Lord McIntosh of Haringey (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Culture, Media & Sport; Labour)
My Lords, I would be very surprised if it would. As I have just been saying, cable and satellite channels are not currently regulated and we would not expect them to raise questions of plurality. However, if someone were to take over all the music channels, I think that the "extreme and rare" case to which I referred might well come into force.
The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, referred to the issue of the 20 per cent rule. I think that the point about these amendments in departing from the 20 per cent rule is that it is possible that someone with 19 per cent of the national newspaper market might raise plurality concerns, which is why we did not want cliff-edge regulation. The provision would enable Ministers to distinguish those with larger holdings in the event that the 20 per cent rule was removed. We do not have any plans to remove it, but a well-established plurality test may make removing it a possibility in the future.
The noble Lords, Lord Fowler, Lord Puttnam and Lord McNally, all referred to the Financial Times article, which of course I read. However, I have to say that I and the members of the Bill team do not know who the unnamed source was. Whether anyone is briefing against us, I do not know; it is not a matter on which I can comment. However, on the substance of the article, if the Bill is passed as it stands, yes, investment from non-EEA sources will be possible. However, although the plurality test will allow foreign investments to be made, if necessary they will be considered by the Competition Commission on a case-by-case basis. If they raise concerns, those cases can be targeted. If those concerns are found to be justified, those cases could be blocked. That is the point that we were making last week in the foreign ownership debate.
I should like to say to the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, how grateful I am to him for his continued involvement in debate on this issue, at any rate over the time that I have been involved in the Bill's passage. I think that he carries a great deal of the credit for what is widely accepted as being improvements to the Bill. I pay tribute to him for what he has done. I agree with him that we need to get the general duties right so that they work with the spirit of the Bill. However, I can confirm that, pending that which has to be done in another place, this amendment, if we agree to it today, is in black and white. It clearly bites right across the range. The Government have taken a big step. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, for giving encouragement to the noble Lord, Lord Currie, in the way that he carries out the Bill's provisions.
The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, asked which Secretary of State would be involved. In legislation there is only one Secretary of State. The legislation applies regardless of whether the Department of Trade and Industry or the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is abolished. There will still be a Secretary of State who is responsible for carrying out the law. I do not think that she should place any significance on the fact that the Secretary of State currently responsible for competition policy is the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, and certainly not on the personalities concerned. However, in so far as there are two Secretaries of State involved in these issues, they will, as they have been doing, work closely on the Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, asked about precedents for conditions under the newspaper merger regime. There certainly have been headline cases where conditions have been thought to be ineffectual. However, there are many other cases where they appear to have worked well. Generally, we think that undertakings will be given effect to in broadcasting licences, which are readily enforceable, as I think is well recognised. Of course newspapers are not licensed, and for newspapers a merger can always be prohibited.
I hope that that deals with the points raised in debate.