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Lord Inglewood: There is near universal agreement around the Chamber about the aims we are attempting to implement. We in government are at one with the remarks made about regional broadcasting. We endeavour to recognise that while there will be change--it is inevitable and desirable--there is need at the same time to ensure that we entrench all the best qualities of regional broadcasting and, where we can, enhance them. In doing that we must avoid becoming so focused on protection that we end up entrenching the status quo and therefore do not enable the best of regional broadcasting to go forward with the changes we are talking about in the generality of the Bill.

I wish to emphasise that the proposals in Clause 63 include a power to protect existing levels of achievement at the time a licence changes hands. It is not a question of carrying forward the existing licence conditions. It is a matter of being able to protect existing levels of achievement.

I am pleased that the clause has been so widely welcomed. We shall consider carefully the suggestions that have been made for improvement, as we shall

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throughout this group of clauses. I hope that that gives reassurance to noble Lords, and in particular to the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, who moved the amendment.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Crickhowell: I do not intend to press this amendment at this stage in the light of what has been said. I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. As I pointed out, in a sense we have taken this matter in reverse order. I believe that we are coming to some even more significant amendments. We wish to consider the collectivity of the debate at the end and, perhaps at Report stage, decide whether anything further needs to be done. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Kirkhill moved Amendment No. 162:

Page 55, line 45, at beginning insert ("during the relevant period").

The noble Lord said: As has been said by quite a number of speakers, this is a series of linked amendments. An area of overlap does exist. I welcome Clause 63 and support its objectives. My aim in submitting these amendments to the Committee is to help the clause achieve its purpose of ensuring that ITV's unique regional television service is maintained in terms of quality and quantity for viewers throughout the United Kingdom no matter--and this is a very important qualification--what change in control of the licence holder takes place.

These amendments are therefore intended to help Clause 63 fulfil its objectives. I believe that Members of the Committee may find these amendments of appeal to them. They do not stand in the way of progress or of allowing the media industry to be internationally competitive or of introducing digital television and the rest of it. Therefore, I can see no reason why the small regional companies cannot continue to provide a bespoke service in Britain in tandem with the creation of the larger media groups.

As a native of the north of Scotland, I am acquainted with beautiful scenery. I am well acquainted with travellers who frequently ask directions of me and others. There is the well known tale of the Highlander who, when asked how to reach a particular destination replied, "If I were you, I would not start from this point". I am rather like that as regards this series of amendments. It is difficult to guide the Committee through the labyrinthine progress of them all.

In considering Amendments Nos. 162, 169 and 169A before we consider Amendments Nos. 163 and 165, we are being asked to consider the efficacy of the mechanism of achieving an objective before we consider the central principle which the mechanism seeks to establish. Therefore, at the heart of the amendments which I have tabled is the principle that there should be no loss of regional programme service to viewers in the event of a change of licence ownership or control; that the benchmark should be the actual service enjoyed by viewers rather than a licence minimum. Furthermore, regional programming should be comprehensively defined.

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Amendments Nos. 162, 169, 169A and 172 deal with the mechanism to achieve that. Amendments Nos. 162, 169 and 172 were designed, at least by me, to be read together. The grouping has come out somewhat differently, but I am attempting to give such guidance to the Committee through a rather difficult minefield of amendments, as it is open to me.

As well as offering precision and measurability, Amendment No. 172, which is at the tail end, crucially seeks to be fair to all parties who may be involved in a change of ownership control. If the benchmark is to be the level of existing services rather than a licence minimum it is therefore crucial that there is a fair definition of existing services. The underlying principle behind Amendments Nos. 162 and 172 is thus to ensure fairness to all parties who may be involved in a potential change of ownership. Therefore, the amendments set a time frame for the benchmark service to be evaluated. A definition based on a snapshot period--for instance, just before a change of control--could enable the incumbent licence holder to raise the level of regional programming to an unrealistic level in the short term in order to deter a potential takeover. Such an action would be unfair and, I believe, anti-competitive. Both the ITV companies and the ITC keep detailed records of the service throughout the year. Statistics are kept each quarter and then aggregated to analyse a year's performance along with the monitoring of programme quality.

By defining the relevant period as covering 12 months, the ITC is better able to judge the level of service that should continue following a change of licence control. While I agree with the sentiment behind Amendment No. 169A, I believe that Amendments Nos. 169 and 172, as I have been explaining, offer greater clarity and that the element of fairness, which is introduced in Amendment No. 172, is essential. The amendments are somewhat complicated. I have done what I can to explain the basis of why they are before the Committee. I plead with the Committee to give them wholehearted support. I beg to move.

The Earl of Kinnoull: As my name is associated with other distinguished Members of the Committee, I support the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, in his amendments. I can well understand his problem when one looks at 21 amendments surrounding this one clause and the groupings. He has explained the matter with great clarity, as one would expect of him.

