§ 3.31 p.m.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now further considered on Report.
738 Moved, That the Bill be further considered on Report.—(Lord McIntosh of Haringey.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
Viscount Astormoved Amendment No. 109:
After Clause 195, insert the following new clause—
§ "DUTY OF OFCOM IN RELATION TO THE BBC'S NEW SERVICES
§ (1) Prior to the Secretary of State approving under the Charter or the Agreement the provision by the BBC of any new service or changes to an existing service whether or not a broadcasting or programme supply service it shall be the duty of OFCOM to prepare and publish a report commenting on whether the proposed new service or changes to the existing service will satisfy the objectives set out in subsection (2).
§ (2) The objectives referred to in subsection (1) are—
- (a) the new service or the changes to the existing service are compatible with the BBC's primary public service role as set out in the public purposes of the BBC or any of the services it provides as set out in those documents;
- (b) that the value to the public of the new service or changes to an existing service will be proportionate to the likely impact on the market;
- (c) that the new service will be universally accessible within a reasonable period of time free at the point of use;
- (d) that the new service or the changes to the existing service will represent value for money for licence fee payers.
§ (3) It shall be the duty of OFCOM—
- (a) as soon as practicable after the end of the period of twelve months beginning with the commencement of this section; and
- (b) as soon as practicable after the end of each subsequent period as may be selected by OFCOM for the purposes of this section,
§ (4) The review and reporting obligations are—
- (a) an obligation to carry out a review of the extent to which new services provided by the BBC and changes to existing services—
- (i) comply with the terms of the approval granted by the Secretary of State for such new services or changes to existing services; and
- (ii) satisfy the objectives set out in subsection (2);
- (b) an obligation to prepare a report on the matters found on the review.
§ (5) In this section—
§ "Charter" means the Royal Charter for the Continuance of the British Broadcasting Corporation of May 1996 and any renewal or replacement thereof;
§ "Agreement" means any agreement made (whether before or after the coming into force of this section) between the BBC and the Secretary of State to regulate the provision of the BBC's services and the carrying on by the BBC of other activities for purposes connected with the provision of those services.
§ (6) In this section for the purposes of the review and reporting obligations of OFCOM "new services" shall mean all new services approved (whether before or after the coming into force of this section) by the Secretary of State under the Charter or the Agreement."
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I shall not move or speak to Amendment No. 110 in the light of our previous debate on the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Gordon. My amendment is long, but its purpose 739 is short and simple. As currently drafted, approval for new BBC services lies solely with the Secretary of State. My amendment would ensure that before the Secretary of State can approve any new BBC service Ofcom must review, first, whether the service is compatible with the BBC's public service remit; secondly, whether it represents good value for licence fee payers; and, thirdly, its potential impact on the wider broadcasting market. That is the most important aspect of the amendment.
§ Ofcom is well placed to advise on those issues, and any such review would he of benefit to the Secretary of State in reaching a decision. The reason Ofcom is so suitable is that, as your Lordships are aware—and it bears repetition many times—other broadcasters also have public service remits: ITV, Channel 4, and so on. They are therefore regulated by Ofcom, so any new service from the BBC in the new area affects their channels and their public service remit.
§ In the past new BBC services have resulted from negotiation, or—perhaps more aptly—complicated horse trading between the BBC and the Secretary of State with the trade-off of new services, licence fee increases, and so on. Ofcom's involvement would make the process more open and accountable and the public interest would be better served by it. I must stress that nothing in my amendment would bring the BBC under Ofcom; it purely allows Ofcom to advise the Secretary of State when she makes a decision on new services for the BBC. I beg to move.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, the amendment is an odd hybrid between the approval of new services by the Secretary of State under the terms of the BBC's charter and agreement, and Ofcom. I am not sure that it makes a huge difference to what will happen in practice, but there are some difficulties in the way that it has been framed. It seeks to bring the process for approving new BBC services within the statutory framework, although the Secretary of State would continue to grant the approval for new BBC services or changes to existing ones under the BBC charter and agreement.
A statutory requirement would be placed on Ofcom to prepare a report on whether BBC new service proposals satisfied certain objectives. There would be a duty on Ofcom to review and report periodically on the extent to which new and changed BBC services complied with the relevant approval, and the objects mentioned in the amendment.
I am sure that, having been involved in broadcasting legislation in the past, the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, is aware that the amendment conflicts with the principle that the BBC is not, generally speaking, regulated by statute. It has a special status as a chartered body with a special relationship to Parliament. As I said, it is anomalous that the amendment leaves the grant of approval to be carried 740 out under the charter or agreement but makes statutory provision for the process. I might understand it the other way round, but not this way round.
Let us be clear: new BBC services are already subject to rigorous assessment by the Secretary of State—anyone who has followed the process of approval of BBC3 and BBC4 will be aware of that. The guidelines provide for full public consultation. They set out the factors to which the Secretary of State has regard in taking her decision. We always take into account the views of the ITC and the OFT—the ITC, at any rate, will be subsumed within Ofcom. The guidelines are published, and the amendment draws on them. It is well drafted in the sense that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
In future, Ofcom will have an important role in the approval process for new BBC services. Ofcom will be consulted on any new BBC service proposals and on any reviews of existing BBC services. The Secretary of State is committed to an independent review of the BBC's new digital television and radio services in 2004, and she is committed to the involvement of Ofcom in those reviews. I believe that that is what the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, is looking for. We are not persuaded that formal provision is needed to ensure that Ofcom plays an appropriate role in relation to the approval of new BBC services, or changes to existing services.
§ Viscount Astor
My Lords, I am grateful for the Minister's reply. He has given me the assurance that Ofcom will have a role in the approval process and will be consulted. I am always attempting to move the BBC gently further away from the Secretary of State, because at the end of the day it will be in a safer place. Perhaps the relationship between the Government and the BBC in recent days has shown that more clearly.
We now have the rather bizarre prospect of the BBC possibly using licence fee money to take the Government to court, who will be using taxpayers' money to defend the action: a somewhat circular process that will benefit only lawyers. But I am grateful for the Minister's assurance. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 110 to 112 not moved.]
Lord Stoddart of Swindonmoved Amendment No. 112A:
After Clause 195, insert the following new clause—
§ "APPOINTMENT OF ADVISERS TO CHAIRMAN AND BOARD OF GOVERNORS
§ (1) All staff responsible for advising the Chairman and Governors of the BBC on their duty to ensure that political, news and news-related programmes are impartial, wide-ranging and fair shall be employed by trustees independent of the Governors.
§ (2) The trustees in subsection (1) shall be appointed by the Secretary of State."
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is with some diffidence that I move this amendment tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch. He has asked me to apologise to the House for his absence. He had hoped to move the amendment last Thursday, 741 but today he has an important business engagement involving his company and has asked me to move the amendment in his absence.
§ The justification for my moving the amendment is that, together with the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, and the noble Lord, Lord Harris of High Cross, I am a co-founder of the Global Britain research unit, which has commissioned deep and extensive research into the BBC's coverage of the United Kingdom's relationship with the European Union. The amendment would provide that all staff advising the chairman and governors on their duty of impartiality are employed by independent trustees appointed by the Secretary of State rather than the BBC operational staff who cannot be absolutely impartial since they have an interest.
§ The results of this research are published on Global Britain's website, www.globalbritain.org. The highlights have been revealed by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, in a debate in your Lordships' House on 11th March 2002, during the Second Reading of this Bill on 25th March this year, and in Committee on 20th May. So your Lordships will be glad to know that I do not need to repeat any of the detailed findings of the analysis now, which run into hundreds of pages, suffice to say that the BBC stands accused of consistent Europhile bias over several years.
§ Perhaps our most important complaint against the BBC over the handling of these reports is that the chairman always appears to give them to management for adjudication and not to the governors, who are responsible for ensuring that the corporation fulfils its fundamental duties to "educate, inform and entertain", and that its political coverage should be "impartial, wide-ranging and fair". The BBC has also refused our offer of independent arbitration.
§ Our contention is, therefore, that for whatever reason, the governors are not doing their job. Indeed, it is interesting to note that in the present drama between the Government and the BBC over its coverage of the Iraq war, the governors have yet to appear on stage. They have said nothing—we have heard nothing from them. Yet they alone are vested, under the Broadcasting Act, with the supreme responsibility to ensure that the BBC does not behave as No. 10 believes it did. In their defence, it may be that the Government's terms of reference are impossible—they are judge and jury in their own court.
§ The amendment is designed to alleviate that dilemma by creating new BBC trustees, perhaps three in number, who would in effect become the employers of all those in the BBC whose duty it is to advise the governors on whether the corporation has fulfilled its public service remit. This might solve the present difficulty, which is that those employees, in. for instance, the Governors' Programme Complaints Committee and the Governance and Accountability department, are most unlikely to advise the governors that Mr Dyke and the BBC's management, who control their careers, have got it wrong. Can we imagine their predicament if Mr Alastair Campbell complains to the programme complaints committee? 742 Of course one would hope that in such a high-profile case the governors would get personally involved, but there is necessarily a large volume of complaints in the BBC where their predicament is less obvious but, cumulatively, perhaps just as great or even greater.
§ The noble Lord, Lord Pearson, moved an amendment in Committee designed to alleviate the problem, in which he suggested that a committee of the governors should have been formed to specialise in this public service remit and report annually to Parliament. Critics of the amendment felt that this was bringing the Government too much into the affairs of the corporation. This amendment would not have that effect.
§ This is still a probing amendment, and it will be most interesting to hear your Lordships' views. At the very least, I should have thought that the governors should be encouraged to form a sub-committee to concentrate on their public service remit even if reporting to Parliament or separate trustees are not thought to be appropriate.
§ If I may conclude on a more personal note, I have supported the BBC's licence fee in your Lordships' House as being a very good bargain. I support the BBC and hope it can survive by providing truly independent and wide-ranging political coverage. I opposed the war in Iraq, so I cannot be accused of wanting to get at the BBC in any way at all. I am just, as usual, trying to help the House and Ministers and, indeed, to help the BBC itself to become more respectable. I beg to move.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Lord McNally
My Lords, I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, needs to apologise for the absence of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson. I can think of no more perfect substitute for the noble Lord.
I intervene for two reasons—the remark of the noble Viscount. Lord Astor, about whether the recent events concerning Mr Alastair Campbell are a sign of things to come, and the amendment in the name of the noble Lord. Lord Pearson, spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart. It is a hit of a warning cloud that we must be quite sure that the independence and integrity of the BBC as a news organisation is protected and retained. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, to the extent that I am a little perplexed at the silence of the governors during the recent furore. There is a need for a clear statement on two sides. I am intrigued about whether the spat between Mr Campbell and the BBC is a personal vendetta or a statement of government policy. There needs to be clarification.
I think the governors should tell Mr Campbell and the Government, in no uncertain terms, to get their tanks off the BBC lawn. I do not think it is any accident that the personal standing of the Prime Minister has plummeted during a time when there has been a mudfight between the Government's spokesman and the BBC. The reason is very simple: the British public inherently understand that when politicians in government try to intimidate the BBC, the public interest is being threatened, along with the independence of the most trusted news organisation in 743 the world. It is interesting that 93 per cent of the UK population used BBC television, radio, text or online services during the first two weeks of the war in Iraq, and that there were over 140 million hits on BBC News online in the first week, after which there were 3 million a day.
I have said before that we have a unique national asset in the BBC. The current structure, with the governors providing a cordon sanitaire between the BBC practitioners and the politicians, has stood the test of time. I am glad this is only a probing amendment, but if ever it came to the vote, I hope that the Government would resist it.
§ Baroness Cohen of Pimlico
My Lords, a nervous glance around the Chamber suggests that I am the only serving or former BBC governor present. I feel, therefore, that I should speak against the amendment and remind noble Lords of the existence of something called the Governors' Programme Complaints Committee. I was a member of the first one of these committees; anybody has the right to appeal to it, wherever their appeal first comes in. They will be informed that they have the right to go to the governors.
There were four of us then. We saw everything and read all the papers if the appeal came to us. It is not that governors do not see complaints about the news or fairness—they see them all right.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, for not rehearsing the long-standing complaint that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, has against the BBC about its attitude to Europe. We have had it not only in a debate but at two stages of the proceedings of the Bill. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, will convey the message that some of us think we have had enough of it.
Nor shall I follow the noble Lord, Lord McNally, who seems to want me to use the amendment as an opportunity to clarify the dispute between Alastair Campbell and the BBC. I shall certainly not do that. It is a matter for the governors of the BBC, Mr Campbell and his friends, which does not arise out of the wording of the amendment.
The amendment would require advisers to the chairman and governors of the BBC to be employed by independent trustees appointed by the Secretary of State, which is an interesting thought in itself—bringing the Secretary of State into the issue. I certainly agree, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cohen, has confirmed it, that the governors need access to independent and informed advice on which to make decisions. I am not sure whether it is well known that the governors already have access to independent advice through the governance and accountability department.
The BBC announced last year a number of significant reforms to its internal governance arrangements. which were to establish a clear delineation of the functions of the governors and the 744 executive committee to enhance the role of the governors in monitoring performance and regulatory compliance, to provide the governors with independent advice and support on compliance, and to introduce objective setting and accountability through a new governance and accountability department.
The amendment would provide unnecessary and inappropriately intrusive government interference in the way in which the governors operate. It is clear that the governors have the power to ensure that they have suitable advice that is independent of the BBC executive. Again, the noble Baroness, Lady Cohen, confirmed that. If they become unhappy with the existing arrangements for obtaining independent advice they can change them. The governors themselves are independent and ought to be left to get on with their job, which includes ensuring that they have appropriate advice.
I stress that the Government have full confidence in the governors' ability, and it is offensive to suggest that they are incapable of doing so. The suggested role for trustees appointed by the Secretary of State would mean needless additional bureaucracy that could impede the governors' effectiveness. The governors who actually do the job of regulating the BBC are clearly the best people to decide how and by whom they should be advised in order to maximise their own effectiveness. Giving that role to trustees over whose decision the Government would have no control would undermine that. As the noble Lord, Lord McNally, asks, we resist the amendment.
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
My Lords, I thank all the noble Lords and the noble Baroness who took part in the debate.
It is interesting that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, had some sympathy with the amendment. He was right to do so because the BBC is held in very high esteem—make no mistake about that. I am concerned that that esteem should not be undermined and that the BBC retains the trust of licence-payers and the whole community. That was one of the reasons for moving the amendment.
To illustrate that, I saw on ITN a poll as to who people trusted more—Mr Campbell or the BBC in the recent spat. The result was decisive. Ten per cent said that they trusted Mr Campbell more and 90 per cent said that they trusted the BBC more. The BBC should guard that reputation very closely. I was glad to hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Cohen, that the governors do take an interest. However, it is not patent that they do so. The people who make complaints do not understand that they do so. The replies that they receive from the BBC are entirely unsatisfactory in many instances. I know that because I have taken up many complaints with the BBC and have been completely dissatisfied with the way in which they have been handled and replied to.
I did not expect the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, to support the amendment. Indeed, it is a probing amendment. I am sorry that he has had enough of it. We always enjoy the interventions of the noble Lord, 745 Lord Pearson, especially in European and BBC matters. I hope that he will not be deterred by the view of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, that we have had enough of it, but will continue to bring matters of importance to the House.
The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said that the governors of the BBC already have independent advice. But we are not sure whether that advice is independent, and we shall be watching it. I hope that in time we can have full confidence in the BBC in how it handles European matters and complaints about its coverage of such matters. Having said that, I thank everyone who has taken part in the debate, and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 205 [The Gaelic Media Service]:
§ Lord Lukemoved Amendment No. 113:
Page 182, line 42, at end insert—
'the retail prices index' shall have the same meaning as in section 19(10) of the Broadcasting Act 1990 (c. 42) (additional payments to be made in respect of Channel 3 licences);
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 114. Amendments Nos. 211, 212, 214, 215, and 216 are consequential.
§ As your Lordships are aware, Amendment No. 113 relates to Clause 205. We on these Benches strongly support the aims of the Government in creating the new Gaelic media service. I shall not try to pronounce it in Gaelic. While we feel that the provisions in the Bill for a Gaelic service are to be commended, there are some concerns about the effectiveness of the legislation. In another place the Government stated that they were unwilling for funding issues to appear on the face of the Bill. I do, however, believe that there are a number of funding issues that need to be addressed, given the unfortunate experience with the Gaelic Television Fund.
§ It is essential to secure and protect the new Gaelic media service so that it is sufficiently funded at the outset and to ensure that the funding is protected from erosion in the future. That was not the case when the Conservative government set up the Gaelic Television Fund in the Broadcasting Act 1990. Unaccountably the budget of £9.5 million was neither inflation-proofed nor ring-fenced. In 1991, £1 million was promptly diverted to education—I am sure for perfectly worthy causes. That happened every year. Therefore, the amount available for the Gaelic Television Fund is now £8.5 million a year. When taking into account inflation through the years, it should be some £12.5 million. That is a shortfall since 1991 of 33 per cent. Consequently, television hours financed by the fund have now fallen to 150 hours from 195 in 1991.
