authority for such amount as he, with the approval of the Treasury, determines to be appropriate for the purposes of this section.
§ (2) Any amount received by the Authority under subsection (1) shall be credited by them to a fund established by them under this section, to be known as the Radio Fund.
§ (3) The Fund shall be under the management of a committee appointed by the Authority for the purpose of this section, to be known as the Radio Fund Committee, and shall be applied by the Committee in the making of grants for the following purposes, namely to support and encourage—
- (a) training for the benefit of independent and community radio;
- (b) social action, ethnic minority, arts, creative and innovative programming;
- (c) the establishment and special needs of community radio services;
- (d) the establishment and running of transmission facilities in remote rural or other difficult areas; and
- (e) research and development work for the benefit of independent and community radio.
§ (4) When making any grant out of the Fund in pursuance of subsection (3), the Committee may impose such conditions as they think fit.
§ (5) The persons appointed to be members of the Committee shall be such as the Authority may determine; but the Authority shall, when making any such appointments, ensure that a majority of the members are persons with knowledge of the purposes to which under subsection (3) above, the Committee may apply the Fund.
§ (6) The terms of the appointment of the members of the Committee shall be such as the Authority may determine; and in the case of any members of the Committee who are neither members nor employees of the Authority, the Authority may—
- (a) pay to them such remuneration and allowances, and
- (b) pay or make provision for paying to or in respect of them such sums by way of allowances, pensions or gratuities,
§ (7) Any expenses incurred by the Authority—
- (a) by virtue of subsection (6), or
- (b) in paying salaries of any employees of the Authority whose services have been furnished to the Committee by the Authority,
§ (8) As noon as possible after the end of each financial year (to be calculated as from the financial year referred to in subsection (1)), the Committee shall prepare a general report of their proceedings for that year and transmit it to the Authority.1378
§ (9) Any sums required by the Secretary of State under subsection (1) shall be paid out of money provided by Parliament.
§ (10) In this section,
"the Authority" means the Radio Authority; and
"community radio service" means a service provided for the benefit of a local community or a community of interest, identified in the licence conditions, and which is provided by a body corporate
§ (a) in respect of which either—
- (i) the majority of persons entitled to vote at a general meeting of the body; or
- (ii) the majority of persons entitled to vote at a meeting of the directors or board of directors
§ (b) is either—
- (i) not a public body but whose activities are carried on otherwise than for profit, but so constituted that its interest on its capital is calculated according to bank interest rates; or
- (ii) either a common ownership enterprise or a co-operative within the meaning of section (2) of the Industrial Common Ownership Act 1976; or
- (iii) which would be recognised a bona fide co-operative society by the Registrar of Friendly Societies for the purposes of section (1) of the Industrial and Provident Societies Act 1965, whether or not registered under that Act.").
§ The noble Lord said: This is a further amendment on community radio. It is also a probing amendment to establish the Government's position on community radio and its funding. When the Government looked at increased competition in the rented sector of housing they saw to it that there was sufficient support for the housing associations and the new entrepreneurial agencies for them to become real market forces. The Housing Corporation and the business expansion scheme were the mechanisms used. I believe that a radio fund could be the means in sound broadcasting at much less cost.
§ It could be said that independent radio needs support if it is to take advantage of the new competitive environment and if it is not to lower standards of programming. At the recent radio festival in Glasgow there was a prevailing mood of fear for the future of independent and community radio should market forces be allowed to progress without the necessary preparation. Independent radio by and for people from ethnic minorities ought to be one of the great success stories of the 1990s, but many are already in great difficulty. Both Sunset Radio in Manchester and WNK Radio in Haringey have had to make major cuts and they have had to dilute their community ownership.
§ Without support in programme-making I fear that the kind of diversity and quality that people want from radio may not be forthcoming. The chief executive elect of the Radio Authority has said that the IBA has already allowed many stations to drop drama from their schedules because of the financial difficulties the stations are in. That is despite the fact that a Home Office survey of 1989 showed that there 1379 is a demand for drama, short stories and comedies. It is clear that without the support demand will not prompt supply.
