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Viscount Long: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.35 p.m.

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

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.2 to 8.35 p.m.]

Broadcasting Bill [H.L.]

Further consideration of amendments on Report resumed.

Clause 26 [Provision for broadcasting of services provided by independent analogue broadcasters]:

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos moved Amendment No. 47:

Page 24, line 11, at end insert--
("(c) ensure that the amount of digital capacity to be reserved for the Welsh Authority and Channel 4 respectively in Wales shall not be less than the digital capacity reserved for the Channel 3 and Channel 5 services in Wales.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I regret that I was unable to attend the Second Reading of the Bill and the Committee stage, but I have been following events carefully and reading the Hansard reports of the debates. I see that the case for the amendment has already been argued in a number of powerful speeches. I wish to reinforce the central theme of those speeches; namely, that S4C must be in a position to compete for viewers on the basis of equality between it and its competitors. It must be a competition between equals. But on the evidence of the White Paper--this has been confirmed by the Minister during the debates on the Bill--there will not be a level playing field.

According to the White Paper, S4C, as will be the case with Channel 4 in Wales, will enjoy only a quarter multiplex, whereas it is intended that its competitors--namely, BBC1, BBC2, ITV and Channel 5--will be guaranteed twice as much digital capacity as S4C and Channel 4 in Wales.

Unlike its competitors, S4C will be unable to provide all the technical benefits of digital broadcasting. It is not fair. It is not acceptable to the Welsh people. If S4C cannot offer to its viewers the technical benefits which will be on offer from its competitors, its services will be seen as old-fashioned and second-rate, and many viewers will not choose to watch its programmes. As a result, S4C will inevitably lose some of its audience. Surely that is unfair to S4C.

I am sure that there is no need for me to remind the House that the Act of Union of 1536 relegated the Welsh language to an inferior status in the public life of Wales for centuries. It was one of the black spots in our history. It was my great privilege as Secretary of State for Wales to pilot the Welsh Language Bill 1967 through the other place. The central purpose of that Bill

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was to confer on the Welsh language, for the first time since 1536, a status of equal validity with the English language in the public life of Wales. That has been the policy of successive governments since then.

It was also my privilege to co-operate with other noble Lords, in particular the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, in setting up S4C 15 years ago. I can assure the House that the founders of S4C never intended that its programmes should be of second-rate technical quality compared with English language programmes. It was intended that they should always be technically comparable with the English language programmes of its competitors. Otherwise, how on earth could they hope to withstand competition? They have been technically comparable and, as the whole House heard on Second Reading, the S4C programmes have been a huge success. It is an achievement of which we are proud.

I would respectfully say to the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, who has shown great understanding and compassion in the course of our debates on the Bill, that it is far too late in the day to expect Wales to put up with a Welsh language service which is inferior in technical quality to alternative services in the English language. Indeed, Welsh speakers would feel justifiably aggrieved if they were deprived of Welsh language television services of technical comparability with the English language television services. This amendment would ensure that such a grievance would not arise.

My amendment affords the opportunity for the Government to promise that they will think again. I hope that the noble Lord and his right honourable friend will respond positively to it. If he does so the news in Wales will be received with pleasure. If he fails to do so there will be great disappointment in the Principality. I beg to move.

Lord Aberdare: My Lords, I am pleased to support the amendment. We all want the Bill to succeed. It will have been a terrible waste of time if the digital revolution never occurs. We all assume that it will occur because there will be an incentive for ordinary viewers and listeners to invest in the new digital equipment.

Aside from the arguments in equity that S4C should enjoy equal access to capacity which the other main terrestrial broadcasters enjoy, there is the argument that the Welsh viewers of S4C will have little incentive to invest in digital technology if their programmes can be delivered only at analogue quality or if the ancillary features which will be available on other channels will be unavailable on S4C.

We can all appreciate the unique remit that S4C has in delivering Welsh language programmes of quality to its viewers. The other side of the coin is that Welsh-speaking viewers have no other channel to which they can turn in order to view programmes in the language of heaven. It follows that the Department of National Heritage is missing out on a particularly strong marketing opportunity by depriving Welsh-speaking viewers of the prospect of enjoying full digital capacity on S4C. The achievements of S4C in creating an independent film and television industry essentially from scratch have already been rehearsed in this House.

