Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve: My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. There is a sense of the word "citizenship" in which it is tied to the possession of a passport and is exclusive. The more normal, the more traditional and the deeper notion of citizenship is not tied in that way. It covers the broad civic culture of this and other advanced societies. It does not exclude those who are not citizens but who are members of the community. I believe that we have reason to introduce a notion of citizenship into the Bill.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I do not disagree with that at a philosophical level. But we are talking about legislative language. It is important that even though there are, in some senses, harmonics—which one might call it in our language—about citizenship, it is better not to run the risk of being confused with issues of nationality. Again, I shall be glad to debate these matters in Committee.

If your Lordships will forgive me I shall resist the temptation to give way to interventions. I have been speaking for nine minutes and I have hardly started to reply to the debate.

In addition to the simple provisions in subsection (1) of Clause 3, a complicated argument needs to be discussed in regard to its subsequent subsections. I also recommend that noble Lords look at Chapter 4 of Part 3 of the Bill, in particular at Clause 260, which defines the public service remit in much greater detail than ever before.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester referred to the clause and objected to the use of the phrase "taken together" in parts of the definition. But that phrase simply means that you cannot require all channels to be identical. If you did not have the phrase "taken together" to ensure that the service provided to consumers and the community conformed to the public service remit and did it in another way, you would be arguing against diversity and plurality.

Some noble Lords wished to add further provisions to Clause 260—the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, referred to international affairs and science and the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, referred to sports—and those issues can be discussed.

The most controversial issues of foreign ownership and cross-media ownership come down largely to the question expressed clearly by the noble Baroness, Lady Cohen—that is, will we seek to restrict ownership or will we rely on regulation to achieve the objectives that we all want, whatever our view on these matters. We already allow foreign ownership of UK broadcasters. The Bill seeks to remove an anomaly that allows big European countries to invest but not investors from elsewhere.

There is no dispute that when you operate in global markets you need the widest possible opportunities for new investment, initiatives, skills and management. If

25 Mar 2003 : Column 786

we did not have American investment in Classic FM, for example, we would not have Classic FM, and 6.7 million listeners a week would be worse off.

It comes down to whether you want to restrict ownership or look to standards. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, was scathing about the phrase "their money and our standards". Incidentally, it was George Bernard Shaw and Mrs Patrick Campbell, not Jean Harlow, who were the subjects of the noble Lord's story. It happened long before Jean Harlow came to prominence.

Many noble Lords were sceptical about the argument on reciprocity. The noble Lords, Lord Gordon, Lord Fowler and Lord Pilkington, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Jay and Lady Cohen, thought that we should not extend the possibility of investment to the United States if it would not reciprocate. I take a purely pragmatic view. Our interest in the Bill concerns British broadcasting. If it is a good thing for British broadcasting, it is worth doing even without reciprocity.

The noble Lord, Lord Bragg, and the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, referred to content regulation. We believe that it is tough enough to protect programming, with requirements for origin in the European Union, original productions, regional productions and programming, and independent productions. If necessary, all of those can be ratcheted up if it proves that the protection is not good enough.

I have to disagree with my noble friend Lord Bragg and the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, about the suggestion that regional TV should be treated as independent from the point of view of the BBC. An ITC study was conducted on this which concluded that if that was done, it would disadvantage the real independents; that is, those producers who are independent of broadcasters.

Of course I have sympathy with those who want to increase the plurality of provision of media, whether it is print or broadcast media. I spent a year in Columbus, Ohio, where there was only one television station and one main radio station, both called WBNS and owned by Wolf Brothers News and Shoes, the company which ran the shoe factory in the town. It also ran one of the two newspapers, the only other newspaper belonging to William Randolph Hearst. We had a pretty poor choice and I do not want us to get anywhere near that position.

However, I am interested in the conflict that has arisen today about Channel 5. My noble friend Lady Blackstone set it out: Channel 5 is small, with a 6 per cent share of the audience. If it is to have a future, then while it is small it must continue to have more freedom from regulation than others. The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, wanted not only to lift any restriction on Channel 5, but to extend that relaxation to Channel 3. That was a step forward, or backward, in Conservative thinking which I have not heard before—until I heard my noble friend Lord Borrie agree with her. My noble friend was against any fixed limits on ownership, whether for Channel 3 or for Channel 5. I have to say, however, that both noble

25 Mar 2003 : Column 787

Lords were in a small minority. A large number of speakers, starting of course with my noble friend Lord Puttnam and the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and extending to acknowledged agreement around the House, remarked that the lifting of restrictions on Channel 5 could cause a concentration of ownership which a number of noble Lords thought very dangerous. No doubt we shall discuss this at length in Committee and so I shall not express any further views tonight.

