Clause 19 : Appointment of manager of internet domain registry
Moved by Lord Young of Norwood Green
225C: Clause 19, page 20, line 17, leave out "an" and insert "a qualifying"
Amendment 225C agreed.
Moved by Lord Howard of Rising
225D: Clause 19, page 20, line 21, leave out "and any consequences of the failure"
This is a probing amendment that is designed to highlight the concern that these words might open up the registry to a high level of liability. Remedying a serious failure by means of financial compensation could lead to claims for millions of pounds. Is this the Government's intention? If not, what sort of steps does the Minister consider might be appropriate for remedying the consequences of a failure that could have had an impact on the availability of the service to companies throughout the United Kingdom? I beg to move.
My Lords, I start on a positive note by bringing noble Lords good news. I have listened carefully to what the noble Lord has said and I sympathise with his reason for tabling the amendment. The Government will consider this further, perhaps with a view to coming back with a proposal on Report. I hope, in the light of this, that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
Amendment 225D withdrawn.
Moved by Lord Howard of Rising
225E: Clause 19, page 20, line 34, at end insert-
"( ) The Secretary of State must discharge the order no more than six months after its commencement."
My Lords, this is a probing amendment. The period of six months that it specifies is not set in stone. The important point is to establish for how long the Minister envisages these orders being in effect. It would make sense for there to be a statutory time limit. If the appointed manager cannot remedy the failure in, say, six months or a year, it may well be impossible to solve the problem. This gives rise to the question of what the core role of the manager will be. The six or 12-month period should be adequate if the main role is to ensure the proper running of the registration of domain names and to ensure that abuses in registering names are stopped, rather than to look after the financial health of the registry. This amendment, or a similar one, would reassure those who are concerned that these powers should not allow a Government to step in permanently via the back door, using the excuse of a serious failure to carry out, in essence, nationalisation. I beg to move.
My Lords, the Bill could last a long time. The order could still be running after a registry changes its constitution and could be made up in very many different ways-it could be quite difficult for any directors who are left in place if the manager is foisted on them for a very long time. There may be issues of corporate governance and other company law, which may have to be complied with and which the manager may not be specifically tasked with, so there could be conflicts of interest in running the company. Section 450 of the Companies Act, the duties of directors, stakeholders and other interests all have to be taken into account, so there should be some sort of time limit to sharpen people's minds.
My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot grant the earnest wish of the noble Lord, Lord Howard, in relation to the Government's attitude. The amendment would artificially limit to six months the time that is available to the manager to remedy the failure of a registry. I assure the noble Lord that the Secretary of State would have no interest whatever in keeping the manager in place any longer than was strictly necessary to complete this task, but there might be circumstances in which more than six months were required. I also assure the noble Lord that we have had our fill of nationalisation with the banks. We are certainly not into that concept with domain name registries.
The clear intention of the Government is to remove the manager at the earliest possible date in all cases. That is specifically our intention; with regard to in extremis situations, we felt that it was in the national interest. The legislation already makes sure that this will not happen. I cannot resist observing that when the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, said that this Bill could last a long time, I felt that it already had. I hope that the noble Lord will feel capable of withdrawing his amendment in the light of my assurance.
I thank the Minister for his remarks. If he genuinely means that there is no intention to allow any form of nationalisation, then it would be perfectly feasible to put in a time limit, even if it was a matter of, say, two years. Perhaps he could look at that before we come to the next stage of this Bill. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 225E withdrawn.
Moved by Lord Howard of Rising
226: Clause 19, page 21, line 10, leave out "may" and insert "must"
My Lords, the two amendments in this group are tabled to probe the remuneration of the manager. Will the Minister take into consideration the pay of the manager-or indeed, possibly managers-whom the person will be replacing, or will the new manager be paid on public servant scales? The power to reclaim the remuneration from the registry makes the sum which is decided potentially more controversial than it might otherwise be. This in turn raises again the issue of what the Government see as the function of the new manager, which I referred to when we discussed the previous amendment. Will his role be more one of ensuring that domain registry ceases to abuse its position, or more that of the traditional company doctor? This will have a bearing on the remuneration package, on which the shareholders or beneficiaries of the registry might have strong views. I beg to move.
My Lords, as I understand it, the purpose of this amendment is to ensure that the order appointing the manager details the steps that the Secretary of State considers appropriate for the registry to take to remedy its failure, or the consequences of its failure, being those that the registry should have taken, and which the manager must ensure are taken. The clause allows for the order to include these steps. Further, the Bill is clear that the purpose of the manager's appointment is to secure that the steps identified by the Secretary of State are taken. We want the shortest possible intervention necessary to restore the efficient and effective functioning of the domain name and organisation. That is our clear intention, and I hope that in the light of this assurance, the noble Lord will feel capable of withdrawing the amendment.
Amendment 228A would make it a requirement on the face of the Bill to ensure that the manager limited his actions to ensuring that the registry remedied the failure, and any consequences of the failure, which have been set out in the order appointing the manager. Those are the two explicit circumstances in relation to the role-ensuring that the registry remedies the failure, and any consequences of the failure. I can further assure the Committee that the Secretary of State would have no interest whatever in the manager doing anything other than correcting the failure of the registry. The clause already makes it clear that the manager is being appointed solely for the purpose of securing that the registry takes the steps that the Secretary of State considers appropriate to remedy the failure.
Furthermore, new Section 124O of the 2003 Act introduced in Clause 19(1) restrains the manager from doing anything more than is necessary to comply with the order, and we feel under the circumstances that this amendment is not necessary. There was a comment about pay; perhaps I should come back to the Committee on that, but I share the concern that we keep the pay to a reasonable and acceptable level.
Amendment 228A, but we have not got there yet. He jumped the gun a bit. I understand his anxiety to get through the business, but perhaps that is carrying it a bit too far. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 226.
Amendment 226 withdrawn.
Moved by Lord Howard of Rising
226A: Clause 19, page 21, line 11, at end insert-
"( ) An order under section 124O must make provision about the steps that the Secretary of State considers appropriate for remedying the failure and any consequences of the failure."
Although I have heard the noble Lord's response, I will still make my points and hope to hear what he has to say again, or perhaps a varied version of it. This amendment seeks to limit the authority of the appointed manager to deal with the rectification of a specific problem or problems. It would not be desirable or justifiable for the appointed manager to involve himself in matters which are not related to the task for which he was appointed to carry out.
As the Bill is drafted it could be interpreted that once the manager is appointed, he could extend his activities into all sorts of areas which might have nothing to do with the problem he had been appointed to deal with. Since the Secretary of State will already have identified the matters for concern, there should be no need for the manager to have discretion to wander into areas that were not intended. If, on carrying out his appointed role, the manager finds that he needs to extend his activities, there is nothing to stop the Secretary of State from issuing a further order or orders to extend the remit of the manager.
My apologies for being a bit previous on this group. To reiterate the assurance in relation to Amendment 226A, we share the view that in taking over the registry at this stage, the role of the manager will be to remedy the failure and the consequences of the failure, and not go beyond that remit. The clause allows for the order to include these steps. Furthermore, the Bill is clear that the purpose of the appointment of the manager is to secure that the steps identified by the Secretary of State are taken. With that assurance, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
If, as the noble Lord says, that is the purpose, why should we not include the amendment?
We take the view that the clause allows for the order to include these steps. The order, when taken, will define the steps asked for by the noble Lord. We do not think that it is necessary to put it in the Bill.
"The Secretary of State may by order appoint a manager in respect of the property and affairs of the internet domain registry for the purpose of securing that the registry takes the steps described in subsection (1)(c)".
That clearly limits the power.
That reinforces what I have been saying. We think that we have enough in the Bill to satisfy the understandable concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Howard.
It is not often that I would disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, on a point of law. It is with the greatest temerity that I can even think of it. Equally, I do not think that it is as he says. The provision is far too broad and needs to be narrowed as we have suggested. I would therefore like to test the opinion of the Committee.
My Lords, I have tabled this terribly simple amendment to help the Minister have more flexibility. As it reads at the moment, should the manager have to go in and sort things out, there is provision for the registry's directors to be prevented from exercising any of those functions. One can rightly see why one might want to restrain them from interfering, but it would seem to be all or nothing. I should like to insert the words "any of" the registry's directors so that they can select, because one or two of the directors may have expertise in a particular area that could assist and not obstruct the manager. Giving the Minister the discretion to pick and choose among the directors, although he can still restrain all of them if he wishes to, gives much more flexibility to this clause. I beg to move.
Amendment 227 would introduce a sensible amount of flexibility. In many, perhaps even most organisations, each director, especially the executive ones, carries out a different role. It is possible that some of the directors may still be of value to the appointed person in his role in the registry when the others are no longer required. It would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater to insist that they, too, must be excluded because of their less helpful colleagues. There is also the matter of continuity. Getting rid of everyone at the top without a proper handover period might create problems.
The wording of the Bill without this amendment is unnecessarily inflexible, while at the same time the insertion of the words in the amendment would still allow the prevention of all the directors exercising the functions in question, if that was necessary.
My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for his offer of help. The Government recognise that it may not be appropriate in every case for all the directors to be deprived of their functions and, taking that into account, we are prepared to accept the amendment.
Amendment 227 agreed.
Amendments 228 and 228A not moved.
Moved by The Earl of Erroll
229: Clause 19, page 21, line 33, leave out "or a county court"
This is another amendment where I hope I am being helpful in order that something inadvertent does not happen. It was pointed out to me that should there be an appeal and the courts end up taking an interest, the issue will probably have got quite complex and could be tricky-there could be points of law and all sorts of things involved. If this then involves the removal of the powers of the directors or even the directors themselves, they would not be able to appeal as members of the company any more, and there could be difficulties. It was therefore felt that it would be wiser to have such an appeal or whatever held at High Court level, where there is the expertise to consider things properly, rather than at county court level. A county court judgment might still be good but might be less considered; I am given to understand that there would be a problem appealing from it. Again, this amendment seeks to help the Minister so that, if things come to these dire straits, there is a better outcome overall.
My Lords, as I understand it, the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, is concerned that the instances where the Secretary of State may have to apply to the court for directions are too serious to fall within the jurisdiction of the county court.
First, I should point out that the amendment will create an anomaly between England and Scotland, where in the case of the latter the sheriff-the equivalent of a county court-will retain jurisdiction. This definition of the court is derived from the Companies Act 2006. In that case, Parliament chose to give jurisdiction to both the High Court and the county court. An effect of this amendment would be to appear to put domain registries in a different category from all other companies.
I assure the noble Earl that no prejudice to registries would occur were the Secretary of State to apply for directions to the county court rather than to the High Court. Indeed, as he is no doubt aware, the Civil Procedure Rules give a wide discretion for a case to be transferred from the county court to the High Court if necessary. Furthermore, it may be considered a waste of resources to require every application to be made to the High Court.
I hope that in the light of this explanation the noble Earl will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
I thank the Minister very much for that extremely comprehensive reply, which answers most of the questions. I see his point about the anomaly; that could be tidied up at Third Reading, should it be necessary. That is exactly what Third Reading is for, and I am sorry we missed the point. I hear what he says; he is probably right; I should like to go back, confer and make sure. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 229 withdrawn.
Clause 19, as amended, agreed.
Clause 20 : Application to court to alter constitution of internet domain registry
Moved by Lord Young of Norwood Green
229A: Clause 20, page 22, line 6, leave out "an" and insert "a qualifying"
Amendment 229A agreed.
Amendment 230 not moved.
Clause 20, as amended, agreed.
Clause 21 : Functions of C4C in relation to media content
Moved by Lord Howard of Rising
230A: Clause 21, page 22, line 38, leave out ", taken as a whole,"
My Lords, Amendment 230A probes the relationship between Channel 4's existing remit and the new one which is being debated today. Channel 4's existing remit is set out in Section 265 of the Communications Act which, as it is unamended by this Bill, will therefore remain in force.
Subsection (3) of Clause 265 states that Channel 4 programming will be that which,
"appeals to the tastes and interests of a culturally diverse society".
The new remit, however, says that, "taken as a whole", Channel Four Television Corporation must appeal to a culturally diverse society. I should be grateful if the Minister could explain how these two slightly different definitions will work in practice. Does it mean that Channel 4, the licensed channel, will continue to do this type of programming, but other output on digital channels or the internet would be released from this possibly expensive obligation?
Amendment 233ZA would ensure that, under this new remit, Channel 4 will continue to meet its existing public service obligations on its core channel. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure the Committee that the new remit will not give licence to the downgrading of Channel 4 public service programming. Various commentators have already questioned the quality of some Channel 4 programmes. While not seeking to dictate what is and is not appropriate, it is important to remember that Channel 4 is a public service broadcaster and any further downgrading would be unacceptable. I beg to move.
My Lords, I start by reassuring the noble Lord that there is no intention at all of downgrading the quality of programmes for which Channel 4 is responsible. The amendment, which deletes the phrase "taken as a whole", arguably requires all such content to appeal to the tastes and interests of a culturally diverse society. We consider the crucial question is whether Channel 4C's content viewed in the round meets the test. Requiring every single programme to meet the test is surely unduly restrictive.
For example, the new functions include a specific requirement for Channel 4C to provide,
"relevant media content that appeals to the tastes and interests of older children and young adults".
Such content might well not appeal to older audiences. I heard what the noble Lord was suggesting and I want to disavow entirely any suggestion that this is about downgrading. It is recognising that certain programmes cannot meet the universal test when they are directed at particular audiences.
On Amendment 233ZA, the Bill contains no provisions affecting the existing statutory requirements for the Channel 4 television service, nor will it alter any of Channel 4's licence obligations. Subsection (a) of Amendment 233ZA is therefore redundant. We are not about the businesses of changing the remit-the legislation under which Channel 4 meets its obligations.
As for subsection (b) of Amendment 233ZA, the Government recognise the concerns expressed at Second Reading largely on the Liberal Benches that the new Channel 4C functions should not lead to any dilution of public service provision on the Channel 4 television service. The noble Lord has echoed that today. I want to give reassurances on that. This legislation is not about downgrading the output of Channel 4.
Channel 4, like the other commercial public service broadcasters, is largely dependent on advertising revenue to fund its public service content. As all Members of the Committee will know, that revenue has been under significant pressure in recent years as a result of structural changes in the communications market aggravated by the economic downturn. Throughout this period, Channel 4 has continued to meet its public service obligations, though with a reduced content budget.
Is it the case that the PSB that the new Channel 4 remit is being asked to provide on the non-linear channels can be produced in-house, which goes against the spirit of the whole concept of Channel 4, which is that it is a publishing house that supports independent production companies making its PSB?
The noble Baroness is right that that is how Channel 4 operates, but I am trying to emphasise that we are not about the business of changing Channel 4's position at all. I want to meet the anxiety on the Lib Dem Benches and those of the Official Opposition. That is not our purpose. However, to require Channel 4 to ensure current levels of provision, irrespective of any future developments, is not reasonable or practical. Both Ofcom's review of public service broadcasting and the Digital Britain White Paper made clear that, if Channel 4 is to continue to play a significant public service role in the future, it will need to do so beyond the narrow confines of a single, linear television channel. I am sure that the noble Baroness is at one with the Government on that concern. In straitened circumstances, and, given the changes in technology, for the foreseeable future, Channel 4 has to have a different outlet apart from just the television channel.
