HL Deb 24 July 1990 vol 521 cc1408-28

House again in Committee on Clause 80.

Lord Colwyn moved Amendment No. 234A:

Page 67, line 32, at end insert: ("(c) without prejudice to paragraph (b) above, to ensure that no new licensed service replicates to any significant extent any existing licensed service if the new and existing services have substantially the same potential audience. (4) For the purposes of subsection (3) (c) there shall be deemed to be replication to a significant extent in particular but without limitation where replication takes place or would take place during peak listening hours.").

The noble Lord said: I am pleased to see that the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, is not in her place as I regret to say that I must refer to my notes. The noble Baroness earlier complained that she did not like to see people reading from notes. As a dental surgeon by profession and only recently involved with the radio industry I must admit that it is not yet possible for me to commit to memory the complexities of the Bill and I need to read what I wish to say.

I beg to move Amendment No. 234A standing in my name. As drafted the Bill rightly highlights the need for broadcasting to develop in a manner intended to create the maximum possible diversity of listener choice. I wholeheartedly support that concept. It is essential for making the most productive use of what is a limited supply of spectrum and for providing an important base for the future structure of the radio industry.

My amendment seeks to make good what I believe to be a deficiency in the Bill in that it fails to give adequate to steer to a future regulator as to how diversity should be achieved. Diversity has much to commend it. However, there are dangers for both radio companies and listeners if a future radio authority were to prove itself less than enthusiastically committed to this policy or were perhaps unsure as to how it was expected to achieve the desired result.

Diversity has numerous social benefits. It has virtue in its ability to satisfy the demand created by the cultural diversity of this country. The diversity to which I refer can come in various forms, and certainly embraces both ethnic and musical interests. Conventional wisdom encourages us to believe that if a station identifies a clear and distinct target audience and then creates programming specifically for that market, a viable business can be established that creates a genuine extension of choice and advertising opportunities. Diversity plays an important part in the delicate balance necessary to maintain a regular market.

Where broadcasters are restricted from countering the effects of increased competition by virtue of restrictions on ownership, it is vital that some measure of stability is offered by ensuring that competition is primarily complementary and not confrontational. Diversity is also terribly important to commercial broadcasters because only by attracting new listeners to commercial radio can the sector hope to increase its share of all advertising expenditure. New listeners, and therefore advertising, will only be attracted by gaining audience share from the BBC or by satisfying as yet unsatisfied listener demand.

If stations are licensed without some restriction on replication, we shall succeed only in spreading the existing revenue more thinly among an increasing number of companies. That will result in an unsatisfactory business environment which will also bring with it a denial of any true broadening of listener choice.

The radio industry currently attracts only a 2 per cent. share of all advertising expenditure. Several other developed countries support industries, taking as much as a 10 per cent. share. Only by an enthusiastic commitment to see through the concept of diversity to its logical conclusion will we give radio the economic framework in which it can survive and indeed thrive.

My amendment requires diversity to be practised according to some guiding principles. They concern conditions necessary to new licences and the drawing up of promises of performance. The amendment is designed to ensure that there is no significant replication between new licences and existing services, particularly at peak times. The essential teeth of the amendment is its reference to peak time, for it is in peak time that the real character of the situation exists.

Some Members of the Committee will no doubt have already listened with concern to one or two of the supposedly ethnic stations whose prime time is devoted to a diet of pop music which is already available from existing stations. I am aware that they provide ethnic material in off-peak hours, but at the time when the available audience is at its highest the hallmarks of diversity are sadly missing. My amendment will discourage the Radio Authority from further replicatory licensing and will establish clear guidelines for the expression of diversity that will benefit both listeners and radio companies alike. I beg to move.

Earl Ferrers

My noble friend's amendment is interesting. It goes a little too far to be acceptable as it stands but I have considerable sympathy with the underlying thought that the Radio Authority should have special regard to the extent to which new local radio services would genuinely add something new and enhance the diversity of choice for listeners.

The Bill already goes a long way towards meeting this objective. In particular, Clause 80 requires the authority to secure a range and diversity of local services offering a wide range of programmes calculated to appeal to a variety of tastes and interests. Clause 99 requires it in licensing local services to have regard to the extent to which the proposed service would cater for local interests; the extent to which it would broaden the range of programmes available locally; and the extent to which any application had local support.

Amendment No. 234A would go further by, in effect, enshrining local monopolies for particular types of local radio service. The Government believe that that would fetter competition too much. The Bill does not seek to protect local radio monopolies of any sort.

Nevertheless, I am prepared to consider whether there would be advantage in writing an extra provision into Clause 99 requiring the authority, in licensing local radio services, to have regard to the extent to which any proposed new local service would differ in character from local services already available in the area. The intention would be to reinforce the expectation that the authority should prefer applicants who seek to do more than merely replicate services which are already available. My only doubt, which I shall explore further, is whether Clause 99(c) already does all that is needed. However, if my noble friend is prepared not to press his amendment I shall be happy to take this question away for further consideration.

Lord Colwyn

I am grateful for those encouraging words from my noble friend. Of course I am delighted to withdraw my amendment and at a later date I look forward to hearing what he has in mind. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 80 agreed to.

8.45 p.m.

Clause 81 [Licences under Part III]:

Viscount Ullswater moved Amendment No. 234B: Page 68, line 15, leave out ("an additional service,") and insert ("additional services,").

