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The Earl of Stockton: It would clearly be churlish of me not to recognise that the Government have moved their position. Until recently, the Department of National Heritage maintained that the formula was part of a complex set of arrangements. I am glad that they now recognise that it is no such thing, but simply and solely an insurance policy for the benefit of securing Channel 4's public service programme remit.
I thank my noble friend for his suggestion of a cap on reserves and his assurances that a flexible approach will be taken by his department. I remind him, however, that where I go horse-racing you tend to do better if you bet on one winner than if you put your bets on several horses. But perhaps his experience in the north-west is different.
My noble friend Lord Astor spoke eloquently about the threat in the post-1997 era to the small ITV companies. I remind my noble friend that threats are not restricted to small companies. In many cases the bigger they are, the harder and easier they fall.
I still believe that keeping the formula would be a mistake, as do a number of noble Lords. I was interested that my suggestion for a compromise received the support of my noble friend Lord Crickhowell. It was about the only one of my suggestions that did receive his support. I cannot believe that I heard him aright in his suggestion that I put forward this amendment for other than purely altruistic motives. I am sure I misheard him.
My noble friend wants to persuade the Committee that his solution is better than a simple abolition. If that is the case, he has to produce a slightly clearer exposition before the Bill leaves this House of the Government's real intentions. Do they really intend to fix the percentage for the five-year period--or will the period be longer or shorter? Will these arrangements come for another two years and then start over again for a another four or five years? They say now that significantly more of the channel's money should be retained for programming--but how much more?
As we agreed last week on the sports issue, it is surely better to have certainty now, before the Bill leaves this House, so that all concerned can get on and plan their businesses. Furthermore, ITV and Channel 4 must work together for the digital future. The necessary co-operation will be hard to achieve while they are still in conflict.
Unless my noble friend can persuade us that he has the answers to these questions, we shall have to return to the principle of abolition as a much more straightforward solution at a later stage of the Bill. However, in the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
After Clause 66, insert the following new clause--
House adjourned at twenty-four minutes past eleven o'clock.
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