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Baroness David: Perhaps I may make one comment. I do not believe that the Minister referred to quality. It is important that there should be some stipulation about

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the quality of what is provided. I hope that will come into the dimension when he is thinking about these amendments.

Lord Inglewood: I do not wish to pre-empt the debate that we shall have somewhat later in the evening, which is specifically on the question of quality. The criteria which apply to the programmes are the same as those which apply to satellite and cable.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 22 not moved.]

Lord Donoughue moved Amendment No. 23:

Page 7, line 11, at end insert--
("( ) such information as they may require as to the programmes to be included in the digital programme services to be broadcast").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, perhaps I may speak also to Amendments Nos. 34 , 38 and 39.

Baroness Trumpington: Amendment No. 23 stands alone. Amendment No. 24 is grouped with Amendments Nos. 28, 36, 38 and 39. If that is a mistake there have been others in the list this evening. I can only apologise. The noble Lord can do whatever he wants.

Lord Donoughue: We have all been under great pressure on this matter. I am totally sympathetic on that point. I believe that Amendment No. 23 goes naturally with Amendments Nos. 34, 38 and 39. Since we are not going to press any of them to a vote, perhaps at this stage we can take them together. Is the Minister happy with that?

Lord Inglewood: I am happy to agree with anything that the noble Lord wishes at this stage.

Lord Donoughue: Good. Basically these amendments are about set-top boxes in general principle. In our view the Broadcasting Bill, as currently drafted, does not contain sufficient safeguards to ensure that a single set-top box or receiver will be able to access all digital terrestrial television programme services on offer. One way of achieving that is by consensus within the industry. I believe that the ITC is trying to achieve that and we encourage it towards a satisfactory outcome. We need to look at the Bill in order to secure that.

As drafted, the Bill would allow incompatible receiving equipment to be developed for different multiplex services without any obligation on the multiplex providers to share the technical information necessary to enable each type of equipment to receive the whole package of multiplex services available in a given area. We are concerned that we do not end up with people having to buy--which they will be unable to afford--different black boxes if they are to have access. I noticed in a newspaper today that the Germans are very well advanced in the movement towards industry consensus for a single set-top box receiver.

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We believe that the Bill should be strengthened. We are suggesting the amendments I have mentioned as a way forward. They introduce the need for co-ordination between multiplex providers so that they are co-ordinated and agree on a single box. Under the Bill as it stands, each multiplex provider is treated on a stand-alone basis. There is no provision for modifying proposals made by the successful applicant for one multiplex licence in the light of those made by successful applicants for other multiplex licences.

In practice, certain issues, most particularly the single receiver issue which we are focusing on here, need to be co-ordinated. These amendments are about co-ordination as regards the single black box. The matter needs to be co-ordinated on a system-wide level and these amendments are devised to secure that. Perhaps I may add that they refer at the moment only to the services licensed by the ITC. The participation of the BBC in the co-ordination would need to be secured and presumably that can be done by the Secretary of State. I am asking the Minister to give thought to giving power to the ITC to co-ordinate multiplex providers so that in the end we can have a single set-top box. I beg to move.

The Earl of Stockton: I welcome this package of amendments by the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue. I take them further because if a person is one of those particularly square-eyed people for whom television is the be-all and end-all of life, one might be in the position of needing not only a multiplex decoder but a satellite decoder and, very possibly, a cable decoder. The reason for its considerable expense is that the multiplex digital decoder unit has a seriously large memory in it. It is to all intents and purposes a small computer. We should be able to persuade the industry, which has adopted a European stance on decoders, that it can provide add-on chips according to which of the services one wishes to take.

If the Government are as determined as they appear to be to persuade us all to go digital as soon as possible, the prospect of the television manufacturers introducing a completely comprehensive set without a box on the top if it has to have five or six different systems is remote indeed. However, if we can write onto the face of the Bill that there has to be a single compatible system (in the same way as the banks have agreed to a single compatible system for their hole-in-the-wall operations, where one uses different cards in a wide variety of holes) I do not believe that we cannot achieve the same technical standard and security, which is one of the issues of interest to the multiplex providers. We are talking about paying for our television and one has to be absolutely certain that people cannot get round the system. Therefore, it must be incumbent on the Committee to try to persuade the suppliers of equipment, boxes and services, to have a compatible system. I hope that my noble friend will look very carefully at this matter before we reach the next stage of the Bill and consult both manufacturers and broadcasters on the issue.

