Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am not convinced that there is a difficulty but I am always receptive to suggestions to look for up-to-date evidence. I shall take that suggestion away, think about it and respond to the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, accordingly.

Amendment No. 188 would make the BBC subject—in the fullest and most analogous way practicable—to any rules drawn up by Ofcom to regulate the promotion of programmes, channels and related services that are provided by licensed television service broadcasters. The amendment is probably designed to address the fact that, since Ofcom will not licence the BBC's public service channels, those channels will not be subject to Ofcom's cross-promotion rules. The BBC's promotional activities are covered by competition law, which will be enforced concurrently by Ofcom and the OFT.

The BBC's own commercial policy guidelines contain commitments that the BBC's core public services will not be used unfairly to promote BBC commercial activities and that there will be no promotion of BBC commercial products and services within BBC programmes on the public services. If there are any suggestions that that is not being adhered to, the matter should be addressed to the BBC.

The promotion of licence fee funded services is in the interest of licence payers, because it informs them about the range of services for which they are paying. For example, licence fee payers have been informed about Freeview, the new digital terrestrial channel—I appreciate the lack of understanding on the part of many people about what it actually contains and where it comes from—along with the cable and satellite platforms, as a means of viewing the new BBC digital channels.

On balance, we believe that the current approach is the right one; that is, that the BBC's position is best handled on the basis of clear commitments by the BBC itself, set firmly within the overall framework of UK and EU competition law, and enforced by the governors.

Lord Gordon of Strathblane: My Lords, this has been a very diverse debate, which is not surprising because noble Lords have spoken to very diverse amendments. On my amendment, which is all that I can really speak to, I am conscious that I will never convince some noble Lords. That distresses me because I should like them to be assured that I fully share their respect and admiration for the BBC. However, we at least begin from the same point.

The noble Lord, Lord Alli, advanced a rather individual argument, and I was surprised that it was backed up by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson. The noble Lord, Lord Alli, said that the more regulators that there were, the better, so that independent producers like himself can play one against the other. That is a perfectly

26 Jun 2003 : Column 500

legitimate argument but, frankly, it is a good argument against Ofcom altogether. We should be much better off with Channel 4 and Channel 5 and, if one was beaten by three of them, one could go to the fourth. The overwhelming undertone that I take from the debate is that this is not felt to be the right time for such an approach. To that extent, I shall withdraw the amendment and I shall not return to it at Third Reading.

Some people feel that charter renewal is the relevant time. I point out that we will probably debate charter renewal at some time in the next Session; that debate is not that long away. Moreover, the BBC is such an important organisation that it could well affect the very structure, let alone the staffing, of Ofcom and it would be much better to do that up front. I have not been able to convince the House of that and, to that extent, I thank the Minister for his reply and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendments Nos. 101 to 104:

    Page 175, line 13, leave out paragraph (a) and insert—

"(a) the BBC Charter and Agreement, and" Page 175, line 19, leave out "an agreement falling within subsection (1)(a)" and insert "or under the BBC Charter and Agreement"

    Page 175, line 22, leave out "the agreement" and insert "that Charter and Agreement"

    Page 175, line 23, leave out "such an agreement" and insert "that Charter and Agreement"

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 104A not moved.]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 105:

    Page 175, line 24, leave out subsection (3) and insert—

"(3) The BBC must pay OFCOM such penalties in respect of contraventions by the BBC of provision made by or under—
(a) this Part, or
(b) the BBC Charter and Agreement,
as are imposed by OFCOM in exercise of powers conferred on them by that Charter and Agreement."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 105A and 105B not moved.]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 106:

    Page 175, line 32, leave out "by virtue of subsection (3)" and insert "by OFCOM in exercise of a power conferred by virtue of the BBC Charter and Agreement"

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Viscount Astor moved Amendment No. 107:

    Page 176, line 4, at end insert—

"(10) It shall be the function of OFCOM to oversee the terms of trade between the producers of independent radio and the BBC.
(11) In subsection (10), a reference to the producers of independent radio is a reference to such producers as the Secretary of State may by order specify."

26 Jun 2003 : Column 501

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, the BBC is required to commission at least 25 per cent of its television programming from the independent sector, yet there is no quota for radio. In Committee, I argued that quotas should be extended to BBC radio because the licence fee is, in part, designed to nurture Britain's creative base, and that includes radio as well as television. The Government opposed such a move, and I accept much of the argument that the Minister put forward in Committee about quotas. Therefore, I have returned on Report with this amendment, which I believe is a compromise and which I very much hope the Government will be able to accept.

My amendment would not only help the independent radio production sector grow without the imposition of a statutory quota; it would also clear up an anomaly in the Bill. As currently drafted, the Bill gives Ofcom the power to oversee the terms of trade between the BBC and independent television producers but not between the BBC and independent radio producers. That is particularly odd as the BBC is far more powerful in radio, where it controls more than 50 per cent of the market.

Effectively, independent radio producers are faced with a single buyer of their services—the BBC. What is more, the buyer—the BBC—is able to source product internally. That gives the BBC an enormous power, which means that effectively it can determine the terms on which it trades. Independent scrutiny by Ofcom would ensure that the BBC did not abuse its dominant position.

It has been said that the live nature of most radio programming means that the independent radio production sector can never grow in the same way as its television counterpart has done. However, independent radio producers dispute that, pointing to the huge amount of live programming that they already do. Greater transparency over the way that the BBC deals with independent radio producers would be of real benefit to the industry, enabling it to grow and prosper. I hope that this compromise amendment will find favour with the Government. I beg to move.

Lord Alli: My Lords, I support the amendment moved by the noble Viscount, Lord Astor. In Committee, I myself moved an amendment which dealt with the quota system for BBC radio. I decided not to move it on Report as I had a conversation with the head of BBC radio during which she assured me that the BBC operated a 10 per cent voluntary quota and was very keen to see that quota being built on. She also reassured me on the terms of trade issue between independent producers and the BBC.

Therefore, if the amendment were accepted by the Government, that would be a further reassurance. But if my noble friend on the Front Bench is inclined not to accept it, I wonder whether he might follow up the offer of the head of BBC radio to write to my right

26 Jun 2003 : Column 502

honourable friend the Secretary of State giving her commitment and assurance that the informal quota will continue to be adhered to and, indeed, that she will safeguard the terms and conditions of independent radio producers. If he is willing to do that, I suspect that we may achieve the same result but via a different means.

Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, I support the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Astor. As noble Lords have already said, the amendment would allow Ofcom to oversee the terms of trade between the BBC and independent radio producers. I spoke on this matter at some length in Committee and I do not propose to repeat what was said. However, I should like to reiterate my support for the independent radio sector. That said, I am more comfortable with this amendment than the one proposed by my noble friend in Committee because it is less prescriptive and it does not allow for a statutory quota. I believe it is important that the dominant broadcaster does not benefit unjustly from its position and that the terms of trade under which the parties operate are subject to a level of external scrutiny.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page