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Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, my name stands below that of the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, on the amendment. I do not have to say much because we had an admirable introduction to the subject from the noble Lord. Those who heard his speech will understand why we who served on the Joint Scrutiny Committee came to admire his contribution so much.

He referred to the noble Lord, Lord Hussey of North Bradley, who I am pleased to hear is out of hospital. During the Committee stage, I was greatly influenced by his views on this topic. Before I reached a conclusion on the subject when we debated it, I specifically asked that he should give the Joint Scrutiny Committee his opinion. After hearing it, I came firmly behind him.

The Minister has made an important statement. The difficulty about statements of this kind during a Report stage, when deals have been done, is that we are put in a considerable difficulty. The issues are important and the amendments which will be tabled are complex. We cannot make final judgments on the nature of the deal that has been done until we see the amendments on the Marshalled List and have had an opportunity to examine them. Therefore, we must reserve judgment.

That is of particular significance when we come to consider the next group of amendments, about which I have a further word to say. However, I cannot resist picking up two of the Minister's phrases. The first is, "The world has moved on". If the world has moved on, it owes a great deal to the work of the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, in applying pressure on the Government to consider the matter.

I also smiled, as I believe did the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, when we were told that the scale of the activities of Channel 5 and Channel 3 might alter. That was a point made repeatedly in the Joint Committee to Ministers and one to which we received an unhelpful response at the time. However, again, I am glad that the point is now accepted and understood.

I have only one other remark at this stage. The noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, made some extremely pungent and effective remarks about the state of broadcasting in other parts of the world, in the United States and Italy in particular. The amendments will not have a significant impact one way or another on the question of foreign ownership; the pros and cons of that argument rest on different points. I shall develop that point when we come to debate that group of amendments.

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I hope that those who heard the observations by the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, about what is happening in other parts of the world and the activities of the conglomerates will perhaps stay to hear our debate on the important issue of foreign ownership. Clearly, there are powerful arguments on both sides. However, I believe that the issues are almost as important as those we are discussing on this amendment.

I thank the Government for listening to the views expressed, particularly by those of us who served on the Joint Committee. I hope that when I come to study the amendments at Third Reading I shall find that they wholly meet the requirements we have set for them.

5 p.m.

Lord Borrie: My Lords, the House owes a tremendous debt to my noble friend Lord Puttnam and, indeed, to the scrutiny committee for the way in which on this and related issues they have persisted, especially in Committee, in pursuing this exceedingly important matter of cross-media ownership. The work of my noble friend Lord Puttnam has not been confined solely to chairmanship of that committee or, indeed, to speeches made in this House but included work behind the scenes. The outcome of that has been demonstrated to the House today. My compliments to my noble friend Lord Puttnam must be equalled by my compliments to the Minister. I listened to him with increasing admiration for the thoroughness with which he has "married" this Bill with the Enterprise Act and married the objectives and intentions of what I might call the Puttnam amendment to the Government's desire to ensure a practical, legally watertight system which will be successful and useful no doubt for many years to come.

It is difficult for us all to appreciate the full extent of the detail of the amendment which will now be tabled. It would be useless on my part or, if I may suggest, for other noble Lords to speculate too much about that today. We shall wait with tremendous interest but our final views will depend on a detailed study of that amendment. We have achieved a great deal today and I am grateful to the Minister.

Lord Fowler: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, on his success in winning this government concession, at which, self-evidently, he has worked so hard and for so long. We shall wait to see the final details of the amendment, but I agree with the comments of the Minister about the distinction between newspapers and the broadcast media. Clearly, as regards content, there is an important distinction.

As regards the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, the "media plurality public interest" test is perhaps not the snappiest title the noble Lord has come up with in his career. It is some way from "Chariots of Fire". However, I believe it will have a tremendous impact.

I have one comment in support of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. I am slightly puzzled as to why he should have removed his name from a later

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amendment on foreign ownership. It seems to me that, important as this concession has been, the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, is entirely right that it does not settle the issues on foreign ownership, in relation not only to his amendment but to other amendments too.

In practical terms, the test will include a group which already has major investments in the United Kingdom but may exclude a major group that has no investments at this point inside the United Kingdom. In normal circumstances I would not object to that. However, I would point out that a United States company can still take over ITV while no British company can take over even a United States radio station, let alone a major television company. We shall, very shortly, I hope, come to that.

However, at this stage I want to make the point that important as the government concession has been, it has by no means settled all the questions and important arguments there are on the Bill. I believe that the one I have just mentioned, subject to an amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, is one of the greatest importance. Having said that, like my noble friend I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, on his very substantial success.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, from the Back Benches of this corner of the House I join in the tributes paid first to all Members in all four quarters of the House who served on the pre-legislative scrutiny committee and prepared the ground for what we have just arrived at today, which is a remarkable and constructive achievement. I pay a special tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, for his quiet leadership and the persistence with which he has brought about the situation we are in today.

As compliments are flying around, I too pay mine to the Minister for his speech, which we all need to read and carefully study. It was an important, analytical and also rather eloquent speech. I do not want to detract from the compliment in any way but his view of the state of the old but vitally important virtue of due impartiality in the broadcast media was a little romantic when one sees what happens on some of the channels these days. That applies equally, perhaps, to his view of the other side, the print media, if one looks back to the great dictum of CP Scott all those years ago and his model for print journalism that comment is free but facts are sacred. I am bound to say that one of the least obvious practitioners of that great golden rule of CP Scott is the modern Guardian. However, having said that, this has been an important stage in your Lordships' House today. We are all deeply indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, and his colleagues, and to the response from the Minister.

The Lord Bishop of Manchester: My Lords, from these Benches perhaps I may add our congratulations to the noble Lords, Lord Puttnam and Lord McIntosh. It is heartening to know that the Government support the principle behind the plurality public interest test, to which the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, spoke eloquently and effectively. On these Benches we believe it is important to have such

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a test for the common good; that economic regulation alone cannot provide it and that it is not sufficient to leave such matters to chance.

The way forward proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, and to which the Government have given such a positive response today would avoid the more absurd consequences of over-reliance on market forces. If after further negotiation between the Government and the noble Lord a consensus is achieved, certainly we believe it would find felicitous and widespread support in a way that other proposals are unlikely to achieve.

Perhaps I may add a particular point of interest. We have here a potential solution to the question of religious ownership restrictions. That was voiced by the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, in Committee and recorded in Hansard at cols. 1433 and 1434. It was also voiced in Committee in another place, where there was also cross-party support.

In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, referred to three aspects in favour of his proposed public interest test. Of the third, he said:


    "The third aspect, which is very important, is that it could be used to address the knotty issue of religious ownership. Rather than banning all religious bodies from owning licences and then giving them exceptional leave to do so when there is no longer any evidence of spectrum scarcity, each case could be examined on its merits".—[Official Report, 5/6/03; col. 1433.]

As noble Lords know, I have been trying hard to find a solution to this sensitive issue of religious ownership restrictions. I very much want the interested parties to reach a consensus. Therefore, my hope is that the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, especially in Amendment No. 189, will either be accepted or—as government assurances indicate—renegotiated both as a way forward which strengthens plurality of ownership, broadcasting companies and competitive choice and as a potential means of meeting the Government's concerns about religious ownership.


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