The noble Viscount said: I spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 196B. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 81, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 82 [General licence conditions]:

Lord Thomson of Monifieth moved Amendment No. 235:

Page 69, line 7, at end insert: ("( ) conditions requiring licence holders to contribute to a scheme to meet transmission costs.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment refers to the cost of transmitters for local radio stations. One of the basic problems about terrestrial broadcasting services, whether radio or television, is that on the one hand they have to be economically viable but on the other hand they have to meet a public service obligation to the listeners or viewers.

The provision of transmitters can be extremely uneven in cost. Television can cover the whole of Greater London and its 10 million or 12 million people with one transmitter situated on Sydenham Hill. However, to provide a television service for the north east of Scotland, about 74 transmitters are necessary. The same applies to local radio. There is therefore a problem of survival for a number of existing rural local radio stations under the economic regime proposed in the Bill for the transmission system for local radio. There is also a problem about encouraging further spread and filling in the many gaps in the rural map in terms of local radio services.

In the case of television, on the advice of the present chairman of the IBA, the Government have, if I may say so, behaved with great common sense. They have not sought to state that each of the regions that hold a television licence should meet the whole cost of the provision of transmitters. If that were to be so, the London contractors would be immensely wealthy and profitable but probably several of the existing regional television contractors would simply be driven out of business.

For television, the Government have decided basically to persist in the underlying pricing system for transmitter costs for the companies concerned. They have done so on the basis of what I believe is a sensible economic proposition; that the cost charged to the licensee should be related to what the advertising market in the region he is serving is likely to bear. I am assured by my distinguished successor as chairman of the IBA, Mr. George Russell, that he found this proposition somewhere in Adam Smith. In any event, I am glad that he found it and that the Government accepted it.

However, for radio, the Government have turned their face against any such proposition and the consequences can be very serious indeed for a number of existing radio stations. This decision will certainly prevent the even spread of new radio stations in the more dispersed rural areas. I give as an example the station with which I am most familiar. I refer to the Moray Firth radio station, which was set up in 1982. It used to be the smallest radio station in the commercial local radio network. That is no longer so because some of the new incremental stations are even smaller. Over the years it has established an extremely good record of entertaining service to the people for whom it transmits. It caters for only 200,000 people and covers an area that stretches from John O'Groats in the far North East down to Fraserburgh. It is based in Inverness.

I confess to the Minister that I used the phrase "pricing system" deliberately. It can be called a cross-subsidy, though that is an unattractive phrase these days. Under the pricing system that has been used until now and which will continue to be used on the television side of independent broadcasting, Moray Firth Radio paid a transmitter rental of £5,000. Because of the terrain in that part of Scotland it had to have a considerable number of relay transmitters. I believe that the economic cost of that system is about £50,000. The IBA has arranged for a short transitional period, which will last, I believe, until 1992.

At the moment a station such as Moray Firth is just viable. It provides an excellent service and it just manages to keep itself going. The Minister was arguing that it was quite difficult to distinguish between a community radio station and a commercial local radio station. Technically, the Moray Firth station is a commercial local radio station. In fact, I do not think it makes a profit. It certainly serves the community. It reinforces the argument that the Minister was making about the difficulty of categorisation in that respect. The station is just viable now.

If this Bill goes through without amendment on the lines that I am proposing, that station, along with a number of other local radio stations, will be driven to the wall. Therefore, it is very necessary to try to find some way of dealing with this dilemma and bridging the gap between the economic cost of the transmitter system and the need to have a reasonable spread of local rural stations. I do not fight to the last ditch over the particular proposals contained in this amendment. We add to the conditions for new licence holders a scheme of contribution to meet transmission costs and to allow an element of a common pricing policy deliberately to enable the smaller stations to survive. However, I press very hard indeed on the Government the merits of the argument that lies behind the amendment. In that spirit, I beg to move.

Baroness Birk

I support this amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, and which is tabled in both our names. He explained extremely well the current problem of transmitters and transmissions and the inequities that can arise. As I understand it, the London area television viewing audience of 13 million needs only one transmitter and 40 boosters. That ensures that all households have clear reception. However, the 2.4 million population of Wales needs 164 transmission masts. The scattered population of North East Scotland needs 76 masts. As the noble Lord pointed out, if costs were levied on a similar basis, it is quite clear that broadcasting companies serving those who do not live in heavily built-up urban areas might find construction and maintenance costs prohibitive. The trouble would fall on the viewer and listener unless responsibility is put on the Radio Authority.

I believe that when we discussed the White Paper the question of the quality of transmission was raised. There were very serious worries on the part of both the people who were running the transmissions and the unions that the same high quality that was enjoyed through the transmissions when they were part of a public service might not be continued. As far as I know, that problem has been sorted out. I have not heard anything to the contrary. Coverage is of immense importance and that must be considered side by side with high-quality transmission and reception.

Earl Ferrers

Though the noble Lord addressed most of his remarks to Amendment No. 235, was he also including Amendment No. 266, which is grouped with it, or does he wish to confine his remarks to Amendment No. 235?

Lord Thomson of Monifieth

I was concentrating on Amendment No. 235.

