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It would also seem both reasonable and important for the Secretary of State to consider the needs of those who listen to analogue radio. The Government stated in their final Digital Britain report that they would start the countdown to switchover once digital listening made up 50 per cent of radio listening. That seems far too low. It would still mean that there were
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The amendment is simply an attempt to ensure that all who will be affected by switchover are considered before the Secretary of State nominates a date. As I have said, it does not seem unreasonable to ensure that listeners are placed at the forefront of these considerations. I hope that the Committee will agree. I beg to move.
Lord Gordon of Strathblane: My Lords, I think that I can offer some reassurance to the noble Lord opposite. Unless all those targets were going to be met, virtually the entire commercial radio industry would not support the clause, which it does, with one minor exception. The feeling is that this is an empowering clause that does not oblige the Secretary of State to set a date. Indeed, he can set a date and then withdraw it if precisely those targets mentioned by the noble Lord are not met. The radio industry seems to feel that the Government have got it right. I hope that that reassures him.
The Lord Bishop of Manchester: My Lords, in speaking to the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Rising, I recall that in an earlier debate this evening, the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, expressed deep disappointment that I was not supporting an amendment that stood in the names of the noble Lords. I hope that they will now feel slightly happier, because I support this particular amendment. I do so because the Bill as it stands provides very little safeguard for those who are living in remote areas, some of them perhaps still relying on long wave, let alone FM, for their radio reception.
I take the point that the noble Lord, Lord Howard, made about the Digital Britain report. If I recall correctly, the point was made at Second Reading that, when 90 per cent has been reached, there will still be one in 10 people-some of whom would presumably lose access via their radio to all the national, BBC and commercial radio stations-for whom we really ought to have the greatest concern. Short of listening via the internet-which I know the noble Lord, Lord Maxton, though no longer in his place, would be urging us to do-or Freeview, there is nothing that the 10 per cent would be able to do until the DAB signal catches up with the FM one.
Through this and other similar amendments, I hope the Government will come to recognise that there are some very serious reservations about giving the Secretary of State the power to set the switchover date without proper statutory consideration of the wider impact of that decision on those communities who are often disconnected from British society physically, and those small stations that serve them. I am much in sympathy with the amendment.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, we shall come to rather more detail about this aspect shortly. I, too, support the amendment and the basis on which it is being put forward. We spent this morning taking evidence from the commercial radio stations, both
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Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, Clause 30 states that before nominating a switchover date, the Secretary of State must have regard to any reports submitted by Ofcom or the BBC under the terms of Section 67(1)(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1996.
The purpose of these reports is to review how long it would be appropriate for radio services to continue to be broadcast in analogue form. These reports should have regard to the provision of digital radio multiplexes, availability of digital radio services and the ownership of digital receivers. In order to produce these reports, Ofcom is required to consult multiplex licence holders and digital radio service providers.
In addition-here I address the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Howard, the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester-the Secretary of State must, on requiring these reports, consult such persons representing listeners and such other persons as he thinks fit, as provided in Section 67(4).
The noble Lord, Lord Howard, talked about plans to switchover in 2015. That is a target that we have set, not a precise date, as I hope he will recognise. The TV switchover, which in some ways was even more fraught with difficulty, has been an outstanding success so far. One of the largest switchovers, in the Manchester area, recently went off without a hitch. We had a lot of preparation, help and assistance. We want to adopt a similar approach.
It is not just about the 50 per cent of listeners. We have also talked about DAB achieving the same coverage as FM, which is something like 95 per cent these days. We are well aware of the importance of that. I also point out another factor which I think is important. The prices of reasonable-quality DAB radios have been coming further and further down. That is important for less advantaged parts of our population. We are aware of the concerns expressed.
We believe that the clauses have got it right. We understand the concerns, which is why I have taken time to give some further assurance. Given the breadth of the requirements to consult already proposed in the draft Bill and our commitment to consult widely before setting a date, we believe that the amendment is unnecessary. With the explicit assurances I have given, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Howard of Rising: I thank the Minister for his remarks. I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester and to the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, for their support for the amendment and to the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, for his reassurance.
All I am doing is asking the Government to pay attention to and listen to the listeners before they take too drastic an action and leave a lot of people very unhappy. From his remarks this would appear to be the case, so I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
(a) unless it can be established that all local commercial radio stations will have the opportunity to move to digital audio broadcasting,
(b) until the proportion of homes in each of the four nations of the UK able to receive-
(i) national BBC services,
(ii) national commercial radio services,
(iii) local BBC services, and
(iv) local commercial radio services,
via digital audio broadcasting is equal to the proportion able to receive them via analogue broadcasting,
(c) until digital audio broadcasting accounts for at least 67 per cent of all radio listening, and
(d) until digital audio broadcasting receivers are installed in 50 per cent of private and commercial vehicles."