§ While Gaelic television was in its infancy, Welsh television, in the shape of S4C, was going from strength to strength. It continues to do so, and has contributed significantly to the revival of the Welsh language. During the Committee stage in this House, on 22nd May, the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Temple 746 Guiting, promised a review of funding for S4C, necessitated by the increased costs associated with digital development. We on these Benches welcome this. S4C funding has been index-linked since 1997. After the Broadcasting Act 1996 a minimum funding level was set.
§ As the Government have accepted the arguments for a funding review of S4C, surely Gaelic deserves the same—or better—consideration. If the Government are serious in their commitment to regional broadcasting and to fulfilling their obligations to Gaelic—a language identified by UNESCO as endangered—they must seek to improve on the measures proposed in the Bill.
§ The Bill as it stands allows a new Gaelic Media Service to establish a Gaelic channel. That will not only serve the Gaelic-speaking audiences but will also provide a most welcome economic boost. An impact assessment by Highlands and Islands Enterprise has shown that in excess of 100 jobs could be created in the region. That is a very large number in such a sparsely populated area. We support that commitment to promoting economic development in rural areas.
§ Amendment No. 114 relates to Clause 206 and the supply of programmes to the Gaelic Media Service for broadcast on a Gaelic channel. That would be an enormous leap in the service available to Gaelic consumers who would no longer have to channel surf round the terrestrial channels for the odd snippet of their mother tongue but would finally feel that their language was being brought to them in a better, more coherent package. The Broadcasting Act 1996 created a digital service available via satellite through the Multiplex A licence holder. The Gaelic service provision is for a minimum of 30 minutes per year. The 1996 Act prescribed that programmes previously broadcast by the BBC and the Channel 3 licence holders be made available "free of charge" to the channel. Unfortunately neither the BBC nor the Channel 3 licence holders have done that, and they have not supplied programmes to the Multiplex A licence holder. Only programmes funded by the Gaelic Broadcasting Fund have been made available. The situation contrasts sharply with that of S4C which receives 10 hours per week from the BBC alone.
§ We feel that the Government are missing an opportunity to utilise resources already available to the new Gaelic Media Service. The amendment empowers the Secretary of State to impose the requirement that broadcasters provide a minimum 30 hours per week to the Gaelic Media Service. This amendment makes it clear to the broadcasters that they have to supply programmes other than those funded by the Gaelic Media Service. While that obviously places a burden to fulfil the requirements, we believe that it is achievable and that it constitutes much less of a burden than is endured by BBC Wales in its commitment to S4C. I beg to move.
§ 4 p.m.
§ Baroness Michie of Gallanach
My Lords, as I have said previously, I welcome the setting up of Seirbheis 747 nam Meadhanan Gàidhlig, the new Gaelic Media Service. By tabling these amendments we return to the issue of funding and the provision of programmes in Gaelic—that is, the number of television hours per year from the suppliers going out at peak times and not in the middle of the night as so often happens. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Luke, for his support. He spelled out the reasons for these amendments and explained their purpose. I reiterate that the value of the Gaelic Broadcasting Fund has been eroded by cuts and inflation each year since its establishment in 1991 when its value was £9.5 million. If its value had been maintained, it would now be worth £12.5 million. Instead there has been a 33 per cent real-terms reduction which has severely weakened the fund.
Under the Broadcasting Act 1996 the remit of the Gaelic Committee was expanded to include radio as well as television programmes. Furthermore, it was expected that Grampian, Scottish Television and the BBC would each provide from their own resources at least 30 hours of Gaelic programming a year to the current licence holder, S4C Digital Networks. That has not happened.
The Gaelic Broadcasting Fund requires protection at least similar to that for the Welsh language. The Welsh language has not been subject to the same squeeze because, as we have heard, its fund has been index linked since 1998. However, I understand that the Welsh S4C funding has not kept up with the requirements of digital development coupled with inflation in the broadcasting industry. We have been told, and, I believe, that the Government have promised a review of funding for Welsh broadcasting. However, I am always very suspicious of reviews and ask myself when they will happen and how long they will take. Nevertheless I am sure that Welsh broadcasting will welcome the fact that the funding is to be reviewed. I submit to your Lordships that Gaelic deserves at least similar treatment.
These amendments seek to secure some sort of stability at last for future funding. I simply do not understand how the arrangements currently work. In Committee, the Minister said:I can confirm that the matters addressed in the current Bill as regards Gaelic broadcasting are wholly within the reserved policy area".I welcome that statement. He went on to say:However, it is true to say that the funding of Gaelic-medium programmes through the Gaelic Broadcasting Committee is being provided by the Scottish Executive".Then he said:The executive is not responsible, however, for programmes supported by the Gaelic Broadcasting Committee".—[Official Report, 22/5/03; col. 988.]It seems a huge muddle. Perhaps the Minister can explain by what method this very specific fund, the Gaelic Broadcasting Fund, reaches the Scottish Parliament. He may say that it goes in some mysterious and opaque manner via the Barnett formula and the block grant. That may be so, but I doubt it. The Barnett formula operates on the basis of planned spending in departments in England. I believe that it works by identifying whether a spending area 748 within a devolved administration is a comparable sub-programme in terms of spending by the United Kingdom Government on services in England. However, no programme in England is comparable to the need to fund Gaelic broadcasting in Scotland. So presumably funding does not come through the block grant. There are areas where various forms of funding are passed directly to the devolved administrations and simply bypass the Barnett formula. Perhaps that is the answer to the problem.
I do not like mysteries in government. We are supposed to be open and transparent these days—freedom of information and all that. Noble Lords can perhaps sense my frustration. Why do we have to argue about such a paltry sum when we know the benefits of a secure Gaelic broadcasting service—which would be of such enormous value to a language that is still alive despite having endured years of deliberate proscription and denigration? We believe that it is at last beginning to turn the corner. I ask the Government to give Gaelic broadcasting a long-term and secure future.
§ The Duke of Montrose
My Lords, I support these amendments. I must first apologise for being unable to take part at the Committee stage. However, I have read Hansard. On Second Reading I declared my interest as a life member of An Comunn Gaidhealach.
In Committee the Minister gave some very reassuring comments about the opportunity now afforded for having a dedicated Gaelic language television channel. Gaelic may or may not, as some of its apologists have asserted, have been the language spoken in the Garden of Eden, but it is a language and a tradition which for the best part of 2,000 years relied exclusively on oral communication to relay its truths and histories. Some historians have liked to cast doubt on the authority of that as opposed to a written history. However, it would be nice to think that technology has finally come up with a complete means to redress the balance which, particularly since Caxton went to work with his printing press, has worked against that sort of communication for this particular culture.
Speaking particularly to Amendments Nos. 113,211 and 212, the noble Baroness, Lady Michie, explained at Second Reading how the original concept in setting up the Gaelic Television Fund was that the target for production of Gaelic language programmes should be 200 hours per year. As my noble friend Lord Luke said, if the money provided then had been index-linked it would now be worth £12.5 million. He also made the point that it is sad that, since then, some of that money has been transferred to other purposes.
There is currently no legislative provision for maintaining, far less increasing, the fund, which is no doubt very comforting for those who have to deal with the purse strings. These amendments are a modest effort to ensure that current funding will at least keep up with inflation.
I shall try to follow up on the arguments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Michie. The Government have made an effort to point out that all funding is taken 749 care of by the Scottish Parliament, which we understand. However, considering that such funding is presently based on Section 183 of the Broadcasting Act 1990—neatly transferred to Scottish Ministers by the Scotland Act 1998 (Transfer of Functions to the Scottish Ministers etc.) Order 1999—can the amendments that we are proposing to the 1990 Act be similarly neatly transferred as the basis for consideration to the Scottish Parliament? A number of your Lordships feel that this issue is much in the interests of our historical cultural diversity.
§ Lord Crickhowell
My Lords, as a Welshman, I rise to support my Scottish colleagues in this House. In the days when I was Secretary State for Wales, I greatly regretted that I did not speak the Welsh language. I was, however, energetic in my support of it, and the late Lord Whitelaw and I played the major role in establishing S4C. Against that background, I have the greatest sympathy with those who want to see the Gaelic language supported and adequate broadcasting provision provided. I confess that I have not followed the exact arrangements in detail, and if the Minister can convince me that they are entirely satisfactory, and that there is adequate funding and so forth, fine. However, some reassurance would be helpful. This issue is of interest not only to Scottish Members.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Lord Evans of Temple Guiting
My Lords, the amendments to Schedule 15 and the consequential amendments to Clause 205 would link the resources provided for the Gaelic Broadcasting Fund with the retail prices index. We believe that it is not acceptable for the Bill to provide for a guaranteed level of funding as measured against the retail prices index or, indeed, any other indicator.
The implied comparison with the funding for Welsh language broadcasting is clearly inappropriate. The Welsh Authority service was set up on a distinct basis to provide a fully-fledged channel, S4C. The formula approach to funding was therefore a basic element in its construction.
In the case of Gaelic broadcasting, although the Bill empowers a new Gaelic Media Service to broadcast a dedicated channel following the granting of relevant licences from Ofcom, that is a longer-term aspiration. What we are dealing with at the moment is a body that administers grants from the Gaelic Broadcasting Fund to provide a more limited service of up to 200 hours of Gaelic programming. In future, the Gaelic Media Service will take over that role. Any moves to create a dedicated channel for Gaelic programming are more likely to be evolutionary than revolutionary in nature. Moreover, this is expenditure wholly within the competence of the Scottish Parliament. Even if the other factors that I mentioned did not apply, I would not see the Bill as the right vehicle for imposing unilaterally a spending obligation for Gaelic broadcasting on the Scottish Executive.
750 Amendment No. 114 after Clause 206 would give the Secretary of State the power to impose an obligation on the BBC, the Channel 3 licensees in Scotland and Channel 4 to provide at least 30 hours of Gaelic programming each year, free of all charge, to the Gaelic Media Service. None of those programmes may be funded wholly or partly by the service.
Under the Broadcasting Act 1996, read in conjunction with the Mulitplex Licence (Broadcasting of Programmes in Gaelic) Order 1996, the BBC and Channel 3 licence holders in Scotland are already obliged to provide, free of charge, the holder of the multiplex licence under which Channel 5 and SC4 Digital are broadcast with at least 30 hours of Gaelic programmes each year. Therefore, the amendment would effectively double the quota which the BBC and Channel 3 licensees have to make available. It is not clear from the amendment whether the same programming could be supplied to both SDN and the Gaelic Media Service.
The effect of the amendment would be to impose on the BBC and Channel 3 licensees an increase in their existing obligations with regard to the provision of Gaelic programming. That increase has not been the subject of any consultation or negotiation. As the 1996 order has not thus far been extended to Channel 4, it could also impose new obligations on Channel 4.
Amendments Nos. 214, 215 and 216 to Schedule 15 to the Bill would amend Section 32 of the 1996 Act to make the existing requirement on the BBC and Channel 3 licensees in Scotland, which is to provide 30 hours of Gaelic programming each year to SDN, subject to the proviso that such programming should not be funded by the service.
As with the previous amendment to Clause 206, the effect of the amendment would be to impose on the BBC and the Channel 3 licensees an increase in their existing obligations with regard to the provision of Gaelic programming to SDN, which, again, has not been the subject of any consultation or negotiation.
The noble Lord, Lord Luke, asked for—to put it bluntly—more money and for a review of funding for Gaelic broadcasting. It would not he proper for this House to commit those responsible for the funds, the Scottish Executive, to such a review of funding. However, the Scottish Executive will consider the case for an increase as part of its spending review in 2004.
The noble Baroness, Lady Michie, referred to the mystery of the funding arrangements, the lack of transparency and a general difficulty in coming to terms with where the money comes from and where it goes. We are aware that the funding for Gaelic broadcasting is met by the Scottish Executive from within the Scottish block grant. We will, however, write to the noble Baroness with precise details of how the money moves from one part to another.
The comparison with Wales is interesting, but we should all bear in mind that there are estimated to be 57,000 Gaelic speakers inside and outside Scotland and 500,000 Welsh speakers. That may give us some clue as to why Welsh television is more highly developed than its Scottish counterpart. As I said, we 751 are looking not at revolution, but at evolution. It is the Government's wish to support the Gaelic language. It is the Executive's wish. If the demand is there, I am sure that a Gaelic television station will emerge in due course. In light of what I have said, I hope that the amendments will not be pressed.
§ Lord Luke
My Lords, while I thank the Minister for that answer, I found it pretty unsatisfactory. I cannot understand why it is inappropriate to compare the S4C and the Gaelic situations merely because one is one-tenth the size of the other. It still should be considered and surely it should have the same amount of money that was designated for it in 1990. The fact that it lost so much of its value should be taken care of. I am not asking, as the Minister suggested, for more money; I suggest that we should now have the money that was originally available. The fact is that the money comes in some mysterious way from the block grant to the Scottish Parliament but it still comes from Whitehall; that is where the block grant comes from in the first place. I find it rather strange that the reference involved the Scottish Parliament when I understand—I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Michie, shares this view—that that is a reserved arrangement.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Michie, for her support; she knows so much more about this subject than I do. I also thank the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, and the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, for their support. This is not a very satisfactory situation. However, at this stage there is nothing more that I can say. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 114 not moved.]
Baroness Finlay of Llandaffmoved Amendment No. 115:
After Clause 209, insert the following new clause—
§ "DUTY TO ESTABLISH AND MAINTAIN NATIONAL COMMUNICATIONS COUNCILSM
§ (1) It shall be the duty of OFCOM to establish and maintain National Communications Councils for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
§ (2) The chair and members of these Councils shall be appointed by OFCOM.
§ (3) In making appointments under subsection (2) in respect of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, OFCOM shall seek nominations from the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly respectively.
§ (4) The National Communications Councils may review OFCOM's work in respect of their individual territories where such work affects devolved matters.
§ (5) The National Communications Councils may issue such recommendations to OFCOM or the Secretary of State with respect to their territories as they see fit.
§ (6) The National Communications Councils shall produce an annual report on their activities."
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the amendment seeks to insert a new clause after Clause 209. The amendment is based on the recommendations of the specialist advisory committee chaired by Geraint Talfan Davies. The report was accepted in January 2003 by the Welsh Assembly Government.752
§ In Wales and Scotland, the rural and remote agricultural communities experience financial hardship. They have poorer infrastructure in most domains. They are more dependent on broadcasting and telecoms for vital information as well as entertainment. New technology and e-mail can bring new jobs, education and employment diversity to those areas. Despite telecoms being an increasingly important component of the Welsh economy, the smaller Welsh economy is more susceptible to monopolies or quasi-monopolies.
§ The Bill as it stands runs contrary to the philosophy and policies of devolved government. With devolution has come an increased awareness of local issues and a clear recognition of the difficulties in rural areas for all aspects of education and communication, and health and other services delivery. The Scottish Parliament has many devolved powers and functions. The Welsh Assembly Government have been communicating closely with all agencies in Wales to ensure that concerns arc noted and, where possible, plans are put in place to address them. The Welsh Assembly Government are debating and making policy in all of those areas, which will directly impact on the people of Wales.
§ The development of the media goes far beyond the delivery of programmes. The infrastructure for communication networks is particularly complex in remote areas to strive towards equity of access. Devolved territories require their own separate advisory councils, reporting annually. Those can then be sensitive to local culture, including Welsh-language or Gaelic-language programming; to local topographical problems; to meeting local history, culture, education and information needs; and to the entertainment opportunities of its innovative and high-standard programming industries.
§ The proposed councils will be able to relate directly with the devolved government at civil servant and ministerial level over the devolved functions, especially health, environment, education, culture and economic development. Their responsibilities will be substantial.
§ The accountability will have clear management lines to the central structures of Ofcom, thereby strengthening Ofcom in devolved institutions, within a unified UK system of regulation. Ofcom's intelligence on the ground will he strengthened and formalised, and consistent connections will be built with relevant areas of civil society in each country. I beg to move.
§ Lord Roberts of Conwy
My Lords, I, too, shall speak primarily about Wales. I point out that the new clause applies to England, Scotland and Northern Ireland as well as to Wales.
The noble Baroness was good enough to accept my earlier Amendments Nos. 116 and 117 to her new clause and I hope that their incorporation in the new clause that is before us will make it more acceptable to the Government and to my noble friend Lord Crickhowell, who spoke on this issue in Committee.
The amendments were drawn up specifically to take account of the comments of the Minister, Dr Kim Howells, in Committee in the other place on a not 753 dissimilar clause, which was moved by Mr Simon Thomas, the Plaid Cymru Member for Ceredigion. The new clause as amended will confine the national council's review of Ofcom's work in respect of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, solely to the extent that it affects devolved matters. That Ofcom will affect devolved matters such as the economy, education and, in Wales, the Welsh language, is beyond question. Communications are all pervasive in regional and national life.
That the new clause is essential seems to me beyond doubt. If we do not have formal, statutory councils of the kind proposed, I am sorry to say that I can see nothing but trouble ahead for Ofcom in the national regions. My noble friend Lord Crickhowell mentioned S4C in our previous debate. Those of us who have had anything to do with broadcasting in Wales know that it can be a troublesome area. That was so long before the difficult birth of S4C in the early 1980s and I am sure that it will continue to be so.