§ Because of the expense, many stations have cut news and speech programming. One station has had to axe the local newsroom and all its staff. Advertising revenues may help but they will not of themselves meet all the gaps, especially in start-up and training costs. Though the incremental initiative has been a partial success, not all radio stations are able to attract sufficient advertising revenue or start up capital. My right honourable friend in another place said that he expects several hundred new local radio stations to emerge in the next 10 years. Many of these will be set up by experienced people, particularly in the community and ethnic minority sectors, which are still underdeveloped here. They will need help with training costs. One study has already predicted a serious shortage of skilled labour in radio in three or four years unless action is taken.
§ My amendment seeks to establish the Government's reaction to the idea of a fund to assist the market in these respects. The purposes are set out in subsection (3) of the amendment. The radio fund would be administered by the Radio Authority. In a recent letter to the Broadcasting Consortium, the chief executive elect, Peter Baldwin, confirmed that he would be willing to administer such a fund. He estimated that administration costs are two-and-a-half full-time equivalent staff plus overheads.
§ I envisage that the fund might have an initial endowment from the Government of about £10 million. That would yield about £800,000 a year in disposable income. Possibly some extra funding could be raised from the private sector. The Treasury is proposing much greater generosity to the Gaelic television fund; namely, about £8 million annually for about 80,000 Gaelic speakers. By comparison, and with the revenue from the auction of the national franchises and corporation tax over the years, my suggestions appear to be very modest.
§ In another place the Minister said that he had reservations about a radio fund. He said that there was a network of BBC stations to provide services that commercial and community stations would not provide. He said that it would be a major drain on the financial and personnel resources of the Radio Authority. My amendment differs from the one discussed in another place. The BBC services are largely confined to England and they are county based. They have a high speech content because of their public service obligations. I am sure that they would be horrified to think that they were being expected simply to fill the gaps left by commercial and community radio.
§ However, it is important that in suggesting a call on taxpayers' money by way of a radio fund there would be a funding of the true aspirations of consumers and not inadvertently the subsidising of the merely self-fulfilling aspirations of producers. In suggesting that a radio fund be established from public funds, I would be totally opposed to the fund being financed 1380 by the reintroduction of cross-subsidy by existing commercial operators. We must also be careful in contemplating the use of public funds that we do not create a class of privileged broadcaster whose cost base is heavily subsidised, therefore enabling him to compete unfairly with commercial stations for both audience and advertising.
§ In 1987, when the Green Paper was published, it was possible to be more optimistic than it is today about the place of independent radio in the economy. Interest rates have risen with inflation and there has been a worsening of skill shortages. Today a more sophisticated form of deregulation is needed. If there are to be effective market forces, if smaller stations are not to fail at the first hurdle or go to the wall or be swallowed up by the larger stations, as happened in France and Italy, and if programming is to maintain standards, some greater support is needed. I commend the Radio Fund to the Committee as the best available means. I beg to move.
My noble friend has put forward a probing amendment to find out the Government's views and he has used some persuasive and attractive arguments. In fairness to my noble friend, I acknowledge that under his proposal the fund would support training, community projects, creative programming and rural radio as well as community radio. I also acknowledge that his amendment has been framed with admirable thoroughness and care. However, I am bound to tell him that I do not believe that we could justify establishing such a fund from taxation.
As I explained in regard to an earlier amendment, the shadow Radio Authority recently received 860 expressions of interest from those wishing to run new stations when the authority called for letters of intent. That kind of demand hovering about hardly suggests that public subsidy would be right.
I am bound to draw another point to my noble friend's attention. Established independent local radio stations might reasonably resent not so much the fact that they were facing increased competition but rather that the Government were providing funds to subsidise that competition and to subsidise their competitors. The whole point of this part of the Bill is to make frequencies available to allow local and community radio to take place and to operate where there is a demand for it and where there are people prepared to operate it. I would not suggest that the taxpayer should make funds available to take up frequency space where there is not a demand for others to do it without subsidy.
My noble friend referred to France. In France, it was mostly because there were inadequate ownership rules that community radio was swamped. This is different because the proposal here is that no one person will be able to own large numbers of community radio stations. I admire my noble friend's ingenuity but I hope he will understand the reason the Government would not be enthusiastic about funding this body from taxation.
