Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

"(1A) A licence falls within this sub-paragraph if it is—
(a) a Channel 3 licence;
(b) a Channel 5 licence;
(c) a national sound broadcasting licence;
(d) a public teletext licence;
(e) an additional television service licence;
(f) a television multiplex licence; or
(g) a radio multiplex licence. (1B) In this paragraph—

'additional television service licence' means a licence under Part 1 of this Act to provide an additional television service within the meaning of Part 3 of the Communications Act 2003;

16 Jul 2003 : Column 870

'Channel 3 licence' and 'Channel 5 licence' each has the same meaning as in Part 1 of this Act;
'national sound broadcasting licence' means a licence to provide a sound broadcasting service (within the meaning of Part 3 of this Act) which is a national service (within the meaning of that Part);
'public teletext licence' means a licence to provide the public teletext service (within the meaning of Part 3 of the Communications Act 2003);
'radio multiplex licence' means a licence under Part 2 of the Broadcasting Act 1996 to provide a radio multiplex service within the meaning of that Part; and
'television multiplex licence' means a licence under Part 1 of the Broadcasting Act 1996 to provide a multiplex service within the meaning of that Part.""
130BPage 296, line 28, leave out "or 2A"
130CPage 296, line 29, leave out "or both of them"
130DPage 296, line 30, leave out "either or both of those paragraphs" and insert "that paragraph and any enactment referring to it."
130EPage 298, line 3, after "Act", insert "and requires approval for the holding of certain licences by religious bodies etc."
130FPage 436, line 3, at end insert—

    "Part 3A

    Religious bodies etc.

    Approval required for religious bodies etc. to hold licences

    1 (1) A person mentioned in paragraph 2(1) of Part 2 of Schedule 2 to the 1990 Act (religious bodies etc.) is not to hold a Broadcasting Act licence not mentioned in paragraph 2(1A) of that Part unless—

(a) OFCOM have made a determination in his case as respects a description of licences applicable to that licence; and
(b) that determination remains in force. (2) OFCOM are to make a determination under this paragraph in a person's case and as respects a particular description of licence if, and only if, they are satisfied that it is appropriate for that person to hold a licence of that description.

    (3) OFCOM are not to make a determination under this paragraph except on an application made to them for the purpose.

    (4) OFCOM must publish guidance for persons making applications to them under this paragraph as to the principles that they will apply when determining for the purposes of sub-paragraph (2) what is appropriate.

    (5) OFCOM must have regard to guidance for the time being in force under sub-paragraph (4) when making determinations under this paragraph.

    (6) OFCOM may revise any guidance under sub-paragraph (4) by publishing their revisions of it.

    (7) The publication of guidance under sub-paragraph (4), or of any revisions of it, is to be in whatever manner OFCOM consider appropriate.

    Power to amend Part 3A of Schedule

    14B The Secretary of State may by order repeal or otherwise modify the restriction imposed by this Part of this Schedule."

130GPage 454, line 7, at end insert— "( ) In subsection (4), at the end there shall be inserted "and who would not be in contravention of the requirements imposed by or under Schedule 14 to the Communications Act 2003 if he held such a licence.""

130HPage 551, line 9, after "51", insert— "( ) Part 3A of Schedule 14 to this Act is to have effect—

(a) in relation to times before the television transfer date as if references to OFCOM were, in relation to licences under Part 1 of the 1990 Act or Part 1 of the 1996 Act, references to the ITC; and

16 Jul 2003 : Column 871

(b) in relation to times before the radio transfer date as if references to OFCOM were, in relation to licences under Part 3 of the 1990 Act or Part 2 of the 1996 Act, references to the Radio Authority."
130I Page 551, line 10, leave out from "Act" to end of line 13 and insert "which is in force immediately before the commencement of Part 3A of Schedule 14 to this Act is to have effect on and after its commencement as a determination under paragraph 14A of that Schedule to this Act." 130J Page 551, line 16, leave out from first "of" to end of line 18 and insert "Part 3A of Schedule 14 to this Act is to have effect on and after its commencement as guidance published under paragraph 14A(4) of that Schedule to this Act." 130K Page 551, line 18, at end insert— "( ) Anything done under paragraph 14A of Schedule 14 by the ITC or the Radio Authority which is in force immediately before the relevant transfer date is to have effect on and after that date as if done under that paragraph by OFCOM." 130LPage 562, leave out line 32

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do not insist on their Amendment No. 130 to which the Commons have disagreed, but do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 130A to 130L in lieu thereof. We do not think that it is right to remove the few remaining restrictions on religious ownership in their entirety, but we have listened carefully and sympathetically to the many points raised in debate in this House and in another place. The amendments offered in lieu address many of the concerns raised by those who wish to remove the restrictions.

