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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the regulatory structure set up by the Broadcasting Act 1990 separated television regulation from radio regulation. Since that time radio at any rate has had substantial commercial success with a considerable increase in the number of commercial radio stations. I am not aware of the difficulties to which my noble friend refers. As to the question of a Green Paper, I have already mentioned the broader Green Paper which we published. My noble friend will know of our response last July to the report of the Culture Select Committee in another place.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, is the Minister prepared to consider--as is the case with the Canadian Broadcasting Commission--one regulatory body for public service broadcasting and independent broadcasting? This would mean subsuming the governors of the BBC--who have often proved inadequate--within the ITC. It would also mean

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abolishing the Broadcasting Standards Commission--which has proved an unfortunate body--and setting up a broadcasting ombudsman. I know that the noble Lord likes radical solutions. What is his view on that?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, without accepting the noble Lord's strictures on the governors of the BBC or indeed his interpretation of what has happened since the Broadcasting Act was passed in 1990, yes, the possibility of a single regulator for all public service broadcasting is one of the options that we have to take very seriously. We also have to take into consideration the noble Lord's point that there are two kinds of regulation: one on content and the other on access and competition. They do not necessarily fit well together. So there are counter-arguments to those put forward by the noble Lord.

Lord Chalfont: My Lords, I declare an interest as the first chairman of the Radio Authority, which was set up after the passing of the 1990 Act. Whether we have a single regulatory body for television and radio is one question and one which has some interesting implications. However, does the Minister agree that it would be sensible to have one overarching regulatory authority governing the BBC and its public service broadcasting, independent television and independent radio? That is a different question but it is one which follows on from the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, that seems to be the same question the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, asked. My answer is the same. Clearly, that is one of the options we must take seriously.

Lord McNally: My Lords, I declare an interest as president of the trade association covering manufacturers in television and radio. There is a convergence of technologies in broadcasting. Is the Minister confident that the machinery of government--in the department, in the DTI and the Home Office--is competent to oversee this convergence of technologies and the regulation that is needed to go with it?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, as the noble Lord will see when we publish the results of the consultation on our Green Paper, the Government tend to the view that we should take an evolutionary approach to regulation. In other words, we should not be tempted by technological changes to make changes in regulatory structures which might well be premature. The time when it will be essential to make changes to regulatory structures is when, for example, digital television and radio become widespread and the general public is affected by them.

Lord Ackner: My Lords, can the noble Lord inform the House whether, when they uphold complaints, the regulatory bodies have any powers to impose sanctions; and if not, why not?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord is referring, I imagine, to complaints

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on the content of television and radio. The disapproval of the regulatory bodies is a very powerful sanction. I did not understand the noble and learned Lord to be arguing in favour of pre-broadcasting prohibitions.

House Sparrows

2.53 p.m.

Lord Hardy of Wath asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will respond to the rapid reduction in the number of house sparrows, especially in London, and whether the cause has been identified.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the Government are aware of reports of the national decline in numbers of certain species of birds, including the house sparrow. While changes in agricultural practices are implicated as causing declines in house sparrow numbers in farmland areas, there is no evidence of significant declines in urban areas. However, the Government are monitoring the situation and will take what action they can to reverse this trend.

Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Is not the Department of the Environment basing its assumptions on the last full census which was in 1991-92, rather a long time ago? Does my noble friend accept that her comments about agricultural and agri-chemical practices may be entirely relevant, for the decline is now very general indeed? It seems appropriate for my noble friend to suggest that the department should be associated with urgent research if that is necessary. Is my noble friend aware that for many years canaries were taken down mines to serve as health and safety indicators? The disappearance from the conurbations of such a common species as the house sparrow may have implications which we ought to consider seriously.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, my noble friend is correct to say that there is little quantitative information on the numbers of house sparrows in London. A paper by Oliver in 1997 found no change in the number in inner London in the areas in which the species was present. However, as my noble friend said, a decline has been reported. The most recent report from the British Trust for Ornithology refers to surveys, including one in the spring of 1995, showing a gradual decline of about 1 per cent. a year.

Lady Kinloss: My Lords, would the noble Baroness the Minister care to come to visit me roughly 14 miles north-east of York, where she will see quite a lot of house sparrows? Does she not agree that it is encouraging that there are still some left in some parts of the country?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I would be delighted to accept the noble Lady's invitation to visit and to see the position in that part of the country. The noble Lady may be interested to know that one of

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the problems with detecting the numbers of sparrows in a particular area is that sparrows may be subject to predation by magpies, squirrels or sparrowhawks. That can have an effect locally. I am informed that that predatory threat can cause small birds to skulk and become less visible.

Lord Rotherwick: My Lords, I am glad the Minister is aware that grey squirrels have been seen to take not only the eggs out of the nests of small birds but also the chicks. That has been verified by the Forestry Commission. In the light of what she said about reversing the decline, if indeed there is one, will she say what she would come forward with to control grey squirrels in order to arrest the decline in inner London?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the noble Lord is very vocal in his support for dealing, in a final solution sort of way, with the problem of grey squirrels. He is also aware that many people in the country do not wish to see that. The Government are keen on the work being done at Sheffield University to control the population expansion through birth control for grey squirrels. Perhaps that would be the answer.

Baroness Nicol: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the time has come positively to reward farmers and landowners for managing their land in a positive way for environmental purposes? Can she say what the result of consultation has been on the need to protect wildlife sites? Is there any hope of an early government decision on that?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the Government will treat the need for a decision as a matter of urgency. It is extremely important that we do all we can to encourage that kind of diversity. For that reason, through the Comprehensive Spending Review, we found £6 million more for English Nature, of which £2.6 million is to protect habitat and for work on biodiversity.

Lord Gisborough: My Lords, larks are due to die out in four years' time. Does the Minister agree that one of the reasons for the reduction in the numbers of game birds and other dicky birds is the unrestricted protection of raptors? Raptors have to be kept under control.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 protects all wild birds and fulfils the UK's obligations under the EC wild birds directive. The provisions of the Act provide a powerful framework for the conservation of wild birds, their eggs, nests and habitats. It does not permit the control of birds of prey.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I was challenged by one of my noble friends to bring the European Union into this Question--and, of course, I always rise to challenges. Is not the over-use of artificial chemicals, fertilisers and insecticides and the rooting out of hedgerows, as a result of intensive farming due to

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the common agricultural policy--which, as everybody agrees, is absurd--a contributory factor to the loss not only of sparrows but of other birds and wildlife?

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