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Lord Puttnam: My Lords, I offer the Government two and a half cheers. They are to be congratulated. An enormous amount of work has gone into making the amendment possible. I would personally like to thank Paula Carter, who has helped me enormously, and the Bill team, who have done Trojan work. I am not sure that they will thank me for thanking them, but they have done an extraordinary job in hammering through what is in some senses new law. We have come a long way.

These amendments must be seen as all of a piece with the amendments to the general duties that we have already agreed. Together, those provisions are the double bolts. I have now talked to enough lawyers and judges, who have assured me that those two aspects of the Bill, taken together, represent a very serious impediment to the type of dominance that the clause is intended to prevent.

That is one thing. I come to the other issue. Several noble Lords mentioned the Financial Times article. The last Division went as it did—but I have to tell the Government that I believe that the Division was quite avoidable. It was caused by a misbriefing given to the Financial Times last week, which gave the impression for whatever reason that the amendment might not bite as the Government intended, or as the proposers of the amendment intended. That could have been avoided.

I beg the Government to do two things. First, I ask them not to be tempted by the wish expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, to restrict the breadth of what has been created. That breadth is very important. Secondly, they should make it very clear, and not only in this Chamber but outside, that they have taken a big step in a very important direction and are intent on giving the noble Lord, Lord Currie, all the powers and all the encouragement to take the route that the House has clearly indicated.

There is real fear about media dominance. The Government have come a long way in accepting those fears, which have been made apparent today by the comparative narrowness of the previous Division. However, I look for some form of assurance that we will not be battered next week by the type of Commons amendments that would undermine much of the good work achieved in this House over the past weeks and months. I welcome the amendment gratefully.

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Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me. We have had pretty little time to get used to these wonderful new amendments, but I welcome them. I have actually read them but, if I have not understood them thoroughly, I apologise in advance.

I want to return to the point that I made earlier, which the Minister, perhaps rightly, did not answer in the earlier debate. With all the tests that will be applied, we come back to the point that it will be a Minister who makes the decision, although admittedly advised by Ofcom. With regard to both the content and the technology aspects—and particularly the content aspect—I am concerned that there will be more than an assumption that the Secretary of State at the DCMS will also be consulted. I am certain that Ofcom will consider both sides of the question; we have been told often enough that that is its intention. However, I am concerned that there are often problems when two Ministers are responsible for something. While congratulating the Minister on all the amendments, I should be grateful for an answer to that question.

Lord McNally: My Lords, I welcome the amendments and the moderate and temperate tone in which the Minister introduced them. However, I make one point as a genuine seeker after truth. An executive from one of the specialist music stations asked me whether it would be seen as a dangerous accretion of media power if a music station with one per cent of the total audience acquired another music station with one per cent of the total audience, or whether it would be said that the stations had only 2 per cent of the total audience, even if they had a larger share of the music-only stations. I told him that I would put that question to the Minister, and I was sure that he would get an answer.

The broader question of how far and how real this is a step forward goes to the heart of the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam. The Financial Times article was not an accident. There have been parallel messages coming from the Government: the kind of messages that the Minister has given from the Front Bench here, and the kind of speeches that Mr Kim Howells and officials have made at specialist conferences, which have continued to emphasise that this is the freewheeling, free enterprise, deregulatory Bill that was so carefully crafted in Downing Street all those months ago.

It has also been irritating to hear the continual message that Parliament has somehow interfered in this perfect process. I went to a seminar organised by the ever-industrious the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, where the noble Lord and an official combined to lecture the assembled attendees, some of whom had more political experience than both of them put together, about the realities of legislating. One reality of legislating for me is that Parliament does matter and governments should listen.

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I was very worried when Mr Stephen Carter was reported as showing a certain tetchiness about the way in which Parliament was messing about with the Bill. I asked for the text of his speech, and was pleased to read that,


    "as a creature of statute Ofcom will deliver to whatever rulebook it inherits from Parliament".

Quite so.

Sometimes when we are discussing civics education, I think that it might be worth applying it to some civil and public servants, to show them where the relative balance lies between their powers and Parliament's powers. We do not want to see some carefully crafted briefing, 48 hours after the Bill has left this place, saying, "Don't worry, all those silly old people are now out of the way and we can march on to the new land".

The Minister has made a great to-do about how powerful the test is, and we want to make sure that it works. I am not making any predictions. However, Mr Murdoch will come calling, believe me, because it fits into his strategy and his pattern. The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, should know that when he comes calling he never plays just by the rules. As he did in New York, he will threaten to close down The Times if he does not get his way, or he will have some other blockbuster to intimidate Ministers.

The issue is a lot tougher than the Minister implied, but the amendments are welcome, as long as the Minister lives up to his promises and the public servants who are get the rulebooks from Parliament live up to them too.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I want briefly to ask the Minister whether I heard him correctly when he referred to the possibility of the director of Ofcom imposing conditions in relation to matters dealt with by Amendment No. 85. Is that the case? If so, is the Minister concerned by some of the precedents for the imposition of conditions attached to newspaper takeovers in the past, which it would be fair to say have been ineffectual in practice?

5 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am grateful for the welcoming and moderate tone of the debate. I must say a word to the noble Lord, Lord McNally. He accused me of shouting, and maybe I did. He made a debating speech and I made one in reply, but I did not at any stage question the sincerity behind his speech. Of course, I know that he feels strongly about these matters, and always has. I simply did not like the way in which he introduced his amendments, and I said so.

The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, started by asking why we did not specify a narrow test in the Bill—why we went for a wide test and then imposed restrictions on it. We considered a narrow test but decided on balance that we could get to substantially the same place through taking a wide power and limiting its general application as set out in guidance.

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In exceptional circumstances—I think that I used the phrase "extreme and rare circumstances"—we might want to apply the test more widely if there were genuine plurality concerns. This approach allows us to do so. However, we recognise that the share of supply of goods or services in the United Kingdom—or a substantial part of the United Kingdom in the case of a relevant merger situation—or when one of the parties has an existing share of a supply of broadcasting of at least 25 per cent, could cause the Secretary of State to decide to intervene. We intend generally to intervene only in those areas where we have removed all ownership rules. However, we cannot rule out the possibility that in exceptional circumstances we will look at other orders. Nevertheless, I think that we have diminished uncertainty as far as possible by setting out in my speech all of those relationships which we expect to be covered. I think that that deals with the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, raised about uncertainty.

The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, then went on to quote points made in the House of Commons. I do not know how to respond to that. We have responded to debate in this House. We have responded to debate over a period of something like three months now. The fact that we have responded late in the day means that we have been concerned and worrying about it. We have certainly been doing that, as the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, recognised. I hope that if I am offered the choice of being charged with introducing amendments late and charged with being inflexible, I will accept the charge of tabling amendments late rather than of being inflexible. That means—the noble Baroness asked about guidance—that guidance cannot be produced in time. We cannot produce guidance simultaneously with approximately 44 complex amendments, which is what we have done.

The noble Baroness asked particularly about satellite and cable channels. Although we do not think that there is normally an issue of plurality test there, we could see plurality tests applying in some rare cases if a large number of news or educational channels would be coming under single control. I do not know what that means as regards the question that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, asked about music channels. I take it that he is talking about what I call "serious music channels" with a small share of the market.


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