Earl Ferrers

I am grateful to the noble Lord for making that clear. He said that he hoped that the Government would look at the merits of the argument that lies behind the amendment. I shall certainly do that. The Bill approaches this particular problem in two ways. First, it provides for stations to have a great deal more control over their expenditure by removing a layer of unnecessary regulation. It also allows them to make their own transmission arrangements in future instead of having them provided by the IBA. That will give operators more freedom to determine their own outgoings.

Secondly, the Bill provides for a transitional phase. The noble Lord, Lord Thomson, referred to a licensing system, which others have called a cross-subsidy. That method will disappear gradually, allowing those stations that will be affected by higher costs time to adjust. The noble Lord, Lord Thomson, referred to the Moray Firth radio station. We all acknowledge that it is a special case, as it is the smallest independent local radio station. It is to be given an additional year's subsidy.

We believe it to be right that in due course all these services should stand on their own feet. The Bill is designed to allow all of them the best opportunities to do so. It is also worth bearing in mind that frequency assignments are likely to be more freely available in rural areas. That, together with the opportunities for reduced start-up costs, means that a considerable expansion of rural radio services should be possible without. subsidy.

The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, referred to the quality of transmission. The Bill enables the Radio Authority to set technical standards as to the quality of transmissions from independent radio stations. For these reasons we see a gradual move to eliminate what has been called the cross-subsidy system.

Lord Bonham-Carter

I wish to clear up a small matter. The noble Earl said that Amendment No. 266 was grouped with this amendment, and so it is, according to the grouping list. That seems to be an error, because it deals with a different issue to the present amendment. Amendment No. 266 is concerned with Clause 93, which we shall come to tomorrow. It deals with the purpose for which the authority will grant licences. That is a different kind of criterion from that with which my noble friend has been dealing.

Earl Ferrers

That is quite all right. I realise that. As the amendments were grouped on the list I was not absolutely certain whether the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, was referring to the other amendment, though I do not think he actually mentioned it.

9 p.m.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth

I thank the noble Earl for the consideration that he has given to the amendment but I cannot express myself as satisfied with what he said. It would be wrong to regard Moray Firth Radio as a special case. It happens to be the case that I know best and that is why I used it. It is perhaps an extreme case of the old system. Those who run the station are rather sensitive about it being regarded as a lame duck or something like that.

It is a fair illustration of the problems that will occur for a number of the small rural stations. I underline the point I made earlier. It will be extremely difficult now for new local radio stations to establish themselves on the basis of having to pay the whole costs of their transmission system if the kind of terrain in which they are situated is at all odd. The problem occurs not only in the remote highlands of Scotland. I live in East Kent in the shadow of the North Downs. I remember being surprised to discover that, in establishing local radio there, something like six or seven relay stations were needed simply because of the way in which the rather modest hills, which I do not regard as real hills, presented problems.

There is a problem here. If the Bill is unamended the consequence will he greatly to deplete the possibility of commercial local radio in many rural areas throughout the United Kingdom.

Earl Ferrers

The noble Lord is on to a fair point. I shall consider what he and other noble Lords have said because the point they make is a real one.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth

I am much obliged to the noble Earl for that response. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Viscount Ullswater moved Amendments Nos. 236 and 237: Page 69, line 9, leave out ("during the period for which it is in force,") and insert ("at such times thereafter as may be determined by or under the licence,"). Page 69, line 11, leave out ("determined by or under the licence") and insert ("so determined").

The noble Viscount said: My noble friend spoke to these amendments with Amendment No. 25. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Viscount Ullswater moved Amendment No. 237A: Page 69, line 33, leave out ("or delivery").

The noble Viscount said: This is a minor technical amendment to correct an error in the drafting since there is no radio equivalent in the Bill to a local delivery service. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Viscount Ullswater moved Amendments Nos. 238 and 239: Page 69, line 44, leave out ("The") and insert ("A"). Page 69, line 46, leave out ("that tariff, and every revision of it,") and insert ("every such tariff").

The noble Viscount said: My noble friend spoke to these amendments with Amendment No. 25. I beg to move the amendments en bloc.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 82, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 83 [Restrictions on the holding of licences]:

Viscount Ullswater moved Amendments Nos. 240 to 244: Page 70, line 27, at end insert: ("(aa) revoke the award of a licence to a body where a relevant change takes place after the award, but before the grant, of the licence,"). Page 70, line 41, at end insert: ("(2A) Where the Authority—

  1. (a) revoke the award of any licence in pursuance of subsection (2) (aa), or
  2. (b) determine that any condition imposed by them in relation to any licence in pursuance of subsection (2) (b) has not been satisfied,
any provisions of this Part relating to the awarding of licences of the kind in question shall have effect as if the person to whom the licence was awarded or granted had not made an application for it."). Page 70, line 44, leave out ("corporate"). Page 70, line 45, leave out from beginning to end of line 4 on page 71 and insert: ("(b) a relevant change takes place after the grant of the licence,"). Page 71, leave out line 11 and insert: ("(5) In this section "relevant change", in relation to a body to which a licence has been awarded or granted, means—
  1. (a) any change affecting the nature or characteristics of the body, or
  2. (b) any change in the persons having control over or interests in the body,
being (in either case) a change which is such that, if it fell to the Authority to determine whether to award the licence to the body in the new circumstances of the case, they would be induced by the change to refrain from so awarding it.").

