HL Deb 23 May 1991 vol 529 cc413-26

4.43 p.m.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are satisfied with the procedures announced by the Radio Authority for the provision of a "non-pop" music national commercial radio station.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Unstarred Question arises from the deep anxiety that we on these Benches have that the new Radio Authority has drawn up the licence specification for the first independent national radio channel too narrowly and bureaucratically. It has imposed unnecessarily heavy financial conditions to the detriment of the range of choice and quality which should be available to listeners.

The background to the problem lies in the recent Broadcasting Act with its excessively free market, highest-bid provisions. These are worse for radio than for television. It is significant that there is no Becher's Brook of quality to be surmounted for radio as there is for television. Perhaps more significantly, the shadow Radio Authority, unlike the shadow ITC, made no apparent effort during our proceedings on the Bill to have such a provision inserted. Radio has long suffered from being in the shadow of television when broadcasting policy is debated. We on these Benches did our best to correct that imbalance during the proceedings of the Bill in this House. However, we had only limited success.

The choice of the first national commercial radio channel to compete with the BBC is an exciting and important event. INR1 was to be the flagship of the new radio system. In Committee on the Broadcasting Bill, the noble Earl emphasised that the new national channel should not be allowed to become non-stop pop simply because such content might be the most profitable way of exploiting the channel. Your Lordships provided some innocent entertainment for the nation by trying to define pop music. The House was assisted by the noble Earl's memorable description that it was something that went "thump, thump, thump". He was particularly insistent on the third thump which no doubt indicates his personal, deep in-built sense of rhythm.

Thus was formed the famous definition of non-pop to be found in Section 85(2) (a) (ii) and (6) of the Act. The section provides for: a service which consists, wholly or mainly, in the broadcasting of music which, in the opinion of the Authority, is not pop music".

The authority was left with the admittedly far from easy task of interpreting the Act.

In the summer of last year there were a large number of potential applicants; approximately 39 registered an interest with the shadow Radio Authority. Many hoped that the authority would encourage a wide range of innovative and creative ideas which, subject to the hazards of the bidding process, would allow listener choice to be enriched.

That appeared to be the hope of the Home Office last summer. On behalf of the then Minister, David Mellor, the Home Office sent a letter to Mr. Anthony Field, the chairman of Heritage Broadcasting on 21st August last year. The Home Office stated: The sort of service you have in mind would certainly appear to broaden the range of choice for listeners and on the face of it there seems to be no reason why it should not feature among the contenders for a licence".

But the kind of service that the applicant had in mind has been effectively ruled out by the Radio Authority developing an interpretation of the Act which, in my judgment, is narrow, mechanistic and bureaucratic. There is no doubt that it has excluded a number of applicants with interesting and innovative ideas.

The phrase "mainly music" contained in the Act is defined by the Radio Authority as being a minimum—I emphasise the word "minimum"—of 75 per cent. "non-pop" music, leaving only 25 per cent. for speech possibilities, in each three-hour period. Why on earth could not the phrase have been interpreted flexibly as meaning a majority of non-pop music—"majority" can reasonably be defined as mainly—the time period being a day rather than three hours? That would have allowed more varied programming. "Diversity" is interpreted in terms of the Act as requiring a mixture of different artists or composers in any six-hour period. Again, I am puzzled about why the period is six hours.

Both those restrictions would make it difficult, for example, properly to cover the Edinburgh Festival, which my local radio station, Radio Forth, has done so well, or to co-operate in the sponsorship of a long opera. Such restrictive interpretation of the Act has been compounded by penal financial conditions which seem designed for those with the longest purses in the bidding process and to encourage increased pressure for cheap programming.

Directly attributable to the Treasury is the auction bid money which I notice that The Times today estimates as perhaps running at around £5 million, plus a 4 per cent. levy on all the revenue that the channel generates either from advertising or sponsorship. In addition the Radio Authority demands an application fee of £10,000 and an annual licence fee of close to £1 million, despite the fact that it has discretion under Section 87(4) of the Act to, specify different fees in relation to different cases or circumstances".