Before I explain why we think the restrictions should be reintroduced to the Bill, even in a greatly modified form, I shall repeat some of the points that the Government made in another place so as to emphasise that the Government are not opposed to religious broadcasting or religious broadcasters. In cutting short my speech on this subject at Third Reading, I was perhaps guilty of not informing the House adequately about the Government's position and I unreservedly apologise for that.

The Government believe that the faith communities play an integral part in the life of the United Kingdom and should have a place in the broadcast media. We also recognise that religious broadcasting is an important element of public service broadcasting. I hope that we have amended the Bill to ensure that its importance can better be reflected in the Bill's definition of public service broadcasting. Our changes were strongly welcomed in the statement by senior Church leaders that was issued yesterday. I am pleased, too, that they have concluded that, taking the measures in the Bill together, the legislation,

    "marks a sea change from the previous regime under the 1990 and 1996 Acts".

We have also made it clear that we regret the reference in the communications White Paper, some time ago, to religious broadcasting's "particular capacity to offend". That was an unfortunate and unnecessary phrase, which we would not use today and it is not the basis for our proposals for continuing restrictions.

16 Jul 2003 : Column 872

More generally, we are confident that Ofcom will take seriously its role in maintaining and strengthening public service television broadcasting, and will not wish to see religious broadcasting marginalised. Our policy is to have as few restrictions as necessary. We allow religious bodies to hold different kinds of broadcasting licences where that is consistent with satisfying as many viewers and listeners as possible and giving equal respect to everyone's beliefs. We wish to avoid a situation where, through scarcity of broadcasting spectrum allocated to a particular kind of licence, some religions achieve access to the airwaves but others do not.

Where there is no broadcast spectrum scarcity, as is the case with cable, satellite and digital terrestrial broadcasting, there are no restrictions, because there are enough opportunities for several religions to offer services and for other non-religious services to co-exist with them in offering a diversity of services. It follows that restrictions could be removed in the event that significant new broadcasting spectrum were to become available. That would not require primary legislation and could be done by order. I shall go further than saying that it could; I can assure the House that it would.

It follows that in the event of any new classes of licences being introduced, we would carefully consider whether religious organisations should be able to hold them; there would not be a presumption that they cannot. The decision will turn, as now, on questions of broadcast spectrum scarcity and we are proposing to amend the Bill to reinforce that point.

The Bill will remove all unnecessary restrictions on religious bodies holding licences and will greatly increase broadcasting opportunities by allowing religious bodies to hold licences to provide both national and local digital radio services, and digital terrestrial television services, as well as TV-restricted services. The only remaining restrictions on religious bodies holding broadcasting licences will relate to Channel 3 and Channel 5 licences, national analogue radio licences and multiplex licences.

To put all that in context, under our proposals religious bodies would not be able to hold the 16 ITV licences, the Channel 5 licence and the three national radio licences now held by Classic FM, TalkSPORT and Virgin—20 licences in all. However, they can hold any of almost 900 different cable, satellite and digital broadcasting licences. As a matter of fact, religious bodies currently hold around 40 UK broadcasting licences of one kind or another.

I am aware that there are some who are disappointed that any restrictions at all remain, but, again, I am grateful to the senior Church leaders who have given a "cautious welcome" to the ownership provisions in the Bill, on the grounds that they are a step on the way to the complete removal of restrictions on religious bodies holding broadcast licences.

