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Lord Peston: I thank the Minister for that response. However, I am not entirely happy with the situation. The Minister has admitted in his response that the expression used by his honourable friend in another place is the correct one; namely that it,

The Minister did not say that it is not inconsistent; he said, "Well, in case it is or it might be, we had better throw the clause in". My worry is: how might it be? Someone must have been advising the Minister and saying, "Minister, we are doing this Bill and on these grounds it might be inconsistent with your responsibilities under the 1946 Act. Therefore, you had better throw in this blanket clause to protect yourself". That does not seem to me to be the correct way to do it. My point is that, if there is such a danger, then the Bill should have been drafted so that it was not inconsistent with the Minister's responsibility.

I do not know enough to know whether or not it is inconsistent. However, I do know that such blanket clauses ought not to be in legislation. Someone ought to do the work and either say, "Yes it is inconsistent, so we will write the Bill so it is not"; or, they ought to be able to say to the Minister, "It is not inconsistent, so don't put that clause in because it is silly".

All I am asking the Minister to do is, in the interests of good drafting, to convince us that his department has thought through the matter properly—with, of course, no commitment because this is not that kind of Bill—and to say that he will ask the experts who advise hm on the matter to tell him a little more about it so that, if we return to it, he can then tell me more about it. I am rather uneasy when it is said that it might be inconsistent and, therefore, the clause must be put in. The point is that it ought not to be inconsistent if we have done the job properly.

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Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: I shall certainly look again at the matter to see whether the drafting can be polished. It may be that the accusation can be made that we are unduly cautious in the matter, although, as the noble Lord pointed out, the matter was considered in another place. No doubt the draftsman has already reflected on the provision. It is possible that we shall find it difficult to improve upon it. There is nothing of substance here which needs to be addressed, but we just want to make absolutely sure that a continuing duty imposed on the Secretary of State in terms of Section 1 of the 1946 Act should continue. However, there is no risk that the powers given to the Secretary of State or the President of the Board of Trade under the Bill would give rise to a conflict between the two sets of provisions.

Lord Peston: I thank the Minister. I do not wish to prolong the discussion because I think that we have reached a stage where we could continue all night as regards what the precise words are and what they mean. It is possible that the noble and learned Lord would not wish to weary Members of the Committee with the matter and that he may wish to write to me in that respect. Indeed, I shall be happy if that is the case. I shall not pursue the matter at present, but it is one that I should like clarified. We can do it one way or the other: either by returning to this kind of amendment or to one in some other form. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 23 and 24 not moved.]

Lord Haskel moved Amendment No. 25:

Page 3, line 14, at end insert:
("( ) The Secretary of State shall not give any direction to the Authority under subsection (2) of section 3 of the Atomic Energy Authority Act 1954 to acquire an undertaking unless a draft of such a direction has been laid before both Houses of Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House.").

The noble Lord said: In moving the above amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 27. The purpose of the amendment is to draw to the Minister's attention the fact that the Bill as worded is unnecessarily all embracing. At present, the Bill can be used to privatise any part of the Civil Service or other publicly-owned undertakings. All the Minister has to do is to transfer the undertakings into the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority and order a transfer scheme under the Bill. Indeed, that has already happened to Warren Spring Laboratories, which were transferred into the UKAEA in 1994 and which are now expected to be privatised under the Bill.

At one point there was discussion in the nuclear review and it was suggested that Berkeley Nuclear Laboratories should be transferred to AEA Technology and then privatised. Another possible candidate could be the Office of Fair Trading or any other government organisation. I cannot believe that that is the intention of the Minister. The purpose of my amendments is to draw his attention to that fact. I beg to move.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: I am not sure that I entirely understand what is sought by Amendment No. 25. However, my understanding is that it seeks to prevent the Secretary of State from using his powers

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under Section 3 of the Atomic Energy Authority Act 1954 to direct the authority to acquire an undertaking in which to vest AEA Technology without parliamentary approval. Amendment No. 27 appears to prevent the authority from acquiring such a company, for what I assume to be that purpose, without parliamentary scrutiny.

If I have understood the position correctly, the approach would appear to be flawed. It would be open to the authority to dispose of AEA Technology without first acquiring a company in which to vest its assets. It could, if it wished, use one of its existing subsidiaries.