This amendment is designed for two particular purposes: not only to explore some of the detail of this clause, which seeks to implement a very important part of the Bill, but to test the coherence of the Government's policies and objectives in this respect. On these Benches we recognise many of the benefits of moving from analogue to digital; of course we do. However, we believe the Government have been fundamentally poor in the way in which they have communicated their objectives and in the way in which they described both those and the processes involved in switching over.
We are particularly concerned about the impact on local FM radio and what one might call ultra-local radio in that respect. A great deal of reassurance is needed about the future of FM. It is not just purely about freeing up space on the analogue spectrum for FM by migration from analogue to digital. The Government need to explain other aspects too. Why are we adopting DAB rather than DAB plus, which would allow a much more local feel to our radio experience and enable many more ultra-local radio stations to migrate? The Government also need to explain-the Minister has made an attempt to do so-why the target of 2015 has been set.
There are other details involved. One of the great forms of reassurance that the Government have tried to give to ultra-local radio FM stations is this notion of a common electronic programme guide. That is a
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The availability of digital car radios is a particular concern. I shall illustrate where I believe there is some incoherence in this regard. It is almost as if two separate hands wrote Chapter 3b of the White Paper. That chapter is headed, "Radio: Going Digital". Paragraph 20 of that chapter states:
Later on, the paper-I leave the Minister to find his own copy-is written in very different terms. It talks about a much longer-term future for FM. Which is it? Will FM be a permanent or temporary part of the radio landscape? These things need sorting out as part of the Bill. Even if you talk to those intimately involved in the digital switchover you will not get a precise answer about whether FM is here for the long term.
As I understand it, technically, ultra-local radio is far better staying on FM almost in perpetuity, provided the two forms of spectrum can be afforded, and provided the receivers allow the receipt of both FM and digital for the foreseeable future. There is no particular reason why some of these ultra-local stations should indeed switch over. Why should they not be encouraged to stay where they are? That would seem to me to be a very coherent way of expressing government policy. However, of course, many operators want to have a broader canvas for their stations. That is entirely acceptable too. Where they wish to make that investment and have a broader scope for their radio services, that seems to be entirely right and proper.
The Digital Britain White Paper talked about the triggers for the switchover to digital radio. In referring to those, the Minister said that it was not simply the case that half of all listening should be to digital and that the relevant date should not be set until national DAB coverage matches that of FM and 90 per cent of the population have access to local DAB. The clause we are discussing-this is what Amendment 238 is designed to do-does not refer to any of that. All it does is talk about the report submitted by Ofcom, to which the noble Lord, Lord Howard, referred. It does not give any direction to Ofcom. One assumes that Ofcom will refer to the government policy as set out in the White Paper, but there seems to be no duty on it to do that. That seems to constitute a gap in the provisions.
We on these Benches believe that the Government need at least to give reasons why some conditions are not appropriate. We do not necessarily believe that all of these additional conditions are the right ones, but we do believe that certain of those should be additional to those stated, so that all local stations have digital migration pathways. Currently, more than 120 stations lack viable digital migration pathways. All categories of commercial and BBC stations should be treated
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As regards the whole issue of vehicle reception, I think that less than 1 per cent of cars can receive digital signal at the moment. I think the Government estimate that only 10 per cent of vehicles will be able to receive it in 2015. We are trying to get a more coherent policy and a switchover that accords more to the reality of what listeners are doing. There is absolutely no point in the Government being so far ahead of what listeners want to do that they create a reaction against their own plans.
Amendment 239 is another measure designed to test the earnest of the Government. The Government have rather arbitrarily decided that switchover should take place two years after notice of it is given. Amendment 241 seeks to change that. There are concerns about the speed of switchover. Amending the notice period would allow more time to solve the issues around consumer take-up, such as those involving vehicles, and would allow digital solutions to be provided for all stations which want them. A four-year period would be far more realistic in terms of recognising the considerable challenges involved in the digital switchover. Amendment 239 states that the Secretary of State,
That is another way of testing the Government's proposals in this respect. Are they saying that at the end of the day all these stations need to switch to digital, or are they saying that FM has a future in the long term? What is the purpose behind the switchover? It seems to me that the Government have not expressed their intentions very clearly. I hope that this is an opportunity for them to do so. I beg to move.