A combination of a greedy Treasury and a greedy regulatory authority is the worst of all worlds and a poor lookout for broadcasting quality. It is little wonder that the Radio Authority found that its original deadline of April did not produce a credible response and had to be extended. Report has it that there was a great deal of rushing around to encourage the three applications which emerged yesterday from the original 39 hopefuls.

I am deeply saddened by the whole situation. I have my own reasons for being proud of the standards of commercial broadcasting in this country. The independent television network was able, over the years, to match the BBC in programme excellence and to carry off all the great international prizes. Some of us fought hard to see independent radio put on equal terms with the BBC by being allocated national channels. We hoped that, as with ITV, INRI would then match the BBC with its own distinctive programming of quality. Instead it looks as though we shall end up with wall-to-wall recycled music; one more record shop of the air.

The Radio Authority appears to feel that it will have done its duty and widened choice if the kind of records on INRI are different from the pop records on the other channel. But good radio is much wider and deeper than that. It concerns a great deal more. It is not only about music, recorded or otherwise; it is about programmes about music. In addition to music it concerns programmes about books, the theatre and other lire-enhancing leisure pursuits.

I do not want to comment—indeed, I am not in any position so to do on the three applicants who have come forward. However, I profoundly hope that the Radio Authority will feel that it has a duty to do a little more than simply pass on the highest bid to the Treasury, and that even at this late stage and with its own interpretations, it will do what it can to encourage the emergence of a first Independent National Radio channel which will be of some distinctive quality and character. We hope that it will not be just another easy listening station, this time on a national scale. That would be to squander a great new opportunity to add to the range of British broadcasting.

I conclude by asking the noble Earl the question I tabled originally. Are the Government satisfied with the procedures announced by the Radio Authority for the provision of a non-pop music national commercial radio station? If so, we shall be interested to hear what the government defence is of the behaviour of the authority.

4.55 p.m.

Lord Colwyn

My Lords, I am sure that we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, for raising this subject this evening, for asking this Question, and for the fact that it is timely. As he said, the applications had to be in by yesterday. I preface my own remarks by declaring an interest as a director of London's jazz radio station, Jazz FM. That interest is in a local radio station and one which, among others, receives support by virtue of revenue derived from its coverage of a specific area of the country.

All the existing commercial stations which make up the independent radio network are the result of an orchestrated approach to the expansion of broadcasting in this country. Orchestration, planning, regulation—call it what you will —is the natural balance required of a system that also imposes artificial limits on ownership and where market entry is also restricted by a limited delivery system—that is to say, the total amount of frequencies available. The new lighter touch regulatory environment is a welcome change, but it remains essentially an orchestrated approach.

I see nothing in the licensing of a non-pop independent national radio service which is inconsistent with the practice of planned expansion. The service serves two important purposes. First, in the face of limited frequencies, the public interest is served by avoiding undue duplication of formats. That is something I dealt with during the discussion on the Broadcasting Bill. Secondly, the commercial interest is served by ensuring that new licensing delivers to the independent sector the means by which it can attract listeners from the BBC who are so vital to its advertising growth.

The existing independent radio network already challenges the BBC extremely effectively in those formats represented by both Radio I and Radio 2. That leaves the audience attracted by Radio 3 and Radio 4, still as yet without a significant challenge on a national basis from the commercial sector. The two formats represented by Radio 3 and Radio 4, and particularly Radio 4, can be extremely expensive to produce. In the case of Radio 3 it may have a limited audience. For that reason alone both the Government and the Radio Authority were correct in my view to see the opportunity of national radio as being one of giving significant audience coverage to formats that would otherwise be difficult to sustain on a local basis.

