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Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips. My only regret is that the additional words which seek to spell out Ofcom's public service duty have not been added as a further subsection to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam.

As the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, said, there is some concern that this would appear to favour one particular public service broadcaster—that is, the BBC. To say that I find it a little puzzling is an understatement. As the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, pointed out, Clauses 260 and 261 make it abundantly clear that the commercial terrestrial channels also have public service broadcasting responsibilities, even though they may be of a lesser nature.

As the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, said, the debate at Committee stage illustrated the crucial importance that every noble Lord who spoke—it was a very passionate debate—attached to the need to continue to uphold public service broadcasting in today's increasingly competitive communications world. It was quite clear that the Committee—like most UK citizens—knew what public service broadcasting was, recognised it when it saw it and equally recognised when it was absent. It also wanted it spelt out up-front, right there at the top of Clause 3.

We now have another opportunity. The Government have listened and made changes on other issues raised. I salute the Minister for the number of new clauses he intends to introduce on Report. I hope, therefore, that he will accept what is proposed. Even better, I hope that he will find a way to add this amendment to the amendment brought forward by the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, which has just been agreed.

Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, I have difficulty with this. I am sorry to say that because one of the most important objectives of the Bill ought to be to protect one of the great glories of British broadcasting—that

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is, public service broadcasting. I attach the highest importance to Clause 260 in which, for the first time in legislation, that is comprehensively defined.

The noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, will know that after our last debate I suggested to him that perhaps the thing to do was to insert his amendment under Clause 3(2). He subsequently argued against that solution and produced the amendment printed on the Marshalled List, not the manuscript amendment. I would have been very happy indeed to support that amendment. I felt that by inserting the words "where relevant" he had dealt with the objections made by the Government Front Bench.

I wholly endorse the noble Lord's desire to have public service broadcasting referred to in Clause 3. I should like to see it there; I wish it could be there. I note that the Minister said on a previous occasion that we shall come to it in Clause 260 and other clauses and that that is where it needs to be. I do not agree with him. We need a reference in Clause 3.

A genuine difficulty is that we have just passed Amendment No. 1. This has led the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, for understandable reasons, to put down a manuscript amendment. But, having produced a principal duty of Ofcom in a balanced way—we had an interesting and powerful speech from the chairman of Ofcom about the importance of balance in these matters—to add another principal duty at this point seems to make life rather difficult for the chair of Ofcom. It does not provide clarity.

I wish that the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, had been content to get this reference, which I would love to see in Clause 3, into the second part of the Bill. But unless he has an easy explanation as to how it will work in simple terms when he responds to the debate, I have genuine difficulty in supporting the manuscript amendment despite the fact that I promised to support the original amendment when he first put it down.

Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, I support what my noble friend Lord Crickhowell has just said. Although I was fully supportive of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, in Committee, I have thought about it a lot since then. I have a concern about placing this duty on Ofcom, particularly in Clause 3(1). There is a clear conflict with the amendment which has just been passed. More than that, given that Clause 3 sets out the duties and parameters for the whole of the media industry, to include broadcasting and telecommunications, and given that the Bill is to liberalise ownership of the media, surely it should be a primary duty of Ofcom to consider all broadcasting—public service and otherwise—to ensure that we retain and maintain high quality programming.

In other words, Ofcom must keep a watchful eye over all programming to further the purposes of good and diverse programming for the viewer and listener. I say that, particularly given the words of comfort

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from the noble Lord, Lord Currie, who said today that Ofcom had taken on board the need, as one of its first key aims, to review, with a view to monitoring and strengthening, public service broadcasting, which would be under Clause 260.

Lord Fowler: My Lords, I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips. I say in parenthesis that I hope it is recognised that in the proceedings of this legislation I now speak with a new authority. Referring to an amendment which will come before us later, the Guardian said last week:


    "The amendment has the support of the influential Labour backbenchers Lord Bragg, Lady Jay, Lord Fowler and Lord Borrie".

Rumours of my defection are slightly exaggerated—indeed, they are much exaggerated. But I hope that the Minister will now listen to me with an attention I am not sure I enjoyed previously.