The Lord Bishop of Manchester: My Lords, Amendment 238 has been put eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and with all the promised brio. However, he has set in that amendment probably rather an ambitious goal. Some may say that it is too ambitious. It may, of course, have the impact of delaying the switchover date from the much bandied-about year of 2015. However, as we heard from the Minister earlier, that is not a precise date. The amendment may also effectively force something of a reappraisal of how digital radio is rolled out between now and switchover. But, that said, I believe that neither of those consequences would be to the detriment of the well-being of the radio industry.
The noble Lord referred to Ofcom. In order to make switchover manageable and help local stations remain viable in these challenging economic times, Ofcom has proposed a series of defined areas within which stations in the same commercial family will have more flexibility to share resources and locations. As your Lordships will know, that has been welcomed as a helpful step by many of the large and small commercial stations. Nevertheless, it throws up anomalies,
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I have concerns over the specific proposal that sets a target of two-thirds of listening on DAB before switchover simply because it does not quite recognise the mixed radio economy that we are moving towards, to which the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, referred. If a growing proportion of us are listening to radio via our computers, mobile phones and digital TV sets, with only a small remnant still listening on analogue, it would be unfortunate if the wording of primary legislation made it such that we could not set a switchover date just because DAB was specified as the only non-analogue platform. But, with those reservations, on the whole I support Amendment 238.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I will briefly add my support for these amendments. There clearly has to be a rethink on this whole area. There are so many different interests and people who have been hoping and planning. At Second Reading, I remember my enthusiasm for immediate digital switchover as far as radio was concerned. It would be a splendid way for me to be able to enjoy my journeys up and down to Warwickshire without having to fiddle around and change the frequency on the radio, which is presumably a fairly dangerous practice anyhow. So, although one may not agree with every word, this points out to the Government that there is going to have to be a more up-to-date assessment of where we are and how quickly, if at all, we are going to reach the desired goal of switchover and meet the needs of local radio stations, particularly the commercial ones.
Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, the proposed amendment inserts specific switchover criteria into the Bill which must be satisfied before the Secretary of State can nominate a date for switchover. We agree that it is important for the Government to consider a wide range of issues and views before setting a date for digital switchover. We seem to be referring to 2015 as though we have set a date. I reiterate that that is a target. As with TV switchover, the announcement of a target date is essential in uniting the industry in creating the impetus to ensure that progress towards switchover conditions is made. For example, within six months of 2015 being published in the White Paper, progress with car manufacturers had advanced further than in the previous six years. We still believe that 2015 is an achievable deadline and the certainty of a timeframe is in the best interests of listeners and the industry as a whole. However, I stress that it is still a target. We expect broadcasters and network operators to work
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We do not believe it is appropriate to insert the level of detail proposed by this amendment into legislation as it would fail to grant sufficient flexibility to address the inevitable changes in the market over the next five years. As this amendment raises a number of themes, I will take each of the issues raised in turn. It was an omnibus address delivered with brilliant brio.
First, the proposed amendment requires a DAB network large enough to accommodate all commercial radio stations before a switchover date is nominated. We believe that this is the right ambition, but impractical in the short term. With over 50 BBC services, nearly 350 commercial stations, and 200 licensed community stations, the current DAB infrastructure cannot support a wholesale move to digital. We believe a mixed landscape of FM and DAB, as set out in the Digital Britain White Paper, is a better solution. It will allow small commercial stations and community radio stations to remain on FM, which was a point of concern expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones. In the case of community radio stations, it will allow for more services to be launched. On the question of whether FM is temporary or permanent, FM is the right technology for community and small local radio stations for the foreseeable future, following switchover.
Lord Young of Norwood Green: I feel I am being lured into saying, "Never say never" or "Never say ever". We certainly see it for the foreseeable future following switchover. That is pretty generous. We are trying to reassure the noble Lord. It is the right technology for community and small local radio stations. We cannot predict exactly how technology will develop for ever and ever, but we are saying, "for the foreseeable future, following switchover". That is a pretty good guarantee.
Secondly, this amendment would require DAB networks in the UK to reach the same number of households as analogue. Again, we agree with the principle and we are working with the industry to secure this outcome as quickly as is feasible. However, the definition of analogue coverage is too broad, encompassing long wave, medium wave and FM. It also provides no clarity as to whether it is a high-quality stereo signal or a low-quality mono signal. This amendment would result in multiplex operators and broadcasters bearing the full cost of a near universal DAB network for the longest possible time.
Thirdly, the amendment proposes to require that 67 per cent of all radio listening be to DAB before a switchover date can be set. We agree that the digital radio switchover should be market-led and dependent on the take-up and usage of digital radio. However, this criterion places too great an emphasis on DAB over other digital technologies. The issue is not whether listeners choose to consume radio via DAB, the internet or digital TV, but the extent to which they have access to digital radio technology and are using it. Also required in this amendment is that DAB receivers are
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