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Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his detailed response. We looked at his amendment to Clause 9. It seems that we are in fact backing two horses in this Bill. However, we think that ours is a stronger one because we believe that our amendment would give the viewer much more assurance for the future.

I hope that I can persuade the noble Viscount, Lord Chelmsford, towards my point of view regarding the ITC. He asked whether such a provision was needed on the face of the Bill. We believe that it is because we shall have a proliferation of service providers, not just the very narrow group that we have seen thus far in the UK. Experience shows that the more people one gets in the ring, the more likely one is to face litigation about one's authority. If such a provision were on the face of the Bill, such a possibility would be avoided.

The Minister would like us to support his amendment. But, with my background as a trade unionist, I am inclined to enter into a little negotiating here and suggest to the noble Lord that we will support his amendment if he will support ours. However, I do not believe that that would succeed in this arena. I believe that we could have provided a good measure for the viewer had we been able to put such a provision in the Bill, although it is always possible that the matter will be raised in another place. It is with great reluctance that I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 not moved.]

Lord Inglewood moved Amendment No. 11:


Page 8, line 19, at end insert--
("( ) In subsection (4)(f) "acquisition" includes acquisition on hire or loan.").

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The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving the above amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 18, 54 and 56. The amendments seek to clarify two existing provisions in the Bill. The Bill provides that applicants for television multiplex and national radio multiplex licences must submit proposals for promoting the acquisition of digital receiving equipment by consumers in the area of their service. The amendments seek to clarify that the word "acquisition" does not just mean purchase but also includes equipment acquired under hire or loan arrangements. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 9 [Award of multiplex licences]:

Lord Inglewood moved Amendment No. 12:


Page 8, line 43, leave out from ("regard") to end of line 44 and insert ("to the extent to which, taking into account the matters specified in subsection (2) and any representations made to them in pursuance of section 8(7)(b) with respect to those matters, the award of the licence to each applicant would be calculated to promote the development of digital television broadcasting in the United Kingdom otherwise than by satellite").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the award of multiplex licences is the key element in the establishment of digital terrestrial television and radio. The multiplex provider plays a pivotal role in the introduction of the new technology and the new services.

The Bill, as introduced, provided for the award of a television and a national radio multiplex licence to be made mainly on the basis of three particular criteria. First, there are the applicant's plans and time-scale for putting in place the transmission infrastructure, so that the services on his multiplex might be received as widely as possible and as quickly as possible throughout as much of the country as can be reached by the multiplex.

Secondly, there is the capacity of the broadcast services to be offered on the multiplex to appeal to a variety of tastes and interests. Thirdly, there are the applicant's proposals for promoting or assisting viewers and listeners to obtain equipment capable of receiving digital broadcasts.

Each of those elements is vital to the successful launch of digital terrestrial broadcasting. However, as I have already indicated, in response to amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, there is a further factor particularly important to television which needs to be taken into account; namely, the way that, taking everything together, a prospective multiplex provider's proposals will contribute to the overall development of digital broadcasting.

The amendments which I have tabled address this issue. In doing so they provide the regulators with a framework, a common currency, in which to weigh the separate elements of the proposals put to them by the applicants for the multiplex licences. The regulators will therefore be able to look at the applicants' proposals in the round and judge them by looking at the contribution they will make to the successful launch of digital terrestrial broadcasting as a whole. This means that the ITC can look at proposals for promoting and encouraging the acquisition of set-top boxes, and

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consider whether they are likely to lead to a cohesive rather than a fragmented market. They can look at whether multiplex providers intend to co-operate with each other on other aspects, too; for example, the roll-out of transmission infrastructure, where significant economies of scale might be achieved through co-operation with other multiplex providers.

I believe that these amendments go a long way towards meeting the concerns of noble Lords opposite, and will provide a clearer and more effective framework for the regulators to do their job. They establish the development of digital terrestrial broadcasting as a whole as the touchstone for decisions on multiplex licences. We all want this enterprise to succeed. We cannot do that by state direction, but we believe that willing co-operation between the various parties involved is likely to make a successful outcome more likely, and this measure we believe will help to achieve that. These amendments will help ensure that digital terrestrial broadcasting is given the fairest of winds as it sets sail. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

6.45 p.m.

Baroness Jay of Paddington moved Amendment No. 13:


Page 9, line 7, at end insert ("and the extent to which such services (taken as a whole) may be expected to include programmes of quality,").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 13 I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 14--which stands in the names of my noble friends Lord Donoughue and Lady Dean of Thornton- le-Fylde--and to Amendments Nos. 17 and 19, which stand in my name. The purpose of all of these amendments is to make a further attempt to ensure that requirements about the quality of future services are placed on the face of the Bill. The arguments about the importance of quality in broadcasting have been rehearsed at earlier stages of your Lordships' deliberations but it is worth summarising and highlighting a few of them again.