The Minister, Dr Howells, in the other place told the Committee that the Government would,expect Ofcom to consult the relevant territorial departments and, through them, the devolved Administrations in order to seek nominations for suitable candidates".—[Official Report, Commons Standing Committee E, 12/12/02; col. 106.]The candidates would be for the content and consumer panels. That is all right so far as it goes; indeed, since the Government accept it, I see every reason for its inclusion in the new clause—and included it is. However, there will be matters outside the scope of the consumer and content panels—matters relating to policy and direction. Who will advise Ofcom in those circumstances and warn it of the likely public reaction? It may not be known to local directors and so on. Ofcom will certainly need a sounding board of the kind that the councils will provide.
The Minister also anticipated consultative arrangements set up in a memorandum of understanding between Ofcom and the relevant Secretary of State for each nation. That is better than nothing, but my preference is for councils, enjoined by statute, similar to those of the BBC. Such councils will be a good sounding board for Ofcom, and I am sure will be found invaluable.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Lord Currie of Marylebone
My Lords, in considering this amendment, it may be helpful to your Lordships to know what Ofcom intends to do on its own account with respect to advisory structures in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Ever since I was appointed chairman of Ofcom last summer, I have made it clear and public that we will set up national advisory councils for each of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, whether or not we are specifically required to do so under the statutes as finally determined. We consider that it will be of the highest importance to Ofcom that we receive advice at a senior level from those who can reflect the concerns 754 and interests of people living in the home nations, such as those issues that have been highlighted by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay.
There is a national representative from each nation already on the Ofcom content board and we would expect a similar arrangement to be put in place for the consumer panel, with the detail subject to the outcome of our consideration of the Bill. More generally, we are determined that Ofcom shall be present and properly represented in each nation. Ofcom executives have already made contact with the territorial offices and, while respecting the principle of reserved powers, with the devolved administrations.
We are engaged in discussions about how good, effective working relationships can he established. Those discussions will cover procedures for consultation; the appointment processes for the national councils; seeking advice on Ofcom's physical presence in each nation; and arrangements for the maintenance of regular contacts with the devolved administrations.
I greatly hope that that will serve to reassure noble Lords about Ofcom's own plans. We intend to do this well. I hope also that Ofcom will be allowed enough freedom in the wording of the Bill to allow these structures and processes to evolve organically from those discussions, and to demonstrate appropriate flexibility. Too much detailed prescription on the face of the Bill could be counterproductive.
§ Lord Crickhowell
My Lords, the whole House can be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Currie, for his important contribution to our debate. It was precisely because I was worried that the original wording of the amendment would be in conflict with his closing words that I was critical of a similar amendment at the Committee stage, and pressed my noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy to seek to put down amendments.
I entirely share the noble Lord's view that we must not put wordings into the Bill that might suggest to the national assemblies or to the other devolved bodies that they have responsibilities for the operations of Ofcom that they do not have. Similarly, we should not write into the Bill directions which go outside the proper role of advisory committees. I therefore understand and sympathise with the comments made by the noble Lord.
Having said that, the amendment now before us is very similar to the amendment suggested by the joint scrutiny committee and also to the amendment which I put forward in Committee. In a sense, the noble Lord, Lord Currie, has undermined any arguments against having it written into the Bill—clearly what this amendment suggests is very much in line with what they are already going to do—but, for the reasons that my noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy has hinted at, there are some quite powerful arguments for having it actually covered in the statute, if only to give the reassurance that is sought in the nations and regions, and perhaps to eliminate some of those sources of conflict to which he referred.
755 When my noble friend looks back to past history and to the troubles that we had in the very first days of the administration of which we were both members, I hope that he will not prompt anyone else to start, or threaten to start, a fast unto death, to get what they want. But those were the sorts of emotions that were raised at that time about broadcasting. He is quite right to say that these are touchy subjects.
I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Currie, and his colleagues will be able to accept the proposed wording. Alternatively, if there are some minor amendments that would make it easier for him to do so, perhaps they could be brought forward on Third Reading. If the noble Lord could accept something along these lines, which is broadly similar to what he is going to do anyway, it would, as my noble friend Lord Roberts suggested, help his task. It would calm things. It would give reassurance. I think that it would be a wise move. I therefore support the amendment. I hope that it, or something very like it, will emerge from the Bill when it leaves this House.
§ Lord McNally
My Lords, the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Currie, was extremely helpful, but I have one small point to make. He indicated that Ofcom was planning to set up such councils for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, whereas the amendment also specifically mentions England. This relates to the reason why we on these Benches support the amendment.
We are still coming to terms with and grappling with the realities of devolution. We shall also have to come to terms with the realities of devolution for England. I think that it would be sensible to have this kind of amendment on the face of the Bill—particularly as the noble Lord, Lord Currie, has gone so far in indicating his own thinking.
I believe that my credentials on this are sound because, both when I chaired a party committee and when I sat on the Joint Committee, I resisted the idea of specific national nominees on the main Ofcom board. I believe that it was right to do so. However, there has also been the powerful point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, that there are national sensitivities. It was put rather brutally by my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford in Committee that Ofcom would be run from the bar of the Groucho Club. Perish the thought! However, such sensitivities exist—namely, that what is happening in the regions and nations will not be fully appreciated by a metropolitan organisation—and they will have to be counteracted.
I believe that this amendment has the right balance. It addresses the right issue, as we understand that Ofcom is already well down that road. I think that it would be a very smart move on the part of the Government simply to accept it.
§ Lord Northbourne
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, in what may have been a Freudian slip, referred to "the regions". This amendment would appear to refer to the three devolved nations and then, in rather general terms, to England. There is an 756 asymmetry about the amendment that distresses me, because I believe that in England there are many different regional concerns, which ought also to have the opportunity to be expressed on a level footing with the concerns of the devolved nations.
§ Baroness Buscombe
My Lords, I rise briefly to support the amendment. I entirely agree with all that noble Lords have said. My noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy referred to the possibility of trouble in the national regions. I was also interested in that statement. Perhaps we could have a debate on the definition of "national" and "national regions".
I agree with my noble friend Lord Crickhowell. Notwithstanding the fact that it is extremely helpful to have the noble Lord, Lord Currie, offer his reassurances on this matter today, it would be better if this issue were covered properly in statute. The changes introduced by my noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy are extremely helpful and sensible. I hope that the amendment will be accepted.
§ Lord Davies of Oldham
My Lords, I am very grateful for the way that the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, presented her arguments—reinforced, as they were, by subsequent contributions—on an area which we debated at considerable length in Committee. This amendment advances the issues which were discussed in Committee, and the debate has taken place in a very constructive way.
I have listened carefully to the debate and I want to respond as constructively as I can. Of course. we are sympathetic to the anxieties reflected among the nations and to the obvious concern expressed fully in the opening speech that broadcasting is a significant feature of life in scattered communities, as is the case in certain parts of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
I am very grateful, too, for the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Currie. He reinforced a point that we also expressed in Committee; that is, there is no way that Ofcom would go about its business without having due regard to the needs of the nations which make up the United Kingdom. I recall that at that time the noble Lord said that there had been a considerable number of visits to outlying possibilities. Much constructive work has been done, and I do not need to do anything other than thank him for his contribution and reinforce what he said this afternoon.
We are somewhat hesitant about expressing in the legislation a degree of rigidity in relation to the committees that Ofcom would set up. It is recognised that Ofcom has provision for representing the nationalities with regard to contact sports, and so on. But we are anxious about the degree of rigidity that would be involved in establishing four committees of Ofcom in the way that has been argued. Throughout the passage of the Bill, we have sought to avoid placing unnecessary constraints on the structure of Ofcom or limiting its flexibility in dealing with changing circumstances.
However, the case has been well deployed today. We do not wish to accept the amendment at this stage and hope that it will not be pressed. But we undertake to 757 consider this debate in full, to look at the issues again and to see the extent to which we can amend the Bill without, at the same time, falling into the trap of rigidity, which would do harm to the broad objectives that we all share. On that basis, and heartened by the debate, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
§ Lord Maclennan of Rogart
My Lords, before the Minister sits down, can he indicate whether he has consulted the Welsh and Scottish Executives and whether they have given any indication as to what their attitude would be?
§ Lord Davies of Oldham
My Lords, certain aspects of their attitude have been well expressed. With regard to the feeling in Wales on this matter, I leave that to the eloquence of the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts. In introducing the amendment, the noble Baroness sought to reflect proper concern for the nations, and we all recognise that concern. But the noble Lord will also recognise that some difficulties arise with regard to this issue. Broadcasting is not a devolved issue. Respect for the views of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland is very important. Suggesting that this matter should be directed from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is a different matter altogether.
§ Baroness Finlay of Llandaff
My Lords, I am most grateful to all who have spoken in the debate. In particular, I express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Currie, for his contribution and for his very reassuring remarks. I accept the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, that some improvements could be made to the wording of the amendment. I am extremely grateful to the Minister for his sympathetic remarks concerning the spirit of the amendment, and I accept that some rewording should take place. In the light of those comments, I should like to take up the offer to reconsider the amendment and to reword it. Therefore, at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 116 and 117 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]
§ Clause 215 [Duty to secure the provision of a public teletext service]:
§ 4.45 p.m.
Lord Addingtonmoved Amendment No. 118:
Page 191, line 5, at end insert "and which is, so far as practicable, accessible to persons who are blind or have a dual sensory impairment".
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 118, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 135 and 139. The noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins, will not be here to support the amendment. I have been informed that she was injured 758 in a fall from her wheelchair and thus will not be present in the Chamber today. I hope that we can all join in wishing her a hearty recovery.
§ Lord Addington
My Lords, the amendments concern issues that we have already addressed. However, we did not come to a satisfactory conclusion with regard to the idea of teletext services being available. As a result of various technical innovations—for example, through items such as a Braille printer being attached to the system—the analogue system is currently available to those who have a sight impairment and to those with a dual impairment in sight and hearing,
I have been assured by the RNIB and its specialist adviser that great difficulties will arise under the changeover. When the adviser spoke to Portset—the Talking Teletext manufacturer—it was said that no device could be made to read the digital teletext in its current format. However, we were assured that, with a new software programme, it would be possible for the service provider to provide a programme which accesses and reads the contents in different ways—that is, it would be compatible with assisted technology. Effectively, such a programme can be devised if one takes the time to apply pressure and ensure that people think about the problem.
When it comes to providing news, it is particularly important that we remember those who have dual sensory impairment. I had a meeting with the Minister and other Members of this House at which the subject of dual sensory impairment—that is. deafness/blindness—was discussed. I hope that this will be a warning shot with regard to later amendments. It was said that if one deals with problems affecting the blind or with those affecting people with hearing impairment, then one deals also with problems affecting the deaf/blind. That is not true. One simple reason is that usually if a person has a hearing problem, he can go primarily to a visual medium for support, or vice versa. In this case, the teletext and the printer which provides Braille enables the sense of touch to provide the information, and that would greatly assist certain groups. As people live longer, the number of those with dual impairment is bound to rise. Effectively, in Amendment No. 118 we are suggesting that the Government should place upon Ofcom the duty to ensure that the best use is made of technology. According to technical advice, we believe that that is now possible.
I turn to Amendments Nos. 135 and 139. These Benches become rather more friendly towards Sky than is normally the case. We suggest that public broadcasters should allow and pay for audio description to be used on the Sky system so that it can reach those who already have the Sky box. Radio 4—it is nice to use the BBC against the BBC—in its "In Touch" programme, asked its listeners for their views on this matter. One response was, "Why should we not use the Sky system?". I must apologise for not being present at one of the briefings, but Sky now has a 759 system which delivers audio description. A secondary system which delivers audio description—it may not be quite so good—is infinitely better than a good system that is not available.
A response to the "In Touch" programme stated:You asked if the listeners wanted AD [audio description] well this one does. You also asked how we wanted to receive it. Any way we can. When do we want it?—I wanted it the day I got my audio description set on my Skybox. I despair of this penny pinching and mean spirited country sometimes, it is shameful".The sentiments and language are probably true of all phone-ins. What are the costs? There was an initial cost of £6,000 and then £20,000 per annum per channel of extra bandwidth. Of course, it is not only £20,000. It expands some local/national channels. But the sum is probably under half a million pounds per year.
The RNIB, whose hand lies heavily on these amendments, suggests that there may be a case to answer under the DDA for not taking reasonable steps to ensure that people receive the system. I suggest that there is a case to answer. If the Government accept the amendments they will he dealing now with the problem for a large number of people. Approximately 480,000 people with a visual problem have access to Sky. It would be a step forward which would not get in the way of those who choose to receive the free-to-air services in other ways. It would merely ensure that those with systems in place receive access now. I beg to move.
§ Lord Morris of Manchester
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord. Lord Addington, on the success he has achieved in the proceedings so far on this important Bill. None of his amendments is more important than Amendment No. 118 with its concern for people who have a dual sensory impairment: the Helen Kellers, as it were, of contemporary Britain.
When I was Minister for disabled people from 1974–9, I was asked what combination of disabilities I thought was the most devastating in its effects. The question was, of course, unanswerable; but I recall that my first inclination was to offer blindness combined with pre-lingual deafness as my response. For it takes scant imagination to appreciate the extent and severity of the handicapping effects of being without hearing, without sight and without speech.
My noble friend Lord Ashley played a leading role in 1970 in enacting the world's first-ever legislation on the dual sensory impairment of deafness and blindness; and this must he an evocative moment for him, fighting the good fight for them again as he is today.
There are those who think that without any action in Westminster or in Whitehall someone will turn up and design new equipment to replace talking teletext and that this will sort the problem out. But it will not. It has to be understood that it is the format of digital teletext itself which is the fundamental problem. The technical expert for the Royal National Institute for the Blind has studied the issue and looked at the structure of digital teletext and how it works. He has concluded that Portset (talking teletext manufacturers) are right to say no device could be made to read digital teletext in its 760 current format. That is why this amendment is so important. It would ensure that Ofcom does all it can to ensure blind and deaf-blind people's continued access to teletext post-digital switchover.
What would he untenable would be for Westminster and Whitehall to do nothing. The experience of audio description should teach us that these things should not he left to chance. Nor is it tenable to expect small specialist providers to continue to fill in the gaps in the market and expect cash-strapped, deeply excluded consumers to pay exorbitant amounts of money for a service which everyone else gets at no extra charge.
Amendment No. 118 is very much about social inclusion. I hope that the House as a whole will recognise its importance as today's debate proceeds.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, in Committee I tabled amendments which dealt with audio description. Therefore, I wish to speak to Amendments Nos. 135 and 139.
The technology is there. As we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Addington, it is available already on Sky for approaching half a million blind and partially-sighted people. It is available on other broadcasts but only to about 65 people who had the trial modules. There seems to be a real problem in persuading the manufacturers that there is a market for producing set-top boxes. We are told that the technology on trial at present with the 65 trial modules is better. I believe that it is an accepted European standard. But there is still the problem of bridging the gap.
In Committee, the Minister said that requiring the BBC and ITV to simulcast audio description on Sky digital would somehow jeopardise the development of receiver-mixed audio description for digital terrestrial. I wonder sometimes—I dismiss it as an unworthy thought—whether broadcasters who are invoked with free-view consider that if consumers could obtain the service on Sky they would be less inclined to have free-view. Later amendments deal with how the percentage of audio description is calculated; and the powers of Ofcom to vary it.
The set-top boxes could be adapted extremely cheaply. We are told that the chip for the set-top boxes costs only about £10 and that the facility will soon be available on all set-top boxes. If it is available, but that does not take place, I ask the Government seriously to consider the possibility raised by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, of a case brought against the broadcasters under the Disability Discrimination Act. It would be unfortunate, if I may so put it, if the Government were to side with the broadcasters and perhaps resist these amendments, or similar provisions, and then find that they are conniving in a situation which could result in the broadcasters losing a case under the Act. The RNIB is prepared to back a legal case against the broadcasters because we are talking about a very reasonable adjustment.
The DDA applies explicitly to access to and use of a means of communication. Section 21 of the Act places a duty on service providers including broadcasters to amend policies, procedures and practices which 761 prevent disabled people using a service and to provide auxiliary aids and services. Therefore, I ask the Minister to consider the issue extremely carefully. The technology is there. There are two kinds of technology. We are not clear why there is this delay in the more advanced technology being adopted. However, if it is not adopted, there is a strong chance that a case could be brought under the Disability Discrimination Act. It would be unfortunate if the Government were backing a situation which turned out to be illegal.
§ 5 p.m.
§ Lord Ashley of Stoke
My Lords, I make two basic points. First, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and my noble friends Lord Morris and Lord Carter for their contributions. I appreciate what they have said. They have covered most arguments.
However, on Amendments Nos. 135 and 139 there is a clear conflict about the facts of the situation which should be resolved to the satisfaction of the House. In Committee, the Government said that the cost of Amendments Nos. 135 and 139 was an issue—and for our briefing we have relied heavily on the RNIB and the RNID, both of which have been excellent—but the RNIB, on the contrary, states that nothing could be cheaper or easier to arrange. Only one is right: it is either an issue of cost or it is easy and cheap.
I have enough confidence in my noble friend to assume that he will treat these amendments with great sympathy, but if for any reason he cannot, I do think that it is incumbent on the Government to illuminate the costings and to say what these expensive costings are. Of course we could think about different wording or something of that kind. However, I hope that the Government will he able to give us the details of why these developments will be very expensive.