I turn briefly to electronic programming guides. The noble Lord, Lord Birt, made an interesting point when he said that there should be competing guides because of the danger of a single owner bundling programmes with the guides. The principle behind that view is sound; namely, that we should seek objectivity in the guides and that it has to be enforced in some way.

On the issue of "must carry" and "must offer", again strong differences were expressed by noble Lords. The Bill will allow the imposition of "must carry", "must offer" and "must provide" obligations, but they have huge implications for industry and for viewers. We have received strong and conflicting opinions. We have said "allow" because cable operators and public service broadcasters have struck deals so that they do not need to have the regulation. I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, that it is not true that the Bill now covers only cable and not satellite. It could be electronic communications networks delivering satellite TV, but of course anyone can buy into satellite, although in order to access the conditional access system, under the access directive they would have to be fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory. That offers some protection.

The issue of the BBC also caused huge disagreement, which I shall not be able to resolve tonight. It is clear that the BBC is subject to extra obligations and constraints which do not apply to other broadcasters. The overall effect of our approach is that, given the new responsibilities that we are conferring on Ofcom, referred to by my noble friend Lord Bernstein, along with other noble Lords, alongside the continuing role of the governors, the Secretary of State and Parliament, the BBC will emerge as the most heavily regulated of all broadcasters. I think that my noble friend Lord Dubs recognised that. It is regulated in tier 1—bound by Ofcom's codes—but the regulation of impartiality is left to the governors. In tier 2, it must have quotas under the same headings as other public sector broadcasters; and it must agree those quotas with Ofcom—although I note what my noble friend Lord Alli said about the quotas not being kept for two years running and I was interested in his suggestion about other ways of calculating them.

Tier 3 is regulated by the governors rather than by Ofcom, but the characteristics of the system are identical. The BBC has to produce a statement of programme policy for each of its channels, with the Secretary of State rather than Ofcom having the backstop powers if the requirements are not met. Of

25 Mar 2003 : Column 788

course, there is the provision for the BBC to be fined if necessary. I have some lovely quotations about the BBC, but I shall spare the House hearing them again.

On the issue of the National Audit Office, there were hugely mixed messages. My noble friend Lord Gordon, the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, and my noble friend Lord Lipsey all say: do it now; put it under the National Audit Office. My noble friend Lord Alli says: do not do it at all. My noble friend Lord Faulkner, the noble Lord, Lord Birt, my noble friend Lord Bragg and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, all think that our proposal to leave it to the Charter review is the right approach. I think that my noble friend Lord Lipsey was right. It is not the proposal to carry out the audit; it is the value-for-money study that is being proposed. That would not affect the Audit Committee of the BBC, of which the noble Baroness, Lady Hogg, is a member.

Without pursuing the argument on broadcasting competition, I should say that we are giving Ofcom a suite of powers to regulate competition within the broadcasting sector—concurrent powers with the OFT under general competition law—and providing for a continuation of the sector's specific powers. I note the welcome given to this proposal by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, that no amendment of the Enterprise Act is involved. This is an implementation of the merger provisions in the Enterprise Act.

On disability provisions, I hope it is recognised that the Bill delivers many benefits for disabled people. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, recognised that when he spoke about the general duties of Ofcom, which cut right across the remit. It must have regard, where relevant, to the needs of persons with disabilities, the elderly and those on low incomes. The consumer panel in particular has the duty of carrying that out.

On the particular issues of audio description we are sympathetic, but I understand that there are still technical problems. I am glad to have the support of my noble friend Lord Ashley for the extension of subtitles. I note his dissatisfaction with the time targets. But I have never known my noble friend to welcome anything and not then ask for more. I do not blame him. That is how he has made his remarkable reputation—by asking for more, and getting it. I heard what my noble friend Lady Wilkins said about a text-based Teletext service, and we shall have to consider that.