The noble Viscount said: These amendments were spoken to by my noble friend with Amendment No. 21. I beg to move the amendments en bloc.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 83, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 84 [Disqualification for holding licence on grounds of conviction for transmitting offence]:

Lord Bonham-Carter moved Amendment No. 244A Page 71, line 23, leave out ("before 1st January 1989") and insert ("on or before 1st January 1991").

The noble Lord said: I should like to speak at the same time to Amendment No. 244B. The point can be briefly put. Clause 84(1) states: Subject to subsection (2), a person shall be disqualified for holding a licence under this Part if within the last five years he has been convicted of— (a) an offence under section 1 of the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1949". Under the liberalisation of commercial radio over the past year unlicensed broadcasting was used by minority communities as their main source of access to airwaves. There is a case to be made that the Government set about breaking up the BBC/ILR monopoly or stranglehold as a direct response to the proliferation of what are known as pirate radio stations. Of the nine black and ethnic minority led projects awarded incremental contracts by the IBA in 1989, four based their applications on the experience of running successful unlicensed stations. The vast majority of unlicensed stations are run by members of ethnic minority communities.

Clause 84 provides no incentive to those running unlicensed stations to cease transmitting. It would also appear to be in a sense retrospective in its consequences by taking the cut off date as 1st January 1989. The Bill disqualifies for five years anyone convicted for unlicensed broadcasting before 1st January 1989. Those involved will have already, as it were, been punished for unlicensed broadcasting before 1st January 1989. This provision would punish them further. We should seriously consider the consequences of the clause. A high proportion of those operating pirate radio stations come from ethnic minority groups. It has consistently been the case that licensed stations have employed a low percentage of members of ethnic minority groups. The result has been that few people with experience of broadcasting come from ethnic minority groups and those who have experience come from what are known as pirate stations. They may be excluded by this clause from participating in new stations.

I understand why this clause may have been unthinkingly included in the Bill but the consequences of it are quite serious. Therefore, my amendment is to substitute the words: on or before 1st January 1991". This is not to try to condone piracy or make it in any way legal but to provide those who run unlicensed radio stations with an incentive to cease broadcasting and to submit an application to run a licensed station. It also provides an opportunity for those from the minority communities most experienced in broadcasting to participate legitimately in the new broadcasting radio system which the Government are introducing.

I hope that the noble Earl will not just brush this amendment aside as somehow condoning crime or condoning people who have breached the law. It is not that. Its purpose is to deal with the case of people who could not get into local broadcasting—for reasons which we need not go into but which include discrimination—and to allow them to do so in the future. Those who are best qualified to do so in the future may be disqualified by the provisions of the Bill as it stands. Therefore, I very much hope that the noble Earl will consider changing the date to 1991, which will make a considerable difference. I beg to move.

Baroness Birk

I can quite see that this is difficult, but the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, has made out a good case. One does not want to tie people down in some illegal activity from which they cannot escape, and they are much more likely to continue with radio piracy if they do not have the incentive of applying for one of the local stations or community radio.

This is the time to deal with the matter while the Bill is going through. Otherwise, as the noble Lord said, many such people from ethnic groups will be guilty of illegal activity for a long time to come. This proposal gives them the incentive to come back into a legal system and apply for these stations.

As we have heard, there will be very many stations. At one time the Government were wondering what to do about them all if people did not take them up. Since we are trying to encourage ethnic activity in so many other fields, I would certainly think it worth while for the Minister to consider the matter and for the Government to agree with the proposal.

The Lord Bishop of Liverpool

On another amendment earlier this evening I spoke about those groups which have felt themselves to have no voice and of the benefit to the community if they could be allowed a voice. This week I heard of two pirate stations which would almost certainly fall within the groups that have been mentioned. If it were possible to bring them within a framework where they would have an opportunity on the same level as everyone else of coming into another station legally, I would hope we could smooth the way for that.

Lord Monson

I too think that the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, has made out a good case for the amendment. I am particularly worried by the retrospective aspect and would like to ask the noble Earl the significance of the date of 1st January 1989. Why should it not be 1st January 1986 or 2nd August 1987? What happened on 1st January 1989 for that to figure in the Bill as it stands? It may be that the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, goes a little too far in the other direction in stipulating the date of 1st January 1991. Perhaps 1st October 1990 might be more suitable. I should like to know why 1st January 1989 was selected, because it seems to be somewhat retrospective in effect.

9.15 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

The noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, said, "Please do not brush aside the amendment because it really has something to it." I should not dream of brushing aside any suggestion that the, noble Lord puts forward. I should consider it carefully. However, I am bound to tell him of an observation made by the late Archbishop Fisher; namely, that there is no unreasonable argument that cannot be proved reasonable by reason. The noble Lord was persuasive in what he said. The people involved in illegal broadcasting have known for some considerable time that they were running a double risk; first, that they might be caught and prosecuted for their unlawful activities and, secondly, that they then might be disqualified from obtaining a licence from the Radio Authority

The noble Lord, Lord Monson, asked what was significant about 1989. Way back in 1988, the then Home Secretary, Mr. Hurd, in effect said to the pirate radio operators, "You can have until the end of the year to come off the air and start preparing to apply for a legitimate licence under the scheme"—that is what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool wants—"but if you choose to continue with pirate broadcasting in 1989, you will be caught by a disqualification that we shall propose in the Bill".