My second point is on discrimination. I am a great advocate of the DRC taking legal action if one gets recalcitrant employers or organisations and so on. I press all the time to start legal action but I wonder in this case. It occurs to me that it is a form of discrimination if blind or partially-sighted people cannot use these wonderful advances. So I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Addington, that the Government or the DRC should consider taking action.
But why take that risk? Why bother? The simple answer is to accept the amendments and one would not then need to argue about legal action. The answer is plain and simple for the Government and lies in the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Addington. I hope that they are able to accept these three amendments.
§ Lord Luke
My Lords, I associate noble Lords on the Conservative Benches with the sending of best wishes to the noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins, and hope that she will be back with us before too long.
762 We support Amendment No. 118 in principle. I was most interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Carter, say that the technology—I hope I have this right—with regard to the digital teletext is there, but that it is too expensive to deliver.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, I was speaking about technology on audio-description, which is in Amendments Nos. 135 and 139.
§ Lord Luke
My Lords, I beg the pardon of the noble Lord, Lord Carter. Nevertheless, I just want to say that we support the amendment and hope that the Minister can give us some joy on what is being delivered. It is very important that the discrimination described by the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, does not take place. 1 am not sure that I go along with the idea of suing, but certainly we wish to see progress on this as on other issues.
§ The Lord Bishop of Manchester
My Lords, we on these Benches have consistently supported amendments tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Addington and Lord Ashley. I simply want to say that I endorse and repeat that support for these amendments.
§ Baroness Howe of Idlicote
My Lords, my contribution will also be brief because everything that I want to say has been said. I have read the RNIB briefing. Like the noble Lord, Lord Addington, I was particularly moved by the pleas made by those who wrote to say that they would have wanted these services and facilities from the moment they arrived.
It is clear that this is a growing market. We are told that the longer people live, the more likely they are to be disadvantaged in this way. So the market is there. The costs are going down the whole time. So, again, there is every reason to be doing this. Inclusiveness was mentioned, which the Government have as a main objective. I think it is a very desirable objective. We can now see that if push comes to shove there is a clear possibility that a case could be made under the DDA.
So I hope very much that the Minister when responding will be able to accept the role that government must play if the broadcasters are to have this responsibility. It must be overseen and underwritten by the Government.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I share with all noble Lords who have spoken today our keenness that people with sensory impairments should benefit by improved access to all television services including the public teletext service. I think that view has been universally expressed. In particular, we recognise the peculiar problems of those with dual sensory impairment. My noble friend Lord Ashley was particularly eloquent on that point in Committee.
There is a problem between analogue and digital. Those who are visually impaired and those with dual sensory impairment have access to analogue public teletext services and other analogue text services through Talking Teletext equipment, which uses a 763 teletext decoder and a voice synthesiser to translate written teletext into audible speech. The information can be stored on a computer and printed out in Braille. That is fine for analogue teletext services, but the digital technology, for reasons I shall not go into, does not enable the same thing.
The amendment would require Ofcom to introduce a new kind of technical requirement in the regulatory regime for the public teletext service with no certainty of how and at what cost the broadcaster might fulfil any condition imposed. We want the legislation to be future-proofed. In so far as we can, we want to provide for any anticipated new beneficial technologies, but we really cannot include in a Bill an obligation on Ofcom to do something that we do not know can be done, and which, even if it could be done, we do not know how to do it.
The fallback situation—I realise that this will not be entirely satisfactory—is that in carrying out its functions Ofcom has a general duty to have regard to the needs of persons with disabilities. Of course that includes the needs of those with dual sensory impairment. So there is the general duty pushing Ofcom in this direction, but we are arguing that it does not need a special provision of the kind set out in Amendment No. 118.
We do not just rely on the wording. One of the key tasks of the technology and equipment group of the digital action plan is to consider the specific equipment needs of disabled people. We will ensure that the issue of accessibility to digital teletext services is taken forward within the work of the group. The most effective way would be a commercial solution, but it does not need to be reflected in the provisions of the Bill.
§ Lord Addington
My Lords, I intervene in the hope that it will save time later on. Is the noble Lord saying that, to the best of his understanding, if, say, a new software system was designed that would make access to teletext possible, it would have to be brought into being and used in the existing structure?
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, certainly the digital action group would take that forward, yes. The general duty on Ofcom would oblige it to take action on it. I do not know what that action would be. It depends on whether the technology is inherent in the broadcasting process or is much wider, which is converting the spoken word into something which is intelligible, particularly to those with dual sensory impairment. So I cannot tell on whom the obligation would lie, but I can say that the digital action group has a responsibility to take it forward and that if it takes it forward and finds the solution, Ofcom has a duty to progress it under its general duty towards people with disabilities.
On Amendments Nos. 134 and 139, we fully understand the need to ensure that, where a channel must be offered on a network or satellite service, any viewing aids that relate to that channel are also carried. But in fact, audio description, which is what is in play here, is just one form of ancillary service. As is clear 764 from subsection (6) of Clauses 268 and 269, the Bill already provides a "must offer" obligation to encompass ancillary services, as well as the main "must offer" channels to which they relate. Given Ofcom's general duty, to which I referred, under Clause 3(3)(i), to take into account the needs of persons with disabilities, we have every sympathy with the motivation behind the amendments, but there is already specific provision.
I turn to the issue of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, to which several noble Lords referred. That Act relates to persons who provide the services—in other words, to the broadcaster, certainly not to the Government or Ofcom. Although the debate about the type of audio description is for Ofcom to deal with, the question of compliance with the Disability Discrimination Act is for the broadcasters. If nothing were done, they could be prosecuted under the Act. It is in their interests to take the necessary steps. That needs no further action from Ofcom or the Government.
I hope that it is clear that we are in sympathy with the amendments. We believe that we are taking the necessary steps, both for dual sensory impairment and for audio description, to advance provision as fast as technically feasible.
§ Lord Addington
My Lords, the Minister's argument—"Don't worry; it is already covered twice"—was plausible. As for his answer on Amendment No. 118, it was interesting and should be considered in detail by those who helped me with—let us be honest, performed—the drafting. I am prepared to withdraw the amendment to consider exactly what sort of cover is available and whether the process is strong and quick enough.
However, when it comes to Amendments Nos. 135 and 139, I am less happy. We are basically dealing with the cock-up school of history come to life. We are producing audio description that no one can receive. Boxes do not have the technology available; no manufacturer has been going through a system. Then we have a system through which we could access a huge chunk of those using a free-to-air service—something that the public are funding and which the public should be able to access but which, because of an administrative disagreement, they cannot.
To be honest, that is on the edge of sanity. If our figures are right—the Minister did not challenge them, as the noble Lord, Lord Carter, said—we have every grounds for pressing ahead. But the Minister then effectively said, "If you have a case, go and do it". To pick up on the words of the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, if we must use the existing legal structure, we shall. I am not sure whether the Bill is the right way with which to deal with the matter, but I say to all those listening, please remember that if you are to give us nothing other than a legal option, we shall use it.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, before the noble Lord decides what to do about those later amendments, there are two aspects to what I said. First, under Clauses 268(6) and 269(6), Ofcom will 765 already have the powers sought under the amendments. Secondly, under the Digital Action Plan, we are already taking steps to act using those powers.
§ Lord Addington
My Lords, with due respect, I accept that, but the fact is that audio description, which has previously been allowed for in legislation, has been produced but still is not getting through. There is no guarantee in the Bill or in any discussion about it that we will have the box with a chip in place. We have heard good noises; we have heard of things going forward. Perhaps we should not press the amendments; we have not reached the appropriate stage in the Bill. I am trying to listen and to be as co-operative as possible.
However, good intentions were already there. That is why the issue arises. We have not achieved them. Having said that, there is a case for further discussion and for returning to the issue at a later date—if, indeed, there is still a live issue. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 229 [Meaning of "television licensable content service"]:
§ 5.15 p.m.
Baroness Buscombemoved Amendment No. 118A:
Page 205, line 36, at end insert "if such service is accessible from the main service immediately by the execution of a single action
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 119 and 120. The Government have stated that they have no intention of regulating the Internet. On Second Reading of the Bill in another place, the Secretary of State stated that,
we do not intend to regulate the internet, but … we intend broadcasting to be subject to a tough content regulatory regime".—[Official Report, Commons, 3/12/02; col. 784.]
The Government have further stated that they,
have tightened the definition of television licensable content so that it only covers, and can only cover, services that consist of radio and television programmes that are available for reception by the general public—in other words, so-called push technology. In that way, we exclude the internet—a point about which several hon. Members were particularly concerned, because it is pull, rather than push, technology".—[Official Report, Commons, 4/3/03; col. 777.]
§ However, the world in which we live is one in which the distinction between television and the Internet is becoming increasingly blurred. It is possible to access the Internet via digital television; it is possible for near-broadcast quality pictures to be distributed via broadband connections on the Internet. That is why it is important to define what is meant by television—and therefore is capable of being regulated—and what is Internet content, and therefore not regulated. That is what Clauses 229 and 230 are intended to do.
Clause 229 sets out a definition of what should be regulated—that is, what is to be considered as a,
television licensable content service".
§ That includes not just television programme services and electronic programme guides but other services that can be accessed via digital television, such as enhanced facilities that provide alternative camera angles or background information. Subsection (3) provides that where there are direct links to other services, such as websites, the links to those services and, potentially, those services themselves—both being within the definition of relevant ancillary services in Clause 229(6)—should be seen as part of the television service and therefore subject to regulation.
§ Clause 230 makes clear that there are a number of exemptions to the definition of "television licensable content services". Those include all websites, as specified in Clause 230(3), if they are accessed via a personal computer, and most types of website that can be accessed via digital television.
§ However, increasing amounts of the content that can be accessed on websites is of a broadcast-type nature, known either as "webcasting" or "webstreaming". If such content can be linked to via digital television, it appears that Clause 229 will make that content subject to content regulation by Ofcom, as the webcasting service providing it will be defined as a relevant ancillary service. Such a service will not fall within the exclusions set out in Clause 230(3).
§ At present, the functionality is still being developed that will allow webcast material to be screened on a television set, but it will not be long before satellite and cable set-top boxes can play webcasts that are accessed via websites available on television.
§ There is an argument that someone sitting in his or her sitting room watching the television not only expects what he or she sees on television to be regulated but also expects any television-type material that he or she can access to be regulated as well. But in the converged world, that is surely anomalous: the consumer expects to be able to access the same material from a website on his or her PC as he or she can access from a website that he or she can reach via the television.
§ Equally, a website that provides web-streaming will be capable of being accessed both via television and from PCs. There is a real danger that, as presently drafted, these clauses would allow for the back-door regulation of Internet content. Any company that provides both a television service and a web-streaming service would be at risk of its web-streaming service being classified as television licensable content if it could be linked in any way, however remotely, from a television service.
§ Our amendments seek to deal with the situation by introducing the principle of putting distance between the television service that viewers are watching and the web-stream they are capable of accessing. Everyone can agree that the viewer should not he able to switch by a single click of the remote control from a regulated television environment to an unregulated web-streamed one. However, if viewers see a link in a television service and have to follow a route out of the regulated environment, then they ought to be able to access the same web-based material as they could access via a PC.767
§ These amendments seek to introduce the idea of web-streaming provided via a website accessible by television being at least two clicks away from the regulated television environment so that viewers would know that they were leaving a regulated environment and entering an unregulated one.
§ These are probing amendments aimed at elucidating exactly how the Government intend to address the issue. The Explanatory Notes to Clause 229 state that although a link to a website would be regulated as part of television licensable content, the website at the end of the link would be neither regulated nor within the licence of the main service. But the note fails to point out that this is not true for websites that consist of web-streaming services provided by companies that also provide television services where the web-streaming service is accessible, however remotely, from the television service. The amendments seek to reintroduce the principle of an unregulated Internet which, we understand, has been government policy. I beg to move.
§ Lord Avebury
My Lords, when I first read the amendments I was not entirely clear what the noble Baroness was driving at and I am grateful to her for that explanation, which has made matters a great deal clearer. I understand that a television licensable content service means TV or EPG, whether broadcast from a satellite or distributed through an electronic communications network, and that "relevant ancillary service" includes any other service apart from advertising which is ancillary to a programme and relates directly to its contents. Thus if the web-streaming service to which the noble Baroness referred was not immediately relevant to the content of the main service, then she need not worry about it. However, the noble Baroness seeks to limit this to a service which is accessible from the main service by the execution of a single action, which I think would be rather too limiting.
An example is given in the Explanatory Notes. At this point I must say that the notes for this particular clause are much more helpful than is usually the case. Often when I turn to them I find that generally they paraphrase what is set out in the Bill, whereas for this clause the Explanatory Notes give an excellent description of a service that might be covered.
They cite a wildlife programme which allows the viewer to choose different camera angles via a menu or to access factual material about the animals from within the broadcast stream. Those would be relevant ancillary services because they are made available by the provider of the main service, but they might not be accessible by the execution of a single action. The viewer might first have to bring up the menu on screen and then perform a second action to pick one of the options displayed. No doubt the provider would try to make the choices as simple as possible, but the effect of the amendment would seem to be to exclude these menu-driven services from the definition and thus to require the provider to obtain a separate licence for 768 them, even though from a common-sense point of view they are ancillary to the main service because they come directly under the control of the main provider.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I am not qualified to know whether the response of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, to the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, has been effective, but I am sure that she will be glad to have had it fed into the debate. This is a horribly complex subject and one on which we know that there is not immediately in sight a definition that will please everyone. That is why we have provided in Clause 231 for amendment of the definition if future technological and other changes require it so that policy objectives continue to be met.
The central distinction we want to make here is that of keeping broadcast services within regulation and leaving on-demand services outside. I think we are all agreed on that point. We have already held discussions with representatives of Channel 4, which is interested in the issues raised by these amendments, and no doubt we shall continue to hold those discussions. We think that the concerns of Channel 4 are misplaced, but we want to ensure that the definition is right. Officials are available to continue to discuss these matters.
Let me explain why we cannot accept these particular amendments. Amendment No. 118A would have the effect of ensuring that an ancillary service which could be accessed from the main service only by "two clicks" should be unregulated. However, that would take out of regulation ancillary broadcast services such as interactive Wimbledon camera angles accessed from BBC1 if they could be accessed only via the BBCi interactive area. I do not think that that is what is intended.
Amendments Nos. 119 and 120 seem to try to ensure that any Internet service dedicated to broadcast material is excluded from regulation as a television licensable content service so long as it is at least two clicks away from a television or radio programme. Our definitions already effectively exclude Internet services of the kind with which we are familiar, but the scenario which our forward-looking colleagues in the industry may have in mind is a service wholly dedicated to web-casts and operated in such a way that it met the criteria for television licensable content services and so fell within regulation. Where that happens, the power in Clause 231 to change the definition would come into force.
However, the particular service to which Channel 4 has referred in discussion is that which provides on the web an uncut version of a film which can be broadcast only in cut form. Channel 4 did this with the Danish film "Dogme #2—Idioterne". We think that such services are already excluded from regulation by way of the definitions in the Bill.
As I said, we are more than happy to continue our discussions to ensure that the definitions work well, but I hope that the noble Baroness will not press her amendments.
§ Baroness Buscombe
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response and I agree that this is a complex 769 subject. It is certainly helpful to have the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and I admit that I should like to reserve my thoughts until I have had an opportunity to read in Hansard what he said.
This is an important area and I am grateful to the Minister for his reassurance that the Government are in discussions with representatives of Channel 4. This is a matter that will be of growing interest and debate as the distinction between television licensable content services and the Internet inevitably blurs with the further development of the technology. Indeed, I recall that, prior to Second Reading, I had long and really interesting discussions with various people in the media industry about this situation, which will grow. Indeed, the blurred distinction here might test the lifeline of this legislation. It may bring about the need to consider in the future how we deal with licensable content for broadcast television and then find that something available on the Internet is not regulated in any way.
I am grateful to Channel 4 for its two-clicks proposal. It has certainly helped me to understand the potential problem that may arise as the distinction becomes more blurred. I am grateful that the Minister will continue discussions. I hope that the definitions will work and reassure Channel 4 and others in the broadcast media. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 230 [Services that are not television licensable content services]:
§ [Amendments Nos. 119 and 120 not moved.]
§ Clause 245 [Services that are not radio licensable content services]:
§ 5.30 p.m.
Lord Davies of Oldhammoved Amendment No. 121:
Page 218, line 38, leave out "or
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 121, I shall speak also to the other government amendments in the group. I shall delay commenting on three amendments that have been tabled. In Committee, I attempted a pre-emptive strike against amendments. It resulted in a colossal failure on my part. I sought to pre-empt some quite brilliant speeches and suffered the ignominy of being put in my place. I also gave away all the arguments that I had intended to deploy against the amendments and I therefore came off rather worse. So this evening I shall make no comment on those amendments, but I hope, with the leave of the House, to reply to them in due course.
