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Baroness Wilcox: New subsection (5) in Clause 206 makes it mandatory for the Gaelic Media Service to include nominees from the BBC, Highlands and Islands Enterprise Board and the Gaelic Development Agency. I apologise for not being able to pronounce the Gaelic name.
New subsection (7) places a responsibility on Ofcom to secure that the interests of regional Channel 3 services in Scotland and those of the independent television and radio production industries are adequately represented. The BBC competes with SMG and with the independent sector for grants from the Gaelic broadcasting fund. Hence, there is a public perception of a danger that members nominated by the BBC, and any chosen to represent the interests of the independent production sector and SMG, would face serious conflict of interests which would hamper decision-making in the Gaelic Media Service both in policy formulation and in its implementation, especially in relation to allocation of funding. The potential for conflict of interests could reduce the effectiveness of the involvement in the Gaelic Media
The mechanism of creating a consultation group encompassing those interests to advise the Gaelic Media Service is designed to negate those conflicts of interest and to ensure that Gaelic Media Service appointments are on individual merit, based on skills and experience rather than on a representational basis. It has been suggested in another place that the composition of the Gaelic Media Service board as proposed in this Bill is designed to ensure that the Gaelic Media Service has access to expert advice from the industry. The structure proposed in these amendments encompasses that intent but seeks to negate the conflict of interest inherent in the structure where all the recipients of the Gaelic Media Service funding are represented on the board of the Gaelic Media Service.
It could be argued that the two-tier structure proposed in these amendments is an over-bureaucratic response to these issues. However, that could be resolved by Ofcom under the amendments. It could choose to appoint no more than six members to the board of the Gaelic Media Servicealthough it could choose, at its discretion, up to 12and no more than six members to a consultation group. Thus the two-tier structure proposed would have the dual merit of negating the potential for conflict of interest but would have no more individual members than are currently envisaged to be involved on the board of the Gaelic Media Service under the provisions of the Bill.
Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: Before responding to the amendments I should like to clarify the position of Gaelic broadcasting in relation to the devolution settlement as a misunderstanding has been carried through from Second Reading.
I can confirm that the matters addressed in the current Bill as regards Gaelic broadcasting are wholly within the reserved policy area. As the Committee will appreciate, we are seeking in Clauses 205 to 207 to amend legal provisions in the Broadcasting Act 1990. Such broadcasting matters are reserved to the UK Parliament. However, it is true to say that the funding of Gaelic-medium programmes through the Gaelic Broadcasting Committee is being provided by the Scottish Executive. The Scottish Executive funding is channelled to the Independent Television Commission for distribution to the CCG. That arrangement will continue via Ofcom once the current legislation is enacted. The executive is not responsible, however, for programmes supported by the Gaelic Broadcasting Committee.
For completeness, I can also confirm that responsibility for promoting Gaelic language and culture lies entirely with the Scottish Executive. Policy and financial responsibility for the newly established Bord Gaidhlig, mentioned in Clause 206, together with
Clearly there is, and there should be, a synergy between language promotion and development and the benefits of Gaelic-medium broadcasting. That is why we are keen to see by means of this legislation closer co-operation between broadcasters and Gaelic language and culture interests together with those representing the wider community through membership of the Gaelic Media Service Board. I hope that those remarks will reassure the noble Baroness that the clauses on the Gaelic Media Service accurately reflect the legal and policy issues in relation to Gaelic broadcasting.
Amendment No. 157 to Clause 205 seeks to place a duty on the Gaelic Media Service to finance and engage in the making of programmes, the provision of training and the carrying out of research in discharging its functions. However, the intent behind the amendment is not clear. As matters stand, Clause 205 already empowers the service to finance or engage in these activities as part of its new responsibilities for Gaelic broadcasting. Currently, the Gaelic Broadcasting Committee merely has the power to finance others for those purposes. The Bill will, in addition to the above powers, allow the new service to commission programmes, hold a licence and receive income from sources other than the Gaelic broadcasting fund. The Government feel that the enhanced powers being proposed for the new service are consistent with our vision of strengthening regional broadcasting and should perhaps be welcomed.
