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The Earl of Stockton: My Lords, I support the broad thrust of the argument of the noble Baroness, but there were one or two aspects which concerned me slightly. I have to confess to being a book publisher, which is perhaps an extremely outdated form of communication in terms of this Bill.
I detected a prescriptive element here. One of the successful aspects of broadcasting is that it should be as broadly cast as possible. I was a little nervous that we were getting into the realm of somehow having organisations, or even Parliament, deciding what people should be watching. The terms of the amendment bring us dangerously close to that. On the other hand, like the noble Baroness, I have the deepest suspicions of people who would exploit public taste. I have no doubt that she agrees with me that William Randolph Hearst was probably right when he said that no man ever lost money by underestimating public taste.
However, I believe that the terms of the amendment are probably unnecessary. In the 400 years in which the publishing industry has been fairly active in this country, there have been very bad publishers and very good publishers. I can reassure the noble Baroness that on the whole it is the good publishers who survive.
Lord Renton: My Lords, I, too, was sympathetic to what the noble Baroness said. I raised my hopes when I saw the word "quality" in Amendment No. 13. I listened carefully to the noble Baroness but I was a little
Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I have listened most carefully to the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, presenting her case for fundamentally shifting our country's approach to digital terrestrial television, an industry which hardly exists now and which requires millions if not billions of pounds to create. I have listened; I understand her concerns. I sympathise with some of her aspirations, but I have not been convinced by her arguments. Were these proposals to be accepted, I do not believe that we would somehow acquire some kind of "superior" digital terrestrial television. I think that we would have none at all.
We have been told that it is in the public interest to require quality by statute: that it is necessary to legislate for programme services that are free to air, or consist of original productions or programmes catering for minorities; that it is necessary to pile obligations upon requirements on to prospective multiplex providers and broadcasters. I should like to step back from the detail of each individual amendment--Amendments Nos. 9, 13, 14, 15, 17 and 19--and assess the overall impact. What messages do these amendments give the two groups most important to the success of digital terrestrial television--the industry and the viewer?
I believe that those contemplating investing in the programmes, the multiplexing and the transmission necessary to launch digital terrestrial television, would think again, and then probably think no more, if these proposals were imported into the Bill. They are looking for encouragement and flexibility. These amendments would box them in on every side. They would conclude that "the game is not worth the candle".
And what message goes out to the viewer? It is that the programming on the new channels will not be designed to meet their viewing wishes. Rather, it will be predetermined by high-minded and well meaning people who know better than they what they should watch and spend their money on. They are the up-to-date manifestation of the "men from Whitehall" who know best.
Perhaps I may revert briefly to the comments of my noble friend Lord Stockton. He referred to publishers. As he said, what applies to publishers also applies to television programmes. Those books which are read and re-read are good books. Those television programmes which are viewed and re-viewed are good programmes.
We, like the Opposition, value public service broadcasting which, as I mentioned earlier, is popular. It is and will remain at the heart of broadcasting in this country. That is why we are providing for four, soon to be five, terrestrial broadcasters to move to digital, and why the existing licence regime for those broadcasters will continue in place for their digital simulcasts. The BBC will have scope to expand the range of quality programmes that it provides under the terms of its Charter and Agreement. I suspect that the other existing terrestrial channels will be keen, too, to maintain their reputations as quality broadcasters in any new services they provide.
But the future digital world is different. More spectrum and more channels will be available. There is no inherent need to extend the present public service broadcasting regime with its quality and other thresholds to the further new services which digital technology makes possible. As we all know, they will be subject to the general rules relating to taste, decency and impartiality and so on which apply to all broadcasters.
It seems inherent in what has been said from the Benches opposite that there is some underlying assumption that the market must deliver rubbish. But surely that is not the case. After all, the real case is that instanced by my noble friend Lord Stockton.
The key issue for us now is that we must do all we can to create the right environment for digital terrestrial television to take root and flourish. The Bill as it stands does that. We are taking steps to improve it where possible and we welcome all the constructive suggestions that we have been given. We have been given plenty of helpful comments and suggestions throughout the currency of the Bill. We want to create an enabling framework, not a disabling one.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am grateful to those Members of your Lordships' House who took part in the debate, and to the Minister for his reply. My first concern is that all noble Lords who spoke seemed to imply that some level of prescription was going to be devised by some body of the great and good. It was not entirely clear whether it would be great and good enough for the noble Lord, Lord Renton, or too great and good for the Minister and the noble Earl, Lord Stockton.
I take up the point of the noble Earl, Lord Stockton, about parallels with publishing. As has been mentioned at all stages of debate on the Bill, the broadcast media have enormously greater powers, sometimes for good and sometimes for bad, than even the most reputable and distinguished publisher of books. It is in that context that we on these Benches are a little more fearful of the influence of the market.
The Minister considers that we are cynical--he did not use that word--or over-suspicious in believing that the market must always deliver rubbish. We do not wish to believe that, but my example of the cable television diets that we are offered in the United States as a possible prospectus of what we might be offered here on digital television is not necessarily unrealistic.
I am concerned that the Government do not feel that they need to be consistent about the adoption of quality standards as provided in the 1990 Broadcasting Act, or that they need to ensure that those standards will remain in the new technological future. I hope that another place will return to these arguments. We feel strongly that they are relevant to the enormous power that the broadcasting media have on the culture and social life of our society. The noble Lord, Lord Renton, rightly drew attention to that. However, for the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
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("( ) In subsection (2)(e) "acquisition" includes acquisition on hire or loan.").