I believe that everyone agrees that the standard, quality and quantity of the regional television services is currently very high. I share the real fear that new owners may be drawn in and could damage the ethos and the culture of these regional services which have a very strong community connection. I very much welcome this clause. As we study it tonight with care, our efforts will pale into insignificance compared to the toothcomb study of the clause when it eventually becomes part of an Act. I am sure that those outside will be looking carefully to see what loopholes have been left open. If we are to try to ensure that this clause achieves perfection, or near perfection, it must be both

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clear and draw a proper balance between mandatory duties and the discretionary powers of the commission to control the new owners.

As regards Amendment No. 162 and the others grouped with it, the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, described the purpose of introducing them into the Bill with the term "a relevant period of time" as a benchmark when considering the performance of existing licensees and how best that must be maintained or improved by a new owner. The noble Lord suggested a period of 12 months for judgment on how the existing licensee had performed. I believe that that is a reasonable period when one considers that the commission has up-to-date figures month by month of the performance of all the companies. These figures are readily available. I am sure that a balanced benchmark is a fair reflection and would not lead to false hopes.

The Bill as currently drafted considers the relevant period of time to be immediate and, as the noble Lord has explained, that could lead to unhappy consequences. I support the noble Lord and his group of amendments and I hope that my noble friend will look on them with his normal kindness and courtesy.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth: The first thing to say about the clause is how much we welcome it. I congratulate the Government, and particularly some members of the Government, on having included it in the Bill because it is an important bulwark for the essential character of the ITV system. In this world of take-over frenzy, it is important that we have such provisions, so we welcome the clause but we are always ready to be helpful to the Government and we offer some suggestions of how to make a good clause even better. That is the main thrust of the amendments.

I never quite understand the groupings in your Lordships' House. I believe that there is normally some wording at the top of the groupings list to the effect that if noble Lords do not like the groupings, they can please themselves to some extent. I think that I shall please myself. It might be for the convenience of the Committee and the Minister if all the amendments to Clause 63 were discussed en bloc because they all provide methods of strengthening the clause.

Regionalism in commercial television is the essential distinctive element of ITV as compared with the BBC. I hope that the noble Lord who spoke earlier with pessimism is wrong in believing that ITV will become so centralist that the BBC will seem the more regional. I think that the distinctive regional character of ITV is one of its greatest qualities and needs to be protected and preserved.

Before turning to the individual amendments, perhaps I may say that there is a rather glib view in certain quarters of ITV these days that the great thing to do is to have companies of world-class size within which one can still maintain the regional character of ITV. That has to be watched vigilantly. Perhaps I may refer to the part of Scotland that I know best. Like the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, I should like to refer to Grampian Television in Aberdeen. It is sometimes said that it does not matter who owns Grampian because it will still be a perfectly good Scottish regional company. After all,

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the Aberdeen Press and Journal, which is a very good regional newspaper, was owned by my namesake, the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, for many years. Indeed, he ran it more recently from Toronto and it still remained a good north-east of Scotland newspaper.

However, the analogy between newspaper ownership and television company ownership is a false one. The position certainly needs to be watched carefully. You can produce a good regional newspaper only by having the editor, his top management team, the reporters and all the panoply of a good newspaper actually in the region. You cannot do it by having those chaps in Toronto. When it comes to television, one can fiddle around and send a team with their cameras from London or Manchester in an aeroplane and make programmes about the region in the region. However, those programmes will not have an essentially regional character because they will not have been made by people whose roots are in the region. That is the important difference between maintaining the essentially regional character of a television company and maintaining the essentially regional character of a newspaper which may be owned by someone far away.

Taken together, the amendments seek to provide additional safeguards. As has been pointed out, by and large the regional companies are so proud of their regional programming that they do a good deal more than is required of them under the licence. If there is a takeover bid, the level of regional programming that is provided should be a benchmark, as the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, said. I think that that benchmark should be judged over 12 months. That is a reasonable period. Other amendments provide that the senior management responsible for the programmes should be present in the region. Those are the main elements in the amendments. Having done so well with the clause, we hope that the Government will be sympathetic to improving it, but I await the Minister's speech with interest.

7.45 p.m.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: I shall not take up the time of the Committee, but should like to endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, said about the characteristics of Grampian Television and the advantages of its smallness and concentration on the area where I, too, live. The important point about a company such as Grampian is that it is able to be about not only Aberdeen, where it is mainly based, but also about Inverness and Dundee. Grampian Television is highly valued by the people who live in our area. I do not have the figures with me, but people in the area watch it in preference to anything else. They are extremely interested in it.

Grampian Television has written to me to say how strongly it welcomes Clause 63. I have studied the clause and the proposed amendments. I shall be interested to hear whether my noble friend feels that the amendments improve Clause 63 from the point of view of a small company. I am not sure that they do, particularly in view of what has been said about the need not to freeze things so that we cannot move on in the future. The position does not have to remain as it was at a given moment or over a given period of time. I shall

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be interested to hear what my noble friend says on that. It is important that Clause 63 stays intact. I shall be interested to hear further discussion and what my noble friend says about whether the amendments would improve the clause.

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