The scramble to use the national radio opportunity of pop and rock formats is what gave rise to the non-pop definition and no doubt resulted in the rather clumsy attempt to enshrine it in the Broadcasting Bill. I have some sympathy with those charged with translating the now famous definition of my noble friend Lord Ferrers of "thump, thump, thump" into statutory language. I cannot help but think that asking such a silly question deserved the silly answer that it got. It was those seeking to circumvent the non-pop specification who gave rise to the necessity of definition. Most sensible people clearly understood what was meant and the effect that was sought. The formats covered by the pop umbrella were essentially ones which could expect to be maintained in local markets and therefore need not be dependent on a national platform for their viability.

If the response to the advertisement of this first national licence has been less than fevered (we have heard that there are three applicants) it is not because the Government were at fault nor that the Radio Authority did anything other than what was required of it. The only factors that can be said to have dampened enthusiasm must have been the prevailing economic climate, the high cost of transmission and the most unwelcome attempt by the record industry to impose royalty rates of an eye-watering magnitude and on a broadcasting industry which had already suffered from a heavy burden of royalty payments. These may be increased in some cases by as much as 20 per cent. Although a concessionary rate will be applicable to INR for the first four years, it could mean that the new station might have to find an extra £1 million. It is also possible that the Performing Right Society might try to follow PPL, possibly involving a further £1 million.

It is fair to point out that the Radio Authority could have modified its requirement of universal coverage and thus reduced transmitter costs. However, it will no doubt feel that it had good reason to insist on a network of over 20 transmitters. What, in contrast, is unforgivable is the assault on our radio industry by the predominantly foreign record companies, which is both vicious and on a scale every bit as unpleasant as I and other noble Lords warned this House it would be during our deliberations on the Broadcasting Bill. It is nothing short of scandalous that this country permits these record companies to frustrate government policy in this way. I only hope that the Copyright Tribunal which now has to deal with this problem dismisses PPL's claim with all the contempt that it deserves.

With respect, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, is wrong to imply misjudgment by the Radio Authority, if that was his intention. The authority acted in accordance with the Broadcasting Act in pursuit of both the public and commercial interests. I am sure that it is right to leave the principal challenge to BBC radio's pop format in the hands of existing local radio companies. I urge the authority to continue to see the opportunity of independent national radio as being complementary to the existing commercial system and not competitive. The competitive challenge should be the one of commercial radio versus the BBC.

5 p.m.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, we should have some sympathy for the Radio Authority and the position in which it finds itself today. The authority has been placed in a most unenviable posture by the Government with their determination to ensure vigorous market competition, while at the same time being very uncertain and vacillating about the very nature of the product which is on the stall.

Last year, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, has said, there were said to be nearly 40 consortia interested in bidding for the three channels on offer. Yesterday, when the FM channel bids were closed after a month of what we would call extra time, only three runners actually appeared at the start line. One can hardly say that this represents a crescendo or a passionate commitment to the subject; and one might be forgiven if one thought that the present situation is characterised by a deep and slumberous apathy, a disinterest, a lethargy illustrated by a great yawn of boredom. That is a pity. However, it is surely the direct consequence of the Government's failure to do either one thing or the other. To follow their own ideology, either the Government should have legislated clearly to ensure that a viable market with an identifiable product was created, or they should have allowed crude market forces to rule and simply allowed a general music franchise to go to the highest bidder, regardless of quality. The Government have fallen quite literally between two stools. We on these Benches—and in particular my noble friend Lady Birk —throughout all the stages of the Broadcasting Bill have emphasised always the importance of quality control and quality performance.

