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Lord Prys-Davies: My Lords, I support this important amendment. The Minister will know that since the Second Reading debate we have tried to extract from the department the assurance which is embedded in this amendment.

On the first day in Committee, in responding to a similar amendment, the Minister said:

Of course, we welcome the terms of that guarantee as far as they go. But with the greatest respect, the wording does not in itself meet the anxiety expressed this evening by my noble friend Lord Cledwyn and the noble Lords, Lord Aberdare, and Lord Elis-Thomas. That anxiety relates to the digital capacity which has been reserved for S4C.

It seems to me that to reserve for S4C a lesser capacity than that for its competitors will be transparently unfair to S4C, its viewers and the Welsh

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nation. Anyone who is familiar with the history of Welsh language broadcasting from the beginning will know that in the past it was always claimed that frequencies were not available or could not be found until the distant future. My noble friend Lord Cledwyn made it abundantly clear that Wales is no longer prepared to tolerate such unfairness.

I support entirely the anxieties expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, as to which frequencies are currently available for digital broadcasting in Wales. If the Minister is unable to accept the principle of Amendment No. 47 this evening, will the department disclose the identity of the engineers upon whose advice it is relying? That would be extremely helpful.

I suggest that the engineers for S4C and the engineers for the department should exchange reports with a view to establishing the present position and to get at the truth before the Bill proceeds to another place. For those reasons, I support the amendment but I suggest that it is perfectly fair to ask for the engineers' reports to be exchanged.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I begin by saying how glad we are to see the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, in his place and to hear him again in such persuasive form.

I first congratulate the noble Lords who have moved this amendment on their persistence and ingenuity in pursuing the cause of S4C. This is certainly not the first time that we have debated the provision we propose to make for S4C with regard to digital broadcasting and I suspect it will not be the last. But I welcome the opportunity to look at the new angle which the noble Lords have put before us today.

As I have emphasised before, our main concern is to ensure that the Welsh language programming which is at the core of S4C's purpose and remit is made available in digital form as widely as possible throughout Wales. I make it clear that it is absolutely no part of our remit that that channel should be anything less than first class. That has to be our primary objective. That is why we announced that S4C would be allocated its own capacity on the multiplex assigned to the ITC which offered the widest possible geographical coverage, because that would guarantee S4C the widest possible reach in Wales.

The planning of frequencies for digital terrestrial broadcasting is a long and complex process. The ITC, the BBC and NTL are co-operating on this work at the moment, and have yet to finalise their report. I understand that the bulk of the work will not be finished until April. Although it seems that noble Lords have had privileged access to some early findings, those must inevitably be tentative and subject to revision. I therefore believe it would be premature to move from our original assumption about the outcome of the exercise and that the best coverage in Wales will be on the multiplex offering the widest coverage overall.

However, I assure noble Lords that, if it transpires that there is no significant difference in coverage in Wales between the top multiplex assigned to the ITC and the next best, I will certainly look again at the position of S4C. In doing this, however, I should remind

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noble Lords that I will need to take other factors into consideration as well. I know, for example, that another aspect of the debate about the coverage of multiplexes is the fact that there can be a trade-off, at the margins, between coverage and capacity. Thus it may be possible to increase the capacity available without moving broadcasters from one multiplex to another.

I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, that the department relies on the advice of the Radio Communications Agency and the ITC. I understand that S4C is in touch with the frequency planning exercise being conducted by the ITC, BBC and NTL and with work led by the ITC on the capacity available on the multiplex. I point the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, in that direction towards the ITC in relation to those technical engineering matters.

A further point was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, about S4C's commercial services. I must apologise to your Lordships because I do not have ready the amendments which I had hoped to put before the House. Suffice it to say that we intend the regime for S4C to be along the lines of those applied to the BBC's commercial services or to any new service provided by the Channel 3 companies on their guaranteed capacity. I hope that that answers the noble Lord's questions.

I put forward those points not because they are in any way decisive but to illustrate the complexity of the issues involved. Nevertheless, I hope that what I have said gives noble Lords a sufficient assurance that we are listening to their anxieties and are doing our best to achieve the most satisfactory result for S4C. Against that background, I hope that noble Lords will feel reassured.

Lord Prys-Davies: My Lords, will the Minister confirm whether there is any objection to the engineers exchanging their reports?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I can see no objection from the department's point of view. However, I am not involved intimately in the exercise and nor do I necessarily fully understand all the implications of such an exchange.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, and my noble friends Lord Elis-Thomas and Lord Prys-Davies for what I thought were constructive speeches which have obviously made an impression on the Minister.

I am grateful also to the Minister for what I thought was a constructive response to what we said. He certainly left me with a measure of confidence, especially when he said that he will reconsider the whole problem when he receives the report in due course. It is in that spirit--a spirit of hope--that I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 27 [The S4C digital service]:

Lord Prys-Davies moved Amendment No. 48:

Page 25, line 11, after ("57(4)") insert ("58(1),").

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The noble Lord said: My Lords, in Committee on 8th February at col. 340 of Hansard, I drew the Minister's attention to the situation which this amendment seeks to correct. Although I do not have a copy of Hansard with me, I understood from the Minister's reply that he would be bringing forward an amendment on Report. I am rather concerned that I have not seen that amendment. Does the Minister intend to accept the amendment? Can he give us that assurance? If he is not minded to do so at present, can he give us the reasons for his hesitancy?

9 p.m.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, the explanation for the noble Lord's amendment is most helpful. I appreciate the way that it has been brought forward. As I understand it, the purpose of the amendment is to ensure that the BBC would continue to be obliged to provide S4C with 10 hours a week of Welsh language programming after the frequencies carrying the analogue channels were switched off. I believe that the effect of the amendment would, in fact, be to double the obligation placed upon the BBC while both S4C and S4C Digital were being broadcast simultaneously. I am not sure whether that is the intention behind the noble Lord's amendment and would like some reassurance in that respect.

Lord Prys-Davies: My Lords, it is my understanding that it is not the intention that the contribution of the BBC should be doubled, so to speak, but that the contribution should be available when the analogue service is switched off.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I am much obliged.

We have looked at the issue and I can certainly assure the noble Lord that it is our intention that the obligation on the BBC should continue beyond the time when analogue frequencies were turned off. However, I must here admit what is, perhaps, a shortcoming of the Bill. It does not deal, nor does it pretend to deal, with all of the issues which would arise from the cessation of analogue broadcasts. The Bill is concerned with getting digital broadcasting off the ground. That, as we all now know, is quite complex enough. I fear that we must accept that further legislation will be needed to deal with all the implications of analogue switch off.

Even though we all hope that that day will come, even the most optimistic among us must, I think, accept that it is reasonable to expect that there will be plenty of time for at least one more Broadcasting Bill before that day actually dawns. The alternative would be to take very wide-ranging delegated powers now to deal with an event which is certainly some, and probably many, years in the future. It is much better, in our view, to focus on today's requirements and not seek to overcomplicate matters by trying to anticipate all the implications of analogue switch off.

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I hope that what I have said will reassure the noble Lord as regards the first part of his concerns. In the circumstances, I hope that he will feel that I have given him a sufficient explanation of the longer term view.

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