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Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 193A:

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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The Deputy Speaker (Lord Grenfell): My Lords, I should tell the House that if Amendment No. 194 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 195 or 195A.

[Amendments Nos. 194 and 195 not moved.]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I should not have moved Amendment No. 193A formally, as it is about advertising agencies. May I move Amendment No. 195A?

Lord Tordoff: My Lords, I may be wrong, but I thought that the amendment had already been dealt with and put to the shout.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, yes, it has been agreed, but I somewhat misled the House by moving it formally when I should have spoken to it.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting moved Amendment No. 195A:

    Page 295, line 8, leave out from "States);" to end of line 9 and insert "shall cease to have effect"

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in the communications White Paper, we proposed removing the ban on advertising agencies holding broadcasting licences. We did so on the grounds that we should prevent bodies from holding broadcasting licences only when there was a clear case for doing so. We took the view that any concerns that might arise could be met through the regulation of competition, including through the licensing regime and the operation of general competition legislation, such as the Competition Act 1998 and the Enterprise Act.

However, it is clear that many are concerned about that step and do not believe that sufficient safeguards exist to prevent abuse or, perhaps more importantly, the perception of a conflict of interest for an advertising agency that holds a broadcasting licence. We were particularly influenced by the recent correspondence that we have received from the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising—the IPA—which made it clear that the advertising industry itself is now opposed to the change.

We have considered all the representations carefully and have decided to amend the Bill through Amendments Nos. 193A, 195A and 238ZC, so as to restore the restrictions on advertising agencies holding broadcasting licences. In the light of our amendments, we consider Amendment No. 197 is unnecessary, but Amendment No. 241 completes the package. My noble friend Lord McIntosh has added his name to the amendment, and we shall be happy to accept it today. I beg to move.

The Deputy Speaker: My Lords, I must warn your Lordships that if Amendment No. 195A is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 196 or 197.

Lord Gordon of Strathblane: My Lords, this may be out of order, and noble Lords may slap me down by all

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means, but I am not clear about the effect of Amendment No. 193A, since Amendments Nos. 193A and 195A are together. Amendment No. 193A says, "leave out line 6", which is the line that states that,

    "the following shall cease to have effect".

If that line is being left out, the Government have restored the ban on foreign ownership.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, I assume that we will agree with the Government's proposal, but it is extraordinary to have that proposal without any explanation about how the Government came to put themselves in that position. There would have been total astonishment if anyone had suggested, before we started on this Bill, that the Government would propose that advertising agencies could own commercial television franchises. However, the Minister said that the advertising industry had decided that it did not want that.

The advertising industry never wanted the measure and was totally astonished that it was being put in. It came to the conclusion that it would produce great complications with conflicts of interest for the industry. That was an amazing mistake for the Government to make. Sometimes they get the bit between their teeth in the marketplace and forget about the consequences.

Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, I shall be brief. I very much welcome these amendments. However, as I did not say anything on this point at Second Reading or in Committee, I am surprised that the Government have brought forward the proposal. As one who worked at the IPA some years ago, I was fully aware that members of the IPA are not allowed to have interests in the media. If they had such an interest they would have to resign. An important point about institutes such as the IPA is that they underpin self-regulation in the advertising industry. I therefore believe that to remove that restriction could be to erode that very important self-regulatory aspect of the advertising industry.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, we accept the strictures of the noble Lord, Lord Thomson. However, there was a very full discussion in Committee, where it was generally felt that that was not a good thing to do. We took it away, thought about it and took further advice. We have now come back, and noble Lords have heard our position. I find that wholly admirable.

If I may, I shall write to the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, and try to clear up that issue—if there is an issue—well before Third Reading.

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On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Deputy Speaker: My Lords, as Amendment No. 195A is agreed to I cannot call Amendments Nos. 196 or 197. Is Amendment No. 198 not moved?

Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, may I intervene at this point? It was made very clear to me this morning that we had tabled Amendment No. 196A so as to avoid any possibility of pre-emption.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the manuscript amendment before us is Amendment No. 198A, in place of Amendment No. 198. Amendments Nos. 196 and 197 are indeed pre-empted.

Baroness Buscombe: I apologise, my Lords.

[Amendment No. 198 not moved.]

6.45 p.m.

Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 198A:

    Page 295, line 10, leave out subsections (2) and (3) and insert—

"( ) Paragraph 2 of that Part (disqualification for religious bodies) shall cease to have effect."

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I apologise also for the late tabling of manuscript Amendment No. 198A, which is effectively a redraft of Amendment No. 196. It has been tabled to allow us to debate this extremely important issue, which would not otherwise have been possible following the acceptance of the previous group of amendments.

One of the most extraordinary and unwelcome elements of the Bill comes with the stance taken by the Government on religious broadcasting, as set out in Clause 340. Amendments Nos. 196, 198, 198A and 199—which we tabled and I shall speak to now—seek to remedy the blatant injustice found on the face of the Bill.

I am sure that over the course of this debate we shall hear many excellent arguments as to why religious groups should not be excluded as they currently are, and I shall not attempt to cover all the points here. The Minister knows as well as I do many of the issues concerning human rights, competition law, spectrum scarcity and unfulfilled demand, to name just a few, but I should simply like to tease out a few details to bring to his attention in the hope that it may generate a favourable response.