The Government do not believe that the longer term interests of audiences, or of Channel 4 as an institution, are best served by seeking to freeze the manner in which their public service content is delivered. However, I emphasise that the Government expect Channel 4 to fulfill its public service obligation, taken in the round and as a whole. That is the basis of our expectation that-
Before the Minister sits down, I offer some reassurance to the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, and give an example to the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Rising, of why the Government are creating a useful situation.
I declare an interest as deputy chairman of Channel 4. During the four years I have been on the board, there has never been any discussion about production being brought in-house. Whether or not the existing terms of trade will be debated and discussed over the coming years is an issue that has all sorts of ramifications. However, none of the discussions of the Channel 4 board have even suggested bringing production in-house. I want to reassure the noble Baroness on that.
I think I am being helpful in raising the broader issue-I was waiting for the Minister to raise this. One of the biggest decisions we made on the Channel 4 board was a decision to take Channel 4's PSB obligations for education online. In hindsight, it was one of the best decisions that we ever made. It was made after a lot of discussion. The truth was that audiences for Channel 4 education were diminishing. Frankly, the young people who the programmes were aimed at were increasingly not around at the time that they were available. It has been an unalloyed success. It is that type of flexibility, and that opportunity, to deliver the best possible programming to audiences when they are there, and in the means that they may have access to, that has made the channel a much more significant player in the education space than was previously the case.
My Lords, one of the most comfortable factors about speaking for the Government at the Dispatch Box is that one always knows that there will be some noble Lord who knows a great deal more about the issues than one does oneself, speaks with greater authority and is likely to be listened to by the House with even greater attention than is managed for Ministers at the Dispatch Box. I am grateful to my noble friend for illustrating that.
I thank the noble Lord for his remarks and the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, for his reassurance that there will be no downgrading.
This was a probing amendment. It was not there for any other purpose. There was just one small inconsistency by the Minister. If it is correct to include "taken as a whole" in this Bill, then presumably it should have been in the original Act and should apply to Section 265. Having pointed out that small inconsistency, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 230A withdrawn.
Moved by Lord Howard of Rising
231: Clause 21, page 23, leave out lines 5 to 8
My Lords, again, these are probing amendments to clarify Channel 4's updated remit with regard to film. Clause 21 establishes that Channel 4 must participate in distributing films by means of electronic communications networks. Does this mean that it is compulsory for Channel 4 to invest in streaming films over the internet? I can appreciate why it should be allowed to, but is it right that this should be a compulsory requirement?
As is widely acknowledged, Channel 4, like any other commercially funded broadcaster, has seen its revenues decline in the past year or so, meaning that it has less money to invest in content. Requiring Channel 4 to spend money on films, as set out in the Bill, is adding a further burden on top of the many others this Bill introduces. I am sure the Minister will argue that this clause simply enables Channel 4 to invest in new ways of distribution. If that is the case, it is welcome. However, I am concerned that the language, as drafted, is creating an obligation which might be difficult or impossible for Channel 4 to comply with.
As drafted, Clause 21 appears to require Channel 4 to spend money not only on programmes in which it is already investing, such as Film 4, which does indeed make high-quality British films, but in the broadcasting and distribution of films made by other people. I think that is the UK Film Council's job. Is the duplication necessary? Again, it could add a lot of expense to a depleted budget. I beg to move.
My Lords, I hope that I am not suffering under any illusion as regards this being a probing amendment to identify the position relating to C4C and Channel 4. I make the obvious point that C4C can, and already does, provide a wide range of films, on Channel 4 and on its digital channels, in particular on its dedicated film channel, Film 4, and on-demand. I think that noble Lords widely appreciate the value of a great deal of that work. Proposed new subsection 198A(2)(c) does not give C4C any new powers to broadcast or distribute films, but seeks to ensure that it includes in its services films that reflect UK culture. I am sure that I take the whole Committee with me on that objective.
Concerns are sometimes expressed that new-media ventures by the BBC and C4C risk crowding out commercial competition and stifling innovation. I leave the BBC out of the argument for the moment, as I have no wish to prolong this debate or to get hares running. It is important to bear in mind that C4C receives no public funding and competes with other providers on a commercial basis.
With regard to UK films, there is little evidence that leaving provision to the market will ensure that they receive the kind of exposure that we want to see. The C4C brand will help to raise their profile and to build the audience for UK films, which will benefit the wider industry. Again, I hope that all noble Lords share that objective. There have been glories in the British film industry in the past, but we all know the extent to which the industry has been under pressure. Channel 4 has a role to play in building up the audience for UK films. We can all recall one or two of its outstanding successes.
We believe that enshrining in statute C4C's commitment to showcasing films that reflect cultural activity in the United Kingdom on various platforms-television as well as online-is very significant. Making it one of C4C's priorities emphasises the contribution that C4C plays in this economically and culturally important sector. The Government believe it is important that C4C's duty should extend to third-party films; that is, films which C4C has not participated in making. This will ensure that C4C showcases the widest range of films that reflect the UK's cultural activity, and not just C4C productions. This will undoubtedly enhance the value of its contribution.
We all recognise the sheer weight of the economic, financial and, to a degree, cultural domination of the American industries when it comes to these issues. If I were addressing a French audience about the necessity of advancing French interests with regard to films, I would have nothing but universal applause. I am not seeking applause this evening, merely the recognition from the Opposition that they have probed and that the Government's position is a proper one.
I thank the Minister. As he said, it is a probing amendment. The point of it is that Channel 4 should be allowed, and not compelled, to show these films. If they are compelled, it may put too great a burden on them. I am not sure whether the Minister answered that point. Perhaps he could confirm that it is meant to be voluntary, rather than a compulsory obligation.
The noble Lord knows that Channel 4 operates under public service obligations already enshrined in legislation. I said with regard to the previous amendment that that is entirely secure. We are not changing that in any way, shape or form. We are simply indicating that we want to see part of that remit fulfilled by a support for films and products which reflect British cultural backgrounds and interests. That is the basis for us standing by the framework of the Bill as it stands.
That is all very well, but the Minister has still not answered what I asked. I suggest that he reads my remarks in Hansard and looks at the Bill to see whether I am correct in the interpretation that this could be a compulsory activity by Channel 4. If he agrees with me, perhaps he might adjust it for the sake of Channel 4, if for nobody else.
What is compulsory is that Channel 4 fulfils its public service obligations, and the provisions in the Bill that we have identified here form part of those obligations. I am recoiling a little from the element of compulsion. We see Channel 4, over its history, as having fulfilled its remit with regard to public service broadcasting. It has established a reputation and had very significant successes. This issue is not about compelling Channel 4 but about guaranteeing that we are doing nothing to alter the obligation which it already fulfils and has fulfilled over the years.
Amendment 231 withdrawn.
Amendment 231ZA not moved.
Moved by Baroness Howe of Idlicote
231A: Clause 21, page 23, line 26, leave out "in particular" and insert "including by providing access to information and views from around the world and"
My Lords, despite the growth of the internet, television remains the main source of information about the wider world for most people in the UK. The aim of this amendment, in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury, and myself, is to insert a simple and uncontroversial amendment into the Bill with the aim of preserving the future of international and global content on Channel 4. I believe this will strengthen its remit and be of benefit to UK citizens.
Since its early days, Channel 4 has had a strong track record in international content across a range of genres. Some would say this is a defining feature of its output. Notable examples include: "Channel 4 News", which has a higher quotient of international stories than most other news programmes and has a tradition of widening the international news agenda; "Dispatches", Channel 4's current affairs strand which has a good record of consistently covering, and returning to, difficult international stories, especially on Iraq and Afghanistan; and "Unreported World", which covers stories from around the world which do not feature on the usual news/current affairs agenda. Some recent programmes have looked at child widows in Nepal and child rape in Liberia.
It is significant that Channel 4 has recognised that non-news and current affairs content is equally important. "True Stories", More4's award-winning documentary strand showcases the best documentaries from around the world, many of which give a real insight into the lives of people in other countries. Recent programmes include: "Afghan Star", an entertaining and insightful film about a "Pop Idol"-style contest in Afghanistan, and "The Glass House", a powerful film about women and girls in Iran who have been the victims of domestic violence or cruelty.
Channel 4, to its credit, has a knack of approaching global issues with a popular and innovative touch which enables a range of audiences to connect with stories and people from around the world. This is particularly evident in its drama output. Highlights include "Sex Traffic", a pioneering drama highlighting the issue of trafficking women for prostitution, and "Slumdog Millionaire", the multi Oscar award-winning film from Film4, which documented the lives of children in the slums of Mumbai and was one of the most popular films in British cinemas last year.
The central importance of international content was recognised by Channel 4 when it launched its Next on 4 mission statement which identified four core public purposes: to nurture new talent; to champion alternative voices and perspectives; to challenge people to see the world differently; and to inspire positive change in people's lives. No fewer than three of these purposes have been incorporated into the Digital Economy Bill. However, it is both surprising and disappointing that the original wording of the third purpose,
"To challenge people to see the world differently", has not been kept in the Bill. No one has explained satisfactorily why this purpose has been dropped. In comparison, the BBC charter has as one of its six purposes:
"To bring the world to the UK".
Making this ambition explicit in the charter has had a huge impact. It is true that Channel 4's new functions will also include a requirement to contribute towards the fulfilment of the public service objectives, as defined in new Section 264A of the Communications Act 2003, but we must be clear that this refers only to news and current affairs.
This short amendment will preserve the international content in other genres-drama, film, documentary, and specialist factual. While I appreciate that the current Channel 4 regime recognises that international content is a key part of its output, and I am reassured that it has no intention of cutting back on it, I fear that, if a duty towards internationalism is not specifically included in the Bill and enshrined in legislation, a future Channel 4 regime may see this as an area ripe for cuts. So I urge the Government to support this simple amendment and strengthen Channel 4's remit for the future.
Amendment 231A agreed.
Amendment 232 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Moved by Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury
232A: Clause 21, page 23, line 37, at end insert-
""older children" means children between the ages of 10 and 15;"
I declare an interest as an associate of an independent production company. We on these Benches welcome the Government's clear commitment in the Bill to Channel 4. The recognition in this clause and the next of the need to update Channel 4's public service remit will help to secure its essential role as a robust competitor to the BBC.
I have tabled this probing amendment because of concern on these Benches about the situation that children's television finds itself in. A gap in the market has opened up as a result of ITV withdrawing from this area, which has meant that £30 million a year is no longer being invested in UK-made children's TV. It particularly affects those children in the age group that has left behind the likes of CBeebies, but does not want to watch repeat programmes such as "Come Dine with Me" and "Escape to the Country", which are not part of the 10 to 15 year-old diet. We know them as the "Grange Hill generation".
With only "Newsround" on CBBC delivering current affairs, there is hardly public service plurality. Ofcom, when giving evidence to the Communications Committee, on which I sit, for our recent report into the health of the British film and TV industries, said that the fall in first-run, originated children's programming is particularly acute for older school-age children. This group needs to be identified in the Bill, in order that it does not, as now, fall below the radar. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have considerable sympathy with the amendment, but also a query about it. It has been very good news to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, that some of the material for children that has gone online has proved a great success. I should like to see more children's programming in general and therefore am concerned that this might be a slight restriction if it is put in the Bill. I hope that I am wrong in my interpretation, but it is something to bear in mind, because the more that Channel 4 can do in this direction, the happier we would all be.
The noble Baroness will have a chance to answer that. It is a difficulty that the Government also have. We are not against the broad thrust of the amendment. There is clear agreement about the problem that has been identified and which C4C has a duty to address. Pre-school and young children are, as Ofcom's review of public service broadcasting noted, broadly well served. Those of us who are grandparents can testify to that. Grandchildren invite grandparents to watch television with them. The trouble is, in my experience, that once they get beyond the age of 10, they do not want grandparents watching with them, and therefore we know a great deal less about those children's programmes, such as they are, than about CBeebies and others.
Although there is broad agreement about the problem, there are different views about how we solve the issue of definition. Ofcom's review referred to children of primary school age and above, whereas its 2007 research report The Future of Children's Television Programminglooked at nine to 12 year-olds. We are all wrestling with definitions. We know the broad target group that we want to see programmes provided for, but the problem with legislation is that excessive provision could be restrictive. C4C's report Next on 4, published in March 2008, proposed a new public service role for the corporation in relation to children's content, targeting 10 to 15 year-olds. The Digital Britain White Paper identified as a priority the plurality of public service content for children, especially the over-10s. We are all thinking very much along the same lines in seeking to address the problem. While 10 to 15 is broadly the age range that the Government have in mind, we would not want to be too prescriptive in defining older children. Focusing C4C's remit on 10 to 15 year-olds could limit its flexibility to provide content for children outside this age range or content for more narrowly targeted age groups. Within its duty to provide content for older children, we would also want C4C to refocus its output if developments in the wider provision of content for children were to make this appropriate.
I say to the noble Baroness that we all share her anxiety about programmes for children. We have debated these issues often in the House over recent years and we know that children in the junior age groups are well provided for. However, we are genuinely anxious about putting in the Bill something that is as specifically defined as the 10 to 15 group. I hope that the noble Baroness will feel that she has aired the subject. She has ascertained that the Government are at one with her in terms of the objectives of the amendment and we hope that she will withdraw it.
I will explain why I added the 10 to 15 age category: the remit refers specifically to older children. That is the group Channel 4 is being asked to cater for. Obviously, 10 to 15 is a problematic age group. I hope that my two nephews and one godson who are about to be 15 do not read this debate, because they would be extremely upset to be grouped with 10 year-olds. We feel that the Government are right to add the category of older children, which is a natural fit with the channel. We would prefer the details that have been suggested, but I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 232A withdrawn.
Moved by Lord Howard of Rising
232B: Clause 21, page 23, leave out lines 46 to 48 and insert-
"( ) content that is broadcast over electronic communications networks;"
My Lords, the amendment returns to an issue that was raised in the early days of our debates on the Bill: the amount by which the Bill appears to be extending regulation into new areas of broadcasting. If this paragraph is removed, Channel 4 will be limited to investing in television programmes, digital television channels and on-demand services. That is to say, internet-based services would not be part of Channel 4's duties, except in so far as to ensure that their content was available online through catch-up services.
The amendment highlights the fact that the clause would require Channel 4 to invest in services provided by the internet where there is a person who exercises editorial control. The most obvious type of internet service where someone exercises editorial control is a newspaper website. Is it the wish or the intention that Channel 4 should invest in these, because that is what this definition would appear to allow for? It is questionable whether some of the projects that Channel 4 currently invests in through its 4iP project are appropriate or relevant for a broadcaster. Recent projects include a Facebook application to show users how their lifestyle will change the way they look over time, and an iPhone application that helps people to exercise more. Both projects could be described as having a public service role, but are they the sort of things that Channel 4 should be investing in? I should be interested to hear the Minister's views on these types of investments and whether he thinks that the current drafting of the Bill allows Channel 4 to go beyond the limits of what most of the public would consider reasonable for a public service broadcaster. I beg to move.