What the amendments would do is make any acquisitions by the residual UKAEA subject to parliamentary approval. I do not believe that that is what the noble Lord intended.

My noble friend Lord Ferrers made it clear on Second Reading that Government Division, which will remain in the public sector as the residual UKAEA, is a management and procurement organisation charged with managing the safe and cost-effective decommissioning of the authority's nuclear liabilities. It has no plans to make acquisitions. It is not a commercial business.

Government Division has suggested that in the longer term it might be given the responsibility of managing other civil nuclear liabilities in the public sector. That is a worthy enough aspiration, but the Government made it clear in the Nuclear Review White Paper that they have no plan to move in that direction. It is a possible option for the future but Government Division has to prove itself first.

I may yet not understand the position, but I hope that I have explained what we certainly understand to be the import of the noble Lord's amendments.

Lord Haskel: I thank the Minister for that clarification. The amendment was purely designed to draw the noble and learned Lord's attention to the fact that the Bill is all embracing. However, having placed my concerns on record, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Lord Chesham: I beg to move that the House do now resume.

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

House resumed.

Charities (Amendment) Bill

Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill

Dogs (Fouling of Land) Bill

Wild Mammals (Protection) Bill

Brought from the Commons; read a first time, and to be printed.

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Broadcasting (Restrictions on the Holding of Licences) (Amendment) Order 1995

7.1 p.m.

Lord Inglewood rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 23rd May be approved [22nd Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, on 23rd May the Government announced the conclusions of their review of the media ownership regulations. As part of the extensive package of legislative measures proposed, the Government undertook to enact immediate secondary legislation to amend the Broadcasting (Restrictions on the Holding of Licences) Orders with the aim of liberalising the ownership arrangements for radio. These measures were developed after widespread consultation and have the support of the majority of the radio industry, including the Association of Independent Radio Companies and the Radio Authority.

I would like to assure the House categorically that the Government remain committed to the continuing development of the sector and to the principles of diversity, choice and quality set out in the Broadcasting Act. However, it is also important to allow the sector to take advantage of the new opportunities that will arise as the result of recent technological change across the media as a whole. In this context the Government propose to enact two changes to the existing rules.

The first is to increase the upper limit on the number of local radio licences which may be held by any one person from 20 to £35. This adjustment to the numerical limit takes account of the significant growth that has taken place within the radio sector and effectively restores the previous balance of licences that can be held as a proportion of the whole. This measure forms the first stage of the Government's proposed changes to the radio ownership rules and represents a way of responding quickly to the immediate needs of the industry in advance of possible primary legislation. In the primary legislation proposed on media ownership we intend to remove the limit on the absolute number of local radio licences altogether and to rely instead on the points system established by the Radio Authority.

Our second proposed change is to remove the restrictions on the joint holdings of category A and category B radio licences. A category A licence is defined as one in which the number of persons over the age of 15 resident in the area for which the service is provided exceeds 4.5 million. A category B licence is defined as one in which the number of persons over the age of 15 resident in the area for which the service is provided exceeds 1 million but does not exceed 4.5 million. At present a person may hold a total of no more than six category A and B licences, of which no more than two may be category A licences. The effect of our proposal is to remove the restrictions on the holding of category B licences while retaining the two licence limit for category A licences. This change, as I shall explain in a moment, leaves the so-called points system unaffected.

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At the same time we propose to remove the rule preventing national radio companies from holding more than a maximum of four category A and B licences. They will remain subject, like anyone else, to the two licence limit for category A licences but will be free to own any number of B licences subject to the overall 15 per cent. threshold established by the Radio Authority's existing points system. These changes do not affect the Radio Authority's points system. Companies will therefore continue to be required to ensure that their radio holdings do not exceed 15 per cent. of the total number of points in the Radio Authority system. Points in this system will continue to be allocated to each licence on the basis of the size of population served by the licence concerned.

The amendment to this statutory instrument represents a necessary response to the needs of the media industry during a period of great change. This proposal has received the overwhelming support of the industry itself and it will ensure that listeners will continue to benefit from the high standards they have come to expect from the broadcasting industry. I commend the order to the House.

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