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It has been a significant contribution to the richness and diversity of culture within Wales and the UK. It has helped to diversify the economy of Wales, once so dependent on heavy industry.

If S4C is to continue to seed such welcome development and growth it will need to be able to commission programmes with full digital capacity. If a constraint of capacity is put on S4C, that constraint will be reflected to the independent production industry in Wales. It would handicap the development of the industry, making it less viable in the face of competition from companies elsewhere, experienced as they will be in the production of content dependent on the latest technology.

Perhaps I may ask my noble friend one question. Is there any inescapable shortage of capacity in the Principality which makes awarding S4C parity of capacity impractical? Is there really no multiplex with adequate coverage that would accommodate S4C's requests? As I hope I have explained, if there is parsimony in the award of capacity the danger is that the move to digital will be slower in the Principality and the emerging production industry in Wales will be handicapped. I am sure that that is not the Government's intention.

8.45 p.m.

Lord Elis-Thomas: My Lords, I support the amendment which stands in my name and in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Prys-Davies, Lord Aberdare and Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos. We are facing a difficult issue as regards the relationship between technology and culture. In a sense, we are speaking in the dark because we are not clear about the nature of the frequency planning exercise. It would be helpful if in response the Minister could let us know the state of play on the ongoing frequency planning exercise. Can he also tell us what news he has of the technical capacity that is becoming available?

I was involved in discussions on the broadcasting legislation which established capacity for the IBA, as it then was, to begin the engineering work for what became S4C in Wales and Channel 4 and to carry on later when the channel was established. I am anxious about the tendency to make a more limited form of technology available for the channel. If there were an argument as regards the then terrestrial capacity and the fact that it was appropriate to allow the technology of S4C to develop later in terms of the fourth station on the repeaters and on the main transmitters in the 1970s and 1980s it is certainly not the case that it is inappropriate to allow S4C to have full capacity at the present stage. We are not talking only about the broadcasting capacity but about all the other digital services which we hope S4C will be able to provide.

I am grateful to the Minister for the discussions that he has had in this Chamber and outside about the arrangements. No doubt he will tell us that it is not the Government's view that digital capacity should be put on the face of the Bill. I submit that the form of the amendment clearly indicates that we are arguing that the

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capacity should not be less than the capacity for Channels 3, 4 or 5. We are arguing for a flexible form of delivery on whatever multiplex is most appropriate but we are seeking parity of delivery on that particular multiplex with the other services being made available. In view of the total capacity which will be available through the new digital system it seems a reasonable argument that we are putting forward.

S4C and Channel 4 in Wales have been offered one-quarter of a multiplex. Channel 3 and Channel 5 have been offered one-half of a multiplex in Wales, as in the rest of the UK. I believe that that is an unacceptable structure. It will limit the possibility of S4C being able to develop a wider choice of services, unlike its competitors. We are awaiting the Minister's further amendments on the question of the commercial flexibility available to the channel, as we discussed in Committee.

By denying S4C as equal an access to multiplex as Channels 3 and 5 the Government are in danger of undermining the possibility of the very commercial flexibility of which they say they are in favour. There must be the technical capacity to be able to deliver that range of services but that will not be made available under the present arrangements. It will also seriously limit the possibility of the Welsh authority to raise additional commercial revenue at a time when the Government--and I agree with their emphasis--are looking for commercial partnerships as the funding for additional services.

As we have indicated, there has been a level of commercial success in terms of the income generated by the Welsh authority and the possibility of generating further income may well be reduced as a result of this decision if S4C is unable to have the same technical capacity as the other players in the field.

For all those reasons, I hope that the Government will indicate that they are prepared to accept the spirit, if not the letter, of my noble friend's amendment. We are seeking to ensure that the full capacity available to the other channels in Wales should also be available to S4C. I am pleased to support the amendment.

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