The pirates were therefore given plenty of warning. My right honourable friend outlined his proposal in a major speech to the Radio Academy Festival on 6th July 1988 and formally confirmed it in a parliamentary Written Answer on 2nd November. The position is therefore well known and understood in the radio world. If it is not, it should be.

Those affected by the proposal have known the state of play and responded to it as they saw fit in the circumstances. Some have blatantly disregarded it, suggesting that their motives in acting as a pirate are not, as they claim, to encourage a change in the law. Others have stopped transmitting and have waited patiently for the opportunity to broadcast with a licence from the Radio Authority in the proper way. It would be grossly unfair to that latter group of people if they were now to be told that they need not have stopped broadcasting at all and that they will now have to compete for licences with pirates who have spent the past 18 months unlawfully acquiring experience and building up an audience while cheating on their legal obligations.

It seems to me that the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, has not realised the effect of his amendment. That is peculiar as he normally does. Many new pirate stations would spring up quickly, knowing that, even if they were caught, they would still be able to apply for a licence next year. Amendment No. 244B would provide a loophole for convicted pirates to run radio stations in future by hiding behind an applicant who had no such disqualification.

Clause 84 is an important part of the continuing fight against the anarchy that would result if the pirate broadcasters had their own way. They may attract a great deal of sympathy and many people may like them and think that they are good fun, but they create difficulties for other broadcasters. The interference that they frequently cause may endanger safety of life services as well as cutting across legitimate radio channels. The amendments would also seriously undermine the efforts made by the radio investigation service to keep the problem under control. Although I have tried to understand the noble Lord's amendment, I hope that he will think that I have blasted it out of the waters.

Lord Bonham-Carter

I should like to thank the noble Earl for the care that he has shown in misunderstanding the motives that underlie my amendment. I am interested in decriminalising people. That is an important occupation in which we should be engaged.

Earl Ferrers

Is the noble Lord interested in decriminalising criminals?

Lord Bonham-Carter

It is undesirable for people to be put in criminal positions when that should not be so. I can give many examples. That is one of the problems that face our prisons today.

Perhaps the noble Earl will tell us how many stations stopped broadcasting after the announcement. When he says that it was well known, he speaks the language of parliamentarians and bureaucrats and means people well known to him and to the Home Office. I certainly did not know the date and I doubt whether many Members of the Committee were aware of the monumental announcement of the cut-off when everyone was subsequently given an opportunity to change their behaviour.

Quoting Archbishop Fisher, the noble Earl said that there is nothing unreasonable that cannot by reason be proved reasonable. I answer that by saying that there is nothing that bureaucrats cannot justify when put up to it. All I am saying is that there are many people with experience of broadcasting who are not engaged in vicious activities. They have something to contribute to the community.

I take the excellent point that the Minister made: that 1st January 1991 would allow people to set up pirate stations between now and then and therefore avoid the law. Right, let us change the date. Let us put it back to today's date and make that the cut-off date. We should bear in mind the role which those ethnic stations will play in the life of our community. I believe the right reverend Prelate said that we should provide those people who have little opportunity to speak with an opportunity to speak, and the amendment gives such people the opportunity to speak. The Minister is being bureaucratic when he says that chaos will follow if we insist on the 1989 date as opposed to 24th July, which I am ready to accept.

Earl Ferrers

Perhaps I may reply, because the noble Lord asked me one or two questions. I admire the noble Lord a great deal but periodically he goes around the course like a greyhound pursuing a hare. He is blinkered and merely follows the hare. I assure the noble Lord that he is misguided over this matter. He says that he wants to decriminalise the criminals—the poor wretched people who have only set up a radio service which everyone enjoys and who should be allowed to continue. Those people are doing something which is against the law. We have the law for a purpose: pro bono publico—on the whole it is for the benefit of the public—or we say, "Let them abuse the law for their own benefit". Those people set up radio stations against the law. They know that it is against the law.

The noble Lord said that such people do not do much harm. The frequencies that they use can endanger the safety-of-life services. There is no point in pretending they do no harm. They do harm. They can jeopardise the services which help people who are in danger. The noble Lord asked how many such stations had stopped broadcasting. I do not know how many have stopped because I do not know how many were broadcasting.

The noble Lord said that he was unaware of the parliamentary Question and the Answer which would have supplied him with the necessary information. I understand that, because the noble Lord is not a pirate radio station and is not therefore fully seized of what is going on. Those who operate against the law know full well what the law is. It was made public in the way that such things are made public so that if people continued acting in that way they would be aware that there would be sanctions. They had the opportunity to withdraw from operating illegally, like an amnesty. Some did and some did not. Those who did not should pay the penalty for not doing so. I believe that on this occasion the noble Lord is misguided.

Lord Bonham-Carter

I do not want to debate this matter indefinitely. The Minister is making a mountain out of a molehill. The pirate radio stations drew attention to the absence of choice, which is the whole purpose of the Bill. They drew attention to areas where people could not exercise choice. Those people were pioneers in entrepreneurial activity. They were doing just the sort of thing that the Minister believes everyone should be doing. It just happened to be against the law at the time. I do not believe that it was a serious breach of the law. They have been punished. They should not be punished again. The provision has consequences which the Minister rather brushes aside.

I shall not press the amendment, but the suggestion should be borne in mind. The social considerations which lie behind it are quite important. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 244B not moved.]

