Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Avebury: I do not know whether it is becoming a habit, but we seem to refer frequently to Professor Cave in our deliberations. His words appear to have taken on the status of holy writ. I remind the Minister—if he has not already thought of it—of the way in which we accepted for centuries, if not millennia, that Aristotle was right. The spell was broken when, I think, Bacon thought to dispute Aristotle's assertion about the number of teeth in a horse's mouth by counting them. He found that Aristotle was wrong.

It may be that Professor Cave is not always right. We should not automatically assume, in proceedings in your Lordships' House, that what he has said is laid down as holy writ for all time.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: He knows a lot more than I do.

Lord Avebury: He probably knows a lot more than I do, as well. In fact, I am sure that he does. However, the combined wisdom of many people outside the House is brought to bear on our deliberations, as the noble Lord said earlier with regard to BT. We obtain advice from various sources and from the industries that will be affected by the provisions in particular. The decisions that we make are of immense importance to vast industries and many hundreds of thousands of workers.

20 May 2003 : Column 752

I welcome the noble Lord's undertaking to write about the matters covered in the debate that have not already been dealt with in his speech. We should take that assurance as satisfactory, as far as it goes, but without guaranteeing that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, said, we shall not return to some of the matters on Report. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 153 agreed to.

Clause 154 agreed to.

Clause 155 [Special duty in relation to television multiplexes]:

Lord Avebury moved Amendment No. 133:


    Page 142, line 39, at end insert "and that there is sufficient remaining capacity for at least two local digital services in every locality"

The noble Lord said: Clause 155 concerns the reservation of spectrum for digital terrestrial television. Clause 241 makes provision for the possible introduction of digital local television services. That builds on the experience of analogue local and community television services, set up as a result of legislative changes introduced in the Broadcasting Act 1996. There are 21 local and community television services licensed by the Independent Television Commission.

As we know, it is the Government's intention eventually to switch off analogue television services and move to a digital-only terrestrial television environment. The future of local and community television therefore depends on future access to digital local television spectrum. Although Clause 241 provides an enabling mechanism for the licensing of digital local television services, it does not guarantee that they will have the parts of the spectrum that they need.

The Government are said to be considering three re-planning scenarios for the future conversion of all terrestrial television services to digital-only transmission. Under the most radical of those scenarios, there would be insufficient spectrum for any significant development of digital local television, and existing local and community television services would be obliged to switch off for ever. The spectrum savings resulting from radical re-planning would be transferred to non-broadcast use.

Under the two other re-planning scenarios—I am sure that the Minister will correct me if I have got it wrong—there would be spectrum remaining for development after the needs of existing national services had been met. That could be utilised for a tier of local and community television services throughout the UK, although there might be other competing demands that would have to be taken into consideration.

I shall give an example. Channel M in Manchester, which has operated on a four-year restricted service licence since February 2000, offers local programming to a potential audience of 600,000 adults and has its own dedicated production team, as well as contributions from the students at the University of Salford's international

20 May 2003 : Column 753

media centre. That is exactly the kind of innovative venture that Ofcom should encourage under Clause 3, which calls for a wide range of TV and radio services, appealing to a variety of tastes and interests. A local service such as Channel M is a fine example of that. Assuming that the channel's licence is renewed in February 2004, will investors be ready to put in the capital that may be needed, if the station may have to close down in 2010 because there is nowhere for it to be re-housed in the spectrum?

The amendment would guarantee a commitment within the spectrum re-planning process to ensure that sufficient spare capacity is reserved for at least two local digital television services in every locality, before spectrum is re-assigned to non-broadcast use. Digital local television would bring an innovative addition to the range and diversity of television services on offer, but, to ensure its development, it is essential that there is a commitment by the Government to adequate digital terrestrial television spectrum. I beg to move.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: I support the amendment. It is clear that there is demand from the consumer and the citizen for local television and radio. I see from yesterday's Hansard that, once the Bill becomes law, a new tier of access radio stations will be considered. Clearly, the Government are reacting favourably to the demand for local radio and television.

I shall not repeat what the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said. We have all been well briefed by community media on that point. However, I hope that the Minister will consider reassuring us that the needs of that group of people and of the citizens who want local radio and television will be satisfied.

Baroness Blackstone: Clause 155 is part of the mechanism in the Bill that will ensure universal access to public service channels on all main platforms and secure that digital multiplex capacity is made available for qualifying television broadcast services. The specific part played by this clause is to ensure that when Ofcom reserves frequencies for television broadcasting, it includes appropriate terms and spectrum licences to ensure that there is sufficient capacity for digital multiplexes to carry qualifying services, which are the public service channels.

I should like to stress that, while we recognise the value of local television, there is and will be a wide range of services, some of them purely commercial and without any public service remit or character. It will be for Ofcom to determine, within the framework of its statutory duties, what spectrum should be available for those different types of services.

Of course we fully support local television and radio, and we support its expansion. That is why the existing regulators are working on spectrum planning options that will identify spectrum that is suitable for local and regional services. I understand that some possibilities have already been identified by the

20 May 2003 : Column 754

planning groups. The work is not yet finished and it will have to take account of international negotiations on the use of spectrum.

Because of the uncertainty, it is not possible at this stage to be confident that there will be sufficient spectrum available for two local services in every locality, which is what is being sought by the amendment. Furthermore, coverage of television multiplexes tends not to be neatly tailored to single localities. We think that the practical implementation of such a provision would raise many complex technical issues.

However, I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, that we fully support local television and of course we wish it well. However, even with the increased spectrum efficiency offered by digital technology, I have to say that the amendment raises certain practical difficulties.

I hope that, in the light of my explanation, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Avebury: I am not terribly happy with the response of the noble Baroness because we have received no assurance that these services will be able to continue after the switchover to digital in 2010. As I explained when introducing the amendment, people will not invest capital in the development of new local services if they cannot see a time horizon of more than seven years. It would be totally unreasonable to expect investors to put in large sums of money, given that their existence will be threatened at such a short time in the future.

The noble Baroness said that some frequencies have been identified which may be suitable for these purposes. I wish that she could be a little more forthcoming both on the nature of the investigation of the frequencies that has already taken place and on the discussions being held between the existing regulator and the community services providers, on whose behalf these amendments have been moved.

I do not think that we shall be able to deal with this matter easily in Committee; it must be covered in discussions with the industry. In the hope that we shall make further progress between now and Report stage so that the industry can be given at least some of the reassurances it has sought, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 155 agreed to.

Clause 156 [Special duty in relation to television multiplexes]:

[Amendments Nos. 134, 134A and 134B not moved.]

Clause 156 agreed to.

Schedule 5 [Procedure for grants of recognised spectrum access]:

[Amendments Nos. 134C to 134E not moved.]

Schedule 5 agreed to.

Clause 157 agreed to.

20 May 2003 : Column 755

Clause 158 [Charges in respect of grants of recognised spectrum access]:

[Amendments Nos. 135 and 136 not moved.]

Clause 158 agreed to.

Clauses 159 and 160 agreed to.

Clause 161 [Limitations on authorised spectrum use]:

[Amendments Nos. 136A to 136F not moved.]

Clause 161 agreed to.

Clauses 162 and 163 agreed to.

6.45 p.m.

Clause 164 [Bidding for wireless telegraphy licences]:


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page