The Lord Bishop of Liverpool
I see the difficulty expressed by the Minister about subsidies for some. There s plainly a genuine difficulty there. I hope that the Government will not push away the need for some help in this direction. Their purpose is to increase diversity and choice. The noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, is trying to show a way of offering help in programming, in training and other ways. I have asked a good many questions of people who know about local radio. Radio by local communities for local communities is extremely fragile. It is a very precarious operation. The health of a city is furthered by giving a voice to those groups which do not have wealthy friends and which are tempted to say "Nobody every listens to us". It is worth paying a price to make that possible.
The noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, was right to say that community radio will not survive without extra resources. My evidence suggests that it will not survive without some kind of funding. If that funding were to come from local authorities, certain dangers would be involved. Some kind of endowment fund would be of genuine benefit.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Lord Ardwick
I have a good deal of sympathy with the principle of the amendment. However, the Minister's reluctance to put any public funds into this proposal did not surprise me. What surprised me was his belief that community radio will flourish without help o f this kind. The noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, explained the difficulties in which community stations find themselves. The Minister must recognise that some kinds of diversity and choice cannot pay for themselves and must be provided in a civilised nation.
I see the problem that community stations may not survive and may have difficulty. In some cases that may well be so. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool asked us not to push away too lightly the need for help in this direction. He said that a good many community radio stations would benefit if there were some form of subsidy. There is always an enormously attractive argument for subsidising anything. Anyone who is subsidised is bound to benefit from it.
Community stations, like other local stations, will be eligible to receive financial contributions from local and other public authorities provided that they comply with the Radio Authority's guidelines and provided that they do not involve undue political influence. The guidelines will be carefully framed to guard precisely against such influence. They will not be bereft of funds and they should be able therefore to attract such funds if necessary. That is slightly different from saying that such funds should be provided by the taxpayer. I see the attraction of it but I am not at the moment persuaded that that would be right.
§ Lord Colwyn
I am most grateful to Members of the Committee who have taken part in the debate. I thought that the opening remarks of my noble friend the Minister were most encouraging, but he then proceeded to explain why the Government would not support such a fund. I should like to study what has 1382 been said in the debate with a view to coming back at another stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 79 [Regulation by Authority of independent radio services]:
§ [Amendment No. 228 not moved.]
§ [Amendment No. 229 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]
§ Clause 79 agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 230 not moved.]
§ Clause 80 [Licensing functions of Authority]:
Lord Bonham-Carter moved Amendment No. 231:
Page 67, line 17, after ("of") insert ("high quality").
§ The noble Lord said: This amendment is self-explanatory. The fact of the matter is that the Radio Authority is the regulatory body for all independent radio services, both national and local. There is no duty on the authority under this Bill to ensure that the services taken as a whole are of high quality.
§ In the 1981 Broadcasting Act the IBA had a duty to provide local sound broadcasting services as a public service disseminating information, education and entertainment. Thus we come back to the point which we debated in connection with television at an earlier stage. If the public service element is removed from the regulatory bodies which are overseeing television and radio in this country, that is tantamount to saying that they need not fulfil those obligations. The whole focus of radio and television is being shifted from providing a public service to providing profit and to delivering audiences to advertisers. That is a fundamental difference of opinion which I do not expect noble Lords opposite to share, but I do not think this is a way of creating real choice for the listener.
§ My second point is that in this controversy over quality the argument has been dominated by television, and radio has very largely been neglected. Quality is just as important and relevant in radio as it is in television. This applies not only to national stations but also to local radio.
§ In the case of radio the authority has not only no duty to enjoin as the public service formula but also no quality threshold involving positive programme requirements. As I understand it, the Radio Authority has no obligation to supply illustrative guidelines in the way that the ITC will have. The exceptional circumstances in which the authority can accept other than the highest bid are not defined in any way.
§ It seems to us that the Radio Authority should be given the general power to secure the provision of diversity of high quality national services. This would be achieved by the amendment standing in my name. Unless the authority has such a power there is a real danger that resources will be cut and quality will suffer in the need to achieve profits and maximise the return on investment programmes.
§ The authority will also be responsible for local independent radio licences and the monitoring of 1383 existing ones. The authority will select the successful applicant purely on the basis of its proposal, which will again focus on diversity and the extent to which any such proposed service would cater for tastes and interests of persons living in the area. Once again there is no mention of quality. This runs through the whole Bill. I should again like to emphasise that by quality I do not mean that I am asking for elite radio. High quality programme service means diversity and a wide range of types of programmes including news and current affairs, those with an educational purpose, those offering listeners opportunities to get involved, to get further information and, if necessary, immediate help.