Clause 84 agreed to.

Clause 85 [General requirements as to licensed services]:

Baroness Ewart-Biggs moved Amendment No. 245: Page 71, line 32, leave out paragraph (a) and insert: ("(a) that nothing is included in its programmes which is likely to encourage or incite crime;").

The noble Baroness said: The Bill currently requires the Radio Authority to seek to prohibit programmes offensive to good taste or decency or which are likely to incite to crime, lead to disorder or be offensive to public feeling. The amendment deletes all those requirements, retaining only a requirement not to encourage or incite to crime.

The reason we move the amendment is that we believe that references to good taste and decency are inevitably highly subjective, as are judgments on what is likely to lead to disorder or what is offensive to public feeling. Therefore it is unsatisfactory that the Radio Authority should be required to make and seek to impose such judgments across the whole vast range of radio services. We feel that it is unfair both to the authority and to the whole radio sector that such powers of subjective judgment should be concentrated in very few hands. The end result is likely to be not the protection of the general public but rather the imposition of a possibly unrepresentative set of views on the public.

The amendment therefore seeks to retain only the requirement not to encourage or incite to crime on the grounds that criminal activity—quite naturally—is undesirable and is much more clearly and objectively definable. One could imagine a programme that clearly encouraged or incited to crime; a programme that glamorised terrorism or described acts of violence or sadism. There could be a programme describing how to carry out a burglary. One can imagine and define programmes inciting to crime but it is difficult to imagine exactly what programmes would be offensive to good taste, decency and the other provisions.

The effect of the amendment would be to remove any danger of limited and subjective judgments about programming being imposed on the radio sector. We believe that good taste and decency do not mean very much. The provisions have been automatically included over a long period but have no real significance. However, the requirement not to encourage or incite to crime is a reality and can be imagined. We feel that the deletion would improve the clause and we hope that the Minister will respond to the amendment and explain what he feels about our suggestion. I beg to move.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

I am interested that the noble Baroness has produced this amendment. I seem to recall having discussed quality earlier this evening. We rejected the proposal because of the multiplicity of radio stations. I suggest to the noble Baroness that the argument she has just made takes us in a different direction. I cannot believe that it would be right to remove, as this amendment seeks to do, the requirement for independent radio programmes not to offend against good taste and decency or to be offensive to public feeling or to transmit material which could lead to disorder. Those are long-standing requirements and I can see no possible justification for removing them. Radio is a different medium from television, but we should not imagine that it is not capable of being tasteless or offensive. In some ways it is even more vital that it should not be so, given the importance radio has to people who may be vulnerable or lonely, or both.

We should also bear in mind that under the new regime there will be many more stations, including some whose programming may touch on potentially sensitive matters. For instance, we hope and expect that there will be many more stations catering directly for local ethnic minority communities. It is therefore important that all independent radio stations should be subject to clear and sufficient listener protection safeguards which they know in advance will be included among their licence conditions. I am afraid that if Amendment No. 245 were carried, the Radio Authority would have insufficient power to ensure that all of its licensees conformed to the sort of programme standards which I know the Committee is looking for. We debated those at great length earlier on.

In conclusion I should say that I know that the noble Baroness well understands that these hallowed words—I hope one may describe them as that—appeared in the Broadcasting Act 1981 and in the Cable and Broadcasting Act 1984. If we were to extract those words, as the noble Baroness wishes, we would be sending out the wrong signals.

9.30 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Liverpool

I support what the Minister has said. This is not the place or the time to withdraw such buttresses. If we did so, I believe we would be sending out the wrong signals. Last weekend I took part, with my staff and other people from Liverpool, in a study weekend. We considered television in all its aspects. I know that this provision concerns radio, but I think my experience is relevant.

We were split up into 10 groups of 10 people. Each group was given six clips which had been scheduled for programming in this country or elsewhere. We were given the scenario of a not very wealthy station under financial pressures. We had to fill our allotted programming time under those pressures. We then had to adopt a different role, which was that of a decency committee considering the programming. With all my heart I wished that at least six of the clips would never be transmitted anywhere. It seems to me that there is an immense pressure on companies that are short of money to use some of the cheapest material that exists in the world, both on radio and television. All those who are involved in broadcasting have been trying to find some lines to hold on to in this matter. I hope that we shall not weaken the lines at this stage.

Lord Monson

I agree with the Government that it is probably right to leave the words "lead to disorder" in the Bill, as well as a reference to crime. However, on the other hand, I strongly agree with the noble Baroness that the terms "good taste" and "decency" are totally subjective concepts. Probably all of us in this Chamber have slightly different ideas of what constitutes good taste and decency. Even if the noble Baroness withdraws the amendment tonight, I hope she will come back at the next stage with a compromise amendment. I believe that the phrase "good taste" needs to come out of the Bill. I also suggest that the word "offensive" should be qualified by the word "grossly". I believe that if such a provision were proposed, it perhaps could be supported on Report.

Baroness Birk

I wish to support what my noble friend has said, particularly on the matter of good taste. At the risk of quarrelling with the right reverend Prelate, I should say with respect that I think that good taste is a meaningless concept. What is good taste to one person is not good taste to another. It is a highly subjective matter. People think, for instance, that someone's furniture in his home is in bad taste.