Lord McNally: We were talking earlier today about reasonable men doing reasonable things. One would

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have thought that manufacturers and broadcasters would do what is reasonable in relation to the consumer, the viewer. But experience shows us that that is not always so. The noble Earl mentioned the experience of the banks. I have some experience of that in the 1980s when we were trying to persuade the banks to agree on EFTPOS. It was not an easy task to achieve any kind of compatibility because individual manufacturers of technology, individual banks and others saw small levels of commercial advantage here and there which worked against compatibility. The same may happen here. It may be thought that, once a viewer has signed up to a piece of technology, he has literally become a captive audience.

Therefore, I agree with the noble Earl and the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, that it is not sufficient for the Government to take a passive approach. If the Government remain passive, matters will fragment and we shall not achieve the compatible system to which the viewer is entitled.

Lord Inglewood: I am grateful to the noble Lord for explaining how his amendment addresses the issue of a single set-top box for digital terrestrial television. Clearly the amendment would ensure co-ordination between multiplex providers on a single set-top box criterion for the award of a multiplex licence and would allow the ITC to set minimum requirements to be met by all applicants seeking those licences. Of course, implementation of the measures proposed for co-operation would then become conditions of the licence.

I have yet to speak to anyone who sees a successful future for digital terrestrial television involving more than one set-top box. After all, does anyone really imagine that viewers will be prepared to invest in a box which gives them only one half, one-third or one-sixth of the services coming on-stream? That just does not make commercial sense.

It is in the interests of every part of the industry to make digital terrestrial television as a whole attractive to the viewer. For example, last week I was discussing that very point with the Digital Television Group, which is an expanding group of manufacturers, broadcasters, transmission providers and prospective multiplexers. Members of that group told me, with no dissenters, that the only way that digital terrestrial television would get off the ground would be through co-operation. That is happening already. That is the rationale for the DTV group. That group came together spontaneously, not at the behest of government.

I find myself in complete agreement with the noble Lord about the end result. Again, it is the means to that end which may divide us. There are different ways to achieve a single set-top box for digital terrestrial television: the common interface is one, allowing viewers to purchase cheap add-ons to the basic box to accommodate additional access systems; there is also simulcrypt, which is a system which allows different types of conditional access systems to be receivable through a single box. At this stage, neither we nor the ITC can predict which conditional access arrangements will emerge for digital terrestrial television.

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We believe that it is for the industry and not for the legislator or the regulator to determine the industry's solution. The industry does not need to be forced to co-operate: it is co-operating. European standards have been agreed and the television standards directive already requires that all services transmitted in clear must be receivable by all receivers. I do not see the need to go further and risk forcing what may be the wrong solution--and a costly solution--on an industry which is already seized of the commercial realities of digital television.

However, I understand the anxiety expressed by Members of the Committee that we should do all we can to ensure that applicants for multiplex licences are looking to contribute to the success of digital terrestrial television as a whole. I bear in mind also the need for multiplex providers to co-operate in implementing their proposals for promoting and assisting the take-up of receivers. Therefore, I am prepared to look again at whether there may be advantage in allowing the ITC, when it considers applications, to take into account the extent to which the applicant's proposals will contribute to the successful launch of digital television. I hope that that provides some reassurance to the noble Lord.

8.45 p.m.

Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde: That sounded helpful. Germany is proceeding in that way and, as the Minister said, there is the European television services directive. I suggest that, if there is no standard as regards set-top boxes, that will both inhibit the development of the market and risk again bringing in a monopoly control. We see that at the moment in relation to satellite. Ideally there would be one set-top box that would cover both digital and satellite. That would be ideal for the consumer, and the service provider would benefit by providing for the use of a smart card or whatever access arrangements may be in place. Is the Minister saying that he is prepared to consider a change to the Bill which will allow--not require--the ITC to take that into consideration in granting multiplex licences? As the Bill stands, it is silent on that issue.

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