§ The government amendments relate to the agreement we made in Committee, following an amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, that we would consider the need to regulate electronic programme guides provided on radio and giving access to radio services.770
§ In this fast-moving environment, we need to ensure that EPGs for digital audio broadcasting radio, such as the one recently launched, are regulated whatever form they take, whether they are purely sound services, visual or audio-visual services. This is the purpose of Amendments Nos. 121, 122, 164, 220 and 221.
§ Amendment No. 218 is a minor amendment to correct a drafting error. It removes the exclusion of digital additional sound service from the definition of "additional radio service". I beg to move.
§ Lord Avebury
My Lords, I speak to Amendment No. 161, which is grouped with these amendments. The amendment clarifies the meaning of "due prominence" for public service broadcasters on electronic programme guides and ensures that due prominence is given to the correct national or regional variation of public service channels—for example, BBC Wales in Wales and Granada in the North West.
When this issue was debated in Committee, there was considerable support for these arguments. However, at the same time, concerns were expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, and the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, that the amendments as tabled were rather too prescriptive. Others were concerned that we might be getting involved in a commercial dispute between the BBC and Sky over the electronic programme guide listings.
Since then, I am happy to say, the BBC and Sky have resolved their difference in a way that satisfies the public interest. The BBC will no longer purchase an encryption service from Sky and will therefore broadcast its channels in the clear on digital satellite. BBC1 and BBC2 will continue to be located at slots 101 and 102 on Sky's electronic programme guide.
The BBC will purchase a regionalisation service from Sky to ensure that viewers with viewing cards within the UK receive the right national and regional services. That applies to everyone who has pay TV. In future, new customers will have to buy a card if they wish to access the regional variation of their choice at slots 101 and 102. They will still of course be able to access those channels by memorising a three-digit number if they do not want to buy a card.
The way in which the dispute has been resolved does not guarantee that the outcome of any future commercial arguments between platform operators and public service broadcasters will necessarily be in the public interest. The dispute has underlined the need for Parliament to set as clear objectives as possible for Ofcom while leaving it adequate discretion to implement the policies set by Parliament. That is the purpose of the amendment.
Unless Ofcom is given greater clarity than we gave to the ITC, it is possible that the same problems that led to the recent dispute between the BBC and Sky will 771 arise with other public service broadcasters. That cannot be in the interests of the consumer, Ofcom or your Lordships' House.
§ Baroness O'Cathain
My Lords, I support Amendment No. 161, which has been spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and to which my name is attached.
In Committee, great prominence was attached to the importance of public service broadcasting. It is important that the public service channels—BBC, ITV and Channel 4—are able to broadcast their programmes in a way that makes them easily accessible to viewers across all platforms. There is little point in insisting that our public service channels should produce in their programming a certain amount of regional news if in order to find it you have to scroll down to the nether regions of the electronic programming guide.
In our deliberations on the Broadcasting Act 1996 I fought for top prominence for the public service broadcasting channels in the electronic programming guide. This was accepted. However, some seven years later, we are now re-engaged in the same issue. When we had those debates in 19961 am certain that we never even considered that Sky would be in a position unilaterally to move the BBC from the top positions 101 and 102 in the EPG—but that is what it recently proposed.
However, I believe that the voices raised in this House—in a period when, by chance, we happened to be debating relevant legislation—made clear the importance that Parliament attaches to the ability of citizens to find their public service broadcasters. Fortunately, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said, the dispute between the BBC and Sky has been settled. But we cannot expect such legislation to be on the Floor of the House when there is a future dispute between commercial platform operators and a public service broadcaster. We need to do more than make our views known. We need to give clarity to the regulatory framework and we need to ensure that public service broadcasters will always have prominence.
Technology has moved on since 1996. The purpose of the amendment is to provide clarity for the regulator in the light of that change. I hope that the Government and my own Front Bench will listen sympathetically to the arguments that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and I have made.
§ Baroness Howe of Idlicote
My Lords, I rise briefly to explain why I have attached my name to the amendment spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury.
It is important to emphasise that the purpose of the amendment is to ensure that all public service channels remain easily accessible to viewers. This concerns not only the BBC, but ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5.
As has been mentioned, the BBC and Sky, thankfully, have resolved their current dispute. But ITV's contract, for example, expires in autumn 2004. 772 The amendment establishes that public service channels should be at a position on the EPG that is no less prominent than will be the case at the enactment of the Bill.
The amendment also importantly clarifies that when we refer to "due prominence" we mean for the right regional version of a public service channel. This is particularly important for ITV, with its unique regional structure. A viewer in Manchester expects to receive Granada on button 103. The viewer in Belfast expects to receive Ulster TV. How can we urge ITV to uphold its long-standing public service tradition if we are not prepared to will the means to ensure that viewers are guaranteed easy access to their regional services?
§ Lord Lipsey
My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment No. 162 standing in my name. I am delighted to see the noble Lord, Lord McNally, back in the Chamber because he gave the House wise counsel in a previous debate. He said that in this dog fight between the BBC and Sky it would be sensible for Parliament to keep its distance. He slightly spoiled the effect by then supporting the amendment drafted by the BBC. Never mind, his advice was wise. It was shown to be so by the agreements, to which the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has referred, reached between Sky and the BBC without any help from us. Those wise words should resound with us as we consider these amendments.
Again we have to choose between two extreme positions, although "extreme" is perhaps unfair. One favoured by the BBC is put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and others in Amendment No. 161, and we have heard the case for it. The other, favoured by Sky, is at the other extreme, arguing there should be no change in the Bill. I am not sure who will put that case. I said from the beginning that I thought that Parliament could do with giving a nudge, but not a push, on this matter—not siding with one side or the other, but nudging in favour of the public service channel. That is the thrust of my amendment. It may be feeble, but it endeavours to say that Ofcom should use its best endeavours to make sure that the public service channels do not lose their present prominence. There may be situations in which it is right for that prominence to be reviewed. If, for example, BBC Four was doing incredibly well and BBC Two was doing incredibly badly, it might be a good idea for BBC Four to be promoted, and Ofcom should allow that. That would register with Ofcom Parliament's will that due prominence should be given to the public service channels. I hope that the Government will he sympathetic.
§ Lord Crickhowell
My Lords, I agree with virtually everything said by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, my noble friend Lady O'Cathain, and the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote. My former company HTV believes the issue to be of crucial importance for it and similar companies for the reasons that the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, argued well. As to which amendment to choose, I would prefer a firm push 773 rather than a gentle nudge, so I strongly support the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury.
§ Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment No. 163 in my name. This is a plea on behalf of smaller broadcasting channels and for clarity within the proposed code of practice. I have placed the amendment at the request of S4C, a channel that broadcasts in Welsh and which I had the pleasure of seeing, if not totally understanding, on my recent visit to Cardiff.
Ofcom has a duty to draw up and revise periodically a code of practice to be followed in providing EPGs and especially to give due prominence to public service broadcasting channels. S4C has already experienced some problems with its placings in Wales, and it does not believe that the due prominence element on EPGs is being followed. EPGs will be a key issue in future broadcasting and may well alter people's viewing habits perhaps more than any other aspect of the digital revolution in broadcasting. Most people do not know the number of the channel that they want to watch but instead surf the channels, as I often do. This presents a problem for channels like S4C, which are not genre based.
For example, S4C hosts a well-known and, I understand, well-respected children's programme, "Planed Plant", which in English is "Children's Planet", but this cannot be found in the children's section of the EPG and has to be searched for. Any codes of practice must be strong enough to protect not only the larger broadcasters, but the smaller broadcasters, such as S4C. The channel number on an EPG is crucial in that the smaller broadcasters do not have large marketing or promotional budgets, so their profile must be prominent enough to give ease of access to them by channel hopping. This amendment aims to ensure that the smaller broadcasters such as S4C are given a fair chance in the code of practice.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Baroness Buscombe
My Lords, I reassert my comments in Committee. We believe that public service channels should have prominence, especially those channels referred to—BBC One, BBC Two, and ITV. The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, referred to ITV's unique regional structure. It is important to ensure that these public service channels are easily accessible across all platforms. Notwithstanding, I sympathise with the amendments proposed. I am still concerned about the prospect of putting something into the legislation as opposed to leaving it with Ofcom. Technology is moving ahead all the time, the introduction of new channels is growing, we are going to have more and more public service channels, and I am concerned about those kinds of channels—such as the History Channel, which does not happen to be a public service channel but has all the characteristics of one—being pushed further down because they do not happen to have that label, PSB.
774 The amendments do not answer my continuing concerns. It is important that Ofcom should take on the task early in its life of drawing up a code on the application of EPGs. As noble Lords have said, there has been a long expectation for a code on EPGs to be put forward by Oftel and the ITC. It is important that Ofcom takes this work forward at an early opportunity so that easy access to the channels of viewers' choice is safeguarded, but I am concerned about the lifeline of this legislation, which I mentioned in the last amendment, and the flexibility for Ofcom to be able to respond to what I hope will be an ever-increasing number of channels. There should be more choice for the viewer, good, high quality public service channels, but there should also be no discrimination against other channels that do not happen to be PSB but provide high quality viewing.
§ Lord Davies of Oldham
My Lords, I sound a note of dreadful warning. The two Front Benches are in total agreement. My contribution is almost otiose after the careful arguments deployed by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe. However, I shall also say that as there has been no dissent I hope that the Government's attempt to meet the requirements of the agreement that we struck in Committee are agreed in the form of a government amendment.
First, I turn to Amendment No. 163, spoken to by my noble friend Baroness Gibson. She is right that it is necessary for Ofcom to consult widely, and we expect that to be done. Before it draws up and revises the code on electronic programme guide, they should consult, as we expect them to consult on all significant decisions. I point out to my noble friend that appropriate consultation by Ofcom is already required as part of its general duty to follow the best regulatory practice. We provide for that in Clause 3(3)(d), and, therefore, we do not believe that there is any need for a specific statutory provision regarding this area of consultation, although I do value the fact that my noble friend has emphasised that fact, and it will be part of Ofcom's remit. There is also a danger that accepting a specific amendment might give rise to the implication that Ofcom is specifically enjoined to consult in this area but not in others. In fact, I think that it is recognised that we want maximum consultation by Ofcom on all crucial decisions.
I must say—this relates to a point touched upon by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe—that it is not just a question of public service channel providers. It might not be just those providers who ought to be consulted. They are affected by the "due prominence" provision, but they are not the only parties affected by that provision or by the other topics that will be dealt with in the code, such as fair terms between EPG operators and service providers or accessibility for people with disabilities. It is for that reason that we think that it would not be right to make the amendment, even though it is an important reminder to Ofcom of its obligation to carry out due consultation on a matter as important as the code.
775 I turn to the amendments to which I shall have the most difficulty replying. I do not want to go too much into the general argument, as I agree with the way in which the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, expressed the matter. She may feel that that is a nod of congratulation warmly to be wished, but, in that area, we are in agreement. We are all convinced of the benefits of EPGs and the need for viewers to find their public service channels easily. We are strongly committed to ensuring that public service channels are given due prominence on EPGs.
As was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, an important step forward was taken during the deliberations on the Bill in the agreement reached by the BBC and Sky, which the noble Lord defined with great accuracy. Obviously, I hope that, if similar issues arise in relation to other public service channels, they will also be solved in such an appropriate way. In case there is any doubt, I shall make it clear that, when I talk about due prominence being given to a public service channel, I mean it to apply to all the regional variations of that channel. Each of those variations should benefit from due prominence to the same extent. As it is a matter of public policy, I agree that it is something that Ofcom should address in its code.
For the same reason, I have some sympathy with the provisions in new subsection (2A)(b) and new subsection (2B), proposed in Amendment No. 161, so ably spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. I shall consider further whether we should include something to a similar effect in the Bill. Having said that, however, I have reservations. They relate to the reservations emphasised by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe. They were also reflected in the speech made by the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, who referred to the fact that things had changed apace since the Broadcasting Act 1996—only seven short years ago.
We are trying to put into statute significant arrangements for the industry, and we are all too aware of the fact that things move on apace and we must come to terms with the rapidity of change. We just do not know how things will evolve in the all-digital world. Our perception of what "due prominence" should mean might change—for instance, when new channels are created. The inevitability of such change is the reason why we have aimed to ensure that Ofcom has the necessary powers and flexibility to regulate EPGs of every form and on every platform. The code will be central to that regulation and will need to balance our policy objectives with the need, to which we have often referred, to leave commercial operators as much room as possible to negotiate their affairs without interference. Finding that balance is not easy. Given the increasing importance of EPGs, which several noble Lords accurately identified, we must think about how we deal with the matter. However, it would be unwise to allow Ofcom only six months in which to draw up that important code.
776 We will move towards the significant arguments that were presented. My noble friend Lord Lipsey referred to the concept of the "nudge"; it is a bit more than a nudge. The argument has caused us to think about how we can move towards the objective, while not so confining ourselves in legislation that we cannot keep up with the rapidity of technological change that we are wrestling with.
§ Baroness O'Cathain
My Lords, I said that the world had moved on since 1996, and, of course, that is true. It has moved on in a big way: at that stage, I was battling with my party's government over the prominence of public service broadcasters on the EPG.
What I really wanted to say—perhaps I did not express it well—was that, although the world is moving on, it is important that we always maintain public service broadcasts in the prominent position. Of course, that also involves regional channels, as the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson of Market Rasen, said. The Minister threw back at me my remark that the world had moved on, but I have not changed my focus. The public service broadcasters must be in the prominent position.
§ Lord Davies of Oldham
My Lords, I apologise to the noble Baroness if I gave that impression. It never crossed my mind that, when she was thinking about how the world had moved on, she was talking about the arrival of a different administration. Such a thought would never cross my mind, as the noble Baroness will readily understand.
I sought to emphasise that we all recognise that, with any Act that aims to establish a framework for broadcasting at a time of rapid technological change and development, we must move with great care. We must put in statute and try to maintain a degree of flexibility that enables Ofcom to do its work without being cabined and confined too much. I was merely making that point.
§ Baroness Howe of Idlicote
My Lords, I wanted to follow up one point. My memory may be at fault. Certainly, the concept of public service broadcasting—
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, this is Report stage. Interventions are supposed to be made before the Minister sits down and are supposed to be related to what he has said. They are not to be used to expand on previous points.
§ Baroness Howe of Idlicote
My Lords, my intervention relates exactly to what he said. I thought that I had got up before he sat down. I shall, of course, do what is required. I was going to say that the Bill is meant to be sufficiently future-proofed to take account of the speed of change, so that, if and when it becomes necessary to deregulate in this area, it will be possible to do so. That was my only point.
§ Lord Davies of Oldham
My Lords, I agree entirely. The noble Baroness puts it more succinctly than I did.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.777
§ Lord Davies of Oldham
moved Amendment No. 122:Page 218, line 40, at end insert "; or() it is comprised in a television licensable content service.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 123 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]
§ 6 p.m.
Lord Davies of Oldham movedAmendment No. 123A:
After Clause 257, insert the following new clause—
§ "RENEWAL OF RADIO MULTIPLEX LICENCES
§ In section 58(2) of the 1996 Act (renewal for twelve years of radio multiplex licences granted within six years of commencement)—
- (a) for "which is granted within six years" there shall be substituted "granted within ten years"; and
- (b) for the words from "for a period" onwards there shall be substituted
- "(a) in the case of a licence granted within six years of that commencement, for a period of twelve years beginning with the date on which it would otherwise expire; and
- (b) in any other case, for a period of eight years beginning with that date."
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, the UK leads the world in digital audio broadcasting. One of the reasons, I am informed by the industry, is the early supporting legislation, to which reference has already been made. One of the attractive features of the Broadcasting Act 1996 was that radio multiplex licences could be automatically renewed on one occasion. That automatic renewal applied to all radio multiplex licences issued before October 2002. The amendment proposes to extend such renewals to those issued before October 2006. That would include those issued between October 2002 and the commencement of the new provision. We consider the four-year extension necessary to help keep going the momentum of digital radio. Although the UK leads the way in the field, it is only now that sufficient numbers of affordable receivers are available in our shops. Digital radio is still in its infancy. It is still not economically viable.
§ The aim of the amendment is to continue to encourage investment in digital radio multiplexes. Licences issued between 2002 and 2006 can be extended for eight rather than 12 years, so that all the licences will expire no later than 2026. We believe that, in view of the development of the digital radio industry, eight years is the right figure. It strikes a balance between offering an incentive to those considering taking up a licence while not committing Ofcom to using the spectrum in question for radio multiplexes too far into the future. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.778
§ Clause 258 [Access radio]:
Viscount Falklandmoved Amendment No. 124:
Leave out Clause 258 and insert the following new Clause—
§ "COMMUNITY RADIO
§ (1) In subsection (2) of section 84 of the 1990 Act (regulations by authority of independent radio services) after paragraph (a)(iii) there shall be inserted—
"or—(iv) for the benefit of members of the public in a defined geographical locality or of a particular community and not operated by the BBC or for commercial purposes (a "community service")".
§ (2) In subsection (6) of section 104 of the 1990 Act (application for other licences) in paragraph (b) after "satellite" there shall be inserted ", community".
