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Baroness Blackstone: I accept that these are probing amendments. However, if accepted, they would only confuse the internal logic of Clauses 229 to 231. I freely admit that the clauses relating to satellite and cable services are very complex and perhaps aim at a final perfection of legal certainty that is not easy to achieve. However, we are clear that the drafting makes real, intelligible distinctions between which are licensable content services and which are not.

The first two amendments are, in our view, unnecessary, because data transmission services are outside the scope of licensing. I shall say more about that in a moment. The noble Baroness referred to a letter sent to the department by her honourable friend John Whittingdale including all the questions that she listed. The department has not received the letter. By far the best approach would be for the department to answer all the noble Baroness's questions in writing, as it is a complex area. I will copy my reply to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury.

I wonder whether I need respond further to these amendments, given that they are probing, other than to answer the question put by both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, about whether the facility includes hardware. It does not; it relates only to onscreen facilities and software. In the light of what I have said, I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment. We shall write as soon as possible.

Baroness Buscombe: I thank the Minister for her response. I apologise; I have no idea what has happened to the letter, and as soon as I leave the Committee I shall try to find out. We are certain that it was sent. I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for offering to respond in writing to the rather complex questions that I have raised this afternoon, and also to write to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. The last thing that I want to do is to confuse the internal logic, to use the Minister's words. However, I am grateful for her assurance that hardware is not included. In the hope and expectation that we shall receive replies to the questions, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 169B to 169D not moved.]

Clause 229 agreed to.

Clauses 230 to 232 agreed to.

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Clause 233 [Direction to licensee to take remedial action]:

Baroness Wilcox moved Amendment No. 170:

    Page 208, line 42, at end insert—

"(8A) OFCOM shall publish a statement setting out by what means complaints concerning a contravention of a licence condition may be made and how OFCOM will consider such a complaint.
(8B) A statement under subsection (8A) shall include—
(a) an account of arrangements for the publication of details of a complaint,
(b) information on the time available for making representations, and
(c) an account of the process of consideration between the making of complaints and the issuing of directions under this section."

The noble Baroness said: Clause 233 permits Ofcom to direct a licensee to take remedial action if it is satisfied that the licensee has contravened a condition of the licence. Clause 233 sets out clearly what Ofcom can do in those circumstances, but it lacks sufficient detail on how the process will work. If I understand it correctly, Ofcom decides whether there has been a contravention of the licence condition; it then gives the licensee the opportunity to make representations to Ofcom regarding the alleged contravention; and, if Ofcom remains satisfied that there has been a contravention, it can direct the licence holder to include a correction or a statement of findings in the licensed service. That is all fairly clear.

What is not clear is how Ofcom will deal with the process and what timescales will be involved. Clause 233 hinges on Ofcom's satisfaction that a contravention has taken place. That is how the clause begins. But how will Ofcom arrive at this position? Amendment No. 170 attempts to clarify the process. It attempts to make the process more transparent for all concerned by its requirement that Ofcom should publish a statement laying out its proposed actions in detail. The time available for the licensee to make representations is particularly important. The clause would be much improved by clarifying the processes whereby Ofcom and the licensee interact on the issue of contravention, so that no party is in any doubt over what action may be taken. I beg to move.

Viscount Falkland: We support this amendment, and look forward to the clarification that doubtless the noble Baroness is about to give to the Committee.

Baroness Blackstone: Clause 233 has the simple purpose of updating the provisions in the Broadcasting Act 1990 to allow Ofcom to require a cable or satellite broadcaster which has breached a licence condition to broadcast a correction or Ofcom's statement of findings where Ofcom is satisfied that this would appropriately remedy the contravention. The provisions in respect of other broadcasters remain broadly unchanged from those in the 1990 Act, other than being updated by Clause 337 to refer to broadcasting the statement of Ofcom's findings rather than an apology.

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The new provisions in this clause are required for cable and satellite broadcasters simply because the Bill replaces the separate cable and satellite licences with a single licence for a television licensable content service. This amendment would introduce a requirement for a complaints procedure in respect of any breach of a licence condition. We do not believe that that would be appropriate. Requirements for complaints procedures to be put in place already exist for the areas that most directly affect viewers, particularly in respect of standards and fairness complaints. Those licence conditions that do not relate to content standards are neither of much direct relevance to members of the public, nor the kind of matter best addressed through a complaints procedure; for example, they cover payment of Ofcom fees, media ownership provisions, and statutory advertising limits established under a European directive. Therefore, they are very much of interest to the industry, but not to the public.