I declare my interest as deputy chairman of Channel 4. I hope to help the noble Lord, Lord Howard, get his head around the challenges to Channel 4. First, no public funds come into Channel 4; it exists entirely within the commercial marketplace, which presents its own challenges. More important than that is what has happened with the explosion of digital opportunities that the channel is attempting to take advantage of. We are discovering that by putting programming together with the opportunities that that programming allows online we are getting a dramatically increased impact in terms of our public service obligations. That is so particularly in the area of health. The noble Lord mentioned the iPhone application linked to exercise.
We are beginning to understand dozens of things about the way in which behaviours can be influenced by a programme. A programme can generate the initial interest but behaviours, ironically, are generated more by the online opportunity that a programme creates. We think we may have a tool which is of enormous public service interest and public service benefit. It is very early days and we are very much in the experimental phase, but I sincerely believe that some of the experimental work being done, by 4iP in particular, may end up being of enormous national importance and of real interest in helping us to navigate through some of the social problems that we, as a nation, are trying to address.
The Government hope that the noble Lord, Lord Howard, will withdraw his amendment when he has probed further on this issue, although I think we have covered these issues under previous amendments.
In the Digital Britain White Paper, we made it clear that C4C's current public service remit, limited as it is to the Channel 4 television service, is now too television-centric for the role that C4C should play in Britain's digital media. We consider it has a role to play subject to the obligations which it enjoys as regards its television production. The Government believe that C4C has a vital role to play in offering public service competition to the BBC. I want to emphasise that fact, as my noble friend Lord Puttnam re-emphasised that Channel 4 does not receive public money and so it is in a proper position to compete with the BBC, which receives the licence fee.
As the wider content market evolves, with changing technology and audience expectations, C4C needs to exploit new media to maximise its public service contribution. My noble friend Lord Puttnam gave an illustration of that. If C4C does not offer content to viewers in the formats and on the platforms that best suit them, their ability to contribute to the overall public service offering will inevitably diminish and the organisation itself will be increasingly marginalised. C4C has the right to expect the opportunity to participate in the new digital age.
It has been suggested that encouraging C4C to engage in new media operations will inhibit the development of commercial alternatives. Surely, those are displaced. First, C4C will be in the marketplace like the other competitors and will have to compete on an equal footing with them, with the fully commercial alternatives. Secondly, as my noble friend Lord Puttnam emphasised in the debate on the previous amendment, C4C does not have its own in-house production, so in new media, as in television, its business model relies on partnership with independent producers. So we have a model of participation in the market which is fair and square.
The amendment would not prevent C4C providing online or other new media content under its existing powers. However, it would affect C4C's new media activities by exempting it from the public service focus provided by the clause as drafted. That would diminish the public value of C4C's new media initiatives. I am quite sure that the public would regard it as such. I hope the noble Lord will appreciate that no advantages are being given to C4C. It does not receive public funds; it is in the marketplace like others; but it would be governed by its remit. That ought to commend it to all parts of the House and I hope it commends it to the noble Lord, Lord Howard.
I thank the Minister for his remarks and the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam for his pertinent comments. It is of great benefit to the House to hear what he has said about Channel 4. I still think that there should be some form of limit on the activities of Channel 4. An example of limits being overstepped is the BBC and "Planet Earth". Although I understand the point of an activity such as the education programme, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, during an earlier debate, nevertheless, I think there should be some form of brake on how far the activities on the internet are extended. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 232B withdrawn.
Clause 21, as amended, agreed.
Moved by Lord De Mauley
232C: After Clause 21, insert the following new Clause-
"Monitoring and enforcing C4C's media content duties
After section 198A of the Communications Act 2003 insert-
"Monitoring and enforcing C4C's media content duties
(1) C4C must report on the duties under section 198A in their annual report.
Amendments 232C and 233 and Clause 22 stand part work together to help us all to escape from yet another inexorable layer of bureaucracy. Channel 4 is already obliged to produce an annual report that sets out in detail its financial position and how it has met its public service obligations. The annual report also includes a public impact report which sets out in further detail how Channel 4 delivered on its core public service purposes over the previous year.
Channel 4's chairman and chief executive have also recently started appearing before the relevant Select Committee, giving Parliament the opportunity to ask for further information as well as scrutinising the documents. Finally, the Communications Act 2003 sets out a detailed process that allows Ofcom to vary the Channel 4 licence should it feel that Channel 4 is not meeting its public service requirements.
So Ofcom, Parliament and the Government already have considerable regulatory oversight of Channel 4. Why are the Government proposing to introduce the bureaucratic and unwieldy mechanism set out in Clause 22 rather than just incorporating any new requirements into the existing scrutiny system? Section 266 of the Communications Act 2003 is redundant. It requires every licensed public service broadcaster to produce statements of programme policy which take a great deal of time to prepare and therefore cost each channel a great many man hours. These reports, I respectfully suggest, have a limited readership: those who produce the statements, a couple of officials in Ofcom, members of the relevant committees, and I struggle to think of anyone else. The reports contain information that is duplicated in each channel's annual report and they add precisely nothing to the viewing public's experience of each channel. They are a very good example of regulation for regulation's sake. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am not wholly persuaded by what the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Rising, has just said. An old leadership maxim runs:
"If you can't measure it, you can't manage it".
I believe that removing the need for broadcasters to publish their statements would be a retrograde step at a time when public service content is under serious threat. In the debates leading to the Communications Act 2003, in which I took part, your Lordships were at pains to create a mechanism that provided the public with the opportunity of seeing what their television channels intended to do over the coming year to fulfil their public service remits and how they performed against what they had said they would do in the previous year.
Looking back over the past few years of programme policy statements, we can chart the decline that many viewers are noting. They may not help us to do a huge amount to halt the decline, but they provide something of an automatic braking system on the more savage cuts that might befall public service content if such an annual check were not in place. The statements include information on how channels are providing public service content in non-linear ways, most obviously through their websites and on-demand services; how they are promoting media literacy; how they are engaging with public input and feedback. These policy statements are evolving as the communications landscape changes. I do not believe they are redundant.
We need to be clear that we are not expecting legions of highly paid executives to pore over output figures for days on end to produce reports. In fact, a check on these last statements suggests that most are well under 10,000 words long. The 2003 Act did not demand rigid calculations, it looked for self-assessment-a reflective look back on how the channel had delivered on core purposes. The statements should, at their best, speak in a way from the heart of the channel about its aspirations for serving the public-its consumers.
We cannot afford to forget, just because times are tight, that we hand a huge privilege to our licensed public service channels. The marketplace for the commercial public service broadcasters is undeniably a challenging one, but the economic context does not devalue the privilege of being a licensed broadcaster on a channel received by the vast majority of the population. With that privilege comes responsibilities, not just to your Lordships or to another place, but to the public as a whole. The simple measurement tool of how the channels are measuring up against those responsibilities is, in my view, not too much to ask.
My Lords, I agree with what the right reverend Prelate has just said. Channel 4 has been given new, welcome duties under this Bill, and we feel therefore that there has to be accountability. We of course agree with that.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords who have indicated why these amendments should not be accepted, because the Government are also hoping to persuade the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, to withdraw the amendment.
I have of course to defend Clause 22, which the noble Lord is suggesting should be withdrawn from the Bill, because it introduces an accountability and enforcement framework to ensure the fulfilment of the C4C duties introduced by Clause 21. These are based on the existing accountability and enforcement arrangements for the licensed public service channels under the Communications Act 2003. This is a very important clause as far as the Government are concerned.
Amendment 233 would have repealed Section 266 of the Communications Act. Section 266 establishes a framework of annual statements of programme policy for the licensed public service broadcasters. Ofcom has powers of direction to enforce the public service remits and powers to sanction licensees for any breaches of any licence condition. However, the statements of programme policy reinforce the public service broadcasting system by focusing licensees' attention on an overall strategy for delivering their public service remits, rather than concentrating narrowly on the quantitative targets attached to their licences. If the repeal of the statement of programme policy provisions were considered necessary, it would be preferable to do so by secondary legislation. Clause 37 of this Bill amends the Communications Act 2003 so as to permit such a provision to be reversed, also by order. I hope therefore that the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, will see that we have made provision for that eventuality, if in due course that is the wisest position to adopt.
Amendment 232C would introduce a new clause requiring C4C to report on its media content duties in its own annual report and accounts. One of the intentions of the amendment appears to be to exclude Ofcom from this exercise. Although C4C needs to provide the first line of accountability, Ofcom certainly has an important role to play, offering both guidance and oversight. That position has obtained for a number of years.
Clause 22 therefore creates a requirement for C4C to prepare and publish annual accounts of media content policy, setting out how it proposes to discharge its new duties over the coming year and reviewing its previous year's performance. It also creates corresponding duties and powers for Ofcom, which ought to be an additional reassurance.
Concerns have been expressed about the creation of additional regulatory burdens, but Ofcom has indicated that the new arrangements will have minimal start-up and ongoing resource implications. C4C likewise has indicated that the new arrangements will not have material cost implications for it, so we can discount that element.
The Government also believe that it would be unduly restrictive to require C4C reports on the fulfilment of its new content duties to be produced to the same timetable as the annual reports. No such requirement applies to statements of programme policy in relation to the Channel 4 service. I hope noble Lords will see that Amendment 232C is not necessary.
The proposed new Section 198B of the Communications Act 2003, as I have indicated, requires C4C to prepare and publish annual statements of media content policy. Like the statements of programme policy under Section 266, the aim is to focus C4C's attention on an overall strategy for fulfilling its duty. The requirement to publish the statement, which will include reviews of the channel's performance against its previous statement, will help to ensure accountability and transparency. I am sure noble Lords opposite will respond positively to this.
New Section 198C will require Ofcom to review and report on C4C's discharge of its duties under Section 198A. These reviews are to coincide with the reviews that Clause 3 of the Bill introduces, under proposed new Section 264A of the Communications Act 2003, on the fulfilment of the public service objectives by other media services.
New Section 198D creates a power of direction for Ofcom if it considers that C4C has failed to perform one or more of its duties under Section 198A or to prepare and publish a statement of media content policy.
In some cases, increasing the obligations on the licensed Channel 4 service, may be an effective remedy for a failure by C4C to fulfil its functions under Section 198A. Clause 22(2) therefore introduces a proposed new Section 271A of the Communications Act 2003. This provides that if C4C fails to comply with a direction relating to a failure to perform one or more of its duties under Section 198A, and Ofcom is satisfied that it is reasonable and proportionate, it can vary the Channel 4 licence by making or adding such conditions as it considers appropriate to remedy C4C's failure. Ofcom will have the power to vary the licence again if it concludes that any of the new conditions are no longer necessary.
That is the significance of Clause 22, and is why we regard it as absolutely essential that it should remain in the Bill. I emphasise that these issues have been carefully thought through by the Government, as there are advantages in having a position where both C4C and Ofcom have regard in their reports to the obligation of C4C. I hope that noble Lords will therefore consider that the Government's package of provisions is sufficient to meet any anxieties about C4C's discharge of its duties.
I am disappointed that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester and the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, do not agree with me. I respectfully contend that the information which the right reverend Prelate seeks is already adequately provided. I am afraid that the response of the Minister was what we have come to expect from a Government who have passed two Acts allowing for deregulation, but have hardly used them at all. Just as excessive red tape is strangling our private sector it is also, in our view, placing unnecessary burdens on the public sector. It does not sound as though I am going to get a great deal of support around the Committee, but I strongly want to lodge an objection to what we regard as excessive bureaucracy, so I beg leave to seek the opinion of the Committee.
Clause 22 agreed.
Amendments 233 and 233ZA not moved.
Clauses 23 to 25 agreed.
Clause 26 : Report by OFCOM on public teletext service
Moved by Lord Howard of Rising
233ZB: Clause 26, page 30, line 6, at end insert ", and
(c) an assessment of the impact that ending the public teletext service would have on the provision of subtitles"
My Lords, this amendment would ensure that Ofcom reports on the provision of a public teletext service, including a report on the availability of subtitles. It is a probing amendment to seek assurances on the issue.
The Royal National Institute for Deaf People told us that around 1 million people use subtitles frequently and 5 million people use them whenever possible. Subtitles are therefore a key tool to help to ensure that millions of people who would not otherwise be able to do so are able to enjoy television programmes. Before digital television arrived, access to subtitles was through teletext page 888. I appreciate that when the digital switchover is completed in 2012, users will be able to access subtitles through their digital services. However, until that process has happened, it would be very reassuring if the Minister could tell the Committee that any move to stop the teletext service will not mean the absence of subtitles. I beg to move.
My Lords, under their digital replacement licences, commercial public service broadcasting licensees-Channels 3, 4 and 5-not the public teletext service licensee, are required to ensure that the provisions of the Ofcom broadcasting code on subtitling, signing and audio description are met. The code requires commercial public service broadcasters to provide and promote relevant access services for the understanding and enjoyment of persons of sensory impairment. The provision of subtitling is therefore a matter separate from the provision of the public teletext service.
I accept that, because subtitles are provided on the same platform as teletext on analogue, the public may assume that the existence of analogue subtitles relies on the continuing provision of teletext. Although this is certainly not the case, I assure the noble Lord that Ofcom has been working with public service broadcasters to ensure that viewers have a seamless transition to using analogue subtitles, even where the teletext service is not provided. This will ensure that public service broadcasters continue to fulfil their regulatory obligations. I trust that with that assurance the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 233ZB withdrawn.
Amendment 233ZC not moved.
Clause 26 agreed.
Clause 27 agreed.
Clause 28 : Appointed providers of regional or local news
Moved by Lord Howard of Rising
233ZD: Clause 28, page 31, line 13, leave out from "area" to end of line 15
My Lords, this amendment would remove Ofcom's ability to pay the appointed person for the provision of regional and local news. This amendment goes to the heart of the opposition from these Benches to this clause. We do not believe that public subsidy should be used to prop up the current system of regional news. It grew up in the analogue age of broadcasting, and it seems to us on these Benches that when going into the digital age, it is a mistake to seek to maintain what is there, simply because it is there. There may be better, and possibly more radical, solutions. We should be looking at regulatory changes to enable improved models of regional and local news to grow up. In the internet era, people get their news from a wide variety of sources, so it seems strange to make the public pay to keep a half-hour slot on one particular channel.
There are a number of questions about this particular section of Clause 28, which allows the Government to pay independently financed news consortia, the so-called IFNCs. Is it still the Government's intention to use licence fee money to pay these consortia? I appreciate that the Bill makes no mention of the licence fee, but in the Digital Britain report, and in subsequent statements from Ministers, it seems to be the case that it will be the source of funding. If this is so, can the Minister confirm whether this clause allows the Government to top-slice the licence fee at some point in the future without any further parliamentary scrutiny? Alternatively, if there is some other source of funding in mind, it would be helpful if the Minister could highlight where the funding will come from.
One further aspect relating to the funding of these consortia makes little sense. If they are to be funded by the licence fee or from general taxation, then surely they are not "independently financed" but completely dependent on the Government. We do not believe that using public subsidy in this way will create a long-term, financially sustainable model. I beg to move.
My Lords, the noble Lord maintains that public funding is not needed to support a plurality of sources of local and regional news, and that purely commercial models can thrive. I do not know where the evidence is for that, but that is not the view of the Government or of many other well informed people in this country on the future of local and regional news.