§ The suggestion has been made that as regards the public service elements the listener will be well served by the BBC and there should therefore be no positive programme requirements placed on national and local independent radio because that may jeopardise their financial viability. Therefore, the BBC is being offered to carry the whole burden of public service broadcasting without any obligation on anyone else to lift a finger in terms and on the basis of financial liability. The BBC is being asked to do that while its income is being cut. Therefore it will have a heavier burden with fewer resources.
§ It seems to me that this is a highly irresponsible step which can lead only to deterioration in the quality of the programmes provided by national and local independent radio. I very much hope that the Government will recognise that there is a need to insert in the provisions some reference to the quality of the service provided by the independent sector. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Birk
I should like to support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter. This afternoon we have attempted to get rid of the auctions in the field of radio. We have tried to get an injection of public service broadcasting into it, but in neither case have we received any support or sympathy from the Government.
We now come to what is quite a narrow segment of what we are trying to do, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, has pointed out, it is of tremendous importance. One would have thought that it went without saying that to provide a higher quality in addition to diversity of local and national radio services would be immediately acceptable. The noble Lord was absolutely right in saying that there had been neglect of radio throughout all the discussions on the Bill in both Houses, as well as outside. In talking to people outside, one found that mostly there was concentration on television rather than on radio.
There are many concerns about the economics of radio. There are new areas in which it will develop, and in particular there is concern as to whether there is sufficient advertising revenue to support the potential explosion of new radio services. We have not had commercial national radio services before, although we have had local ones, and I hope that they will be a step forward rather than backward. The requirement for quality becomes even more essential.
1384 Without accepting some such requirement we shall see the development of low cost, lowest common denominator radio services of no distinctive benefit to the listening public. If it has been accepted that television has to have quality standards and has to pass a threshold, I ask the Minister why radio should not do that. Indeed, the listening audience for radio is far larger than the audience for television. Radio is something that is easily accessible and widely used, even if it is used in a subliminal, background way.
If the Government are going to hold to the highest bid as a way to get a national commercial radio station, the quality threshold becomes even more important. At present there are certain ways of ensuring quality, but they will not be available to the new Radio Authority. If the Government are serious about quality, whatever difficulties there may be there should be a quality threshold comparable to the Channel 3 franchises.
This is such an obvious and simple amendment that I hope the Government will cheer us all up a little by saying, "Yes, we accept that".
In addition to supporting my noble friend Lord Bonham-Carter and the noble Baroness on the amendments, at this point I should like to speak briefly about Amendment No. 233, which stands in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, and which is grouped with the others.
This is a simple amendment which stems from the general obligation of the Radio Authority to ensure diversity in each area as well as nationally. The Radio Authority is currently obliged to provide radio services which, taken as a whole—that is, between all services, national and local—offer diversity. The amendment specifies that in each area, as well as nationally, there should be diversity. It is not enough for the radio system as a whole to offer a range of programming. It is important that all listeners in their own areas should have a choice of that kind. It would surely be unsatisfactory if much of the diversity of programming was between different areas rather than within each area.
I merely raise those points on this amendment because it is grouped with the others. When the time comes for the Minister to reply, perhaps he will also give his response to that amendment.
§ 7 p.m.
The Lord Bishop of Manchester
Perhaps I may make one brief point in support of the amendments. I remind the Minister that when we discussed television he referred to the dire fears that were expressed when commercial television was introduced into this country. I must admit that I was one of those who had such dire fears that the quality of television would deteriorate enormously as a result.
One of the reasons why that did not happen was precisely the set-up that was produced with the IBA which meant that it was a fair competition, so to speak, between the BBC, with its television services, and the IBA. What will we see in sound broadcasting? Unless there is a quality threshold in the same way, 1385 there is a grave threat to the broadcasting services of the BBC as things are driven down-market by powerful commercial pressures. Like the noble Baroness, I hope that the Minister will cheer us all up tonight.
I had intended to cheer up the Committee, but the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, looked as if she wished to say something first.
§ Baroness Ewart-Biggs
I had intended to speak to Amendment No. 234 but perhaps I shall do that having heard the Minister's response to the amendment that has been moved.