It has been generally agreed on all sides that we in the United Kingdom have an enviable tradition of high programme standards, of which we are justifiably proud. However, the Government now seem to feel that it is enough to rest on our past laurels and that little needs to be done to try to ensure that those high standards continue into the digital world. There are, of course, exceptions. The obvious one is that of simulcast transmissions of existing services where existing quality regulations will continue. However, the situation we should be considering now is that of the medium term when digital broadcasting will be the only terrestrial system for any listener or viewer. As the Minister predicted at Second Reading, there will be initially--I stress the word "initially"--18 national channels on six multiplexes.

The Government have proposed that together with technical ability, variety not quality will be the touchstone against which service bids for a multiplex will be judged. At Second Reading the noble Lord, Lord

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Inglewood, said that the ITC would take full account of proposals for local, regional, community and special interest channels and programming as an important element in increasing variety. Amendments Nos. 14 and 19 would simply ensure that on that same basis and formula, quality as well as variety is considered. After all, variety in broadcasting is certainly a commendable and appropriate aim but it does not by any means always embrace quality. There can be an enormous variety of programmes, all of them of poor quality. Any of your Lordships who have switched between the 20 or 30 cable channels on offer today in any large American city will have a vivid and pretty depressing picture of what low quality multiple-choice TV can produce, however it is delivered in a technical sense.

In Committee, the Government also seemed to believe that the powers of the new Broadcasting Standards Commission to publish guidelines and to consider complaints about taste, decency and impartiality will in the future be sufficient protection against the worst excesses. Your Lordships will remember from the Committee proceedings that we on these Benches do not think that the present proposals for the remit and the activities of the Broadcasting Standards Commission are sufficiently pro-active to act as a significant voice of the viewer and the listener. In our opinion, they are certainly not robust enough to establish and monitor general quality standards. In this context, noble Lords may have been as apprehensive as I was to read the remarks of Mr. Kelvin MacKenzie, the ex-editor of the Sun newspaper and now head of Live TV, at a media conference last week. He looked forward to more and more TV channels which would result in an electronic freedom to match that of print. Mr. MacKenzie gave an example when he said:


    "My own guess is that 20 years from now people will look back at the impartiality requirements of broadcasting as a quaint piece of history... The present rules will not be heeded and they will wither away".
Surely that is something which we should try to prevent in this Bill, not, as my noble friend Lord Donoughue said in Committee, to achieve lofty cultural ambitions but simply to raise the sights of the digital operators.

The Minister has argued that to impose quality constraints on multiplex providers would badly inhibit the development of new services. In Committee the Minister warned that in his opinion a tight corset of regulation would mean that entrepreneurs would simply not bother to invest in digital television. It might, he said, be strangled at birth. He spoke somewhat dramatically as though this were a threat to our cultural life as we know it. We on these Benches do not see it in that way at all. The prospect of an absolutely unregulated market of expanding digital services does not seem irresistible, particularly if it produces dozens, or indeed hundreds of television programmes all of the type which--as I have said--we can already see on American cable networks, or as enthusiastically envisaged by Mr. Kelvin MacKenzie. In those circumstances it would seem that there is no advantage to the viewer. We would be quite happy for choice and variety to be less and quality higher.

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It is, of course, a question of achieving the right balance between appropriate growth and appropriate standards. However, as the Bill stands, the balance seems to be tilted too far towards uninhibited development. Frankly, I think that the Government have been too cautious. After all, there is nothing whatsoever in the history of television development--since the days when we talked about the licence to print money when ITV was set up in the 1950s--to suggest an entrepreneurial reluctance to invest in new opportunities.

The ITC apparently believes that quality criteria will not stop digital TV taking off. It has sought an additional qualification, as expressed in Amendment No. 13. In Committee, in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, the Minister admitted that the Government had rejected the ITC's advice on this matter, but nonetheless the commission continues to press for statutory powers to be able to evaluate applications for quality. Amendments Nos. 13, 17 and 19 propose a flexible formula to allow the ITC to ensure that multiplex operators provide quality programmes within a range of programme services. They do not insist that each and every programme available on a multiplex should fulfil those criteria. It is not too late for the Government to empower the ITC in this way. After all, in 1990 in the previous Act the Government created the quality threshold for licence applications which undoubtedly mitigated but did not harmfully impede the free flow of market forces. These amendments simply seek a similar environment for the digital future. I beg to move.


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