I heard the noble Lord indicate that we might be inhibiting radical new news concepts. I have an awful feeling that by radical we mean a British version of Fox, or something like it, which would be under no obligation to be impartial and which would not attempt to provide news on the basis that we have expected from our broadcast media in the past. Of course we want the providers of local and regional news to attract commercial revenues and to maintain a plurality of content with the reach and impact that are required, but that will require public support. Impartiality and independence are crucial for the news, so surely it is appropriate that this is procured and paid for via an independent body that appoints these providers. That is the Government's intention.
The noble Lord pressed me, as I might well have anticipated that he would, on how we intend to pay for these consortia. He is all too well aware that the Government indicated some time ago that we thought that there might be an option for various sources, but we have taken no decision on this and have indicated that we have not. We are aware that some public funding will be needed, and perhaps part of the licence fee could fulfil this role, but we know that there are objections on many sides. There are those who want no support at all for local and regional news but who somehow think that the market will provide it, against all the evidence, and there are those who are anxious that this might be an onslaught on the BBC and its licence fee. The Government have not reached a definitive position on where the money is to come from at this stage, but we are prepared to canvass options. We are, however, certain of the principle, which is where we disagree with the noble Lord and why I hope he will recognise that the Government cannot accept this amendment.
I thank the Minister for his remarks. I cannot believe that the Government have no idea. He said that there are a number of options for funding. Perhaps he can tell us what they are.
The noble Lord knows that we have canvassed on the issue and that it looks as though we will be able to effect the digital switchover with fewer resources than we used from the licence fee for this provision. That looks to be a distinctly possible and appropriate resource that has no implications of top-slicing the BBC. After all, the whole concept of the switchover funds is additional to and separate from the licence fee. I know that they are part of the settlement for the BBC, but the BBC has a specific purpose that it will fulfil at a predictable cost, and we are gratified that it looks as though the resources that we had in mind for that may not be used entirely for the digital switchover.
As I said, we have not reached a conclusion on long-term funding. We carried out a consultation on the matter, and it was fairly clear that regional and local news services were considered to be necessary. The noble Lord mentioned his radical proposals. If the major drive behind the Opposition's amendment is the belief in a commercial market for local and regional news, to say nothing of national news eventually, and a belief in the commercial strategies that are pursued in the United States, all I can say is that the Government-and, we believe, the British public-are very concerned that the independence of news broadcasters should be maintained, and public resources have a role to play in that.
Amendment 233ZD withdrawn.
Moved by Lord De Mauley
233ZE: Clause 28, page 31, line 13, after "area" insert "(subject to subsection (1A))"
My Lords, in moving Amendment 233ZE, I shall also speak to Amendments 233ZF, 233B and 233C, which touch on very similar issues.
Amendments 233ZE and 233ZF, which are in the name of my noble friend Lord Lucas, seek to provide that Ofcom prevents a person who is disqualified under the stated paragraph in the 1990 Act from being appointed under Clause 28. That is absolutely right.
Our Amendment 233B raises an important point about the impact that public subsidy could have on the quality and independence of our regional and local journalism. If these consortia are dependent on public subsidy, is it too sceptical to suggest that the most important people for them to please will be in the organisation that provides them with their subsidy? There is surely a real concern that there is a risk-whether it is perceived or real is, to some extent, immaterial-that their focus will be diluted from unbiased journalism into pursuing subsidy. Instead of concentrating on providing impartial news, there is at least a danger that the consortia will become too focused on doing what the provider of their livelihood wants or what the consortia think the provider wants. Nothing needs to be said, but there is always pressure not to bite the hand that feeds you. Surely it is vital that the Secretary of State is satisfied that the best traditions of our press-namely, its freedom to report entirely independently on public figures and public bodies-will be preserved, before any public subsidy is given.
Amendment 233C is a probing amendment to ask the Minister whether the Government have taken advice on whether there are any state aid issues with the provision of public funds to regional news organisations. I remind your Lordships that the Government ran into problems when they tried to pay Channel 4's digital switchover infrastructure costs using the licence fee. If the EU managed to prevent this £14 million transfer of funding, surely it would show a similar interest in any spending of state money, which could total around £130 million a year, on regional news. Have the Government resolved such problems with the EU? I beg to move.
My Lords, we are clear that IFNCs are about securing a plurality of independent local news sources, and plurality of independent journalism is necessary to ensure, for example, that local authorities are held to account. Allowing local authorities, therefore, to join IFNCs would automatically defeat this objective. It is against that background that I am entirely happy to agree with the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and accept that the disqualifications that he suggests are appropriate. I will therefore be accepting Amendment 233ZF, which the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, spoke to on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas.
Amendment 233ZE is therefore unnecessary. By accepting the drafting under Amendment 233ZF, Ofcom would automatically be obliged to apply those disqualifications when making an appointment under Section 287A(1). As for Amendment 233B, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, I hope that as we have got the improvement and clarity provided by the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, which I am accepting, it will reassure him that IFNCs will not adversely impact on the independence of journalism, and therefore that the amendment is no longer necessary.
As for the European Union, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, is not involved in gold plating here. I would be greatly concerned that he is trying to enshrine with Amendment 233 something which is already in UK and EU law and is already met as far as IFNCs are concerned. This amendment is otiose. That is putting it at its kindest, and as I am always kind to the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, I hope that he will withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response. My noble friend Lord Lucas will be overjoyed. As regards Amendment 233B, I accept what the Minister has said, and as regards Amendment 233C, I say to him; touché. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 233ZE withdrawn.
Moved by Lord De Mauley
233ZF: Clause 28, page 31, line 15, at end insert-
"(1A) OFCOM must do all that they can to secure that a person does not become or remain a person appointed under this section if the person is a disqualified person under paragraph 1 of Part 2 of Schedule 2 to the 1990 Act in relation to a Broadcasting Act licence"
Amendment 233ZF agreed.
Amendment 233A had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Amendments 233B and 233C not moved.
Moved by Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury
233CA: Clause 28, page 31, line 20, at end insert-
"( ) Prior to appointing a person to provide relevant media content under subsection (1) or to including the conditions in subsection (2) of this section OFCOM must consult the provider of the Channel 3 service for the area for which a person would be appointed and ensure that the provider of the Channel 3 service in that area-
(a) agrees that it cannot continue to provide a regional or local news service which meets its licence obligations in that area, and
(b) accepts the terms on which a person would be appointed to provide the regional or local news service."
My Lords, the purpose of this amendment is to ensure that the introduction of new arrangements for independent news in the nations and regions proceeds in a spirit of partnership and agreement between the Government, the regulator, and Channel 3 licensees. That has been the way in which the policy has been developed so far, and the way in which the arrangements for the independently-financed news consortia pilots, due to start in April, are proceeding. The programmes that emerge from these independent news consortia will be shown on the Channel 3 network. Should funding become available to support their full rollout across England, Scotland and Wales, we would hope that the process for establishing these services continues to involve the agreement and support of the relevant ITV Channel 3 licensees.
I have always understood that that was the purpose, and intent, of the Government's policy-not to force IFNCs on ITV and STV, but to make them available on the basis that there was no longer sufficient value in the Channel 3 licensees to support the existing nations and regions news services. As currently drafted, however, Clause 28 does not fully capture that intent. It would instead entitle Ofcom to select an appointed independent news provider and to impose that provider on an existing Channel 3 licensee. This is despite the fact that the licensed broadcaster would continue to carry all the statutory obligations and the necessary compliance risk for the continuing provision of the service, including legal and technical risks.
There is also the matter of editorial control. Channel 3 has to protect its brand and to keep its audience. When ITV commissions a programme from an independent production company, it is an ITV executive who has the final say in what is broadcast. This must be so with the news programmes that it carries as well. It is therefore only right that decisions on the approach and implementation of the IFNC schemes should continue to involve broadcasters and proceed only on an agreed basis. My amendment is designed to encourage the continuation of such a collaborative approach. I hope that, in responding to what I have said, the Government will undertake to give further consideration to the current drafting of Clause 28, and look to revise it to take account of the points that I have raised. I beg to move.
I should like to endorse what the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, has said and add another point. From the point of view of the viewer, there should be a seamless series of programmes, so that even things like house style should be reflected in the news programme, as well as the rest of the ITV or STV programming for that night. Therefore, the greater the degree of co-operation between the two, the better.
My Lords, I am not going to look at the clause again in the exact way the noble Baroness has enjoined me to do because we think that the clause is satisfactory as it stands. However, at the same time I accept entirely the noble Baroness's anxieties. She has identified that reassurances are necessary about the operation of the clause and I hope therefore to approach her amendments in those terms. The respective Channel 3 licence holders having their say before an IFNC is appointed is an important issue. My noble friend Lord Gordon emphasised that point.
It would be unreasonable for Ofcom to require a replacement news provider to deliver the regional news on Channel 3 without first consulting the relevant licence holder and receiving representations from that license holder beforehand. We confidently expect that to be done against the obvious expectations of Ofcom and what the clause says. The Government recognise this. We have already provided for such a duty requiring Ofcom to consult Channel 3 licence holders, as set out in new Section 287A(8). The new subsection properly connects the public service licensing regime, under Section 287 of the Communications Act 2003, where Ofcom must consult license holders and receive representations before making any changes, with the powers set out in this new clause. We are linked, therefore, to that Communications Act obligation. This represents a consistent and robust approach to Ofcom consulting each Channel 3 service on the imposition of the new conditions. I am entirely accepting of the thrust of the noble Baroness's amendment, but saying that in fact we have not really accepted that argument. We have addressed our minds to that argument and that is what is reflected in the clause. I hope therefore that the noble Baroness can confidently withdraw that amendment.
Amendment 233CB also raises an important issue-the impact on plurality and the choice of news provision in the appointed areas. What the amendment would do, however, is to require Ofcom to make an assessment or an evaluation of an appointment in advance of that appointment actually being made. As the Committee will readily appreciate, Ofcom effectively assesses the UK news and media marketplace, and we do not expect that obligation to change in any way. We would expect a determination of impact to follow the selection process.
I do not think that the amendment is necessary. Ofcom cannot carry out those duties without evaluating the result of the selection process. I hope that the noble Baroness will feel that her amendments have identified two important issues, which the Government consider that they have addressed adequately and appropriately. I hope that she is able to withdraw her amendment with confidence.
I thank the noble Lord for his reply. However, we do not think that consultation is enough. We would like ITV's agreement to be required. I hope that the Government will go away and think on that. For now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 233CA withdrawn.
Amendment 233CB not moved.
Moved by Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury
233D: Clause 28, page 31, line 26, at end insert-
"( ) must specify the conditions relating to the form, character and quality of the relevant media content,"
My Lords, I shall be brief in moving this amendment. It is tabled to tighten up this clause so that the quality of the programmes which emerge from the appointed independently-financed news consortia is a requirement and not, as the Bill now stands, an add-on. These programmes will appear on ITV as part of its schedule and their success or failure will impact on the channel in the form of revenue through advertising and its reputation as a brand. I beg to move.
My Lords, Amendment 233G in this group is also a probing amendment to see exactly what the Government mean by the "form" and "character" of media content. It is understandable that they want to ensure that the content made by the appointed person is of a certain quality. However, it is worrying that they would like to shape the character and form of the content. Subsection (2) of new Section 287A to be inserted in the Communications Act 2003 under Clause 28 states that anyone who is "appointed under this section" takes on the regulatory regime of the Channel 3 service. I assume that this means that it would have to produce impartial news content. If so, that is to be welcomed.
However, if there is any ambiguity around this, allowing the regulator to set the character and form of any news that the appointed person produces sounds rather Orwellian. Are we to be treated to Ofcom's version of events? Will the character of such news be slanted to look favourably on regulators, governments or anything else that the appointed person cares to think about? It is worrying that these news consortia may not in practice be independent and that the power Ofcom has to control the character of their output could result in slanting or distorting news. I am sure, as is the position today, that Ofcom would not abuse its position, but it would be quite wrong to leave open the possibility for the future.
Let me begin with the positive response. We recognise the importance of ensuring that the news output provided under this clause is delivered in ways that reflect high journalistic and editorial quality. We are at one with the noble Baroness on that, together with the right level of innovation, reach and impact for audiences. We all recognise why news needs to meet these criteria. We share the intention behind the amendment and we see some merit in it, although I cannot accept it at this moment. The noble Baroness asked whether the Government would consider the amendment. I undertake to do that and to come back after consideration. We see merits in the case that the noble Baroness has put forward and we share the objectives entirely.
The noble Lord, Lord Howard, is not going to elicit from me quite such a positive response. We think that it is necessary for Ofcom to have the right flexibility to require the news providers to meet audience needs across the spectrum of news gathering and news provision. That is different from the spectre which the noble Lord raised, which was something sounding like "Ofcom news"-if ever I heard of something out of George Orwell, that would be it. But that is not our intention. We merely seek that Ofcom has the right flexibility to ensure that audience needs are met. Ofcom is not to be involved in editorial decisions. That is not its role, its job or what it does. That is not what we will allow it to do.
My Lords, Amendments 233E and 233H are designed to test how far the Government see Ofcom getting involved in the running of the IFNCs. Subsection (5)(c) of new Section 287A to be inserted in the Communications Act 2003 under Clause 28 states that Ofcom may lay down conditions requiring IFNCs to make their news content available to "any other person". Subsection (6)(c) allows Ofcom to ensure that IFNCs help to promote other people's content. At first sight, these subsections would appear to allow Ofcom an extraordinary level of regulatory control over the running of these organisations. Ofcom is able to tell the IFNCs who to give their content to and tell them what media or other content they must promote. These organisations will not exactly be independent if they have their activities regulated to such an extent.
Finally, if the IFNCs are required to give their content away, how will they become commercially viable? Their only asset is the content that they make. If they cannot sell it, they will be for ever dependent on public subsidy, or is that the intention? These two subsections appear to confirm that the Government want to see these news consortia run from the centre with no way of weaning themselves away from taxpayers' support. Perhaps the Minister can reassure the Committee that that is not the case. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is surely not beyond the bounds of possibility that Ofcom might decide that, for example, local radio services were similarly semi-destitute and requiring a degree of public help with news. To that extent, it might not be inappropriate for the IFNC to offer its news service, or its audio version, to local radio stations.
My Lords, I am grateful for that contribution from my noble friend Lord Gordon. I found an element of contradiction in the contribution put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Howard. He suggested that the news consortia should have freedom for access to other resources. No one is saying anything about that. We are merely indicating that where we are able to identify that local and regional news could not be obtained through the marketplace, here is a structure to enable that to occur.
I do not understand how, therefore, he can suggest that Amendment 233E should be commended to the Committee. It would prevent innovation. It is not good for news providers or audiences if there is no scope for development. We are merely recognising the importance of news provision online and the possible breadth of development. The noble Lord seems to indicate that that should be inhibited, yet he is concerned about public money and support. We believe that the need to find models that continue to reach audiences and more opportunities to provide content relevant to local people, including user-generated content and hyper-local use, has substantial possibilities. However, there has to be a structure that makes it possible. If we accepted Amendment 233E, there would be a great inhibition on that.