On the nations and regions, we had eloquent pleas from my noble friend Lord Dubs about Gaelic broadcasting in Northern Ireland, from the noble Baroness, Lady Michie, and the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, on Gaelic broadcasting in Scotland—although that is the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament; reserved matters are only for cross-UK provision—and from the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, about Welsh broadcasting. The Bill contains provision for offices to be maintained in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and for the content board and the consumer panel to have designated members to represent the interests of people in Scotland, Wales

25 Mar 2003 : Column 789

and Northern Ireland. I say to the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, that there is provision under the paving Bill for a committee for Scotland if that is required.

On ITN as a nominated news provider, again there were very mixed messages. It is worth saying to the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, that Ofcom will be free to recommend the removal of the system of a nominated news provider when it feels that the time is right. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, said, "Then and only then" in a menacing way. Ofcom will have to review the arrangements every three years; there is nothing to stop it reviewing the arrangements earlier if it wants to.

I was surprised by some of the debate about religious ownership, because the Bill delivers the main aim of those who have campaigned against religious broadcasting ownership restrictions. The only restrictions that remain are for analogue radio licences, of which there are only three, and national TV licences, of which there are only two. Ownership of multiplexes does not affect any actual channel. I cannot believe that there is any mileage in some of the comments made by noble Lords.

With great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester, I cannot believe that there is much more scope for removing restrictions. On the contrary, I listened carefully to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Alli, the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, and the noble Lord, Lord Sheldon, on the need to secure plurality of religious coverage and diversity—a wide variety of religion and belief. That is what the Commissioner for Racial Equality said, and it is an important consideration.

On the subject of newspaper mergers, we are modernising the regime to bring it in line with the Enterprise Act 2002. We are deregulating where we can. The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, said that we were amending the Enterprise Act 2002; we are not doing that. We are continuing to protect public interests when they are at stake. We have no plans for the OFT to have a role as regards newspapers, beyond the functions in relation to the newspaper merger regime. I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, that ministerial statements could not have been clearer about the threat of content regulation over newspapers, even though some noble Lords would have wished it to happen.

On local radio, some changes will have to be made because there is a change in the radio ownership rules that will allow greater concentration. I listened to what the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said about the risk that that might reduce localness, but there are many reasons for believing that

25 Mar 2003 : Column 790

will not happen. The noble Lords, Lord Gordon and Lord Eatwell, expressed that view. Surely, good local radio stations will strive to be local; they will have to be, because they will not survive unless they are.

We saw a head-on conflict between the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, on one side and the noble Lords, Lord Gordon and Lord Eatwell, on the other, about Clause 307 and protections for community radio and for music. Again, the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, were concerned about that. Clause 307 says that there must be a code of guidance, but it does not say what the code should comprise, because that is a matter for Ofcom. There is scope for many happy hours of debate on Clause 307.

On broadband, of course it is our strategy that there should be an increase in broadband from the present 67 per cent coverage and 1.4 million take-up. However, there must be commercial considerations in the speed at which that happens. We did not mention broadband in the Bill because the terminology in the Bill has to last a good deal longer than many technologies last. That does not mean, however, that there is any lack of determination to ensure that broadband expands.

I listened to the noble Lords, Lord Borrie and Lord Gordon, on broadcast advertising, but I do not think that the situation is that much changed. "Unsuitable" simply means that advertising could be unsuitable for certain times and certain audiences. It is very similar to the ITC powers.

The noble Baroness, Lady Gould, certainly is going to table amendments on premium rate services. I can confirm that the Bill does provide statutory backing for co-regulation by Ofcom and ICSTIS and that content services charged through the telephone bill can be regulated. However, I shall listen with interest when I see the amendments themselves.

I think that I can give the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, the assurance that she seeks on privacy. We shall be consulting on the privacy directive and we will implement it by updated regulations under the European Communities Act. That comes back to something that the noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill, said. Where newspapers are concerned, it is a matter for the courts to strike a balance between, on the one hand, the provisions of the Human Rights Act and the right to privacy and, on the other, freedom of expression and a free press.

With that race through the very wide number of contributions, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, and his committee. I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this lengthy debate. I look forward to the Committee and subsequent stages.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

        House adjourned at twenty-two minutes past eleven o'clock.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page