The amendment is in the group. If the noble Baroness wishes to speak to Amendment No. 234 now she can easily do so. Perhaps she would prefer to wait. The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, looks confused.
§ Baroness Birk
I thought that it might be better if we had an answer to the specific point that was raised before my noble friend deals with the other amendment.
A number of noble Lords, including the right reverend Prelate, said that they hoped that I would cheer them up. I should be delighted to do so in any way that I can, but if they expect me to accept everything suggested in the amendments they will not be as cheerful as they would have wished.
As new services proliferate, listener choice rather than regulatory imposition should play a greater role in bringing about a wide range of quality programmes but we do not propose a free-for-all. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester said that he had dire fears about independent television when it was introduced and that one of the reasons why it was successful was the existence of the IBA. He will recall that there was a duopoly. There was ITV—the new entity—and the BBC. That was why some imposition was necessary. However, there are now vast numbers of stations, both national and local, under the BBC and these are the new commercial radio stations, including community of interest stations, local radio and national radio. There is no comparison between the radio stations as we see them now and the incorporation of independent television when that first came about.
The requirements for national radio are spelt out in Clause 93. One of the three new services must be speech-based and another must concentrate on music other than pop. They are subject to the consumer protection provisions of the law, but for local services the key licensing criterion will be the extent to which a new radio station will add to listener choice. That powerful and simple test is better than the detailed regulatory stipulations and will deliver the wide range of quality programming that we all want to see. The local radio stations will have to abide by Clause 85, which deals with such matters as programme content which must not offend against good taste or decency and must not encourage or incite crime or lead to disorder. Standards of that nature are therefore included in the Bill.
1386 Reflection of the local audience demands and financial viability are the other key tests. Amendments Nos. 231, 232 and 234 seek to turn the clock back to before the publication of the Green Paper, whose approach to the programming requirements for independent radio has been widely welcomed.
I see no advantage in requiring a small, new neighbourhood station to be of high quality. That might mean higher programming obligations and higher transmission and engineering requirements and therefore higher costs than it would be reasonable to burden such a station with.
The noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, said that the Government always sought to ensure profit, but his amendment would increase the costs that are likely to be inherited by those bodies. Committee Members said that it was important to remember that many of those stations would have difficulty with regard to viability, but the noble Lord's amendment might make that worse.
It is just the same with national stations. The country has never before had independent national radio stations. The Bill contains clear specifications to ensure that between them they cater for non-pop music and speech as well as pop, but we must be careful not to impose onerous quality regulations. The same arguments apply with increased force in the case of the more extensive programming requirements envisaged in some of the other amendments. It would be wrong to impose high quality standards on those bodies because it would add to their burdens. The requirements for radio differ from those that are necessary for television.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
Far from cheering me up, the noble Earl has depressed me more than at any other point in our debates by his easy dismissal of the insertion of the word "quality" here.
With the expansion of local radio, the growth of community radio and the introduction of three national radio services, the radio situation on the commercial side—the non-BBC side—is very different from that in the past. I would have understood it if the noble Earl had sought to argue against Amendment No. 234 on those grounds. It is difficult to insert the detailed provisions for programming right across the scores, and perhaps even hundreds, of stations as you can do for national broadcasting. He would have had an argument there. However, to say that the insertion of the word "quality" is a detail that you can shrug off—I believe that he used the word "detail"—is infinitely depressing. He applied that to a major innovation in radio broadcasting in this country—the establishment of three national commercial radio stations. Surely the Government want the national stations to be stations of quality in their own field.
The noble Earl is a younger man than I am and is not yet so old that he cannot understand that there may even be quality pop and quality jazz. Quality is not an elitist concept but one of wholesomeness and of standards. It is tremendously depressing for the Government simply to say that it is an impossible concept. This time, the right reverend Prelate is right 1387 in his fears. If that is the tone and the thrust of the Government's thinking, they will drive the new radio regime down the American road, something which was avoided by the Conservative Government back in 1954 when commercial broadcasting was first established in this country. I know that the Minister cannot immediately take back his words. However, could he not retreat a little and say that we might return to this point at a later stage?