I have two comments on the amendment, the first of which is the more general. The discussion on the Bill has been criticised, not least by the new Leader of the House of Commons, who has said that some kind of filibuster has been taking place. I deny that entirely—I simply do not recognise it. So I was fascinated to hear the chairman of Ofcom, the noble Lord, Lord Currie, say how this discussion had strengthened the legislation—a total justification.

My second point, using the small influence I now appear to have, is to urge the Minister to accept the amendment. I believe that the principles of public service broadcasting should be absolutely fundamental to broadcasting in this country. It sets us apart from what happens in so many other countries. We would be very foolish to weaken our stance in any way. We should do everything in our power permanently to embed the principles of public service broadcasting in our system. Obviously, the BBC is seen as the best upholder of public service broadcasting standards, and I think that it is. Noble Lords have mentioned the example of the World Service. But, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, said, the BBC is not the only upholder of public service standards; nor should it be.

My view is that the most important public service broadcasting standards apply to the reporting of news. In an age when so much reporting is slanted, when some papers advocate particular policies to the exclusion of all other arguments, it is important to have balanced and objective reporting. We should allow the public to make up their mind rather than be led by the nose. I am not saying that the standards of balance and objectivity will always be achieved. For example, there was great controversy during the reporting of the Iraq war, but at least the aim is to achieve balance. I believe that aims such as that are, and should be, absolutely fundamental in our broadcasting system. They are worth fighting for and, for my money, I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, said. His aspirations are set out well in the amendment.

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5.15 p.m.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, I hope I do not embarrass the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, too much, after his accolade in the Guardian, if I now rise in warm support of the passionate speech he has just made upholding the concept of public service broadcasting. His argument is absolutely right. In many ways, this Communications Bill is historic because it seeks to reconcile the separate worlds of telecommunications and broadcasting. The public service tradition is Britain's particular contribution to quality in broadcasting. The role of public service broadcasting within that totality, within the balancing operation that the new Ofcom has to take on, is better spelt out right at the beginning of the Bill instead of in Clause 260. For that reason alone, I warmly support the amendment.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, just to show that I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, with the same undivided attention I give to my own Back Benchers, let me say that I agree entirely with what he says about the importance of public service broadcasting. So does the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe; so does the noble Lord, Lord Thomson; so do we all. The Bill enshrines that concern for public service broadcasting. It is suffused with support for public service broadcasting.

In Clause 260, which is none the less important, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, because it is in Part 3 rather than Part 1, the Bill gives the best, most detailed, description of public service broadcasting that has ever appeared in legislation. In the clauses which follow, the Bill gives Ofcom teeth to enforce the achievement of those standards. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, has a caveat about a particular part of Clause 266. It is, I think, a misunderstanding on his part. I shall be glad to discuss it in its place.

To put a generalised expression of support for public service broadcasting in Part 1 is unnecessary. It is not simply unnecessary; it is unnecessary and undesirable. In 14 years of opposition I always enjoyed being told by the government that the amendments I put forward were either unnecessary or undesirable or, more frequently, both. This is both. It is unnecessary because Clause 3 specifies the duties of furthering the interests of consumers and the community as a whole. The purposes of public broadcasting are directed principally to the community as a whole and should not be ends in themselves. Similarly, public service broadcasting is one element of the mix which assures the availability of a wide range of high quality broadcasting which meets a variety of tastes and interests, as required under Clause 3(2)(c). However, it is one means, not an end in itself. As I said, Clause 260 gives the best and strongest defence of public service broadcasting in legislation that there has ever been. That was recognised, I believe, in Committee.

Despite the qualification "where relevant", where it is relevant is in relation to Part 3 functions, which contains detailed provision to ensure the delivery of public service broadcasting objectives. I will not make much of it being harmful. However, the amendment suggests that, having

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secured the place of public service broadcasting, Ofcom should be required, say, to assess its spectrum policy against the interests of the consumer and the community and then skew any decision in favour of public service broadcasting purposes. That cannot be right. If furthering the purposes of public service broadcasting had been the foremost broadcasting objective of current and previous regulators we would not have had the growth of the new platforms and channels that have led to extra choice and innovation for the benefit of viewers and listeners.

The spirit and intention behind the amendment are admirable. However, it cuts across the balance we have sought to strike in this Bill and I hope that it will not be pressed.


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