I shall concentrate on the case for the continuing restriction on national analogue radio licences. As I have said, there are only three now—Classic FM, TalkSPORT and Virgin 1215 AM. At present, there is

16 Jul 2003 : Column 873

not enough spectrum to allow more nation-wide services of that kind. Given that fact, it would not be appropriate for one of those licences to go to a religious organisation. One should remember that that could happen if a rich religious organisation were to make an offer to Classic FM, to TalkSPORT or to Virgin that they could not financially resist. We do not believe that a religious radio service, however popular it would be with many, would have sufficient appeal to justify it having one of only three national licences. We have been very careful in reaching a decision about the national analogue radio licences to ensure that there is a variety. That is why we have insisted that one of them should not be pop music and that one of them should be mainly talk and not music at all.

We are also concerned that it would be invidious, and perhaps unfair, for only one religion or one religious tendency to have a national station, and others not. We therefore take the view that, as a religious organisation will not provide a service which has a sufficiently wide appeal to justify using one of only three such licences, it is more honest and more transparent to set that out in the Bill rather than leave it to Ofcom. Of course, we could leave it to Ofcom—we could apply internal criteria in the granting of licences—but that would not be the open and honourable course. If we take a particular view, it is better to say so: Parliament should take the decision, rather than it being at the discretion of a regulator.

In any case, Ofcom's discretion is limited in the case of national analogue radio licences, since they are normally awarded to the highest bidder, as I have just pointed out. That would mean that a well-funded religious organisation could out-bid all the other organisations in order to broadcast a national radio station serving one particular faith community and one only—unless they were to buy all three of the national analogue channels, which would be an extreme case.

The rationale for the bidding system for national licences is that it enables the market to develop a popular and sustainable service. The highest bid is a proxy for popular appeal. In the case of a religious organisation, non-market factors would apply—in other words, faith would be the main consideration. A well-funded religious body could not just out-bid other organisations; it could run its national service on a non-commercial basis through subsidy, subscriptions and other forms of support. That would not necessarily produce a popular service. The need to rely on subsidies rather than advertising would suggest the opposite.

Conventionally commercial bidders for a national analogue licence will aim to provide a popular service with wide appeal so as to ensure a financially viable business, but if some bidders deliberately set out to do that on a non-commercial basis there would be a risk of national analogue services, which are of enormous importance to large sections of the public, not appealing to the largest possible number of listeners. Is

16 Jul 2003 : Column 874

it right to put Ofcom in the position of having to use the power that it has to rule out a religious body? Surely Parliament should do that.

The Government believe that the need to treat all religions fairly and to use scarce spectrum in a way designed to appeal to a wide range of tastes and interests, combined with the particular way in which national analogue radio licences are awarded, means that we need to retain the restriction on religious bodies holding such licences. We have therefore looked at ways of making the restrictions work in a way that tries to meet the concerns of religious broadcasters. Our amendments would reverse what one might call the "default position" in the case of religious bodies.

At present, religious bodies are disqualified persons for all licences but, at Ofcom's discretion, can hold certain licences listed in the legislation. In theory, that would mean that if a new category of licence were introduced, religious bodies would automatically be disqualified. The amendments introduced in another place would make it clear that religious bodies are disqualified only in relation to licences specified on the face of the Bill; in other words, they are now ruled in until ruled out, rather than the other way around. Again, I was pleased to see that senior Church leaders welcomed that change.

The communications White Paper recognises that the restriction on religious bodies holding local digital sound programme services is an anomaly. Therefore, we propose to implement those parts of the Bill which remove restrictions on religious broadcasters two months after Royal Assent. It is still our intention to implement all other ownership changes in December. I hope that means that religious broadcasters will not have to wait any longer than necessary—I am thinking literally about 17th September—before they can take up new broadcasting opportunities. Government Amendments Nos. 130H to 130K are necessary to achieve that. They allow the ITC and the Radio Authority to stand in the shoes of Ofcom for these purposes until Ofcom acquires their substantive licensing powers at the end of this year. Again, I am pleased that that has been welcomed by senior Church leaders.

The Bill, taken as a whole, ushers in a new era for religious broadcasters with greatly increased access to broadcasting licences as the scarcity of spectrum has decreased. If the Bill is agreed, the restrictions on local and national digital programme licences and the digital services licences needed to provide radio on Freeserve should be lifted by the middle of September.