§ The Earl of Onslow
Perhaps I may speak in support of my noble friend. Members of the Committee opposite say that people must have quality forced down their throats. Surely people are capable of knowing the difference between what is quality and what is not. To say otherwise is to patronise the vast majority of our citizens. They will know whether it is right. If it is not right, they will not listen to it and people will lose their money. That is the simple answer.
The noble Lord, Lord Thomson, said that I could not take back my own words as soon as I had spoken them. I believe that it was Winston Churchill who once said that periodically one has to make a meal of one's own words, and added that it was not an unwholesome diet either. It would not be an unwholesome diet, but I do not wish to take advantage of the noble Lord's invitation quite so soon.
I shall consider the point made by the noble Lord as I shall consider every point made, without, of course, any obligation. I see what the noble Lord is getting at. He wants high quality. If we are going to require the Radio Authority—as the amendment does—to do all that it can,to secure the provision … of a diversity of national servicesit will have to work out what is high quality. It will have to pontificate over what is and what is not high quality. As the noble Lord said, people have different ideas about what is high quality pop music. What some people might consider high quality pop music others might think terrible. Who will be the arbiter?
I then question—I agree with my noble friend Lord Onslow—whether it is right that the multiplicity of broadcasters should all produce high quality by statute. I do not believe that it is. What is important is to add to consumer choice. Some people may wish to have what they believe is high quality; others may believe it of doubtful quality. With so many different forms of radio broadcasting, it is difficult to impose high quality on all.
§ Baroness Birk
Before the Minister sits down, there has to be a threshold of quality for television before we reach exceptional circumstances. At some point that threshold has to be judged. Someone has to make a decision. If that is being done for television, I do not see why it should not be done for radio. The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, is wrong. It is the reverse of what he said. We say that people deserve quality, whatever programme they may be watching. Why should they not have quality? It is not stuffy or indigestible. If we 1388 can define a threshold for television, I do not see why we cannot do so for radio, especially the national companies.
§ Lord Bonham-Carter
If the ITC can define "exceptional quality" why cannot the Radio Authority define "quality"?
The noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, normally speaks loudly, but he spoke quietly and I did not hear him.
§ Lord Bonham-Carter
I shall try again. If the ITC can define "exceptional quality" why is it impossible for the Radio Authority to define "quality"?
§ 7.15 p.m.
I heard that. I am astonished by the question, which seems to be a matter of semantics. We must be wary of assuming too quickly that arguments which hold good for television hold equally good for radio. They are not the same. Radio is different. The impact of the spoken word is different from the impact of the screen.
Independent radio stations are not like ITV regions. They are local rather than regional. They do not operate a major national network. They do not have universal coverage or universality of obligations. They do not have the same relationship with BBC radio as ITV and Channel 4 have with BBC1 and BBC2. We have a genuine duopoly in British terrestrial television at present. That is not the case with radio.
It is a mistake to imagine that if the BBC has a programming obligation the independent sector should also have one. I readdress the Committee's mind to the fact that television broadcasting has a far greater impact—there are far fewer services although there will be more—than radio which operates throughout the country with services which may be national, community or local. I do not believe that it is right to insist on high quality for each and every licensee.
§ Baroness Seear
It may be the heat, or I may be stupid, but the Minister has explained that in his view there is a difference between television and radio. That I can understand. He has not explained why, if defining "quality" is difficult or almost impossible, it is possible to do it for television but impossible to do it for radio. It was that narrower question that my noble friend Lord Bonham-Carter put forward—not what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. That is another argument. We are discussing whether "quality" can be defined. The Minister says that we cannot define "quality" although we are doing so for television. I am confused. Will the Minister clarify the point?
I can assure the noble Baroness that she is never stupid. It may be the heat. If it is the heat that affects her, it affects me too. The ITC will have a problem in defining "quality" because it tends to be subjective. What may be good quality in one person's eyes may not be good quality in another person's eyes. For independent television, each applicant must show that the programme that he offers, which will be broadcast in the form of pictures as well as the spoken 1389 word, will be of high quality. I do not want to return to that debate. The applicants have to get over the quality threshold—I am sure that no noble Lord will disagree with that—to make a bid for the licence. It is much more difficult to suggest that each radio licence applicant should say what programmes he will include and how he will overcome the quality threshold. The spoken word is different from a picture. It would not be right to try to define "quality" for each radio licence applicant. It would not work. I do not believe that those standards can be applied.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
Perhaps I may put a proposition to the Minister. I do so in a helpful spirit. Is there not a distinction to be drawn, in terms of our overall responsibility for the new radio regime, between the three national services and perhaps some hundreds of local services? As a compromise, will the Minister think about accepting the word "quality" for national services while leaving it to,a range and diversity of local services"?