The concept of good taste does not apply just to behaviour. It applies right across the whole field of living and of action. Such phrases as "good taste" are transplanted from Bill to Bill all the time. At some point I believe we should consider whether we need to use this kind of language today. We should examine it to see whether it passes a modern test. I do not believe that we should just throw it out and go back to the same rather narrow definition that we put into pieces of legislation. It is rather meaningless.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

Of course one does not just move words from Act to Act. I agree with the right reverend Prelate that we are in the business of passing this Bill and as a result we are sending out signals. Despite the subjective questions of quality and standards of decency, in this case I would strongly object to any weakening of what is proposed.

Baroness Seear

Are we not straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel, if I have it the right way round? We have said that it is too difficult to define quality but we cherish good taste. It is extremely odd.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, who has made the central point of the argument. If under the present requirements the right reverend Prelate found six out of 12 programmes utterly distasteful and wished that they had not been permitted, then surely that proves that those requirements do not work. It is not that we want programmes to be in bad taste or to be offensive to public feeling, but we believe that those requirements are of little use. Therefore, since one only wants to include in Bills what is necessary, we suggest that those requirements should go.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Monson, that it is easier and less subjective to define whether something leads to disorder, and perhaps it should be retained with the reference to incitement to crime. We shall consider the matter again, and in the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 246 not moved.]

Lord Sanderson of Bowden moved Amendment No. 247: Page 71, line 42, leave out ("religious matters or").

The noble Lord said: The amendment was spoken to with Amendment No. 9. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 248 not moved.]

Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 249: Page 71, line 43, leave out ("current").

The noble Earl said: We agreed to accept this amendment when debating Amendment No. 79. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden moved Amendment No. 250: Page 71, line 44, leave out ("and").

The noble Lord said: This amendment was spoken to with Amendment No. 9. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 251 and 252 not moved.]

Lord Sanderson of Bowden moved Amendment No. 253: Page 72, line 2, leave out ("on religious matters or").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 254: Page 72, line 4, leave out ("current").

The noble Earl said: This amendment was also considered with Amendment No. 79 when we agreed to accept it on behalf of my noble friend Lady Cox. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden moved Amendment No. 255: Page 72, line 5, at end insert ("; and (c) 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—

  1. (i) any improper exploitation of any susceptibilities of those listening to the programmes, or
  2. (ii) any abusive treatment of the religious views and beliefs of those belonging to a particular religion or religious denomination.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment was taken with Amendment No. 9. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 256 and 257 not moved.]

Baroness Cox had given notice of her intention to move Amendment No. 258:

Page 72, line 7, at end insert: ("( ) Programmes which are categorised as being the 'Personal View' of particular individuals, programmes produced under the special mandate of particular radio services, and programmes categorised by any other special designation, shall not be exempt from the impartiality provisions set out in section 85(2) and (3) above.".

Earl Ferrers

On behalf of my noble friend I should say that this amendment was spoken to with Amendment No. 79.

Lord Bonham-Carter

This is a serious amendment. Are we saying that if there is a "personal view" programme labelled as such, which is about republicanism, the next programme has to be by a monarchist? Or am I misunderstanding the whole nature of the amendment?

Earl Ferrers

The noble Lord is wholly right. I was in error. I thought that it would leave out words which we had agreed to incorporate in earlier amendments. Because it was tabled in the name of my noble friend Lady Cox I am afraid that we went a little too quickly. I was in error. I apologise.

[Amendment No. 258 not moved.]

[Amendments Nos. 259 and 260 not moved.]

Clause 85, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 86 agreed to.

Clause 87 [General provisions as to advertisements]:

Lord Sanderson of Bowden moved Amendment No. 261: Page 73, line 15, after ("not") insert (", without the previous approval of the Authority,").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 87, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 88 [Control of advertisements]:

Lord Sanderson of Bowden moved Amendment No. 262: Page 74, line 19, leave out ("that connection") and insert ("respect of such matters").

The noble Lord said: This amendment was taken with Amendment No. 93. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 88, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 89 [Government control over licensed services]:

Lord Bonham-Carter moved Amendment No. 263: Page 74, line 43, leave out ("at any time by notice require the Authority") and insert ("after consulting with the Authority, require them by notice, if it is in the interests of national security or safety.").

The noble Lord said: This is an amendment simply to modify the powers of government to give directions without consulting the authority and asks them to do so only in the interests of national security or safety. It seems to me to be a perfectly sensible modification which does not in any way inhibit the Government where they have good reason to require a notice of this kind to be made. I beg to move.

Baroness Birk

I was under the impression that we had already dealt with this matter.

Earl Ferrers

The noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, having gone one up a short while ago is now one down. We are all square. In fact I believe that this amendment was dealt with at the same time as Amendment No. 102.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

9.45 p.m.

[Amendment No. 264 not moved.]

Clause 89 agreed to.

Clause 90 agreed to.

Clause 91 [Audience research]:

Lord Sanderson of Bowden moved Amendment No. 264A: Page 75, line 44, leave out from beginning to ("and") in line 45.

The noble Lord said: I speak also to Amendment No. 265.

Amendment No. 265 limits the authority's audience research duties to national and local (including community) services. It would be inappropriate for them to extend to, for instance, additional services, where there may be no programme content at all but merely some form of data transmission.