§ (3) After that subsection there shall be inserted—
"(6A) In determining whether or to whom to grant a licence to provide a community service and the duration of such licence OFCOM shall have regard to the extent to which the proposed service—
- (a) would confer significant benefits on the public or on the particular community for which it is proposed to be provided;
- (b) demonstrates evidence of support by the public or the particular community for which it is proposed to be provided;
- (c) includes provision for public access to training, production and broadcast facilities;
- (d) includes measures to ensure accountability to and participation by the public or the particular community for which it is proposed to be provided; and
- (e) would be distinctive from existing local sound broadcasting services licensed to cover over 50 per cent of the proposed service's coverage area."
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, the amendment introduces a new clause to replace Clause 258. It has been drafted by the Community Media Association in consultation with the Commercial Radio Companies Association. It has the purpose of placing community radio in the Bill rather than leaving it to secondary legislation.
Community radio has stimulated a good deal of interest, not only among members of the public but also in government circles. The amendment seeks to provide a clear definition of community radio, among other things. I do not think anyone could disagree with the definition—it may not be perfect, but definitions seldom are. It states that community radio is,
for the benefit of members of the public in a defined geographical locality or of a particular community and not operated [either] by the BBC or for commercial purposes".
§ It is a growing sector, and it is surprising that the Government have not sought thus far to recognise that fact by hastening the right support and structure for community radio. Most noble Lords will agree that the unfortunate term "access radio" seems to have been dropped: it was not a happy choice of description of community radio, which is generally the term used in other countries. The Government have acknowledged the benefits of community radio. There has been strong parliamentary support for it. Over the past 12 months, with the Government's agreement, the Radio 779 Authority has introduced some experimental services, including what was known as the access radio pilot scheme.
The independent evaluation of the scheme was completed in February this year by Professor Everitt, former secretary-general of the Arts Council. It lends strong support to the case for a distinct licensing framework for community radio, which the amendment introduces. Professor Everitt remarked that the new tier of radio provision,
promises to be the most important cultural development to take place in this country for many years".
§ The question that the amendment addresses is not whether to proceed but how and under what rules. While the detail of licensing can obviously be left to Ofcom, there does not seem to us any remaining reason why there should not be provision for community radio in the Bill. That would give clarity to those who aspire to become community radio broadcasters and to the radio industry generally. It will ensure increased confidence in the growth of community radio, building on a clear parliamentary mandate for development.
§ There has been considerable discussion and consultation on community radio, starting with the White Paper and involving a Select Committee, the Joint Scrutiny Committee, a draft Bill, and debates in both Houses of Parliament, as well as the pilot scheme that I mentioned. The amendment has three major components. I have dealt with the definition, which is the first, but the second component—namely, the selection criteria—is also important. Such criteria should confer significant benefits to the public or a particular community, and demonstrate clear public support.
Further, provision for public access to training, production and broadcast facilities should be included, as well as,
measures to ensure accountability to and participation by the public or the particular community",
for which the service is to be provided. It is also important that the community radio service should be clearly,
distinctive from existing local sound broadcasting services licensed to cover over 50 per cent of the proposed service's coverage area".
§ The third component relates to the regulatory framework. The amendment would ensure that community radio would fall into the regulatory framework of the Broadcasting Act 1990 as a "sound broadcasting service" alongside "national services", "local services" and "restricted services". The same rules would apply to community services as currently apply to restricted services, including requirements to conform with the relevant programme content, advertising and sponsorship and technical regulations. Similarly, the regulatory powers to impose financial penalties or shorten a licence period and to revoke licences would also cover community services.
§ Various questions arise from the amendment regarding the financial viability of those who seek licences, but such issues are clearly understood by your 780 Lordships and I shall not, therefore, elaborate further on them. I hope that we have now reached the point where the Government might give further support—which is already gathering momentum—to community radio, as the amendment suggests. I beg to move.
§ Lord Bragg
My Lords, I support what the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, said. This provision should be in the Bill; it would provide a clear definition, and help, to community radio. Anything that helps community radio does great good for the duties and opportunities in this country of local communication. We can hammer on and on. We live in a technological world, not only at a massive level but also at a local level. Such local opportunities are golden. If we can get it right here, it will be a great help to many communities in this country. In fact, for what it is worth, I think the two great areas of technological growth in the future are global and intensely local.
Community radio in this country is encouragingly advanced. I think it is our duty to sow this marram grass and help prevent the shifting sands of merely global, national and moneyed technology from drifting around without roots.
§ Lord Phillips of Sudbury
My Lords, I, too, strongly endorse this amendment. In many ways, it is as important an addition to the Bill as virtually any we are discussing. We have developed, and are developing, a society which is increasingly, as the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, has just mentioned, money-driven and top-down. This is the part of the broadcasting spectrum that is bottom-up—of the people, by the people, for the people. It surely must find a place in the Bill.
I refer the Minister to the fact that his own Government have placed huge store—rightly, in my view—on the 10th report of the policy action team which came out of the first initiative taken by the Prime Minister after Labour was elected to power in 1997. That action team encapsulates in its report perhaps the most important single insight of all 18 action teams: that social inclusion—and this amendment is about eliminating social exclusion—can come only from self-help and by communities doing for themselves what they think appropriate and what they want to do, rather than being told from on high. I very much hope that the Government will give this a fair wind.
§ Baroness Howe of Idlicote
My Lords, I, too, will be extremely brief. Everything that I have heard and seen about access radio—now renamed community radio—since debates on the Bill have begun has left me with the feeling that it is very worth while. As the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, has said, it will certainly help regarding social exclusion. To be able, within a community, to help it communicate about the various issues that concern it is a crucial part of how communities and citizenship develop.
§ Lord Puttnam
My Lords, I add my support to a very important concept. I would go further—I would like to 781 think that this is a beginning, not an end. The whole notion of community building is surely at the heart of Labour Party policy and, interestingly enough, was the theme the shadow Home Secretary, Oliver Letwin, used in an excellent speech in Brixton last week. He said:I believe in the miracle of the establishment of a neighbourly society—the bringing about of sustainable social programmes in our inner cities".It is surely beyond question that the ability of communities to talk to each other, to communicate with each other, to get to know each other better has to be the most fundamental paving stone towards better and more neighbourly communities.
I was very lucky a couple of weeks ago in Liverpool to be shown a facility that has been built whereby I was able to webcast question and answer sessions with elderly people trapped in tower blocks. The creation of this type of technology and this type of opportunity in the process of building communities in this country should surely be a priority for the Government, not an add-on to a very large and complicated Bill. I should have thought this could be central to the Bill and the beginning of something far more important than the brief discussion we have had this afternoon would suggest.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Lord Evans of Temple Guiting
My Lords, Amendment No. 124 seeks to replace the existing community radio clause and to bring community radio directly within the existing regulatory regime for applications for radio licences. There is a real problem with the amendment, as it refers to Section 84 of the 1990 Act, which is to be repealed. Leaving that to one side, we feel that there are very good reasons for rejecting the amendment.
Fundamentally, we believe that our Clause 258 is simply more effective. As drafted, it already gives Ministers the power to set up community radio regimes. All noble Lords who have contributed to this debate will be happy to hear that we plan to do this by introducing an order later this year, following consideration of Anthony Everitt's report, which the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, mentioned.
The Government believe strongly—to echo the comments of every noble Lord who has spoken—in community radio and in the future of community radio. As I said when we considered the same amendment in Committee, the amendment also seems problematical in that it seeks to bring community within the mainstream radio licensing regime by inserting a reference to community radio into Section 104 of the 1990 Act. But Section 104 deals simply with the process of making an application, and would not allow us to introduce, for instance, specific content regulation. Were we to accept the amendment in place of the provisions in Clause 258, we would lose the ability that we have deliberately reserved to tailor the regulatory regime in a way that is more appropriate to 782 community radio. The result would he that community radio would be subject to the same rules as commercial radio services.
I ask the noble Viscount to withdraw his amendment, recognising, I hope, that the Government believe very strongly in community radio and that, by introducing an order later this year for consultation and debate in both Houses, they will demonstrate their commitment to this extraordinarily important cultural and social matter, which my noble friend Lord Bragg described so eloquently.
§ Viscount Falkland
My Lords, I thank all those who have taken part in this brief debate for the support which has been given to the amendment, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and my noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury, all of whom added an element of their own to the argument. All those arguments added up, as I interpret them, to an agreement that there should be something on the face of the Bill. The Minister said that that was not possible; I shall look very carefully at what he said in Hansard—
§ Lord Evans of Temple Guiting
My Lords, I do not think that I said it was impossible; I argued that the provision was already in Clause 258 and, in connection with the order which we wish to introduce later this year, that shows the Government's commitment to community radio.
§ Viscount Falkland
My Lords, that is exactly the point. I would like to read carefully what has been said and to consult the authorities in community radio on their reaction to the Minister's remarks. They may well receive them more favourably than I appear to have done.
It is quite clear that we have moved on apace during the Bill's proceedings in accepting the importance of community radio, as has been said by those noble Lords who were kind enough to support the general drift of my amendment. Obviously reserving the right to come back should it be necessary, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 260 [OFCOM reports on the fulfilment of the public service remit]:
§ Lord Lea of Crondall moved Amendment No. 124A:
Page 231, line 13, at end insert—
() that sufficient high quality original drama is broadcast covering a range of issues in a variety of formats:
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, there was very wide support for the principle of this amendment in Committee. For example, people of the eminence and wide experience of my noble friend Lord Bernstein, who speaks with great authority, pinpointed exactly why it was important to have a specific reference to high-level drama. The spirit of Report stage being very brief and succinct, perhaps I may say that many of us 783 have been very selective in the amendments that we have pressed. That is why I think this one is of considerable importance.
§ There is wide anxiety in the House, and in the country that the defining quality of British television, which is admired by people around the world, is very much bound up in drama—both contemporary and classical—as well as other facets of broadcasting, notably news analysis. It is a treasure and it would be an historic mistake and hard to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again if drama were to be abandoned.
§ That is the heart of the problem, from the informal observations of people in the industry, and those who are not in the industry but who are part of the wider cultural establishment, such as the British Council, television and drama critics, and so on. Superb, high quality drama is not a question of division between ourselves and the Front Bench, but there is division over whether, as the Minister said in Committee, it is necessary to include it in the Bill. The Minister said that it was a fair enough point, but that it was not necessary to add it to the Bill because drama is one among many other programme types referred to in the earlier recital in the Bill. However, the question needs to be discussed a little more face to face. We have not gone past the stage of discussion although it is becoming a little late in the day. We are not two ships passing in the night, with classical drama dying a death. International comparisons arid research demonstrate unequivocally that simply having a list of programme types in the recital is exactly what will allow the removal of that sort of quality television. Therefore, general lists do not cut too much ice.
§ I am sure that my colleagues who support the amendment would think it timely if the Minister were to agree to meet to consider this question. I beg to move.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, without wishing to pre-empt debate—clearly, there will be a debate after I have spoken—we could be in some procedural difficulty as a number of amendments in the group are government amendments to which other noble Lords will wish to respond. I hope that the House will agree that I should intervene now to debate the government amendments and then, with the leave of the House, respond to that debate before the mover of the prime amendment decides what to do.
Amendment No. 127 imposes a requirement on broadcasters to include programmes of an educational nature and other programmes of educative value. After we debated the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, in Committee, we concluded that the requirement for broadcasters to provide programmes on educational matters did not accurately reflect our intentions. Amendment No. 127 clarifies that programming covered in Clause 260(6)(e) should not apply only to issues relating to education such as school class sizes, for example, but should extend to programmes whose purpose is to educate and which have educational value.
784 Amendments Nos. 128, 129 and 133 relate to programmes dealing with religion. Amendments were proposed in Committee both to modify the focus of the current reference to religion in Clause 260(6)(f) and to make reference to other forms of belief.
Having reflected on that, we have identified two separate concerns that we can meet. The first is to make it clear that the reference to religion within the remit encompasses both factual programmes about religion and programmes of a religious nature. We interpret that as meaning the portrayal of religious activity, including acts of worship. The second is to add a reference to other beliefs, which would include ethical systems or philosophies such as humanism or secularism.
Amendment No. 128 expands the reference to religion in the matters listed in subsection (6) of Clause 260 to "religion and other beliefs". Amendment No. 129 sets out the range of issues to be encompassed by programmes dealing with religion and other beliefs. The effect is that public service broadcasters as a whole will have to provide programmes which, first, convey factual information relating to religion and other beliefs, including news, tenets of faith or belief, and history. Secondly, they must portray activity relating to religion and other beliefs, in particular, by showing acts of worship and other ceremonies and practices, such as church services and the equivalent for other faiths. That includes some services or ceremonies in their entirety.
I shall not respond to Amendment No. 129A at this time if the House agrees. Amendment No. 133 defines "belief" to mean a collective belief in, or other adherence to, a systemised set of ethical or philosophical principles or mystical or transcendental doctrines.
On Amendment No. 130, the noble Lord, Lord Lea, argued in Committee for a strengthening of the reference to programming for children and young people in the public service television remit. The provision for children's television in the public service remit is already unique among the list of requirements in that it specifies that programming should be both high quality and original. Nevertheless, we accept the case for an additional safeguard. Amendment No. 130 therefore expands the existing wording to refer to a suitable quantity and range of programmes for children and young people. That is similar to the formulation used in respect of the requirements for education programming and programming on topics such as science, religion arid international issues.
I think that I have dealt with the government amendments, and if the debate proceeds, I can then, with the leave of the House, respond to other amendments.
§ Baroness Howe of Idlicote
My Lords, in speaking to my Amendment No. 131, may I say that I am in favour of all the other amendments, including the government amendments? I am most grateful to the Minister for the amendment on educational nature and value.
785 I resubmitted my amendment because there appeared to be some misunderstanding about its intention when it was debated in Committee. The misunderstanding came particularly from the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe. My noble friend Lady O'Neill had kindly taken over the task in Committee of moving the various amendments in my name to Clause 260, as I could not be present the day on which they were called; or it may have been a question of divorce.
I had intended to stress the importance of ensuring on the face of the Bill that programmes for children included a significant quantity about the UK's history, culture and traditions—and specifically geared to audiences in this country. That is particularly important for the child audience who will shortly become the UK's adult citizens.
There are two reasons behind that thinking. First, with an increasingly multi-ethnic and multi-cultural population, the commissioning of this kind of programme would be an important public service duty for broadcasters. The intention is perhaps not dissimilar from that of Amendment No. 125, which will be moved later by the noble Lord, Lord Holme. I am glad to have the opportunity again of correcting any misunderstandings that there may have been about what I said on another occasion. I am very enthusiastic about the noble Lord's amendment. My amendment is intended better to equip today's young people to play a full and active part in the UK, particularly in their citizenship role.
Secondly, the amendment is intended to act as a further hedge against the possible consequences of foreign ownership. Should a global player take over a major part of our broadcasting industry, it would need a regulation requirement of this kind to avoid the temptation to produce nothing but homogenised programmes that were saleable world wide.
I thank the Minister for tabling so many amendments. We are all most grateful to him for having listened to the many concerns about the wording of the clause and its subsections. I am therefore sure that he will be able to reassure me that his Amendments Nos. 127 and 130, I think, will meet the concerns on this point that many people have voiced to me.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Manchester
My Lords, in speaking to my Amendment No. 129A I welcome most warmly government Amendment No. 129. I am very grateful to the Government for listening carefully to the views that have been expressed from these Benches and across the House about the importance of reflecting in broadcasting the significant place that religion and other beliefs have in our national life. Amendment No. 129 does in my view meet the aspirations of many people both within the Churches and in the population at large of whatever faith and none. Certainly there are many elderly or disabled and others who for various reasons are confined to their homes who will be especially grateful for the emphasis on the broadcasting of worship.
786 Amendment No. 133 is an interesting definition of "belief", not least because it repeats as part of its definition the very word it seeks to define—an echo perhaps of what I think was Sydney Smith's much quoted answer to the question about the functions of an archdeacon:an archdeacon is one who performs archidiaconal functions".I take Amendment No. 133 to be an entirely appropriate attempt at an umbrella definition. In that sense it meets the need adequately. What Christians mean by belief is quite different, for example, from what Jews mean by belief. Each faith, or non-faith, sees things differently and poses different sets of questions. So as far as these Benches are concerned we are willing to back this definition of belief. As a distinguished theologian with whom I shared my views and sought his put it:I should have thought that if you were to support this amendment you would be standing on a not uncertain wicket".Amendment No. 129A in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, makes what I hope will be seen as a benign drafting point in relation to government Amendment No. 129. I think that it is the Government's intention that news and other information about different religions and other beliefs should include discussion programmes. I am sure your Lordships would agree that intelligent engagement and dialogue is particularly important in areas of religion and belief, not least because it is often the most effective way of building up tolerance and respect between people of differing viewpoints, and thereby encouraging greater harmony and understanding on these fundamental issues within local communities. It is a point which in a different way the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, has recently made in relation to an earlier amendment.
So I hope that, at least by specific mention in the record of this debate, the desirability of such positive exchange in discussion—being as it were a genre within the programmes dealing with religion and other beliefs—will be affirmed by the Government.
§ Baroness Whitaker
My Lords, I rise very briefly to support all these amendments. They seem to me to be an extremely worthy group. I should particularly like to welcome my noble friend's amendments and Amendment No. 129A in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester and the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury. They all seem to me to strike exactly the right balance for a modern, tolerant and civilised democracy.