Once this happens, new opportunities open up. Local digital radio multiplexes are still being licensed so religious broadcasters can obtain some of those spots. In the case of existing radio multiplexes, there should still be chances for religious bodies to obtain slots on those multiplexes which are currently unfilled or become vacant in the future, and there are opportunities to take up radio slots on Freeserve. We remain convinced that while spectrum scarcity continues, the case for some restrictions remains. But

16 Jul 2003 : Column 875

where restrictions can be removed, they have been removed. This Bill offers huge opportunities for religious broadcasters.

Finally, the Secretary of State intends to convene a forum later in the year to have a high-level discussion with religious broadcasters about the future of religious broadcasting. This will provide an opportunity for those with an interest to have a dialogue with the Government. It may be that a number of the issues that have been debated but not always agreed in this House can be more fully aired in this context. I commend the Commons amendments to the House.

Moved, That the House do not insist on its Amendment No. 130 to which the Commons have disagreed and do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 130A to 130L in lieu thereof.—(Lord McIntosh of Haringey.)

3.45 p.m.

130MBaroness Wilcox rose to move, as an amendment to the Motion that the House do not insist on its Amendment No. 130 to which the Commons have disagreed and do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 130A to 130L in lieu thereof, leave out from "House" to end and insert "do insist on its Amendment No. 130".

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 130M as an amendment to the Motion standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, to insist on Lords Amendment No. 130 to which the Commons have disagreed.

We on these Benches do welcome the steps the Government have taken with these amendments. They provide greater assurances to religious broadcasters for, in the words of the Minister today and of the Secretary of State in another place, Tessa Jowell, they are now ruled in until ruled out, rather than the other way around. Unfortunately, however, ours is not a stance that can be softened by tweaking the emphasis on the face of the Bill. It is a matter of principle. There is a principle at stake here and no amount of compromise drafting will make a difference. It is absurd and a violation of human rights, whether currently included in existing human rights legislation or not, to single out religious organisations in primary legislation and ban them from entering the competition for certain categories of broadcasting licence.

We have covered this ground many times before, but with the addition of the plurality test there is even more force to the argument that the Bill as it stands provides more than enough safeguards. We are told that the issue is one of spectrum scarcity. The fact that that argument is not advanced about any other type of broadcaster, however questionable their moral stance, or in any other country, speaks volumes.

There is evidence that with better spectrum management there could be a fourth and a fifth national analogue frequency for which religious organisations and persons will still not be allowed to compete. For free and fair competition in a democracy, a principle which this Government endeavour to embrace, everyone should be able to put

16 Jul 2003 : Column 876

a bid forward. Even if there is only one national analogue frequency or one apple in a basket, religious groups should be able to put forward a bid alongside everyone else. Everyone else, be they, as it is now, pornographers or criminal organisations, can apply—but not religious groups. I certainly do not see why the Government are so worried about religious groups.

We supported the Bill because we believe that it is fair. It encourages competition—open, fair and free competition—with safeguards enforced by the noble Lord, Lord Currie, who we have become used to seeing and hearing in this Chamber. He has been present for every stage of the Bill, which is most encouraging for the future. But the government amendments are not fair. This is not a fair deal.

As past chairman of the National Consumer Council and now president of the National Consumer Federation, I have fought long and hard so that consumers should have access to the widest possible choice. The government amendments would deprive them of this opportunity. For consumers of goods and services to be king, government restrictions must always be kept to a minimum. While I am pleased to see that many restrictions have already been abolished by the Bill, for some inexplicable reason the Government feel it necessary to hang on to this one. We have argued time and again that the Government's logic on this issue is flawed and it is difficult to understand the Government's motivation on this issue.

I echo the words of the shadow Minister in another place, John Whittingdale:

    "There is almost certainly no religious organisation that has any great interest in applying for any of the categories of licence that the Bill sets out. In promoting the amendment we do not intend that ITV should be bought by a religious organisation or that a national radio analogue licence should be bought by a religious organisation. All that we, and the religious organisations, are saying, and have been saying ever since this matter first arose, was that they should at least be allowed to put in an application, and that that should be judged according to the usual procedure".

I listened to the Minister as he repeated things over and over again, and I believe that he protests too much and that something is amiss here.

Moved, as an amendment to the Motion that the House do not insist on its Amendment No. 130 to which the Commons have disagreed and do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 130A to 130L in lieu thereof, leave out from "House" to end and insert "do insist on its Amendment No. 130".—(Baroness Wilcox.)

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page