On Amendment 233H, the funding used to sustain plurality in local and regional news should also have the wider benefit of helping high-quality independent journalism to thrive and keep citizens informed. That is why the subsection talks about supporting and promoting the provision of news. Let us make no bones about it: this is also about training and the development of skills. When local and regional news sources flourished rather more than they do now and were not under quite the threat and limitations of the present time, our most talented reporters, investigators and presenters cut their teeth on them. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Howard, will know only too well from his own perspective that a large number of the Lobby correspondents at the other end-we all have reservations about Lobby correspondents on occasion and I cannot pretend that I agree with every one of their contributions and interpretations-came up through local and regional newspapers and news provisions to reach the dizzy heights of being a Lobby correspondent here. All news is demanding in terms of accuracy and objectivity, but by definition political news and commenting on political events make demands all of their own when it comes to objectivity and standards.
We have no doubt that there will be a need to nurture journalistic activity and to develop multimedia skills in circumstances where the market is not going to sustain the level of training and development that has obtained in the past. We also know the reasons and the enormous problems in that regard. So while I hear what the noble Lord says about his anxieties, I always share in his optimism about what can be achieved if there is a will and a structure that engages enterprise, skill and talent. That is what we are trying to do here and I am afraid that his amendment would limit it. I hope that he will consider withdrawing it.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for his discourse on the progress of journalists, although not having been at the other end, as he was, I cannot say that I have the same first-hand experience. It is fine to nurture these things, but markets change and just as the journalists to whom the noble Lord refers grew up in an unsubsidised world, so it may be that as markets evolve, it will happen again. I think that the noble Lord should give proper consideration to allowing these bodies to leave the public purse and stand on their own feet if the conditions-
I am interested to hear the noble Lord talk about the public purse because we are getting this in Scotland through the Scottish Executive. There is a hidden public subsidy to almost all local news services through local, regional and national-in the case of Scotland-government taking out paid advertising with those services. I hope that they are not doing this for political purposes, but the Scottish Executive are advising local authorities to put all their advertising on the internet and not to use local newspapers or services at all. That will be extremely damaging and one would be surprised if local newspapers can survive without that hidden public subsidy from local authorities and regional governments.
I thank the noble Lord for his interesting remarks, and I agree that that is a form of hidden subsidy. But once things become dependent on the public purse, whether directly or indirectly, they rarely change. I think that the Minister should give some consideration within the Bill to allowing to them to go back to being privately financed, in due course and if the occasion arises. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 233E withdrawn.
Amendments 233F to 233H not moved.
Moved by Lord Puttnam
234: Clause 28, page 32, line 6, at end insert-
"( ) conditions requiring the appointed person to comply with the due impartiality provisions of section 319(2) of the Communications Act 2003."
My Lords, in proposing these possibly imperfect amendments, it may appear that my noble friend Lord Bragg and I are tilting at windmills somewhat, but to torture the metaphor, there is genuine concern that a breeze is beginning to blow that could turn into a gale. The breeze I refer to is the lazy belief that increased plurality in the provision of news and current affairs allows us the luxury of reducing our unconditional commitment to impartiality. This would, in my judgment, be a very unfortunate trade-off. In proposing the amendment I offer in support two pieces of evidence, although I am sure that my noble friend Lord Bragg will be a lot more eloquent than I.
Martin Kettle, writing in the Guardian on
"I believe the modern media now has a collective oppositional self-interest not just to particular parties or class interests, as in the past, but to the very idea of government and politics itself".
James Murdoch, whom I have a great deal of respect for, particularly on his environmental views, had this to say in the MacTaggart lecture delivered on
"We must have a plurality of voices and they must be independent. Yet we have a system in which state-sponsored media-the BBC in particular grow ever more dominant ... Above all, we must have genuine independence in news media. Genuine independence is a rare thing. No amount of governance in the form of committees, regulators, trusts or advisory bodies is truly sufficient as a guarantor of independence. In fact, they curb speech.
On the contrary, independence is characterised by the absence of the apparatus of supervision and dependency.
Independence of faction, industrial or political.
Independence of subsidy, gift and patronage"- is what he feels is essential. He continues:
"Independence is sustained by true accountability-the accountability owed to customers ... And people value honest, fearless, and above all independent news coverage that challenges the consensus.
There is an inescapable conclusion that we must reach if we are to have a better society".
That conclusion is this:
"The only reliable, durable and perpetual guarantor of independence is profit".
It would be impossible to sit on these Benches and agree with Mr Murdoch. The purpose of this amendment is to try to ensure that not just these Benches, but the entire Chamber is clear about its unconditional, long-term commitment to the impartiality of news and current affairs in our broadcast media. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support my noble friend Lord Puttnam. I have not spoken in this debate so far for several reasons, so I hope I will be excused if I speak for slightly longer than my noble friend. We are in a dangerous spot. One man's impartiality is another man's oppression. One woman's notion of plurality is another woman's idea of unlicensed, unpalatable excess. It is not easy, but we have to face up to it.
A sense of impartiality, and one clearly recognised to be such, in major news bulletins is essential for the functioning of a democracy. A democracy is difficult enough in a number of ways, these days, as people's demands increase in number and volume; as the state increases its reach and responsibility and as private companies understandably drive harder for profit and control and markets in the new precarious multi-choice media world. We have to address it and we have to get it right. Especially here, in your Lordships' House which, over recent years, has increasingly been called on to defend the basic rights of men and women in this country.
On the one hand we have an asserted fear that the size and historical clout of the BBC tends to make it an overdominant statist voice, threatening a monopoly for its viewpoint. I do not see or hear that on the BBC news bulletins. Its independence is often tested but it still remains intact. It seems to me largely still to strive towards an admirable impartiality and, on a British empirical common-sense reckoning, it still provides a fine example, well followed by other news bulletins in this country-those on Channel 4, ITV and Sky-although, as my noble friend Lord Puttnam pointed out, there have been siren voices.
This can be seen more starkly across the Atlantic. The United States is worth looking at briefly because of the history of American influence on our media culture. I refer to the discussion now under way in the States on Fox News, which your Lordships will know about. A recent opinion poll suggested that it was the most trusted news operation in the country. After that poll, Mike Hoyt, editor of the Columbia Journalism Review, explored the issue. He said that "fair and balanced" may be the network's motto, but in many respects it is anything but. He said:
"Fox News is not really a news network it's a commentary network. Its news output is a small island in a vast sea of very conservative commentary".
Dean Denham, president of Public Policy Policing, the North Carolina-based survey firm that carried out the poll, said the Fox strategy had been brilliant commercially, but its implications were troubling. He said:
"That people see the network as trustworthy is worrying in terms of the future of reasoned debate in America. A lie screamed loudly will trump a truth spoken quietly".
Nearer home, qualms about the biased approach of the network have reached the Murdoch family. Earlier this year the PR executive Matthew Freud, who is married to Rupert Murdoch's daughter Elisabeth, told the New York Times that he was,
"ashamed and sickened by Roger Ailes's horrendous and sustained disregard of journalistic standards".
I think those voices are worth listening to. At a time of potential world dislocation and even world destruction on an unprecedented scale an impartial agenda is surely crucial.
Plurality can produce much-needed variety, but also through ferocious competition it can breed beasts as big as any that the state can produce. The only way is to look at the question constantly and carefully, to question impartiality on these news bulletins and see that it is observed. John Milton was right. He was right in the 17th century and he is right today. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance. Liberty, which relies on unpolluted information, is the underpinning of democracy. Democracy, as your Lordships know very well, is rather rare and it is a fragile state. It depends on and allows for clashing views. It encourages dissent. It glories in opposition, which perpetually slows it down, but always in the end holds it up. At the centre of democracy is a well-informed electorate. At the core of that is the idea of impartiality. We know what that is, especially when it is not there.
This may need regulation-a word more often held in contempt nowadays. However, regulation has brought this country some of the finest radio and television we have, which holds its own with that in any other country in the world. I urge all sides of the Committee, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Puttnam and myself, to endorse the broad thrust of these amendments and ensure that the notion of impartiality is embedded in the Bill.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friends who have spoken to these two amendments. I agree that Amendment 234 raises a very important issue. If I am slightly dismissive about Amendment 235, I hope my noble friends will appreciate that it is because I want to devote a little more time to Amendment 234 and to indicate the Government's broad sympathy with exactly the case that my noble friends have identified.
On Amendment 235-if I can be a little dismissive of the amendment-we do not think that it would be appropriate to increase the maximum penalty incurred for breaching the specific rule as opposed to other rules set out in the broadcasting code. We think the current system works well in ensuring that viewers enjoy trustworthy, high-quality news. We want to preserve a system that we think is effective. I hope my noble friends will not press Amendment 235 too hard because we consider that the case made on Amendment 234 is very important.
The Government regard the rules on due impartiality and accuracy applying to TV and radio services as very important. The rules are well established especially when applied to broadcasting with access to mass audiences. I am not going to be able to match the eloquence of my noble friends Lord Puttnam and Lord Bragg in their articulation of the value this has brought to our society and to the quality of our democracy.
It is interesting how we all spend a great deal of time berating the weaknesses that are identified from time to time in our democratic practices. Reform is ever in the air and I would be the last to want to countenance against that. From time to time it is necessary to step back and recognise those things that we do well that are important in sustaining our democratic traditions. I do not have the slightest doubt that the rules with regard to broadcasting that derive from the origins of the BBC, but now obtain across the field of broadcasting and the media landscape, are of the greatest significance to the society in which we live.
It is clear that the media landscape is changing significantly and audiences now get their news from a much wider mix of sources, including digital television. Some have argued that because of this multiplicity the due impartiality rule is not needed. We do not agree. The rule of due impartiality for TV and radio services is still critically important. There is space for opinionated news. I listened carefully to what my noble friend Lord Bragg said about the nature of Fox News-a little bit of news among a great deal of opinionated commentary.
We all recognise that newspapers spend an awful lot of their time on comment. Because, by definition, newspapers are slower to enter the public's consciousness than other forms of projection of the news, they increasingly spend rather more of their time on comment than news. There have always been newspapers which have been pretty opinionated in their stance on matters. The due impartiality rule on TV and radio must continue. It must continue to guarantee that viewers enjoy unbiased, informative news.
All our surveys and Ofcom's surveys with regard to broadcasting indicate how strongly the British public support the concept of unbiased, informative but impartial news. That concept of impartiality, which both my noble friends have emphasised in their contributions, is of the greatest significance. If television news is considered to be the most trusted of news sources by audiences, there is little doubt that it is thanks to the impartiality rule, which is why the Government are eager that that should continue. Weakening the rule would affect the level of trust that people have in news and would ultimately affect people's engagement and interest in this news. That is clearly not good for audiences or broadcasters and, most of all, it is not good for our democracy. Therefore, it is not in the public interest of a democratic nation. If we look to sustain the due impartiality requirements for news supported by public funds, I hope that that will not only indicate how much I agree with my noble friends but reassure those on Benches opposite about the due impact of IFNCs on the independence of journalists also. Impartiality is associated with independence, and we need to recognise that factor.
The Government agree with the principle set out in Amendment 234. We think that it is of the greatest importance. I ask my noble friends to withdraw it on the basis that the Government will consider it further and return to the issue at the next stage.
I am grateful to the Minister. I found the last two groupings very interesting. I had great sympathy with the earlier amendment about returning the news system proposed by the Government into private hands. Anything that concretes a system into the public domain is not that healthy, and when we return to the matter at Report I should like to talk at more length about it. There is a middle way and I think that the noble Lord, Lord Howard, is on to something.
Amendment 235 is crude, but the truth is that £250,000 when the Act was passed is £210,000 today. The Government should have a view on what direction of travel they want to be seen to be travelling in. In effect, the maximum fine is less today than it was at the time of the original Bill. However, I am certainly happy not to press that amendment. In withdrawing Amendment 234, I make one point. I am the son of a journalist and was brought up in an environment in which all newspapers clearly differentiated between opinion and news. The Daily Telegraph in particular used to have it on the masthead. That has become a great rarity today. Most front pages of most newspapers contain opinion, not news; you have to seek the news, having got past the headlines which are essentially opinion. That is the status quo-we are not going to change that. But to allow our broadcast news to slip into that type of norm and for that to become a condition into which broadcast news is allowed to drift would be catastrophic for us as a democracy. Again, we will return to that on Report, and I hope that the whole House will be prepared to endorse the broad thrust of where we are trying to go. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 234 withdrawn.
Moved by Lord Howard of Rising
234A: Clause 28, page 32, line 11, at end insert ", and
( ) conditions requiring that the money only be spent on providing regional news that will be broadcast via the Channel 3 licencee"
This amendment seeks clarity over what exactly the Government want this funding to be used for. In simple terms, I can understand, even if I do not agree with, the argument that this money will be used to provide a regional news broadcast on ITV. Where I am uncertain is how the Government believe that this will help the regional newspaper sector, as has been suggested. If the money is to be used to produce a half-hour bulletin of regional news, how does that help the printed media? They do not currently make such broadcasts, so the money will not go to cover their existing costs. If there is some possibility that newspapers involved in these IFNCs might be allowed to use the money to cross-subsidise their current operations and output, the Government need to be much clearer about this. There will be some very difficult competition issues to get around if one newspaper in an area uses public subsidy to compete with a local rival. It would be helpful if the Minister could explain what exactly the Government want to see the money used for. I beg to move.
My Lords, one dimension that we are concerned about is the disappearance of news provision in localities and the regions. A cardinal point behind the Government's proposals on the IFNCs and funding is to ensure that gaps that appear and cause distress because of the disappearance of local news are filled. In some cases, as the noble Lord will be all too well aware, the issue is not the plurality of newspapers but whether there is one there at all. If there is one, it tends to be the only outlet. We are concerned to see newspapers supported to a degree, when it can be guaranteed that news provision meets the standards that we expect with regard to broadcasting provision.
Restricting the funding as the noble Lord suggests would be to restrict it to television news only. Of course, it is widely recognised-and this is why the Bill is called the Digital Economy Bill-that the future of digital Britain is very much online. The purpose of the clause is to provide for a convergence of news provision across as many platforms as necessary, and not just television. Restricting funding to Channel 3 News is at odds with the principle behind this clause and confines the news to the old analogue world, when the whole concept behind the Bill is to make provision for the world that is rapidly developing before us. If we limited IFNC funding or provision to broadcast television, we would be propping up an old model and not recognising the change towards a digital future and a digital economy. That is the main thrust behind the Bill and why the Bill rejoices in its title. We are concerned to ensure that we take account of the increased use which undoubtedly our fellow citizens will make of the new technology, in addition to analogue television, and provide the standards of news coverage which obtained for eight decades or so under old television presentation. The BBC was the sole provider for five or six decades, with independent television playing its part subsequently. We are now moving into a digital Britain, and we have to provide for that.
I thank the Minister, but I wonder whether we are talking slightly at cross purposes here. I was not saying that funds should be restricted but asking how newspapers would be helped to survive by subsidising regional news television programmes. I believe that it has been suggested that this will be of assistance to local newspapers.
My second point is that if there was some subsidy for newspapers, how would one choose which to give it to if more than one newspaper was involved in the same area? Where I live, for example, we have two local newspapers-that is not an impossible case. Can the Minister answer my question?
As I have indicated, the trouble with the amendment is that it restricts it to television. I ask that the amendment be withdrawn for what I hope is the very straightforward case I have put to the House: we need to sustain news presentation on other media than television.
As far as newspapers are concerned, the funding would be provided to consortia for local and regional news, which might well include regional newspapers. The consortia would replace existing TV and online news. However, this is not about subsidising newspapers. It is about securing plurality of news syndication so that the values and principles obtaining to television broadcast news are sustained in local and regional news. Against the present background, we see their outlets, support and finances greatly reduced, if not almost collapsed, and it is quite clear that some support is necessary.