§ Lord Holme of Cheltenham
My Lords, I rise briefly to comment on Amendment No. 124A and on the government amendments to do with the definition of belief, including Amendment No. 133. I very warmly support the aspirations of Amendment No. 124A. I think that drama—and I choose my words carefully—is the jewel in the crown of broadcast television. We need it, and it is one of the things that we do best in this country.
787 If I can be marginally pedantic, perhaps I may say that I was not sure in the amendment as drafted about the notion that drama covers a range of issues. I recognise the place that "Cathy Come Home" has in that tradition of issue-based drama, but does all drama have to have an issue? Can it not be the product of imagination and not simply of issues? Does every drama have to have a helpline attached at the end of it? Is Brideshead Revisited about student homosexuality or interfaith marriages? Is "King Lear" about care in the community for ageing monarchs? I am not at all sure that the movers of the amendment have not slightly constricted themselves. Perhaps if the word "imagination" found its way in there as well as "issues" it would improve the amendment. But that is not to say that it detracts in any way from my support for it.
In the same mood of pedantry I shall move on, if I may, to Amendment No. 133 in particular. I was impressed by how easily pleased the right reverend Prelate was with this definition, which seems to me extremely tricky. I am not saying that I for one could do any better. I think that it is a matter that has vexed philosophers down the ages. However, there are certain problems with this definition in terms of Ofcom, which has to make it work. First, are all "beliefs" equal? I imagine that at one time the Government considered using the word "faith" rather than -belief', but they have come up with belief in the end. I think that "a not uncertain wicket" probably is not what our Lord had in mind when he talked about St Peter as a rock. I think that a "not uncertain wicket" is probably slightly different from the rock of faith which sustains most religions.
I think that the Government have problems, for example, in contrasting within the definition of belief a systemised set,of ethical or philosophical principles",on the one hand,or of mystical or transcendental doctrines",on the other. Certainly Christianity, Islam and Hinduism combine those so that—in this mood of pedantry—the amendment at least should read, "and/or of mystical or transcendental doctrines", which would describe most of the major faiths.
More practically, rather than picking at this very difficult piece of drafting, how far does this extend? Would the so-called Church of Scientology now be able to apply for judicial review if it did not receive proper coverage from public service broadcasters? My observation is that the smaller the number of people who adhere to the so-called systemised system of beliefs, the more intense is their fervency. It seems to me that if the Government are not very careful they are going to make it extremely difficult for Ofcom to distinguish between the major faiths which we would all like to see receive adequate coverage in the way that the right reverend Prelate described and the more 788 marginal and very significantly minority views which would nevertheless claim to have codified their views in one way or another.
§ Lord Bragg
My Lords, I should like to support my noble friend the Minister in his amendments which I think are very welcome and very well thought through. I should also like to support the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester with regard to his remarks about religious programmes. Those of us who make them find them extremely difficult to make. They are extraordinarily valuable. They reach out across the community in ways that no other programmes do. It is very welcome indeed to have the Bill reinforce them.
In this supportive mood, I should finally like to support the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall. However, I should like to extend his definition which provides,that sufficient high quality original drama is broadcast covering a range of issues in a variety of formats".Why does that not apply to the arts, sciences, politics, documentaries and nature programmes which are often more distinctly for British public service broadcasting across the four channels than is drama? I know that this is a quixotic request and that the time is late. I am not going to press it. I nevertheless thought it worth burying in Hansard. Who knows, one day it could be excavated.
§ Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall
My Lords, I rise simply to support with great pleasure the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Lea of Crondall. Having spent most of my life working in and around drama I find it enormously encouraging to see it put forward as an issue itself. It would also be particularly nice to imagine a future in which less of the drama that appeared on television involved police uniforms and white coats. Perhaps we were looking at a slightly wider range.
§ Viscount Falkland
My Lords, I am prompted to rise—and I had not intended to—to speak to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, Amendment No. 24A, concerning original theatre. Over the weekend, I was sitting in my car and I heard a radio broadcast by the celebrated actor, Tim Piggott-Smith. As many of your Lordships will recall, he was one of the stars of "A Jewel In The Crown". He spoke interestingly about his life in the theatre, but I was interested particularly in a remark that he made towards the end of that broadcast that is relevant to this amendment. He said that he thought that legitimate theatre in this country had shifted over the past 20 years slightly away from the centre of our culture. That rang a bell with me. As an impressionable young man, I worked for a theatrical agent and went around the country to repertory companies. At that time, theatre and drama were available to a much wider range of people. Nowadays, West End theatre relies increasingly on celebrities and star performers to draw audiences. Admittedly, there is interesting work going on in fringe theatre, but this amendment is absolutely correct. Television drama, 789 which reaches large audiences, can explore areas which perhaps legitimate theatre is finding more difficult to address. It is important that that fact should be given recognition in the way that is suggested by the amendment of the noble Lord. I have no disagreement. I cannot follow my noble friend Lord Holme of Cheltenham on the drafting of it. "Issues" perhaps has some connotations which might be worrying, but I cannot think of a better word myself, so I shall not criticise it.
§ Lord Phillips of Sudbury
My Lords, perhaps I may speak to Amendment No. 133E. It is in this group, but it has so far been orphaned. I am not surprised, because it seems to be ill-grouped. However, it is there and unless someone speaks to it now, it will be lost.
The amendment would toughen up Clause 266, which is the enforcement clause in the Bill. That is a vital clause because, frankly, all of the laboured and intense discussion that we have had over many days, including the one just now about the content of Clause 260, which relates to public service broadcasting standards and the purposes of public broadcasting, would come to nought if Ofcom has such feeble powers to uphold those standards as to be, so to speak, honoured in the breach.
As it stands, Clause 266(1) states that if Ofcom is of the opinion that a licensed public service provider has failed to meet the requirements of Clauses 260 or 261, no action can be taken unless—and this is the rub—Ofcom are of the opinion that the failure of the provider is serious"—well, fair enough—and is not excused by economic or market conditions".Many Members of this House are of the view that that excuse does so much to weaken the enforcement test that it should be taken out. Ofcom has to be of the opinion that the provider has failed; it has to be a serious failure; and that is enough. As I have said on previous occasions, it is a little like saying that in future shoplifting will not matter if the person who has done it is hard-up on the day.
A further point to which I wish to draw your Lordships' attention is that Clause 266(3) states that even if Ofcom is of the opinion that the failure of the provider is serious, it still cannot proceed unless it has regard to a number of further factors, one of which is,general economic and market conditions affecting generally the providers of television programme services".So, at any event, it is there later on in the clause. I wonder what power Ofcom will ever have to make sense of the key cause, Clause 260, if those words are not removed.
In closing, I ask a pregnant question. The enforcement clause begins by saying:This section applies if OFCOM are of the opinion that the provider … has failed",but can Ofcom come to that opinion at any time, or is it implied that the decision must be taken during one of the five-yearly reviews provided for in Clause 260? I sincerely hope that the Minister will say that Ofcom 790 can come to such an opinion at any time. Otherwise, again, the whole mechanism vis-à-vis enforcement will be altogether too feeble.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Lord Lipsey
My Lords, I rise in response to the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury. I understand why he is concerned about the economic tests, but they seem to offer a sensible flexibility for Ofcom. We may be entering a world in which ITV will be a much less economically healthy organisation, although I hope that that is not true. Inevitably, that would affect its ability to pay its way—which it must do—and also its ability to meet its public service obligations. If we are to future-proof the Bill, Ofcom must be able to make allowances of some kind for that. The Bill as drafted allows for that, but the amendment would not assist with it.
§ Lord Phillips of Sudbury
My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, sits down, will he not concede that there is already a second provision, which I just read out? There is a double provision, so the first reference is not needed.
§ Baroness Buscombe
My Lords, I rise briefly to welcome the government amendments. I also strongly support Amendment No. 124A. which was moved by the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall. It is hugely important to include high quality drama in the public service remit, although I question the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, when he said, "Why should we stop with drama? What about arts and science?" The noble Lord, Lord Bragg, even mentioned politics, God forbid. It is certainly a good amendment and I hope that the Government accept it.
I also have a lot of sympathy for the amendments proposed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester. Although I accept some of what the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, said—such as his concern about the definition of "beliefs", which does present a problem—the spirit behind the amendment is tremendously important. The more that young people can be exposed to programmes containing discussion of different religions and beliefs, the more we support practical ways of breaking down barriers, so it is hugely helpful.
I am also very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, for clarifying the intention behind Amendment No. 131, about which, as the noble Baroness quite rightly said, I was concerned in Committee. Now that I understand that the amendment would encourage original programmes for children and young people that have a high content of the United Kingdom's history, culture and tradition, I entirely support what the noble Baroness is trying to achieve.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I respond to the non-government amendments in this group. First, 791 we have some difficulties with the wording of Amendment No.124A, including those mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham. However, I gladly invite everyone who put their names to the amendment—indeed, anyone who has spoken on the subject—to talk to me between now and Third Reading to see whether any progress can be made.
Amendment No. 129A, in the names of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester and the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, would amend the wording of our amendment to include a specific provision for discussion of different religions and beliefs. I can give an absolute assurance or an unqualified undertaking—I could use any of the appropriate phrases in such circumstances—that the provision of news and information, which is in our amendments, can encompass discussion, for example, by way of analysis and the presentation of different perspectives and points of view. The same could go for programmes about the history of different religions and other beliefs. So the additional wording proposed by Amendment No. 129A is unnecessary. I liked the example, on the definition issue, given by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester involving Sydney Smith. My favourite definition is from Ernest Bevin, who said that socialism is the policy of the Labour Party at any one time.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
Thank you, my Lords. I rely on a trade unionist to correct me on these matters.
Amendment No. 131, the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, also relates to programming for children and young people. It would specify that a significant proportion of such programming should be intended for audiences in the United Kingdom. In Committee we were of the view that the amendment was not necessary, and we are still of that view. The obligations for broadcasters to provide programmes for children and young people which are both high quality and original will in themselves be sufficient to ensure that such programmes appeal to the tastes and interests of the relevant audiences within the UK.
We acknowledge the unique importance of programmes for children and young people. That is why we tabled Amendment No. 130, which requires broadcasters to provide a suitable quantity and range of high quality and original children's programmes. In those circumstances, we believe that there is no case for Amendment No. 131. I hope that the noble Baroness agrees that it has been overtaken by the government amendment.
Amendment No. 133E is interesting. I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, explained it. The answer was given by the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey. Clearly, not all broadcasters will be financially healthy and there may be circumstances in which, if they are on the point of going bust, one relaxes the rules for a short while until they can recover afterwards. That is rather like the difficulty that the Strategic Rail Authority has with certain train operating companies. It may be desirable 792 to close them down, as happened recently, or to bail them out. One cannot lay down cases in advance. In the Bill we have allowed the option for Ofcom to temper the wind to the shorn lamb under certain circumstances. However, the circumstances will be determined by Ofcom. I am sure that Ofcom will riot wish to see that as a general let-out from the obligations on broadcasters.
§ Lord Phillips of Sudbury
My Lords, does the Minister believe that lawyers and some television companies will see this as a marvellous weapon with which to bash Ofcom if it tries to exercise any of its disciplinary powers? That is my fear.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I do not see how they can when it is specifically stated that Ofcom is of the opinion; it is its judgment that is provided for in the Bill. Lawyers would have to prove that it was not of the opinion, which I believe would be rather difficult.
On the noble Lord's point about waiting for a five-year review before taking action, I can assure him on that. Where a report has been made under Clause 260, that will help Ofcom to formulate its views on enforcement under Clause 266. However, there is nothing to require such a report before action is taken. In other words, the enforcement procedure laid down in Clause 266 relating to the obligations under Clause 260 is pretty fierce. I hope that I have responded to the non-government amendments.
§ Lord Lea of Crondall
My Lords, I thank all the distinguished contributors who commented on Amendment No. 124A. The noble Lords, Lord Holme of Cheltenham and Lord Bragg, the noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh of Hudnall, Lady Whitaker and Lady Buscombe, and the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, were all in support. I thank the Minister for his ready agreement to the fact that there could be some issues to tease out at a meeting to see whether we can make progress.
I cannot resist the temptation to respond very quickly to the intriguing point made by the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham. He asked what the issues were in, for example, Brideshead Revisited. I was trying to work that out. What are the issues in Hamlet? Well, existentialism, obviously. What are the issues in Waiting for Godot? I believe that the play begins with the line, "Nothing to be done". Is not the answer to what the issues are that we do not know what they are, and that that is the nature of the drama? I do not know whether the noble Lord asked a rhetorical question and whether I am doing OK in trying to respond, or whether another sort of question was involved. In that spirit of pedantry, I believe that there may be a question about how we address this conundrum of words.
My noble friend Lord Bragg put his finger on another important question. We should avoid going into a great litany—we did that earlier in the Bill—and stating that broadcasting must cover everything in Rogets Thesaurus. We want somehow to give a very 793 strong message, which Ofcom somehow cannot ignore. As the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, said, that is the point.
In conclusion, I welcome the Minister's response to Amendment No. 130 and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Lord Holme of Cheltenham moved Amendment No. 125:
Page 231, line 20, after "facilitating" insert "civic understanding and
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, in Committee I moved an amendment with a similar intention to that in this amendment and Amendment No. 126. The intention was and is that whatever else public service broadcasting is or is not taken to mean, it includes beyond peradventure proper coverage of Parliament. On that occasion, despite support from every quarter of the Chamber, and with no one dissenting—I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, for confirming that she then supported and still supports the spirit of the amendments—I regret to say that I received a rather dusty answer from the then Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone. To some extent, that was probably my fault for having put the amendment in the wrong place. I am sorry about that but I have now remedied the matter and the amendments are now in the right place.
§ It is essential to a healthy democracy that citizens understand their institutions. Repeated opinion polls in this country, on which the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, is deeply expert, show that they do not understand their public institutions. Despite good work by many individual editors and reporters at the BBC and other public service broadcasters, there is a deep deficit in understanding of Parliament in particular. That is no doubt partly our own fault and we should see what we can do to make ourselves more understandable. However, it is also due in no small measure to a culture of entertainment and sensationalism in relation to public life—tabloid values, if you will—which pervades too much of news and current affairs, which are referred to in these provisions. There is what sometimes seems to be a fairground mentality which takes our shared democratic decision-making in Parliament and reflects it through distorting mirrors to play to that showbiz culture. I am afraid that that tone is often set from the top of the broadcasting organisations.
§ I am well aware of the need not to overload Ofcom but my aim in this regard is much humbler. I seek a definitive recognition in the Bill that Her Majesty's Government believe that the proper reporting of Parliament and other elected bodies is part of the news and current affairs coverage referred to in Clause 261(3)(c). It is important for our civic understanding and democratic future that that should be so. I beg to move.794
§ 7 p.m.
§ Lord Peyton of Yeovil
My Lords, I should like to express my warm agreement with what the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, said. This is not a disguised plea for kinder or fairer treatment of individual politicians. They, for better or worse, will remain fair game, whatever we say. It is a plea on behalf of the manmade institution of Parliament. If people are not told about it, have no information about it or only minimal information, accompanied by generous doses of derision, Parliament will not survive. Unhappily for the media, if they are to remain free, the only certainty they have is that there is a free Parliament in existence.
I would be in favour of keeping this Bill within manageable proportions, even though it started fairly gross. However, the noble Lord, Lord Holme, was absolutely right in requiring some acknowledgement by the Government that it is important that the media should understand and recognise that, without fair ventilation, the institutions which are important to civilised life will have little chance of survival.
There is no need for me to prolong these remarks, but I share the hope of the noble Lord, Lord Holme, that the same representations, which received a rather abrupt dismissal by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, at an earlier stage, will be treated more kindly, more understandingly, more generously and more wisely by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, who is more than capable of doing so.
§ Lord Fowler
My Lords, I should like to support what the noble Lords, Lord Holme of Cheltenham and Lord Peyton of Yeovil, have said. What the noble Lord, Lord Holme, said—that citizens should understand their institutions—goes to the heart of this amendment.
What has not been mentioned in quite such detail, however, is that there is absolutely no question but that the reporting of Parliament has steadily, year by year, gone down the scale of media priorities. When I joined The Times in the 1960s, we had a trained staff of seven or eight trained shorthand writers, all of whom could do incredible shorthand speeds of over 200 words per minute. We had two pages devoted to Parliament and were reporting Parliament absolutely straight—reporting what Members of Parliament or noble Lords had actually said. The same kinds of standards were also applied by the broadcasting organisations. Issues were reported fully and the reporting of the proceedings of Parliament was heard in programmes at peak times or in adjoining programmes to which people would listen.
We have therefore come a long way down the scale over the past years. The sketch writers now seem to reign supreme. If there is a Budget Statement or a debate on fox-hunting or something of that kind, then there is straight reporting. Often, however, it is to try to get some amusement out of the proceedings of Parliament. Straight reporting of what is taking place in Parliament is a very low priority, and that is a very great pity.
795 This is an amendment to a clause on public service broadcasting. The clause itself requires a comprehensive and authoritative coverage of news and current affairs. I think that is right. One of the great things about organisations like the BBC is that that can be provided. What these amendments also require, however, is that the coverage and the reporting of Parliament and other legislatures should be on the face of the Bill. That would be a very sensible step forward and I therefore totally support what the noble Lord, Lord Holme, has said.