As for the standards code, the provisions about the complaints process in relation to all licensees are to be found at Clause 318 of the Bill. Those provisions already prescribe that Ofcom shall include a condition in every broadcasting Act licence that the licence holder must observe Ofcom's codes to safeguard standards and maintain procedures for dealing with complaints. Not only shall licensees have procedures for handling and resolving complaints, but Ofcom shall also establish such procedures.

In relation to fairness and privacy complaints, the detailed procedures set out in the Broadcasting Act 1996 remain in force and responsibility for their enforcement will transfer to Ofcom. All the procedures will need to be clear to all parties. Clause 321 requires the broadcasters to publicise complaints procedures for breaches of both standards and fairness codes.

I should mention in passing that we do not understand why this amendment targets the provisions governing television licensable content services alone. Be that as it may, we believe that it is unnecessary in any event given the provisions of the Bill to which I referred. I wonder, therefore, whether the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Lord Avebury: Before the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, takes that decision, perhaps I may ask one question. As the Minister referred to Clause 321 and the requirements that it places on Ofcom to publicise the means of making complaints, whether by broadcasts or otherwise, would it not be appropriate for details of the means for making complaints by members of the public to appear on Ofcom's Internet site?

Baroness Blackstone: That sounds like a perfectly sensible suggestion. I shall certainly take it away for consideration, and let the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, know whether, as it seems to me, the experts also find it sensible.

Baroness Wilcox: I thank the Minister for her reply and the noble Viscount for his support from the

22 May 2003 : Column 1006

Liberal Democrat Benches. It sounds as if I shall not get what I want but the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, will get what he wants. I should just retire hurt. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 233 agreed to.

3.45 p.m.

Clauses 234 to 240 agreed to.

Clause 241 [Local digital television services]:

[Amendment No. 171 not moved.]

Viscount Falkland moved Amendment No. 172:

    Page 216, line 42, leave out subsection (7).

The noble Viscount said: In moving Amendment No. 172, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 173.

Amendment No. 172 relates to local digital television services and to Clause 241(7), which provides powers for Ofcom to introduce restrictions on the inclusion of advertising and sponsorship. The amendment would delete the subsection in its entirety on the basis that it provides Ofcom with powers to introduce an unnecessary regulatory burden on future local digital television services.

Local and community television services, whether free-to-air, on cable or on other platforms, should be free to draw on various funding sources. Local commercial television will depend primarily on advertising and sponsorship, but for non-commercial community television services the principle of a mixed funding base is important to their viability and independence. Therefore, we consider the subsection to be unnecessary and even a threat to the future viability of local digital television.

The inclusion of subsection (7) implies the possibility that there will be regulation when, we maintain, none is required and there is no obvious social or economic benefit. To prohibit or restrict private funding sources would be to impose an onerous and unnecessary regulatory burden.

I shall now speak to Amendment No. 173. As a result of changes introduced by the Broadcasting Act 1996, there is a diverse and developing local and community television sector. There is a range of ownership and economic models, as well as a wide variety of approaches to programming. The present licensing arrangements are highly deregulatory. There is no recognition or incentive for public service content and few restrictions on the accumulation of broadcast licences and speculative licence trading.

The problems were highlighted by the acquisition, in 2000 and 2001, of a large number of restricted service television licences before the proposed services had even commenced broadcasting. Later, the company making those speculative acquisitions collapsed and hopes for a rapid roll-out of new local television services received a severe setback. In 2001, the Independent Television Commission reviewed the framework for restricted service television licensing and concluded that a more robust framework was

22 May 2003 : Column 1007

required where services with a strong non-commercial public service remit could be ring-fenced and protected against take-over.

The proposals would establish at least two categories of local television. One category would be for local television services run for profit and open to acquisition and accumulation by companies with interests in investing in local commercial television. The second category would be community television services run mainly for social benefit and with no plans for or expectations of profit.

Such a distinction of category is of particular importance to the ability of commercial community television services to raise capital investment from public and private sources, as it would provide reassurance and some protection against take-over and conversion into a profit-making venture. This amendment would make explicit that the powers contained in Clause 241 would enable Ofcom to introduce a category distinction to protect and define not-for-profit community television services. We believe that the amendment would improve the Bill. We might face the possibility of these provisions being subject to future secondary legislation if the amendment was not on the face of the Bill. I beg to move.

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