I am not going to get into a debate about whether one newspaper is going to be subsidised against another-that would be an absurd proposition to put forward in terms of how these resources are distributed. There would be significant consortia undertaking to provide news services of a regional and local category, and they would have to meet the criteria which underpin the legislation.
"services provided by means of the internet where there is a person who exercises editorial control".
Does this therefore mean that a newspaper which is appointed under this section will be able to spend money on its own website? If this is the case, surely its rivals will have a pretty good argument that they are being driven out of business by a subsidised competitor; indeed, as I commented when speaking to the last amendment, it is a question of who gets the subsidy. Rather than save regional news, this clause could, at a stroke, ensure the only survivors are those propped up by the state.
There is a fundamental flaw with the concept behind this clause. I know the Minister is keen on plurality; perhaps he could give some thought and consideration to that. I beg to move.
My Lords, the great danger is that I may repeat the arguments I have just deployed with no hope of any greater satisfaction as far as the noble Lord is concerned.
I am not prepared to accept an amendment which restricts the appointment to the provision of television content, for exactly the same reason I gave with the previous amendment: the model which the noble Lord finds acceptable seems to be the existing structure of television news. I am indicating that in a greatly changed media environment, and one which is going to change with great rapidity in the foreseeable future, we have to move beyond the analogue world. We have to ensure that where services are needed-we are talking, remember, about news services-they are delivered according to standards which underpin the Bill and the provision of television news, in terms of impartiality.
I say to the noble Lord that these services are of course likely to be concentrated in areas where they deliver public value-and therefore are wanted-or where there is market failure. I know the noble Lord treats this with equanimity, but the Government do not. In his perspective on this Bill, the noble Lord seems to be oblivious to the fact that the market is not a guarantor of local and regional news provision. This provision, as we are watching, is in steady decline; we know the reasons for this. My noble friends Lord Puttnam and Lord Bragg, who have now departed the Chamber, spoke on news issues regarding earlier amendments. They eloquently articulated the fact that the values regarding news provision ought to be universally obtained; both expressed the extent to which we have a collapse of the market in crucial areas of this news provision.
As a sufficient analyst of the contemporary scene, the noble Lord will know very well that there are market failures. If he says he can treat them with equanimity, I say the Government do not think we should. The public expectation of local and regional news of a high standard is legitimate. There is market failure in these provisions: that is why we have this concept of independent news consortia in the Bill, predicated on the assumption that they are there because we have identified a need. I defy the noble Lord to indicate from the Dispatch Box that he cannot see any weakness in the market.
I thank the Minister. There is no equanimity about market failure from this side of the House. The purpose of these amendments has been to try and prise out from the Government some of the detail of how the Bill will work in practice. The only impression I have is that the detail has simply not been thought through. I hope that, having raised these amendments, I may have sparked the Government into thinking about how things will work in practice, and try and avoid some of the potential pitfalls. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 234B withdrawn.
Clause 28, as amended, agreed.
Amendment 235 not moved.
Clause 29 agreed.
Clause 30 : Digital switchover
Moved by Lord Maxton
235A: Clause 30, page 33, line 13, at beginning insert "After consultation with companies providing satellite navigation services,"
My Lords, I beg to move the amendment standing in my name. I feel almost guilty in raising such a mundane matter after the high-flown principles we have had so far. I also wish to make it clear that, given the specific nature of this amendment in relation to satellite navigation systems, I have no financial interest to declare. The matter was raised with me in the Tea Room at the other end of the Corridor. I thought that it was of interest and tabled an amendment accordingly. It is a probing amendment designed to ask the Government to look at an area of radio broadcasting that appears to have been completely omitted from the Bill.
ITIS, the major company in this area, has two concerns. It provides local and national traffic reports to a variety of outlets including satellite navigation systems. Traffic reports to satellite navigation devices go through the same FM bandwidth used by Classic FM at present via an arrangement with Global Radio, the owner of Classic FM. ITIS is obviously concerned that any changes in the switchover of radio from FM to digital-this part of the Bill is called "Digital switchover"-would make its services inoperable.
Digital technology for satellite devices is being developed, but many existing cars and cars for the immediate future-particularly those in the upper price ranges such as BMWs, Jaguars and Rolls-Royces, which have a longer lifespan than others-have satellite navigation devices built-in to the car. I just use a plug-in whenever I need it, and obviously I could buy a new one, but if you buy a car with a satellite navigation system built in, you cannot do that.
Each of these devices has its own radio transmitter which transmits on an FM bandwidth voice traffic reports to the driver as he is driving. It will say, "There is a major traffic jam ahead. If you turn left, left, left and right you will avoid it and that will be to your benefit". Obviously, that will cease to work if the FM signal is switched off in the future. The company is therefore concerned that the Government should give some assurance that they have at least looked at the matter and considered whether these services can be continued.
The company is also concerned-although this is a matter for Ofcom rather than the Government-that its AS1 licence has to be retendered for next year. There is only one licence of this nature at present. The doubt about its continuation is causing concern not only with the company but with car manufacturers and satellite navigation companies. It is essentially a matter for Ofcom, but there is a concern that there is no provision in the Bill to give a power to Ofcom to renew the licence without retendering. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for raising this issue. The amendment refers to the impact that the digital radio switchover may have on satellite navigation systems that receive traffic information, such as early warnings of accidents or details of congestion, via the analogue radio networks. As the digital radio switchover proposes to move all national radio stations to digital-only, the future of the infrastructure, which these traffic services rely on for carriage, is uncertain.
That does not necessarily mean that these services cannot continue on FM. The Government accept that there is a case for allowing the additional service licences, under which these traffic services are licensed, to continue on analogue after the switchover; not least because it would provide continuity of service for motorists. In fact, Clause 30 already provides for consultation with bodies such as satellite navigation providers. Clause 30 requires the Secretary of State to take account of any report submitted by Ofcom and the BBC under Section 67 of the Broadcasting Act 1996. In addition, on requiring such a report, the Secretary of State is obliged to consult any other persons as he thinks fit. That could include providers of traffic and travel information, the motor industry and, with that, providers of satellite navigation services. For those reasons, we do not believe that the amendment is necessary and hope that, in the light of those assurances, my noble friend will feel capable of withdrawing it.
My Lords, I said at the beginning that this was a probing amendment. My noble friend has given a response that the industry will at least welcome. As a result, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 235A withdrawn.
Moved by Lord Howard of Rising
236: Clause 30, page 33, line 17, after "to" insert "-
My Lords, in moving this amendment, I will also speak to Amendment 237. The amendments are designed to ensure that attention is paid to the local and community radio sectors and the many millions of analogue radio listeners-to which I should add the providers of satellite systems about which the noble Lord, Lord Maxton, spoke. They should all be listened to before any decision is taken about switchover. We on these Benches have not hidden the fact that we remain unconvinced that the Government's plans to switchover in 2015 are realistic. We do not believe that audiences will be ready by then. The audience must remain at the forefront of all our considerations when we debate these parts of the Bill.
As drafted, the Secretary of State will have to pay heed only to Ofcom and the BBC. Despite the BBC's dominance in the radio industry, there is a strong argument that it would be helpful for community and local radio stations to be consulted. Indeed, the whole commercial radio sector should be included. It does not seem unreasonable to suggest that the Secretary of State consult the other parts of the industry that will be affected.
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 millions of listeners not using digital. Our amendment would ensure that the needs of those listeners were taken into account before the Secretary of State could nominate a switchover date.
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.
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.
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.
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 from those which disagreed with the main grouping and those which had done some amount of research over time. The more one looks at this whole area, it is quite clear that there is a big problem about when this is going to happen, stretching into the future, causing a considerable number of problems. At the very least, this amendment requires others-those concerned and those involved-to be consulted. So, like the right reverend Prelate, I certainly support the amendment.
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 experience that we had with 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 over 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.
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.
Amendment 236 withdrawn.
Amendment 237 not moved.
Moved by Lord Clement-Jones
238: Clause 30, page 33, line 19, at end insert-
"(2A) The Secretary of State may not nominate a date for switchover-
(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."
In moving Amendment 238, I shall speak to Amendment 239 and 241. It is a wonderful thing to make one's debut at 8.30 pm. I will try to do it with some brio.
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 great idea, but what is its practicality? What timescale is envisaged? The Government need to deliver much more clarity in this respect and other aspects. Will there be adequate supplies of radios that enable listeners to tune in to both FM and digital radio? It is fairly basic: will the domestic consumer be able to have access to those, or will most manufacturers switchover to pure digital?
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:
"However, it has always been our intention that the ultra-local services which remain on FM after the Digital Radio Upgrade should only do so temporarily".
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 equally, creating a level playing field going forward. The switchover date-2015-is based on an assessment of DAB listening rather than digital listening, which includes digital television and the internet, as this will replace FM and AM as radio's broadcast backbone. People are listening more and more to radio over the internet.
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,
"must ensure that all commercial and BBC radio services broadcasting in the UK have the opportunity to switchover on the same date".
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.
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, especially where radio groups would be barred from broadcasting to some of their network from locations that are actually far closer to their listeners than those from which they are allowed to broadcast. I say this not to criticise Ofcom's sterling efforts in coming up with solutions to try to make life easier for these vital local stations. The regulator is trying to be flexible and responsive in a rapidly changing arena. Yet that is precisely the point. It is almost as if at the moment we are rushing towards a finishing line when the course has not even yet been chalked out. This amendment helpfully acknowledges that the route to an appropriate digital platform is not yet entirely clear, especially for many smaller stations.
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.
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.
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 towards that deadline but a final date will only be set when progress measured against consumer-led criteria is clearly on target.
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.
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 installed in 50 per cent of private and commercial vehicles. We believe there would be significant challenges in measuring success against such a criterion. In addition, such a legal requirement would fail to take account of the adoption of in-car radio converters or future technological developments. Just as we had the development of the digibox in relation to enabling analogue TVs to carry on working, so it is obvious that we will see the price of in-car converters come down and that technology developed. All DAB radios include FM: that was another point that was raised.
We are working with car manufacturers with the aim that by 2013, all radios sold with vehicles will be digitally enabled. There are already devices on the market that will convert an FM car receiver so that it can receive DAB, and the market in this area is likely to grow considerably. It is huge: there are millions of analogue car radios. We are trying to cover all the areas of concern.
Amendment 239 would also require that all commercial and BBC stations have the opportunity to switch over on the same date. It removes the flexibility granted to the Secretary of State to nominate different switchover dates for different services. Although it remains the Government's intention that all services specified by the Secretary of State should switch over on the same date, flexibility is needed to ensure that the switchover can be delivered most appropriately for listeners. With TV, the gradual approach is working well, so we are making a plea here for flexibility.
Amendments 241 would increase the minimum notice period from two to four years. We believe that this would unnecessarily extend the costs of dual transmission for broadcasters, and slow down the rollout of the DAB network. The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, asked about our motivation. Part of it is the most effective use of the spectrum; another part is to ensure that people are given the best possible service. The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, said she had to fiddle with the knob on her car radio. It is time that she updated it to one with RDS, which will automatically change the frequency for her as she drives along. I cannot guarantee her a government handout, but it is well worth it.
The right reverend Prelate was concerned about local radio and defined areas, and made a number of interesting points. We will look carefully at his remarks in Hansard and write to him on the issue. We will make copies available to all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate, because these are points of common interest.
I apologise for going on at length, but this is an important debate that encompasses a wide range of issues. I have tried to address all the points raised and understand the concerns, and I hope that, given my response, the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that comprehensive reply, particularly since it was on the run: it was not obvious from the amendments how broad the debate was going to be. He has addressed almost all the issues, except the one that I raised about DAB-plus. I forgive him for that, although if he does have an answer-
I apologise to the noble Lord: I do have an answer, but forgot to make a note of the question. The advantage of DAB-plus over DAB is the greater capacity that it provides for services on the same frequency, allowing a digital multiplex to broadcast around 20 rather than 10 services, thereby giving more stations the opportunity to move to digital. However, we believe that the benefits of DAB-plus are more than outweighed by the negative impact on existing DAB listeners. Only a very small fraction of the 10 million digital receivers that have been sold are capable of receiving DAB-plus, and any technology change would make these receivers effectively redundant. That would significantly delay the switchover timetable and increase the time during which broadcasters would bear the burden of dual transmission costs. Nevertheless, the Government have been clear about their intention to promote receivers that are capable of receiving DAB-plus and other digital technologies that are used across Europe. This will protect receivers against any change of technology in the future. We are trying to take into account the concern in that area. I apologise if I put that over quickly, but it will be on the record.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that suite of answers to the various points raised. I also thank those who took part in the debate; the right reverend Prelate and the noble Baroness, Lady Howe. Not every jot and tittle of the amendment necessarily carries all the weight that it should. We are looking for pointers from the Government. Although some of the White Paper sets out the conditions and criteria, they are not in the Bill and there is uncertainty, albeit among a minority of radio operators. The future of FM has not been made clear.
I take the words "foreseeable future" in these circumstances to mean semi-permanent. There is a fear that FM stations, "left behind" on analogue, will be second-class citizens who will not be there for long-they will be hustled across into digital-when actually, in terms of cost and reception, ultra-local radio is probably best left on FM. It may be that the Government wish to release that spectrum, have a fire sale and flog off FM to the highest bidder-I know not. The Government need to be crystal clear about those issues. The use of the "mixed landscape" wording by the Minister was very healthy; no wholesale move in the circumstances is healthy, as it has been described to us that digital will be a great advantage to the larger national radio stations but not to the smaller ones.
I understand what the Minister was saying about the vehicle aspect. I hope that he is correct in saying that the ability to convert to digital by various gizmos, which will not cost the public an arm and a leg, will be increasingly possible. I think he mentioned the 2015 gate but I do not know what percentage of in-car use was associated with that. Clearly, there is some considerable optimism about the switch taking place within the next three or four years. That is ambitious.
On two years versus four years, I cannot help reflecting that the two-year period is more, not for the listeners' or the radio operators' convenience, but for the Government's convenience because they want a decision made and they want to be able to consider the future of FM after that. That is the impression given to date. In a sense, two years is a very aggressive period, once the notice has been given, in which to expect that migration to take place. That is the fear behind that short period. Basically it is for the Government's convenience rather than for allowing things to take place in an orderly fashion.
This has been a very useful debate. I thank the Minister for what he has said. Obviously, some reflection is required. We have all had an enormous amount of correspondence from radio operators and no doubt we shall reflect with them between now and Report about whether further tweaks are required to this part of the Bill. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 238 withdrawn.
Amendment 239 not moved.
Moved by The Lord Bishop of Manchester
239A: Clause 30, page 33, line 21, after "services," insert "while retaining the use of the FM Band for those local and community radio services, including special interest services, for which digital transmission using DAB is not a suitable method due to-
(i) the size of local DAB multiplex areas, or
(ii) the unavailability of capacity on the local DAB multiplex,"
This amendment pursues further the issue about retaining the use of the FM band for local and community radio services. I invite your Lordships to put yourselves in the shoes of someone running a small FM radio station, serving a population of 100,000 people in and around, let us say, King's Lynn. As it stands, that station's future seems to be to bid for a space on a local multiplex. That would mean that it would begin broadcasting to almost 600,000 people. Such a shift would significantly change the character of that station. Listeners from a much wider area would start to phone in to programmes and would, for instance, start to demand their own slice of news output. The station manager would be forgiven for wishing to stay on the FM band as long as possible, until a better solution was found for smaller stations to find a home on the digital spectrum.