The rock on which this enterprise has foundered is that terrible phrase, "wholly or mainly non-pop". Is there not an inherent absurdity in defining something by saying what it is not? The music for this channel. whatever it may actually be, must not be pop—whatever pop is. It was distinguished at one stage from rock music, and your Lordships may well recall the problems that this posed for the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, when he spoke on 16th October 1990. I shall quote him, because I think what he said was important. The noble Earl said: It has been argued that rock music is not the same thing as pop music. I do not know whether it is or is not. But I do know that it would be an odd result—and not, I am sure, what your Lordships intended—if a rock music or similar application were able to win the licence for the non-pop service. Apart from the fact that that would be a perverse outcome, the result would also almost certainly be that two of the new national services were not genuinely different from each other, given that a rock or pop-based service will be well placed to win the third, unrestricted licence". He went on to say: We are not saying that a rock-based proposal will not be eligible for any national radio licence. It would in fact he well placed to bid for the one out of the three licences for which eligibility is unrestricted. All we are saying is that a rock or pop-based application should not try to pretend to be eligible for a licence specifically designated as non-pop".—[Officia/ Report, 16/10/90; col. 752.] I read that carefully the day after he said it and I have read it again since. The noble Earl makes his meaning very clear. But such argument in such detail must surely be guaranteed to have deterred investors and entrepreneurs, unless they had been promised vast profits, from working it all out. They calculated that the profits were not vast, and quite clearly they declined the invitation to puzzle out what the noble Earl and the rest of us had tried to define for them. They did not bother to compete—and who can blame them?

This piece of social engineering, however worthy its motives, has failed, and it has clearly been seen to do so. The enterprise has perished; the patient has died. A post mortem would seem to be indicated to ascertain the reasons for this very public decline and fall. I would suggest just three. First, the stringent restrictions of the Broadcasting Act were narrow, ideological and, above all, unclear. The Government wanted a commercial rival to Radio 3 or Radio 4. What is now clear is that that will not happen. Whatever else the FM channel will give us, it will not give us kontakions by Stockhausen or madrigals by Gesualdo. Secondly, the definitions laid down by the Government but left to be interpreted by the Radio Authority were absurd. We recall—and we have done so this afternoon—the noble Earl describing pop music as "thump, thump, thump". It has been pointed out to me by my noble friend Lord Carter that if he had added one other "thump" and given it the appropriate emphasis, "thump, thump, thump, thump", he could have given us the opening of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.

The absurdities produced by the definition are well summed up in Richard Morrison's article in The Times today, which I commend to your Lordships. He says: As things stand, it will be allowed to broadcast Elvis Presley's. 1956 hit 'Heartbreak Hotel' but not his 1961 'Are you lonesome tonight?'. Domingo's `Nessun dorma' may be played; Pavarotti's may not".

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will give way on a point of information. That may have appeared in The Times but it is totally inaccurate. I speak as the chairman of the Radio Authority. The licensee who wins the licence for this non-pop station can brcadcast 25 per cent. of the music time as pop music. He can therefore broadcast both Pavarotti and Domingo and anything he likes of Elvis Presley.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, I must accept the noble Lord's correction. He knows more than any of us about this matter. I hope that he will also take the opportunity to correct Mr. Richard Morrison on this and on another matter to which I shall come in a moment.

The third point on which I think we might meditate is that in this case the price was not right. Subject to the correction of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, Mr. Morrison said: To 'win the licence, the bidder must pay a £10,000 application fee, a £1 million licence fee collected by the Radio Authority … and make a cash bid, which could be around £5 million paid annually to the Treasury, in addition to 4 per cent. of all advertising and sponsorship revenues. Then it must forfeit an estimated 15 per cent. of revenue in copyright and royalty fees (which have just been raised considerably for commercial stations). Add to all that approximately £4 million in transmission costs and a minimum of £3 million spent on marketing the station in its first year".s I am grateful to the noble Lord for his confirmation of that.

The price was obviously extremely high, which must have acted as a deterrent to a number of people who would otherwise have made useful and good bids. The Broadcasting Bill, as we remember it in its passage through this House, was intended to ensure diversity, quality and choice. Alas, the FM channel will provide none of those. It will not be able to mount a credible challenge to BBC Radio 3; it will be at best a pale shadow of a watered down version of an imitation of Radio 2.

Let us hope that the Government will admit that this experiment has gone off at half cock and be prepared to profit from their experience by going back to the laboratory bench and starting all over again.