In other words, the audience research duties would continue to apply in relation to the stations which will form the basis of the expanding independent radio sector but they would not apply in respect of those forms of sound service where there is unlikely to he competition for licences which could usefully be informed by audience research.

Amendment No. 264A has been requested by the shadow Radio Authority and the IBA, which feel that it would be inappropriate for a light touch regulatory body to have to arrange research into the effects of programmes on listeners. So far as concerns taste and decency, the BSC already has the role of arranging such research itself. The Government accept that it may be onerous if the Radio Authority's research duties are too extensive. The cost would have to be borne by the licensees, some of which will be no more than small-scale operations. The authority would remain under a duty to arrange research into which programmes listeners would like national and local stations to include, and their opinions on such programmes. I beg to move.

Baroness Birk

I confess that I am very surprised at the amendment. I believe that I have seen the same paragraph relating to television research in the Bill. It seems very strange. If we are trying to ascertain public opinion concerning the types of programme that members of the public would like included in licensed services, I do not understand why research should not be undertaken on the effects of such programmes on the attitudes and behaviour of people who listen to them.

There have been some quite outstanding examples. Many years ago a radio programme in America broadcast "War of the Worlds". People thought that the events portrayed were really happening. There was great reaction. Much work and study was undertaken on that.

It is important to have research in this and other areas. Research is being undertaken across the board. Much research is undertaken about television. We are told that we shall have many more radio stations. If we shall not have a quality threshold, it may be even more important to know the effect that broadcasts have on people's behaviour. I hope that the Government will approach the ITC again on this issue.

I find the cost argument rather strange. If the body does not have the staff, such research is often contracted out to universities. With the Bill being enacted in 1990, it seems strange that we should remove a requirement for research in such an important area.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth

I am surprised to hear what the Minister has said and to hear that the provision is at the request of the new Radio Authority. We have just had an argument about various familiar phrases such as "taste and decency", "incitement to disorder" and "offensive to public feeling". The Government have insisted on retaining those phrases as being necessary to sustain standards. How on earth can a government who say that almost in the next breath take away the duty to carry out research into the effects of programmes on listeners? The effect of broadcasting is a fundamental issue, particularly as regards television, but it is equally true of radio. I am astonished that the Government have rolled over and given in to the Radio Authority.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

Audience research will be carried out for the three new national commercial services. It is peripheral work. I also made clear that the request from the Radio Authority was also that of the IBA. It had thought about the matter considerably and had come to the conclusion that this would be the best way forward. The noble Baroness asked whether audience research would be carried out as regards television. It will be carried out and it is provided for in the Bill, although I do not have the page in front of me.

Baroness Birk

If it is considered necessary to provide for that as regards television, why is it removed as regards radio?

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

It is not completely removed. I have made it clear that audience research will be carried out on the three new national commercial radio services. We wish to remove from the Bill the extra services that will come from local community radio.

Baroness Birk

That is not what the amendment states. It does not state that the provision relates only to local radio stations but that it is all right for national stations. It does not state what the Minister has said.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth

Can the Minister say where in the Bill we shall find the provision relating to the national radio services?

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

Perhaps I may give the Committee a little more background to the amendment. It would be only a marginal limitation on the authority's audience research duties. They would continue to apply in relation to the stations which will form the bulk of the expanding independent radio sector. They would continue to apply to all local radio services, including commercial services, no matter how small. They would also apply to the new national services, but they would not apply in respect of those forms of sound service, such as data services, tape delivered services and satellite services, where there is unlikely to be competition for licences which could usefully be informed by audience research.

The Radio Authority will be a small, light-touch body which will be expected to oversee a big expansion of local radio services. The purpose of the amendment is to avoid overburdening it unnecessarily. I hope that as a result of that clarification the noble Baroness and the noble Lord will see that a smaller number of services are affected by the amendment.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth

I am grateful to the Minister for that explanation. I would not call it a "clarification"; for me it amounted to further confusion. The proposed amendment is perfectly clear but we object to it. It appears to remove from the duty of the authority the need to make arrangements for ascertaining the effects of programmes on the attitudes or behaviour of the listeners. It says nothing about the duty being confined to additional services; it is a blanket provision that appears to apply to the whole of the output. It would be extraordinary if, as regards the new national radio services there was no proper audience research. However, I believe that I carry the Government with me when I say that with community radio we are entering into the unknown, good and important territory of ethnic community radio. It is extremely important for society as a whole that we should know the effect of these new community ethnic stations on feeling and attitudes in the ethnic community. It seems to me astonishing that that should be removed by this amendment.

I am not trying to score a point off the noble Lord but the brief which he read did not seem to be relevant to the proposed amendment.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

The noble Lord is quite entitled to his view about what I have and have not said. I am prepared to look at the amendment to see whether the intended effect is achieved. If it is not, I shall ensure that an amendment is brought forward at the next stage. I shall ensure also that the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, are written to on the matter. In the meantime, I commend the amendment to the Committee.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth

Would it not be better to reconsider the matter? We accept what the Minister says is his interpretation of the amendment but it is not that interpretation which matters once this Bill reaches the statute book. It is what the statute says which is important. There is some confusion on the matter.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

In that case, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 265 not moved.]

Clause 91 agreed to.

Clause 92 agreed to.

Viscount Ullswater

I beg to move that the House do now resume.

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

House resumed.

House adjourned at three minutes before ten o'clock.