I begin with a quote from Mark Fisher in another place, former Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in what was then the Department of National Heritage, now the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. He said:

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    "As Minister with responsibility for broadcasting, I was not satisfied with my officials' changing answers when I investigated the Christian broadcasters' disqualification. I believed in their democratic freedom to broadcast to the third of a million people who wrote and petitioned the Department, asking to be allowed to listen. The consumer need could easily have been met, if officials had allowed the Christian music broadcasters to use the additional national radio frequency from the Isle of Man.

    "It was never a technical matter when I was Minister, I don't believe it is a matter of spectrum now. I believed then, and I believe now, that religious broadcasters should bid for national and local licences on a level playing field with other applicants".

The quote touches on a number of points on which I should appreciate responses from the Minister. Does the Minister appreciate that there is unfulfilled demand for religious broadcasting, and that by disqualifying religious groups, many would-be consumers are denied the right to appreciate the broadcast media that they demand? As Mr Fisher commented, a third of a million people petitioned the department on this issue. People want to listen to religious radio stations, but the Bill prevents them from doing so. An example will illustrate this.

Liberty AM Women's Radio, in London, is owned by religious people, resulting in its being disqualified from applying for a digital DAB licence. So, unlike other local radio licensees in the UK, it was denied an automatic rollover of its analogue licence. That resulted in its analogue licence being put out to tender last year. Liberty lost its licence, and this month it is having to shed the last of about 30 full-time jobs in east London. London is losing its only women's radio station. Therefore, Premier Radio is London's only remaining religious radio station. However, it faces a new hurdle, which is digital AM, or DRM.

I should like to ask the Minister whether Premier will be allowed to continue broadcasting on a 1305 DRM multiplex with, say, a gospel music programme, a classical and easy listening contemporary Christian music programme and a current affairs and phone-in live local talk station? Or will some of Premier's AM frequencies be a new casualty of the religious disqualification on DRM, just like Liberty on DAB?

The human rights aspect is ongoing. I wish to make only one brief point on that aspect of the debate. At Committee stage there was reference to a Mr Abdelfattah Amor, a rapporteur on religious freedom in the UN Human Rights Commission. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, questioned why Mr Amor had not done something about the representations made to the commission by the United Nations Association, if he thought that the representations were valid. Subsequent to that remark, Mr Amor has been contacted and is requesting copies of all the UNA papers about the UK's disqualification of religious persons in broadcasting law. We wait and see what his conclusions shall be.

Mr Fisher also refers to the fact that, with better spectrum management, new spectrum could be made available so that the scarcity argument no longer applies. I understand that the Minister has received a copy of the Report on UK Radio Broadcasting Spectrum Availability from the Centre for Justice

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and Liberty, which persuasively sets down the opportunities available to the Government for making additional spectrum available and which is endorsed by a number of radio communications experts. Although I am unable to boast their level of expertise and experience in this field, as I understand it, several options are open to the Government which would create new spectrum availability.

Mr Fisher referred to the Isle of Man, which would have been the location of a transmitter site for an additional independent analogue frequency at 279 kHz, and has yet to be brought into use. Additionally, 225 kHz has been allocated to the United Kingdom as another possible national independent radio station. Moreover, technological advances make way for a host of opportunities. I am thinking in particular of Digital Radio Mondiale—DRM—which could double or even triple radio services on AM. The list goes on.

The long and the short of it seems to be that the Government's arguments on spectrum scarcity are severely flawed. What little water is held at present by this logic will certainly be eliminated in the future due to technological advances. As "future-proofing" is something we are striving to do with this Bill, I do not see why it should not apply here.

While I certainly do not believe that spare spectrum should automatically be allocated to religious broadcasters, surely they deserve the opportunity to bid for the licence alongside everyone else. Importantly, Ofcom could then exercise its discretion as to whether the bid has sufficient merit to warrant full consideration. It would be a level playing field for applications. Putting a disqualification on the face of the Bill is therefore both short-sighted, as spectrum scarcity is not a long-term problem, and draconian, as there are more than enough safeguards in place.

As we discussed at length in Committee, the Bill as it stands already ensures that fanatical organisations or those that are otherwise unfit to broadcast are prevented from being granted a licence, or have it removed if they broadcast unsuitable material. Indeed, if, following today's proceedings, we have included in the legislation a public interest test—effectively an additional layer—then to continue with a religious disqualification with that additional safeguard in place might underpin the claim that it could never be in the public interest to have religious broadcasting, and that is surely not the case.

It now seems doubly unacceptable to exclude religious groups and I hope that the Government will reconsider their stance in the light of this. The point is a matter of principle. As such it is not a matter of entering into negotiation on which type of licences religious groups should or should not be disqualified from. Religious groups should not have been disqualified from any type of licence, and the Government should now seek to rectify that.

I gather that the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, has not arrived. I suspect that he may not arrive in time given that he is in court in the Midlands. The noble Lord contacted me and other noble Lords to confirm that he

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continued to support the amendment notwithstanding that he was not able to be present. Noble Lords will recall that the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, made a very powerful speech in Committee which we believe was valid then and is valid now. The noble Lord talked much about democratic choice. Noble Lords might like to remember that as that is what the matter comes down to. It is about democratic choice and seeking a level playing field, at least as regards applications for licences. I beg to move.

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