>5.10 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, I thought that we might have an interesting debate of this nature; indeed, we were not disappointed. The noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, could not avoid resuscitating the feelings of disenchantment which he expressed so graciously and most sincerely about 12 months ago when we discussed the Broadcasting Bill. But I dare say that even the iob1e Lord was not quite sure about what he was going to say today, until yesterday evening; nor was I. I that because, until that time, none of us —that is, including the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, the chairman of the Radio Authority, who I am delighted to see is present today —could have known for certain what applications there would be for the non-pop licence, the closing date for which was 5 o'clock yesterday evening.

We now know that there are three applications, despite the gloomy predictions of some dismal Jonahs that there would be none; and despite the gloomy predictions of the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, that we should all go back to the drawing board and start again. I am bound to say to him that that was a particularly unhelpful suggestion, but I accept it in the way that he said it. He seems to have forgotten that there were actually 39 letters of interest for the licences. Some of those who expressed an interest earlier will no doubt want to apply for an AM licence or for either the speech-based or the unspecified third service.

There never has before been a national radio service in this country run on a commercial basis. Those who want to run such services have not had the opportunity to do so. We have removed the unnecessary barrier. But, of course, it is for the market to determine what it wants to do. I readily accept that we do not yet know whether these three applications will all fulfil the requirements for a national radio station set out in the Broadcasting Act 1990. However, we do know that there are entrepreneurs who want to rise to the challenge and who are prepared to take the opportunity which independent national radio offers.

The noble Lord, Lord Thomson, asks whether we are satisfied with the procedures which were announced by the Radio Authority for the provision of a non-pop music national commercial radio station. I am bound to tell him that the short answer is, yes. The slightly longer answer entails appreciating what the Government's objectives were when we introduced the provisions which govern independent national radio in the Broadcasting Act, which passed through your Lordships' House last year and to which the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, was a notable contributor.

There is, at the moment, the potential for three new national radio services—one on VHF, and two on medium wave. We felt that it was right in principle that these should be made available to anyone who wishes to offer a national radio service and who believes that he can thereby establish a viable business. But, the economics of radio being what they are, we realised that it was likely, unless we did something to regulate the programming format of the new channels, that all three stations could end up by being stations which would provide what is colloquially called "pop-music".

We felt that national radio stations ought to be used to cater for a range of national tastes and interests. I do not think that that is an unreasonable thing to do. While we did not think that it would be sensible to try to lay down in great detail what each of the new stations should offer, it seemed to us to be very important to ensure that there was a broad framework within which these stations should all be able to operate.

We decided, therefore, to require that one of the stations should be predominantly speech-based; that one should offer music which was predominantly not pop music; and that the third station would be unrestricted in its content, and could easily be a "pop" or a "rock" station. To the connoisseur of these niceties—what one might call the "aficionados",—I can tell your Lordships that there is a marked distinction between the two. We do not think that those classifications impose major restrictions on entrepreneurs who wish to provide a service, and that was not our aim. The non-pop station, for example, could be a classical station. It could be a light classical station. Or it could be, although the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, would not like it, an "easy listening" station. But the important thing is that it should not be just another pop channel. It is interesting to see that those bids which have been submitted for the non-pop channel cover each of those three musical styles.

The non-pop station could build up a substantial audience nationally and it could be a major force in radio broadcasting. We did not accept the fairly pessimistic scenario that no station, which operated along those lines, could ever be viable. We believe that it could be.

The Radio Authority issued an invitation on 11th January to apply for the non-pop music radio licence which will use the VHF frequencies. The original closing date for applications was to have been 22nd April, but the authority decided to put that date back to yesterday, 22nd May, because of the announcement by Phonographic Performance Ltd of the revised rates of charges for the use of records by radio stations. That inevitably affected the business plans of potential applicants.

My noble friend Lord Colwyn made a blistering attack on PPL's pricing structure. He described it as excessive. During the Bill's passage we realised, as did the MMC, that some of PPL's practices amounted to an excess use of monopoly power. One of them was clearly the needle-time restriction. That is why we took steps to ensure that that restriction could not be unilaterally imposed. We all recognise that PPL has a right to make a fair charge for the use by radio stations of sound recordings. The central issue is how to determine what is to be a fair practice. The Act makes provision for the Copyright Tribunal to adjudicate where there is a difference of opinion.

