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The Earl of Stockton: I thank my noble friend the Minister for that assurance. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 25 [Provision for broadcasting of services provided by independent analogue broadcasters]:

Lord Prys-Davies moved Amendment No. 59:


Page 23, line 27, at end insert--
("( ) In exercising his power to issue a direction under subsection (2) the Secretary of State shall ensure that S4C Digital shall at no time be disadvantaged compared with other broadcasters in Wales; and before making such direction the Secretary of State shall consult with the Welsh Authority.").

The noble Lord said: My noble friend Lord Cledwyn has asked me to move the amendment. He regrets that he is unable to be in the Chamber at this late hour. The Minister will know that with this amendment we are returning to an issue that we raised on Second Reading. It remains one of the principal concerns of S4C that it should be able to offer viewers programmes which are technically as attractive as any offered by their competitors. However, it is our understanding that the present arrangements, which are obviously not in the Bill but in the White Paper, fail to do just that.

I understand that S4C is advised by its engineers that the one-quarter multiplex solution will not allow S4C, or Channel 4, to deliver services in Wales to an acceptable standard. When the Minister dealt with the matter on Second Reading he was sympathetic up to a point. He said that the Government would,


Those words are loaded with qualifications. If one studies that response carefully it does not even promise that a practical possibility will ever be available. Does that represent the best engineering advice available to the Government? Alternatively, can the Minister give us an approximate indication of the later stage when the additional capacity can be made available? Perhaps I should say not necessarily "made available", but we would like a commitment that it would be available to S4C when the first practical opportunity presents itself. The word "first" is missing from the Minister's Second Reading response.

If S4C is not to be given a first opportunity, I should like to know why. Why is it not to be given a first priority? Is it correct that when the extra capacity becomes available it may be given to new channels before the needs of S4C and Channel 4 in Wales have been fully satisfied? Those are the concerns which have been expressed by S4C. I appreciate that the amendment

6 Feb 1996 : Column 229

was not tabled until yesterday and that therefore we may well have to return to the matter at a later stage. I beg to move.

Lord Inglewood: In view of the lateness of the hour I do not wish to speak for long. We believe that what we propose is the best compromise available to us in the circumstances. We are providing guaranteed places for S4C and Channel 4 in Wales. This will bring both services to more people. S4C will be able to add to its schedule once it is free of the need to broadcast Channel 4 programmes. I am extremely happy to give the noble Lords who tabled this amendment my assurance that we shall look carefully at the results of the frequency planning exercise, and review the position should it not turn out as I have indicated. I am also happy to assure them that we shall continue to keep S4C's position

6 Feb 1996 : Column 230

under review should extra capacity become available in the future. I hope that that will provide appropriate reassurance for the noble Lords.

Lord Prys-Davies: In the light of the Minister's response today, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Inglewood moved Amendment No. 60:


Page 23, line 42, leave out from beginning to ("and") in line 44.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 61, 62 and 63 not moved.]

Clause 25, as amended, agreed to.

Baroness Trumpington: I beg to move that the House do now resume.

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

House resumed.

        House adjourned at twenty-two minutes past ten o'clock.


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