Consider then the prospect of the only way of going digital to be to join an even larger regional multiplex which covers the whole of East Anglia and serves well over 1 million listeners. That is the kind of situation that is faced by a number of small commercial radio stations if digital rollout continues as planned. Their pathway towards a digital future seems shrouded in a kind of fog, partly because of the large size of DAB multiplex areas and the lack of capacity on some multiplexes. Forcing those small-scale stations to broadcast to much larger areas than their current coverage would alter their feel and alter their connection with their audience. It would undermine the integrity that they hold as local broadcasters and potentially damage their ability to service platforms which stimulate and reflect local democracy and social action. There is also a danger that counter-intuitively such stations would struggle to attract advertising spend from local businesses which do not wish to market themselves to audiences up to 100 miles away. So, socially and commercially, beaming local stations to regional audiences is, frankly, not in anyone's interests.
As for the lack of space on DAB in some areas of the country, take, for example, the multiplexes currently covering Humberside or, in my own area, of Manchester where there is virtually no space available. Even with just the larger stations currently on board, capacity is running out in some areas. I understand that some stations that gain access are broadcasting in mono rather than in stereo in order to preserve bandwidth.
The limitations of DAB for local and community stations are well acknowledged by Ofcom. Indeed, it is already planning for small-scale commercial and community stations to stay on FM in the medium term as the most appropriate technology for those stations in terms of both coverage and cost. The vacation of FM band space by the removal of national and large local stations would free up more capacity for smaller stations. Ofcom sees this as a natural staging post in radio's digital evolution.
Nowhere, however, is this halfway house given a firm legal footing. In case my amendment is misinterpreted as a luddite attempt to hold back the march of progress, let me make clear that it is intended as a temporary but crucial platform to support the transition to digital of small-scale local stations, which not only serve geographically defined areas, but also identity-defined and interest-defined groups.
Your Lordships may remember the furore caused when in 1992, BBC Radio 4 proposed to transfer use of its long-wave frequency to a rolling news service. The BBC reckoned that FM reception was good enough and the vast majority of the country could pick it up without a problem. But those living in remote parts of the United Kingdom, and even in exceptionally hilly inland parts, knew different. The determination to push ahead with cutting Radio 4 from the long wave was met with purposeful if well-mannered resistance, as one might expect from Radio 4 listeners. In fact, I am told that the sight of 200 protestors in tweed and twinsets marching down Upper Regent Street was enough to help the BBC to see the error of its ways. Let us not make a similar mistake.
After all, FM had at that point been around for almost 40 years. We have had DAB for less than a decade. The future of local radio-which is so crucial to forging community cohesion and identity, and promoting local social action and democracy- should not be left to chance. That must mean embracing a multi-platform ecology which creates a pathway towards digital broadcasting for local radio, retaining space for them on FM until such time as a digital platform offers them the right environment to continue what they do best. I beg to move.
My Lords, the right reverend Prelate has said so much of huge value-an absolute tour de force on behalf of ultra-local radio. Of course from the remarks made in the previous amendment, I not only put my name to this amendment, but fully endorse what he said. It is that kind of certainty which is crucial, and this is a very elegant way of keeping it in the Bill. I hope consideration will be given to that, because-and this is not intended as a pun-a signal is needed in this area. We need a very strong signal-not just a digital or political signal-to FM radio, to ultra-local radio, that they have a future which is secure. That is exactly what the right reverend Prelate, whom nobody could accuse of being a luddite, has advocated.
My Lords, the right reverend Prelate has put it beautifully: "multi-platform ecology". I like that and it sets the pattern for the future rather well. Clearly, this amendment hits on the crucial area of what will happen in the mean time and what is to be done concerning FM. We need some reassurance on this point; I think the Minister said that it would be around indefinitely. At the moment, we know that Ofcom grants only short licences. There have been quite a number of complaints from the radio stations that not to have the certainty granted to them by, say, a 10-year licence means that their likelihood of failure is considerable. That side of things would be helped if the Minister could confirm that FM will definitely be there, and that licences can be given as people gradually go over to digital and more space on FM becomes available.
We know that there are minimal alternative uses for the FM spectrum besides transmitting radio. It is not therefore likely that the Treasury will want to make vast sums out of it, as it clearly did when it realised its potential. It has already had its fair share from that-or unfair share, depending on how you look at it. Please can we therefore have two assurances from the Minister? We should all try to move as fast as possible and with all encouragement towards the digital switchover, because we can see the disadvantages in having that laggard time that many seem to envisage. Indeed, one person giving us evidence today said that, concerning radio, there was really no possibility of a digital switchover; he was as dispirited as anyone could have been about the process.
Any form of encouragement that the Minister can give would be welcome, certainly on the future use of FM and on longer licences. Those two things were very much endorsed by the people who gave evidence this morning to the Select Committee on Communications.
My Lords, it is late and I shall be brief, but when we finally switch over to digital transmission it is important to be sure that the Government stay true to their promise that the FM spectrum will remain available for use by local and community radio stations. The Digital Britain report said that that was the Government's plan, but it would give a great deal more reassurance if such a promise was contained in the legislation.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord de Mauley, for his brevity. It is not as if I am not paying attention, or giving this less than its due, but we have already travelled over some of this terrain. However, I shall endeavour to reiterate the assurances. For small, local commercial and community stations, both the coverage area of a digital multiplex and the cost of its carriage are too great at present. That is one reason why we believe that those stations are best served by continuing to broadcast on FM. We have also committed to retaining FM for radio after the digital radio switchover. Of course, the Government will not stop any station that wants to and can move to digital, but we will reserve capacity on FM for those which have no obvious route there.
I want to address a couple of the concerns that the right reverend Prelate expressed. How will we support those stations which remain on FM? In order to ensure that stations on FM can operate and compete with services on digital after switchover, the Government have already said that we are committed to establishing a combined electronic programme guide for radio. That will allow listeners to access stations via the station name, irrespective of the platform carrying the service. Listeners will therefore move seamlessly between bands, selecting stations simply by name; that is currently not the case when listening to FM and AM stations on an analogue radio receiver. We are working with the industry on that issue and encouraging its development.
We have been given that assurance on a number of occasions. The Minister in the Commons, who recently announced his resignation, sadly, has given that assurance about the electronic programme, but no date was put on it. It is simply that they are working on it. This is a crucial aspect in retaining people's ability to tune in to FM.
I will see whether I can find any further information. This is a genuine commitment. It is all part of the backdrop against which this debate is taking place. We have set 2015 as a target, but there is not a headlong rush to it. We are trying to ensure a number of things, and this is one of them. I can give a progress report on where we are: it is a clear commitment.
The right reverend Prelate asked about making FM continue to be attractive to advertisers and listeners. The key to the switchover of radio will be establishing three distinct tiers of radio-local, regional and national-which will provide unique content and are sustainable in their markets. The services that will populate FM will have a distinct role in providing very local material and reflecting the communities they cover. Due to the very local nature of their content and the refocusing of the large regional stations, these services will benefit from less competition for local adverting funding. I hope that is of some help.
The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, asked whether Ofcom will offer analogue licences for longer than five years. The duration of analogue licences is a matter for Ofcom. However, it has suggested that, subject to the outcome of the Bill, it will consult on this issue. We support this process as there is clearly a strong argument for allowing analogue licences over a longer licence period.
I, too, rather like the elegant phrase "a multi-platform ecology". I wish I had thought of it myself. We have not included in the legislation a commitment to retain FM because the Bill is not intended to set out all the details of the digital radio switchover but to enable a switchover to take place how and when that is appropriate. We agree with the right reverend Prelate's phrase "a multi-platform ecology"-imitation will soon be the sincerest form of flattery on this one. To do this, Clause 30 provides for changes in the licensing terms of those services for which it will no longer be appropriate to continue on analogue once the switchover date is nominated. For those licences where analogue broadcasting is the most appropriate or only means of broadcasting, these powers need not apply and their terms will be unaffected, including the right to broadcast on an analogue frequency. The continuation of FM is therefore already provided for in this legislation and should be read alongside the commitments in Digital Britain.
In the interests of time, I shall not say any more. I have tried to give as many assurances as I can. We share noble Lords' concerns. We want this to be successful. We should take heart from how successfully we have handled the switchover to digital TV. That has been a success story. Lots of concerns were expressed at the beginning, and we had to work to ensure that people who had fears about handling the new technology were assisted. We got it right. I am not saying that that should be a blanket assurance for everything, but we should not forget how well we handled that. It gives us a good background of experience upon which we can build. I thank the right reverend Prelate for this part of the debate. I trust that the assurances that I have given will enable him to withdraw the amendment.
I welcome the Minister's assurances about the continued provision for local stations to use the FM band. He said that we had been over this ground several times, but we have done so partly because of the seriousness of the issue and partly, as the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, said later in the debate, because of the need to pin the Government down to get the precise assurance that people need.
I am sure that those who run and who listen to these media services will feel encouraged by the general direction in which all this is going. Again, the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, was absolutely right to say-it may have been a parlance, but it is a very good way of saying it-that these people really do need a clear signal from the Government that is very much along the lines of what the Minister has said. Having said that, I suspect that this needs to be repeated and to be made even clearer.
As those of us who have the privilege of sitting on the House of Lords Select Committee on Communications know, there is a huge difference between the switchover to digital television-this has indeed gone very smoothly, although it is not without its teething problems-and the digitalisation of radio. It has been made very clear to us in the evidence that we have received that the whole business of the digitalisation of radio is much more complex. While the Government and all the digital facilitators need to be congratulated on what they have done in the switchover to digital television, let us not think that because that went so easily it will be the same for radio. There are some very different and deeper issues that we must look at.
That said, I utterly agree with the Minister and all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate that we want to keep up the momentum. We really do want to go along with what the Digital Britain report has said and get ourselves going in the technological direction in which we are set. Unnecessary delays are certainly not welcome.
Finally-I think the Minister alluded to this in an earlier debate-there is the issue of manufacturers moving towards products that use a combined station guide, rather as Freeview and satellite television do for television, so that people can choose stations by name, whatever the band they are using. This kind of mixed economy of stations, both analogue and digital, will be the simplest way of getting through the many complexities that are on our path.
I am most grateful to the Minister, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 239A withdrawn.
Moved by Lord Cotter
240: Clause 30, page 33, line 33, at end insert-
"97AA Disposal and recycling of domestic analogue radios
(1) Following a decision to give notice to OFCOM under section 97A of a date for digital switchover, the Secretary of State must devise a scheme for the disposal and recycling of domestically owned analogue radios.
(2) The scheme must include provision for a financial incentive for domestic owners of analogue radios to purchase a radio suitable for digital audio broadcasting following disposal and recycling of their analogue radios.
(3) The financial incentive must be based on any profit made from the disposal and recycling of analogue radios and must not be derived from public funds."
My Lords, I draw attention to an issue on practical, environmental and financial grounds. My concern is that old analogue radios that are no longer required should be disposed of in an environmentally acceptable way. It is clear that many individual parts of such radios have a recycling value, and we do not want piles of radios to be disposed of in landfills or wherever else.
I read in a newspaper recently that it is likely that there are something like 2.4 radios per household, although I suggest there are a lot more. The older generation quite commonly have many more radios-in different rooms in the house and collected over many years. My wife and I definitely have more than 2.4 radios. Having to dispose of and replace radios could result in financial hardship for many people.
I am talking about the older generation, who are likely to have many more radios, or to need many more radios, the disabled, and others who will have difficulty replacing radios, financially in terms of buying new ones. My amendment calls for environmental and financial aspects to be addressed. In this amendment, I am calling for a scheme to be devised for the disposal of old analogue radios, but the scheme should include a financial incentive. That incentive should be based upon profit from the disposal of the radio. It could be-why not?-that the council will dispose of radios, and that they could give a ticket or voucher to the people handing in the radios, which they could then present to a retailer to go towards the cost of buying a new radio.
I hope that the Minister will consider this issue as something of great importance and concern to the older generation, and many who cannot afford to buy new radios, which they do not really feel that they should need. I beg to move.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Cotter, has raised an important issue, and I do not think that it requires a great deal of discussion. However, this issue should be considered before any switchover date is nominated. For obvious environmental reasons, a recycling or swap scheme would make sense, and it would be helpful if the Minister could explain whether such a scheme has been considered, and more importantly, who would fund it.
My Lords, I support my noble friend's very sensible suggestion. In the context of what I thought I saw in the news-that the department for business was considering a scrappage scheme in this area-it would fit extremely well, if we were to know where the scrapping would take place and how it would be effected, if there were to be such a scheme. That would be an extremely quick way of moving things along, but I am not sure whether it was a rumour or fact that such a scrappage scheme was being contemplated by the department.
My Lords, I also support this amendment. There is some doubt as to how many radios are actually going to be available in this way, for two reasons. First, given the number of rooms that we have, a radio is quite a small thing and can be kept around. Secondly, manufacturers are getting very good at the prospect of putting in the chip, or whatever it is, and bringing it much more up to date, so that it can cope with the modern technology to a certain extent, if not quite reaching the digital heights that most of us are one day looking forward to. However, the conservation side of all of this is important, and we should take it very seriously.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cotter, for introducing this interesting if short debate, and to the other noble Lords who have participated. I agree entirely with the representation that he makes, that we need a coherent plan to address the environmental impact of the digital radio switchover. The difference between the Government and the noble Lord, Lord Cotter, is that we do not think that it needs to be in legislation. We will certainly need it-a plan will have to be developed. In the Digital Britain White Paper, we set out our commitment to a full cost-benefit analysis and impact assessment of the digital radio switchover programme before any date is set. These assessments will include a careful consideration of the environmental impact, on which the noble Lord dwelt in his contribution. In fact, work has already begun. Three government departments-DCMS, BIS and Defra-are commissioning an independent assessment of the energy usage of digital versus analogue radio.
Of course, we have obligations too. The European Union's waste electrical and electronic equipment directive, which we implemented in 2006 by regulations, insists that producers of electrical goods are financially responsible for the collection, treatment and recycling of waste electrical and electronic equipment. We know where the obligation is and we know the work that needs to be done.
As to what the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, said, I always like the fact that the Liberal Benches quite often, when a constructive idea emerges, automatically assumes that it is the Government's idea and initiative. The only problem with that assumption is that it may also involve government expenditure, which raises a different matter. I assure the noble Lord that we are quite interested in his idea of the scrappage scheme. This is an industry initiative and we would need to see details before we could comment further on how that should work. But it is a reflection of the fact that the industry knows where its obligations and its interests lie.
Perhaps I am looking a little negative, which is never my wont on matters of this kind. Let me make the obvious point-my noble friend Lord Young commented on this on a previous amendment-that we have managed the television switchover in a limited area thus far. We are rather proud of the fact that the planning that went into that and the execution of it is throwing up a relatively small number of problems, sufficient for the position to win general plaudits.