My noble friend said that his amendment might have solved the problem. I recall him tabling a number of amendments on the subject during the passage of the Broadcasting Bill. They came at an inconvenient time of night, and they were inconveniently complex. They would not have prevented PPL from adopting its proposed pricing policy. The amendments were designed essentially to govern the way the Copyright Tribunal considered cases. I am satisfied that the Copyright Tribunal will be able to assess the issue on its merits within the statutory framework that we have devised. Your Lordships will of course be aware that there is provision for the tribunal to award costs against one of the parties in any case brought before it. The right course is for the tribunal to proceed to consider the merits of the case.

The noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, suggested that the Radio Authority was being unnecessarily rigid and bureaucratic in requiring the non-pop station to consist of a minimum of 75 per cent. of music in each three-hour period, and, of that music, 75 per cent. to be non-pop. But the Act itself requires that the service should consist "wholly or mainly" in the broadcasting of music which is not pop music. I doubt whether the requirements of the Act could be said to be fulfilled if substantially less than 75 per cent. of the channel's output was not music.

As it is, the channel would in any three-hour period have to play at least two and a quarter hours of music. The remaining three-quarters of an hour could be devoted to speech or to advertisements, or to a combination of the two. I do not believe that that format would be unduly restrictive. Those, who wish to offer a service with substantially more speech content, would perhaps be better advised to apply for the speech-based channel which will be advertised in due course.

The noble Lord, Lord Thomson, suggested that the Radio Authority was also being restrictive in its interpretation of the internal diversity requirement. The Radio Authority has said that that requirement could be satisfied if, as a minimum, in any period of six consecutive hours, the work of a number of different artists and composers is broadcast.

That does not seem a particularly rigorous requirement. Indeed, there are many who argue that it does not go far enough. I do not believe that the Radio Authority would penalise any licensee who might occasionally play music from a single composer over the whole of, say, a six-hour period, provided that, elsewhere in the schedule, there was compensating variety. Clearly, those who have bid for the non-pop licence do not themselves regard these requirements as unnecessarily prohibitive.

Some people have suggested that the Radio Authority should have done more to encourage bids for classical music stations. So far as the Government are concerned, we have never said that the non-pop station should be a classical station, although my right honourable friend Mr. Mellor—who has now left the exalted position of being the Minister in charge of broadcasting in the Home Office and has moved to the even more exalted but more detached rostrum of Chief Secretary to the Treasury—made no secret of his own personal hope that it would be. The noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, expressed the same hope.

The Radio Authority had and has no power to specify the format for the station, except to rule on the amount of pop music which could be played on the non-pop station. Nevertheless, I note that one of the bids from Classic FM is for a popular classical musical channel, and that the UKFM bid proposes to offer popular classical music in the evening.

Concerns have also been expressed at the prospect of pop music being allowed to be played on the non-pop station. I remind your Lordships that the Act does not say that there should be no pop music on the non-pop channel. It merely requires the service to consist wholly or mainly in the broadcasting of music which, in the opinion of the authority, is not pop music.

We then come to the problem of what is pop music. Rather like an elephant, it is difficult to describe, but you recognise it when you meet it. We included in the Act, for the sake of clarification, some guidance as to what constitutes pop music. It was never intended to be an exclusive definition and the Radio Authority has itself decided to add to the further definition. The authority has indicated that the non-pop service would satisfy the statutory requirements provided that 75 per cent. of the music which is played on the channel were to be music other than pop music. By simple translation that means that 25 per cent. of the music can he pop music.

The definition of pop music therefore helps to indicate not what specific type of music should form the majority of the musical output of the station but what type of music could form a minority of the musical output. It has no greater significance than that. Some have suggested that the definition of pop music, which has been adopted by the Radio Authority, is somewhat bizarre. I am bound to say that I do not think that we shall ever find an exhaustive definition which would succeed in separating all pop from non-pop music.