We are confident that, once the circumstances are right, the service will be in a position to take advantage of the new powers in Clause 205. That may take both time and careful forward planning. We do not see any merit in making that mandatory at this stage. If Members of the Committee were seeking to provide for the Gaelic Media Service a stronger lever to elicit extra investment, I do not think that the word-change suggested would achieve it. The whole issue of resources has been discussed in another place. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Scotland Office made it clear that this matter could be revisited only at the next spending review, in 2004. It is a matter primarily for the Scottish Executive to determine.
Amendment No. 158, when read with Amendment No. 157, seeks to add a new subsection to Clause 205 to the effect that the Gaelic Media Service must hold a licence from Ofcom to provide a service of Gaelic television and sound programmes so as to be available to persons in Scotland and elsewhere. That is not compatible with Ofcom's responsibilities for the award of licences.
We believe that it is right for the Gaelic Media Service to be able to broadcast a dedicated television channel, and, under the current provisions, the service will be eligible to hold the relevant licences from Ofcom in order to do so. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Michie, will be pleased to have that
There is also no need specifically to extend the service beyond audiences in Scotland. Clause 205(4) makes clear by amending Section 183 of the 1990 Act that in Sections 183 and 183A of and Schedule 19 to the 1990 Act a reference to being available to persons in Scotland includes being available both to persons in Scotland and elsewhere. Those are the others about whom the noble Baroness was so worried. They are people living outside Scotland.
I turn to Amendments Nos. 159 to 163 and 164 to 167. These are concerned with the membership of the Gaelic Media Service Board and the creation of a new consultation groupdefined as an "expert advisory body"with members appointed by Ofcom and approved by the Secretary of State. I am afraid that I must be blunt. We cannot accept any of these amendments as they would negate one of the Government's key aims in reforming the arrangements for Gaelic broadcastingthat of increasing the representative base, including the broadcasting expertise, of the Gaelic Media Service Board.
In essence, these amendments would remove from the face of the Bill any obligation on the part of Ofcom to include representation on the board of the Gaelic Media Service from critical key playersnamely, the BBC, the Gaelic Development Agency and Highland and Islands Enterprise. They would also remove its obligation to secure as far as practicable that, among others, Channel 3 licence holders in Scotland and independent television and radio production industries have their interests adequately represented on the board. As a consequence of these amendments, the Gaelic Media Service would be reduced from not more than 12 to not more than nine members.
We believe that it is right for organisations such as those mentioned, which these amendments seek to relegate to the proposed consultation group, to be involved at board level. They have a wealth of expertise and knowledge to bring to the table. Our view is that their contribution will have the maximum impact, and hence add most value, by participation at board level.
However, we recognise that there are concerns in certain quarters about the risk of serious and sustained conflicts of interests, particularly among members nominated by external agencies. We have addressed that in two ways. First, as provided by new Section 183A, Schedule 19 to the Broadcasting Act 1990 will apply to the service. That sets out the processes and procedures for handling actual or potential conflicts of interest. Secondly, the statutory guidance on appointments to be issued by the Secretary of State for Scotland to Ofcom under new Section 183A will play its part in managing the risk of nominated members facing conflicts of interest that might impact adversely
I refer to my own personal experience as a governor of the British Film Institute for 17 years. That body had on its board representatives of many of the bodies that received funds from it. There was never any question of impropriety as mechanisms were in placeso far as I know, they are still in placeto ensure that that did not occur.
These amendments also seek to remove the requirement on Ofcom to appoint one of the members of the service as board chairman. The intention seems to be to ensure that the chairman of the new service is in place before the other board members are selected. We are already in discussion with ITC and Ofcom with a view to advertising the three current vacancies on the board and appointing one of the successful candidates as chairman designate of the new service.
Finally, I turn to Amendment No. 168. Again, our view is that this amendment would run counter to the Government's stated aim of increasing the broadcasting expertise on the Gaelic Media Service Board. In excluding anyone employed by any of the bodies in receipt of funding from the Gaelic Media Service from membership of the board, it would effectively rule out representation for the BBC, the Channel 3 companies in Scotland and the independent production sector. We believe that that would not be in the best interests of the service.
However, our clear view is that that can be overcome by Ofcom ensuring that any nominee from a body which is, or has the potential to be, in receipt of funding from the service is not directly involved in the provision of Gaelic programming. We shall ensure that that point is addressed in the statutory guidance to be drawn up by the Secretary of State under new Section 183A.