Of course, the switchover to digital television required very few people to dispose of their television sets. They had to buy a new box to go with that television set. That is very different from radio, although I hope that the industry is looking-it has already done it for the car radio-at a device that would allow a person to listen to digital radio over their existing analogue radio.
I knew that my noble friend would light upon the most sophisticated of the technological changes to effect the best of all possible worlds. I understand entirely that radios create the problem of disposal, which is why the noble Lord, Lord Cotter, has raised the issue. As we know, there will be no little set box placed on top of a radio. There will be disposal, which is an important issue. We are not convinced that financial incentives are necessary. We will look at the matter. No financial incentive was required in the digital television switchover as regards disposal, but my noble friend identified that somewhat different factors were at stake.
I reassure the noble Lord that the issue he has raised is of considerable importance. The environmental impact is a key part of the digital radio switchover planning. I was grateful for the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Howard, also raised issues about the necessity of a careful plan with regard to this. But, as is his wont, he then raised the matter of what the money will come from. Let me say that there may be a case for a help scheme, but we are not sure about that yet. What we are sure about is that the obligation for disposal rests with the industry, which therefore is where the costs lie. The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, indicated when he mentioned the scrappage scheme that that is a sure indication of the extent to which the industry is looking ahead to a date with a certain predictability about it-not a month or a year, but we know that the process needs to be put in hand-and is planning accordingly.
Yes, it does. The noble Lord, Lord Cotter, made the point that there are something like 2.4 radios in his household. I always thought that that was the number of children in the average United Kingdom family. Certainly most households have more than one radio, apart from the impoverished or those who live in 12th-century buildings where a radio would look entirely out of place in the décor. The noble Lord, Lord Howard, may be shaking his head because he would have nothing quite so modern and intrusive as a radio in his home. For the rest of the community, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Cotter, is probably more typical, and therefore the issue of the disposal of radio sets is a real one, and I am glad that he raised it.
My Lords, before my noble friend responds, I want to put to bed the vile calumny that the Minister has perpetrated this evening, in case any Liberal Democrat supporters are watching our proceedings streaming over their internet connections. He said, "I always think it is the Government's idea". I might credit the noble Lord, Lord Davies, with some bright ideas, but not the Government.
I thank all noble Lords who have voiced their support for this proposal and agree that this is an issue of some concern. I also thank the Minister for accepting that this is an important matter. It is encouraging that the Minister has said it is important and could well need to be addressed at some future date. I would then expect the Government to follow this through. Going back to the discrete point about the financial aspect, because many in the older generation require radios in different rooms, it would be a financial hardship to have to replace them all. The noble Lord, Lord Maxton, and others said that this is different from digital TV where a box can put on top of the set. With the radio, a number of items have to be replaced.
As I have said, I hope the Government will keep this matter in mind and follow it through as needs be in the future. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 240 withdrawn.
Amendment 241 not moved.
Moved by Lord Low of Dalston
241A: Clause 30, page 34, line 7, at end insert-
"97C Digital radio switchover helpscheme
(1) There shall be a digital radio switchover helpscheme.
(2) For the purposes of this section "helpscheme" means a scheme funded by central Government to ensure the provision of equipment, facilities and such support as is necessary to deliver a fully inclusive, usable and accessible digital radio switchover.
(3) The digital radio switchover schedule shall include core receiver requirements.
(4) For the purposes of this section "core receiver requirements" means digital audio broadcasting receiving equipment that is accessible and usable for vulnerable people (including the elderly and persons with disabilities)."
This amendment would establish a digital radio switchover help scheme on the model of the digital television switchover scheme, designed to ensure the provision of equipment, facilities and support necessary to deliver a digital radio switchover that is fully inclusive, usable and accessible. It provides that the scheme should include core receiver requirements designed to ensure that digital audio broadcasting receiving equipment is accessible and useable by vulnerable people including the elderly and those with disabilities.
This Bill provides powers for the implementation of digital radio switchover-a comparable process to digital television switchover which is well under way across the country and due to finish in 2012. Disabled people currently face significant and sometimes insurmountable barriers to accessing digital technologies and services, with blind and partially sighted people facing more challenges than most. The internet, digital television and digital radio all present real opportunities for blind and partially sighted people if action is taken now. However, if not designed with accessibility in mind, these developments will all too soon become further barriers to blind and partially sighted people.
The digital revolution is happening more quickly than anyone imagined possible. As it gathers pace the digital divide continues to widen for blind and partially sighted people, distancing them from new services and losing access even to existing ones. The ambitions of Digital Britain cannot be realised if the Government and industry fail to take steps to develop and deliver new products and services that are accessible to blind and partially sighted people. This Bill could go some way to resolving some of the fundamental issues around accessibility and make further progress on the journey to delivering digital inclusion and digital equality to some of the most excluded people in our society.
Research shows that radio plays a fundamental role in providing entertainment, information, inclusion and quality of life for blind and partially sighted people, with more than 91 per cent regularly listening to the radio and more than 80 per cent owning a radio set themselves. As your Lordships might imagine, many blind and partially sighted people rely on the radio, rather than the television, to access news and current affairs, follow sporting events, enjoy music and of course "The Archers".
At present, radio does not require the same level of visual interaction as other media. However, in a recent study a significant majority of blind and partially sighted people expressed concern that advanced features of digital radio sets were not accessible to them because digital sets required the use of visual interfaces. Digital radio switchover has the potential to improve the quality of radio broadcasting for blind and partially sighted consumers through increased choice and better sound quality. However, current proposals risk excluding blind and partially sighted listeners even from existing services if digital radio sets are not accessible in their operation. Many analogue radios use buttons and tactile dials for tuning. New DAB radios rely on touch screens or inset buttons that can pose real difficulties for visually impaired users.
Digital radio switchover relies on the purchase of new digital radio equipment which is currently not accessible to blind and partially sighted people as digital radio sets require the use of electronic programme guides-visual menus-to use the equipment. As has been the case for digital TV switchover, it looks unlikely that accessible digital radio equipment will be produced without government intervention to stimulate the market or to procure accessible radio sets directly. Accessibility is vital. Research shows that visually impaired people are much better able to use radio equipment independently if it has audio output that provides navigational and programme information on core functions, such as channel, station and frequency.
Digital radio will offer a new type of service that requires visual interaction with a screen on the radio to access information such as numbers of phone-in shows, the station, its wavelength and details of music and artist. Presenters will be less likely to give this kind of information, since the equipment will do the job for sighted people.
When the digital TV switchover began, a help scheme was introduced to ensure that older and disabled people or those on certain benefits could continue to access digital television. The help scheme provided a set-top box at a fixed cost, which was installed by a technician, who also demonstrated how to use the box and access the new channels. The equipment provided also met a set of requirements-the core receiver requirements-which laid out the minimum accessibility and usability standards for the equipment, which included ensuring accessibility to disabled people. Unlike the digital TV switchover, there is as yet no help scheme proposed to assist qualifying members of the public such as older or disabled people with obtaining and using digital radio equipment. That could mean that older and disabled people would have no support during the transition to digital radio.
Digital radio switchover relies on the purchase of new equipment, which is currently not accessible as digital receivers use electronic programme guides to access the desired station. Accessibility is vital. Research shows that visually impaired people are much better able to use radio equipment independently if it has audio output providing navigational information in audio format. As part of its Are You Really Listening? research, the RNIB, of which I am a vice-president, spoke with manufacturers at various points along the supply chain to establish whether digital audio radios can be easily produced with integrated accessibility features to enhance usability. They confirmed that this was possible but expressed reservations as to whether such equipment would sell in the mainstream market. The manufacture of goods is also excluded from the Disability Discrimination Act and has not been included in the Equality Bill, which means that disabled people have no access to legal redress if a company fails to take into account disabled customers' needs when developing new products. If vulnerable groups are to be enabled to migrate successfully to digital radio, it is fairly clear that a government help scheme will be needed.
When discussing the previous amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Howard, asked where the money would come from. That is always a reasonable question, but in this case I am happy to say that there is a ready answer. As we know, the television help scheme is under spent. I know that there is a long line of people queuing up to tell us how to spend the money, but I submit that there could not be a more obvious candidate than a digital radio switchover help scheme. I beg to move.
My Lords, I want to support what the noble Lord, Lord Low, said so eloquently. I went to a conference a few days ago, part of which was devoted to looking at some of the lessons learnt from the TV digital switchover. By and large, because it was planned properly and had a help scheme, although perhaps not as extensive as some of us would have wanted, it has been a success. Certainly, the Granada switchover, which was one of those highlighted, seems to have gone very smoothly. As we know and as the noble Lord, Lord Low, said, the full amount of the money allocated to that digital switchover was not spent, which was a result of the planning and the successful help scheme. The unsung hero in many respects in all this is the voluntary sector; many of us forget that Help the Aged and Age Concern-I am not sure of the new name, or which way round it goes-have been very instrumental in supplementing the Government's help scheme. All that is to say that without a properly thought-through help scheme, I do not believe that the audio digital switchover will be successful, and I hope that the Government take that to heart.
My Lords, it is amazing that the point to which my noble friend Lord Low has drawn attention had not been thought of before. It is clearly crucial to the effective way in which this switchover can be completed, with minimum suffering-I think we can put it as high as that-for those who rely so permanently on their radios. I hope we are going to hear more on that. He has also identified the source of funding for this important scheme. No doubt the Minister will be able to confirm that there is money, and it can be spent in this way.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in welcoming the intentions that lie behind the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston, this evening. A couple of years ago, many other noble Lords and I spoke very strongly when such a help scheme was proposed for television; we have already heard how successful that has been. The noble Lord has spoken very powerfully and informatively about what would be required for the radio help scheme.
I have only one hesitation; I may be alone in this, and the Minister may be able to guide me in what the legislative processes are. The fact is that at this very moment, the House of Lords Select Committee on Communications has the help scheme on its agenda and is taking evidence about it. My question is simply for guidance from the Minister: I am not sure about the timing. On the face of it, it would make sense if it were possible to hear what the Select Committee is saying on this issue in order to be able to feed that into the Bill and, I hope, strengthen the points that the noble Lord, Lord Low, has made. However, I do not know whether our report will come out in time.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Low, for tabling this amendment, which provides the opportunity to discuss what is clearly an issue of major concern.
In the Digital Britain White Paper, we committed to conducting a full impact assessment, including a cost-benefit analysis, of a digital radio switchover. Our experience from the TV switchover shows that such an analysis is essential in identifying which listeners, if any, would be disproportionately disadvantaged by the switchover, and consequently whether a help scheme is necessary and what its scope might be.
I emphasise that this was the right process for TV; in a way I am touching on the point raised by the right reverend Prelate about the Select Committee. We had the cost-benefit analysis and full impact assessment, and the TV help scheme was established and implemented without any statutory duty such as that proposed in this amendment. We recognised the need to assess the situation; we had a full impact assessment and a cost-benefit analysis and we agreed that if it proved to be necessary-the noble Lord, Lord Low, might well be right-the help scheme would be established. In short, we accept that a precedent has been set for a help scheme, but it is too early to say whether such a scheme is needed for radio. However, if there is a case, we will take steps to introduce a scheme to support those disadvantaged listeners. There is no way that we want to deepen any digital divide so that those listeners would be disadvantaged by the introduction of digital radio.
The amendment also raises the issue of the usability of digital radio devices. I want to respond to a concern that the noble Lord, Lord Low, raised in relation to the question of whether the visually impaired or blind would be disadvantaged by the complex nature of digital radio receivers. Those of us who are using digital radio receivers at the moment know that there is a strip of text that gives, as the noble Lord, Lord Low, said, information about the station and often about the programme. It is a useful development.
However, I can reassure the noble Lord that recent developments in DAB technology have sought to address the needs of vulnerable groups and listeners with disabilities. Using iVOX technology, DAB digital radios can tell listeners station names, the time and alarm settings. It can even talk users through setting alarms or presets. With voice prompts, clear instructions and a CD-based audio user guide, developments with iVOX in DAB radio sets will ensure that radio remains easy to use and accessible to blind people. We will work with manufacturers and consumer groups to encourage the implementation of these technologies into affordable devices.
In the mean time, we have invited the Consumer Expert Group, which advised the Government on the TV switchover, to extend its role to include the digital radio switchover programme. That is another assurance that we are making the maximum effort to assess the need for the help scheme.
I hope that I have assured the noble Lord, Lord Low, that there is no way that the Government would want to see disabled people disadvantaged by digital radio switchover. We have the right processes in place to assess the need and will support a help scheme if that is what is required. In the light of those assurances, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Low, will feel capable of withdrawing his amendment.
I thank the Minister and all noble Lords who have spoken for their support. I apologise for intervening in the Committee at such a late stage in discussions on the Bill when I did not take part in Second Reading. There is quite a lot I would have liked to have said at Second Reading but I was unfortunately on the other side of the Atlantic that day, so I apologise for this late intervention. I am grateful for the opportunity to intervene and for the consideration that has been given to the case that I made.
I was interested in the point about the Select Committee. If it is not too late, it would obviously be useful if groups representing the disabled and the elderly were to give evidence to that Select Committee. I hope that its report may be able to influence the debates on the Bill as it proceeds through Parliament.
I was surprised to hear the Minister say that there was no statutory basis for the digital television switchover scheme because although there was no provision for it in the Communications Act 2003, there was a separate Act that went through Parliament in 2007 that made provision for a digital television switchover scheme. That is significant because that Act provided for the research to be undertaken that would facilitate and enable such a scheme. The research undertaken was on the likely beneficiaries-the numbers of people who would be likely to need additional help with switchover, their characteristics and so forth. Quite a lot of the work that would need to be done for the impact assessment has probably already been undertaken and there would be quite a ready read-across from the one to the other, although I do not in any sense deny that there will be-
My Lords, the Minister might be able to answer the question about whether the noble Lord, Lord Low, is correct about the statutory basis for a digital switchover help scheme for television. My recollection is entirely in accordance with what he has said: that there is a statutory basis for the help scheme, which would colour the view that one would take moving into report stage.
Yes, I will write to the noble Lord, Lord Low. However, I am reliably advised by my Bill team that the TV help scheme was established and implemented without the statutory duty such as that proposed in this amendment. Usually, if my officials are in doubt, they will indicate. They have not indicated that there is any doubt. Or have they? Let me put this one to rest by giving an assurance that we will write and confirm precisely what the nature of the statutory duty was in the case of the TV help scheme.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and to the Minister for that reply. I look forward to getting the Minister's letter. I was also very interested and encouraged in what the Minister had to say about iVOX technology. I know about this technology. I have a couple of digital radio sets that employ it and give an audio output of the kind of information that is necessary to use these radio sets effectively. As I said, the problem is not that this is impossible; it is that the market seems to be incapable of delivering it.
It is no longer possible to get the kind of radio set that I am talking about. It was marketed for a short while. Indeed, it was very successful among visually impaired people but, from the manufacturer's point of view, it did not sell in sufficient numbers to warrant continuing with the production lines. So the technology is there but the market is not. If we are to get over that problem, some government intervention is needed.
It is getting late. I do not want to test the House's patience by going on. Without denying that it will be important for the Government to undertake an impact assessment, I believe that a strong prima facie case has been made. That being the case, I hope that, in principle, the Minister will be able to indicate a measure of willingness to establish a help scheme. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 241A withdrawn.
Clause 30 agreed.