§ Baroness Birk
Perhaps I may point out that the amendment refers to national services. It does not refer to local services. We are talking about the three national stations.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 231) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 72; Not-Contents, 114.1390
|Division No. 2|
|Airedale, L.||Liverpool, Bp.|
|Alport, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.|
|Ardwick, L.||Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Lockwood, B.|
|Birk, B.||Manchester, Bp.|
|Bonham-Carter, L.||Masham of Ilton, B.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Mayhew, L.|
|Carter, L.||Meston, L.|
|Chichester, Bp.||Milverton, L.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Molloy, L.|
|Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.||Mulley, L.|
|Crook, L.||Nicol, B.|
|Darcy (de Knayth), B.||Ogmore, L.|
|David, B.||Oram, L.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Peston, L.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Dunrossil V.||Rea, L.|
|Ewart-Biggs, B.||Ritchie of Dundee, L.|
|Exeter, Bp.||Robson of Kiddington, B.|
|Falkland, V.||Rochester, L.|
|Foot, L.||Roskill, L.|
|Gallacher, L.||Russell, E.|
|Galpern, L.||Seear, B.|
|Glenamara, L.||Somerset, D.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L. [Teller.]||Stedman, B.|
|Hatch of Lusby, L.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Holme of Cheltenham, L.||Thomson of Monifieth, L.|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Howie of Troon, L.||Varley, L.|
|Jeger, B.||Walston, L.|
|Jenkins of Hillhead, L.||Whaddon, L.|
|Kagan, L.||White, B.|
|Kilmarnock, L.||Williams of Elvel, L.|
|Kinloss, Ly.||Wilson of Rievaulx, L.|
|Lawrence, L.||Winstanley, L.|
|Ailesbury, M.||Jenkin of Roding, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Johnston of Rockport, L.|
|Arran, E.||Joseph, L.|
|Ashbourne, L.||Kimball, L.|
|Balfour, E.||Lane of Horsell, L.|
|Beaverbrook, L.||Lauderdale, E.|
|Beloff, L.||Lindsey and Abingdon, E.|
|Belstead, L||Long, V.|
|Blatch, B.||Lothian, M.|
|Blyth, L.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.|
|Boardman, L.||Lurgan, L.|
|Borthwick, L.||Lyell, L.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||McColl of Dulwich, L.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Macleod of Borve, B.|
|Brigstocke, B.||Manton, L.|
|Brookeborough, V.||Margadale, L.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Marshall of Goring, L.|
|Butterworth, L.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.|
|Caithness, E.||Merrivale, L.|
|Caldecote, V.||Mersey, V.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Montgomery of Alamein, V.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Morris, L.|
|Carnock, L.||Mottistone, L.|
|Cavendish of Furness, L.||Mountgarret, V.|
|Colnbrook, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Colwyn, L.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Norfolk, D.|
|Crickhowell, L.||Onslow, E.|
|Davidson, V. [Teller.]||Orkney, E.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Oxfuird, V.|
|Dilhorne, V.||Park of Monmouth, B.|
|Donegall, M.||Pearson of Rannoch, L.|
|Downshire, M.||Pender, L.|
|Elibank, L.||Peyton of Yeovil, L.|
|Elles, B.||Plummer of St. Marylebone, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Reay, L.|
|Elliott of Morpeth, L.||Redesdale, L.|
|Elton, L.||Renton, L.|
|Faithfull, B.||Sanderson of Bowden, L.|
|Ferrers, E.||Seebohm, L.|
|Fisher, L.||Sharples, B.|
|Fraser of Carmyllie, L.||Shrewsbury, E.|
|Gainsborough, E.||Shuttleworth, L.|
|Gisborough, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Glenarthur, L.||Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, L.|
|Goold, L.||Stockton, E.|
|Grantchester, L.||Strange, B.|
|Gray of Contin, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Grimthorpe, L.||Strathmore and Kinghorne, E.|
|Hanson, L.||Swinton, E.|
|Harmar-Nicholls, L.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Harrowby, E.||Thorneycroft, L.|
|Henley, L.||Trumpington, B.|
|Hesketh, L.||Tryon, L.|
|Hives, L.||Ullswater, V.|
|Holderness, L.||Vinson, L.|
|Howe, E.||Young, B.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ [Amendments Nos. 232 and 233 not moved.]