§ Lord Phillips of Sudbury
My Lords, 1 rise briefly to make sure that, in his response, the Minister does not say that the clause concerned, Clause 260(6)(c), already deals with the matter. I suspect that he may.
The amendment would make the clause read that the,services (taken together) provide … for Facilitating civic understanding and fair and well-informed debate".There is a difference between civic understanding and fair and well-informed debate. The former is wider than the latter, and it is very important that one does not simply rely on the British adversarial tradition of debate.
My other point, which I make briefly but I hope relevantly, is that the Government themselves introduced citizenship education into the curriculum last autumn. I very much hope that they accept this amendment, because it directly underpins that very important initiative.
§ Lord Bridges
My Lords, I have great sympathy with this amendment. It seems to me to be an object that we should all pursue. I do see some difficulty with it, however.
We would clearly regard it as wholly inappropriate to lay down any guidelines for what the printed press say about proceedings in Parliament. That would seem to infringe upon censorship and would be deeply unpalatable to all our traditions. Why is it, therefore, that we are prepared to lay down quite clear guidelines for the television world?
There needs to be some clarity of thought here. The only conclusion I would draw is that what we say to the world of television must be in the form of exhortation and general principles but not of statutory enforcement.
§ Lord McNally
My Lords, I take the point which has just been made by the noble Lord, Lord Bridges. However, I think that it is worth Parliament drawing the media's attention to the correlation between the apathy, cynicism and other maladies which affect our political system, and the fact that media coverage has moved away from factual reporting towards entertainment. One has only to look, as the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, has said, at the growth in the number of sketch writers and the almost total absence of any actual parliamentary reporting, even in the broadsheets.
796 There is the paradox that we have the technology to have 200 television channels, but not one that can or wants to carry Parliament regularly. There is the parliamentary channel. However, that in itself has its dangers. I do not want to see politics driven into a safe ghetto of a parliamentary channel, which can be reached only by the few.
I return to an old theme and it is one of exhortation. Most of the BBC's political programmes are over 20 years old in concept. It recently had a major rethink in its political coverage, which resulted in some presenters appearing not wearing ties and one programme for young people, which it is about to abandon.
I believe that much more effort could be made to cover politics seriously, particularly the working of this Parliament—if only for the benefit of journalists themselves. I receive a number of telephone calls from political journalists, who clearly do not know how this place works. It could certainly benefit them.
There is an obsession with viewing figures. One cannot run a programme that has only 800,000 viewers, although that is probably more than Gladstone addressed in his whole political life. I believe that much is still worth saying to the media about their responsibilities in making democracy work. There is more need for civic education—an idea pioneered by both my noble friends Lord Holme and Lord Phillips. There has been a tendency within the United Kingdom to think that somehow belief in democracy and democratic institutions come with one's mother's milk. That is a complacent attitude. Democracy needs democrats in order to work, and we need a great deal of help in creating those democrats.
§ Baroness Howe of Idlicote
My Lords, I rather disagree with my noble friend Lord Bridges but very much agree with what the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said. First, we must not forget that we are regulating a system—the broadcasting system—to which approximately 70 per cent of those who receive information go for that information. Secondly, one knows that a certain slant comes with the information in newspapers. Impartiality, which is important, certainly does not preclude new concepts relating to the things that we regard as so important—the broadcasting of Parliament and the fact that we need to get over to the rising generation the importance of such institutions in upholding democracy and so on. Therefore, I very much agree with the noble Lord's amendment. I hope very much, too, that the Minister will take it to heart.
§ Lord Norton of Louth
My Lords, I add my support for Amendment No. 126. I believe that a very special case is to be made for it. We must remember that Parliament, as an institution, is unique. It is the core institution at the heart of our political system. It is the means through which people speak authoritatively to government and the means through which government seek to regulate the activities of citizens. Therefore, it is distinguishable from all other institutions. For that reason it deserves particular treatment in terms of 797 coverage. That does not necessarily equate with supportive coverage. I believe that it is possible to provide objective and fair coverage of proceedings. I think of BBC radio's "Today in Parliament" programme as demonstrating what is possible.
Therefore, I regard the amendment as extremely important. But, although I regard it as necessary, it is not sufficient. It is necessary in the context of this clause. I do not consider it to be sufficient, but I believe that sufficient conditions must then be provided by Parliament itself in demonstrating its relevance, making it appropriate and attracting those outside to show that it is able to deliver. The mass media are a means through which we are able to show that. Therefore, I believe that Parliament deserves special treatment. I strongly support the amendment.
§ Baroness Buscombe
My Lords, I support Amendments Nos. 125 and 126, to which my name is added. While I am reluctant to be too prescriptive as to what precisely is required in order to fulfil the public service remit, ensuring that there is sufficient coverage of the proceedings of Parliament and of the other elected legislatures in the United Kingdom is a very important aspect of public service broadcasting. The broadcasts provide a primary means by which the electorate educate themselves in the process of government and the legislature, and it is vital for the successful functioning of a democracy that the electorate are well informed.
I am particularly keen on the words "civic understanding", and here I think especially of young people. I agree entirely with all that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said about the BBC's programming in relation to Parliament and politics. Much of the format is so old-fashioned that it is a turn-off for most young people. I hope that the Government will accept the amendments so that this matter can be treated as something of a priority.
One of the upsides today is that young people are not prepared to mark their cross or tick the box unless they feel that they understand the issues. That must be a good thing. They are far more questioning; they do not take anything for granted; and they do not vote just as their parents did. However, they are not prepared to vote or to take part in the democratic process unless they are comfortable that they understand the issues. We must all encourage broadcasters to respond. They have a very powerful platform from which they can assist in encouraging young people to become involved in the democratic process and in showing in a good light the many ways in which Parliament and, indeed, all other forms of parliament—local government, too—contribute to a civic society. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will be able to accept the amendments and, in particular, the one relating to civic understanding because it is all-encompassing.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Lord Evans of Temple Guiting
My Lords, one of the requirements under the public service television remit 798 is that broadcasters must provide comprehensive and authoritative coverage of news and current affairs and that they must do so to the extent that is appropriate for facilitating fair and well-informed debate on news and current affairs.
Amendment No. 125 would make the facilitating of "civic understanding" a further objective of the news and current affairs requirement. Taking civic understanding to mean an awareness of the processes of government and politics at all levels seems an entirely proper consideration for public service broadcasters to have in mind. We are therefore very happy to accept the amendment.
§ Lord Evans of Temple Guiting
My Lords, that is the good news. We have more difficulty with Amendment No. 126. This would require that, in addition to the news and current affairs obligations, broadcasters must provide comprehensive and authoritative coverage of Parliament and other UK legislatures.
The BBC agreement does, indeed, include an obligation on the corporation to broadcast an impartial daily account of proceedings in both Houses of Parliament. BBC Parliament offers daily, very full coverage of Westminster and the regional parliaments and assemblies. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, may not like what he sees, but that is the reality. Parliament is shown every day on BBC Parliament. The BBC also provides extensive television coverage of major parliamentary debates on BBC News 24, daily news bulletins and programmes such as "Newsnight". It also offers coverage of parliamentary debates on radio and online on BBCi.
That said, we do not believe that it would be right to include coverage of Parliament or other UK legislatures within the public service television remit and thereby impose it as a specific obligation across the whole public service broadcasting sector. All the public service broadcasters have obligations in respect of news and current affairs in both the tier 2 and tier 3 contexts.
At tier 2 the broadcasters will be subject to specific quotas for news and current affairs programming while, at tier 3, news and current affairs coverage is, as I said, an aspect of the overall public service remit. Fulfilment of those obligations must, in the nature of things, involve attention to the work of Parliament and other legislative bodies. That will be reinforced, at the tier 3 level, by the inclusion of the reference to civic understanding, to which we have agreed.
However, we cannot see our way to accepting that coverage of Parliament should become a direct obligation on broadcasters other than the BBC. Our overall approach to the regulation of public service broadcasting involves a spectrum of obligations, with the BBC at one end and Channel 5 at the other. Within that framework, a specific requirement to provide parliamentary coverage would seem to us an unduly heavyweight obligation to apply to the public service sector as a whole.
799 To summarise, we are very willing to accept Amendment No. 125, and hope that this will be taken as clear evidence that the Government understand and have sympathy for the concerns raised in this very interesting debate. But we are not persuaded that the proposal embodied in Amendment No. 126 would be a sensible way forward. I hope that the amendment will not be pressed.
§ Lord Holme of Cheltenham
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, which, in terms of Amendment No. 125, is extremely welcome. I am grateful for the graceful and ready way in which the Government have accepted the inclusion of the words "civic understanding". I am not entirely confident that the way in which the noble Lord chose to define civic understanding as automatically implying the coverage of Parliament which Amendment No. 126 seeks would stand up. However, I shall read his remarks most carefully.
I am most grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Peyton and Lord Fowler, the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, the noble Lord, Lord Norton, the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, and my noble friends Lord Phillips and Lord McNally for their contributions. I believe that the House would care to remember the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe; namely, that young people are keenly interested in issues. All the polling evidence to which I referred earlier shows that they are well informed and concerned about contemporary issues. The total disconnect arises because they do not connect those issues to the Palace of Westminster, and the work that we do at both ends of the palace. There is only a small connection. Broadcasters need to be sensitive to that problem.
The noble Lord, Lord Bridges, voiced interesting dissent. I should not advance these amendments were it not for the fact that we were talking not about broadcasting but about the public service obligations of broadcasters. I can conceive of no more central public good than that people understand their democratic institutions.
We shall study carefully what the Minister said. We welcome the concession on Amendment No. 125. I reserve my position for a later stage. I commend Amendment No. 125.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 126 not moved.]
Lord McIntosh of Haringeymoved Amendments Nos. 127 and 128:
Page 231, line 28, at end insert ", of programmes of an educational nature and of other programmes of educative value
Page 231, line 31, after "religion" insert "and other beliefs
§ On Question, amendments agreed to.800
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringeymoved Amendment No. 129:
Page 231, line 32, at end insert—
() that the programmes included in those services that deal with religion and other beliefs include—
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move.
§ [Amendment No. 129A, as an amendment to Amendment No. 129, not moved.]
§ On Question, Amendment No. 129 agreed to.
Lord McIntosh of Haringeymoved Amendment No. 130:
Page 231, line 34, after "quantity" insert "and range'
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 131 not moved.]
Lord McIntosh of Haringeymoved Amendments Nos. 132 and 133:
Page 232, line 19, leave out from beginning to second "and" and insert "the BBC Charter and Agreement
Page 232, line 38, at end insert—
() In this section "belief means a collective belief in, or other adherence to, a systemised set of ethical or philosophical principles or of mystical or transcendental doctrines.
§ On Question, amendments agreed to.
§ Clause 261 [Public service remits of licensed providers]:
Lord Phillips of Sudburymoved Amendment No. 133A:
Page 232, line 40, at beginning insert "In addition to the requirements of section 260,
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I bring before the House another gritty amendment. Again, it deals with the relationship between Clause 260, the public service remit for television, and Clause 261, public service remits of licensed providers. As I understand it, the full public service broadcasting remit is to be found in Clauses 260 and 261. Clause 260 is the overall public service broadcasting remit. Clause 261 is the individual remit for the licensed broadcasters referred to in it.
In Committee, at col. 1174 of the Official Report of 3rd June, I asked this question of the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey:
Do I summarise fairly the Minister's proposition by saying that the provisions of Clause 261 are in addition to the provisions of Clause 260; that is, that where one refers to Channel 3, Channel 4 or Channel 5 services, all of the provisions of Clause 260 will apply to those channels notwithstanding the provisions of Clause 261?
The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, replied with his usual direct succinctness:
That is correct".
§ It is in pursuance of that that I put forward the amendment, which puts clearly and unequivocally on the face of the Bill for the poor devils hereafter who must construe this gargantuan and Byzantine piece of legislation that the Clause 261 remit is in addition to the general overall remit of Clause 260. It is a helpful amendment. I believe that the two amendments grouped with it are in the same spirit and to the same effect. I beg to move.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I understand the motives that lead the noble Lord again to bring forward the issue. I shall reply but in more than three words because it is important to have on the record the relationship between Clauses 260 and 261.
Amendment No. 133A would add to Clause 261 a statement that the conditions imposing individual public service remits for Channels 3, 4 and 5 set out in that clause apply "in addition" to the overall public service remit in Clause 260. Amendments Nos. 133C and 133D would add to the public service remit for Channels 3, 4 and 5 by providing that the requirements to provide high quality and diverse programming would be applied,in accordance with the standards as set out in Clause 260"—in other words, the requirements of the overall public service broadcasting remit.
The issue underlying all three amendments is the relationship between the overall public service broadcasting remit in Clause 260 and the individual remits applying to the licensed public service broadcasters under Clause 261. That is what the noble Lord has just said in effect. There is concern that the effect of the overall remit is weakened by what appear to be less stringent obligations under the terms of Clause 261. Again, that is what the noble Lord has just said. I hope that I reassure him that that concern is misplaced.
Clause 260 defines the overall remit for public service television broadcasting and applies to the BBC, the Welsh Authority, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and the public teletext provider. It defines the purposes of public service broadcasting and will be used by Ofcom as the basis for its review and reporting function, which we have just been debating.
Clause 261 specifies public service remits for each of the individual licensed public service channel providers and for the public teletext provider. These remits constitute the programme quality obligations that broadcasters individually must satisfy, according to the terms of their individual remits, within the self-regulatory framework provided at tier 3.
§ Lord Crickhowell
My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt the noble Lord to raise a point that has been puzzling me. In the debate on 3rd June, in referring to Clause 260 and the questions that had been posed, he said: 802it is not an obligation on broadcasters; it is a very detailed set of standards set out for Ofcom".In the next column he said:Clause 260 is not just a set of words but standards that have to be adhered to, and if they are not adhered to Ofcom has a duty to take enforcement action".—[Official Report, 3/6/03; cols. 1172–3.]What I am left uncertain about—and perhaps he can clarify—is which clause imposes obligations on Ofcom and which clauses impose obligations on the broadcasters. There is a contradiction between his two statements.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, will allow me to develop the argument. I agree that it is a complex relationship, but I shall read out the rest of my text and I hope it will become clear. If not, a note from the Box will enable me to answer the noble Lord's question.
A licensed broadcaster cannot ignore Clause 260 just because it is a matter for self-regulation rather than a licence condition. Indeed, I think I have answered the noble Lord's question already. The fact that a matter mentioned in Clause 260 is not mentioned in Clause 261 does not mean that it is unenforceable. It is clear from Clause 266 that licensed broadcasters must each contribute to fulfilment of the overall remit or face Ofcom enforcement action under Clause 266. Ofcom can of course also take enforcement action under Clause 266 in the event of a licensed broadcaster failing to fulfil its own individual remit under Clause 261.
I would further emphasise that the full remit for each public service broadcaster comprises not only the tier 3 programme quality obligations but also the specific, objectively measurable tier 2 requirements; that is, when we are talking about percentages and regional obligations and so on. The combined effect of the tier 2 and tier 3 remits is to establish a spectrum of obligations across the public service sector, ranging from the BBC at one end to Channel 5 at the other. The BBC's remit is set out in the agreement and that of the Welsh Authority services in Schedule 12 to the Bill.
I hope that demonstrates why we cannot accept the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips. It does not reflect the careful balance we have constructed between the overall public service remit in Clause 260 and the individual public service remit of each licensed broadcaster. That is because it implies that the overall public service remit falls to be treated as though it formed part of the licence conditions of each individual broadcaster. The same applies to Amendments Nos. 133C and 133D. That is not our intention; but, as I have explained, it does not mean either that the overall public service remit is unenforceable.
The relevant measure for each licensed broadcaster will be whether it has made an adequate contribution towards fulfilment of the public service broadcasting purposes and not whether broadcasters have individually satisfied those purposes.
I return to the point of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. Clause 260 provides the requirement for the public service broadcasting sector 803 as a whole; it does not apply directly to individual broadcasters. But the enforcement action can be taken against a broadcaster that fails to contribute to the fulfilment by the broadcasting sector as a whole of the Clause 260 remit.
§ Lord Phillips of Sudbury
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that careful reply and to his civil servants. They have been extremely courteous and helpful in engaging with me on this difficult issue. I am particularly obliged for a letter written on 17th June, which to some extent the noble Lord has reiterated today.
I suppose that I feel a little sad that this issue cannot be made a little plainer in the language of the Bill. It is so esoteric. I have to say that the Bill as a whole strikes me ever more as being a bounty for my profession that it does not deserve. I understand what the Minister says. I am at least reassured by his affirmation of what he said on 3rd June that the provisions of Clause 261 are in addition to the general requirements of Clause 260. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 133 B had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]
§ [Amendments Nos. 133C and 133D not moved.]
§ Clause 266 [Enforcement of public service remits]:
§ [Amendment No. 133E not moved.]
§ Lord Evans of Temple Guiting
My Lords, I beg to move that further consideration on Report be now adjourned. In moving the Motion I suggest that the Report stage begin again not before 8.36 p.m.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.