Lord Harvington

My Lords, will the noble Lord permit me a question? What would happen if there were litigation and a judge had to decide whether it was pop music or not, whether it had gone over the 25 per cent and all the other matters? It is rather sketchy, according to what we have heard from the noble Lord. I hope he understands my point, I may not have made myself clear.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I entirely understand the point. T le answer is: leave it to the judge. The noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, recalled, as did the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, that I had ventured to suggest that a simple, understandable and fairly realistic definition of pop music might be "thump, thump, thump". The noble Lord, Lord Thomson, rightly said that it was not "thump, thump". But the noble Lord Morris, was quite wrong. It is not "thump, thump, thump, thump"—four thumps. If that had indicated any Beethoven symphony, I think it ought to have been the Fourth Symphony, not the Fifth since there were only four thumps.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, will the noble Earl give way? I did not suggest that he used four thumps, I know perfectly well that he used three. I pointed out that if he had one extra thump and accentuated it in a particular way, he would have given us the opening bars of Beethoven's Fifth, not the Fourth symphony.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am not quite so dumb, I realised that. I suggested that it ought then to be called Beethoven's Fourth Symphony. Be that as it may, the parliamentary draftsman considered that it would not provide a sufficiently legal and watertight definition. I thought my noble friend Lord Colwyn went a little over the top when he said that if one asks a silly question one will receive a silly answer. Frankly, the question had to be asked, and I thought the answer was a smashing one on the whole.

I have a sneaking suspicion that my definition is probably just as good as any other. But the definitions which have been placed in the Act and which the Radio Authority has adopted are intended to be a little more specific and dignified even if they have lost a little colour in the process.

I readily concede that any attempt to define the indefinable is unlikely wholly to succeed. But I remain of the opinion that some common sense attempt has to be made in order to provide a degree of guidance if the non-pop station is to be properly distinguishable from the third, unspecified, channel.

The noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, was concerned about the licence fee which is set by the Radio Authority. No one likes paying licence fees. Everyone always says that the fees are too high. If one is paying the fee, one is usually justified in holding that view. However, the Radio Authority is required to become self-supporting as quickly as possible. At the same time the authority is anxious to spread the burden of its charges fairly between all its different licensees. It has, therefore, drawn up a tariff which sets fees on the basis of the number of listeners which the relevant service could reach. As more services are licensed over the next few years, the Radio Authority may be in a position to review, and even to reduce, its fees.

As regards the costs of the service, one of the main aims in the Broadcasting Act was to give the station operators greater control over their running costs. They are free to determine their programming and studio costs, and they have a large say in the station's transmission arrangements. Any complaints about royalty payments which are imposed by Phonographic Performance Ltd. or by the Performing Rights Society are a matter for the Copyright Tribunal to settle.

The Broadcasting Act provided for the first time an opportunity for the development of independent national radio services. It was quite an exciting new venture. It has had problems, as any new venture does. However, we did not then claim that the companies would be successful, and we do not do so now. That is not the business of government. However, we wish to ensure that they are given the chance to be successful. We see no reasons why they should not be successful. In the last analysis of course it is for the owner of the station to provide a service which is consistent with the Act's requirements and which attracts listeners. The service will exist for its listeners, and it is they who will be the judges of whether it succeeds or fails.

As your Lordships rise for the Whitsun Recess, I conjure up a vignette of the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, walking along a beach with his Sony Walkman tuned in to Radio 3 while longing to have it tuned in to an independent national radio station. He has that look of glassy eyed detachment which always seems to accompany those who use these instruments of modern technology. It is completely incomprehensible to others who hear a somewhat disembodied, sepulchral twittering which emanates from the earphones of those machines. That will be a lovely vignette of the noble Lord to retain over the Recess.

It is with a sense of sorrow that I realise that the end of this debate is the last chance for us to hear my noble friend the Chief Whip use those well-toned and well-honed words which it is his privilege to use in adjourning the House before a Recess. We shall miss hearing him pronounce them on future occasions.