§ Baroness Ewart-Biggs moved Amendment No. 234:
Page 67, line 32, at end insert:
("(c) in the case of local services, to ensure that the services available in an area (taken as a whole) include a reasonable amount of time devoted to speech programming including news, current affairs, religious, social action, children's, educational, arts, entertainment, and minority interest programmes.").
§ The noble Baroness said: This amendment makes it an obligation for the Radio Authority to require a broad range of speech-based programming of all radio broadcasters. It is true that the principle of providing a range of programmes has been accepted as part of 1391 the definition of quality for television. A number of types of programming have been specified to be part of the quality threshold for franchise applicants. We feel—and the debate we have just had is relevant—that it is equally important that we have a range of quality programmes in national and local radio.
§ The Bill has dropped the requirement for public service broadcasting for the commercial sector. The Radio Authority will have few powers to insist that radio provides anything —it could be non-stop music, if that is what a station deems it most profitable to provide. Unless the authority has such powers, there is a danger that in the need to sustain profits programme resources will be cut and quality will suffer. With increased competition for audiences, little other than mass appeal programming will be produced.
§ This would be a great loss for the people of Britain because local radio has an important part to play in their lives as a source of information or as a stimulus for community involvement. That is particularly true of the elderly, the disabled and the socially disadvantaged and the people who work with them. If the amount of speech programming in a broadcasting area is seriously reduced, an opportunity will be lost for voluntary organisations to reach those people.
§ The Volunteer Centre is a voluntary agency that trains and advises on volunteers. That agency has pointed out that independent local radio and voluntary organisations have worked together successfully over the years to provide a wide range of programmes and services for the audience I have referred to. The agency has also pointed out that, sadly, many stations have already slimmed down such output. In the face of financial pressures and competition for audiences, it is felt that the BBC might follow that example. The new wave of stations cannot be expected to fill all gaps in provision as many of them are struggling to survive financially and are having to cut down on the original range of programmes planned.
§ Although recent research by the Broadcasting Research Unit shows there is a strong demand for speech, local news and other informative and educative programming, a totally market-led sector cannot be relied upon to provide that. As has been said, speech programming is expensive, especially in terms of the staff time required to carry out research accurately and to provide information services. In the face of increasing competition for advertising within a market niche broadcasters may be reluctant to risk air time on any programmes which might appeal to less than the majority of their listeners.
§ We feel that it is important that a full range of programmes should be included. The amendment deliberately refers to local services taken as a whole within any given area. It does not therefore prevent individual local services from specialising in particular formats. It merely requires that the other local services should provide complementary programming so that listeners have access to an adequate range of material. I beg to move.1392
§ 7.30 p.m.
The arguments put forward on this amendment are not dissimilar to those put on the preceding amendments. This amendment would give the Radio Authority the impracticable task of ensuring that the local services in any given area collectively included a long but somewhat arbitrary list of programme types. The noble Baroness says that the licensees in an area would be considered as a whole and that one need not subject each individual licensee to this process. Nevertheless I think it would be an impossible task to consider them as a whole in ensuring that they match up to the high quality standards suggested.
If high quality requirements of this kind are demanded of local radio stations, they may never get started. I come back to the argument which we produced on the previous amendment, which is that we have a whole host of new frequencies which can be taken up. Already a large number of organisations have expressed an interest in those frequencies. However, if we start to impose high quality standards on those organisations we shall never get the new frequencies off the ground.
§ Baroness Ewart-Biggs
I rather anticipated the Minister's reply. However, I still think that there is a grave risk in not writing on to the face of the Bill a provision to ensure that listeners have an adequate choice of programmes. That was what this amendment sought to do. However, I have no choice at the moment but to withdraw it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Viscount Ullswater
I believe this is a convenient time to take a break. I suggest that the Committee does not return to this business before 8.35 p.m. I beg to move that the House do now resume.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House resumed.