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Her counterpart in the House of Lords, Lord Strathclyde, asked that House to “pause for mature reflection” and requested time to consider the matter in “far more depth”.

The diversity of opinion in all parties was illustrated by the contributions to today’s debate. At least three official Opposition Members called for a fully elected second Chamber. The hon. Members for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) and for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) argued for not changing the House of Lords at all. At least they were being true to their principles of conservatism, although I wondered whether some filial loyalty had crept in with the hon. Member for North Essex and thought that he had perhaps been listening to someone along the corridor. As I listened to his speech, I was reminded of Mark Twain—or was it Samuel Johnson?—who said that at 16 he thought that his father was stupid, but in the intervening period—four years in the hon. Member’s case—he was surprised by how much the old man had learned. I make no criticism of the hon. Member for North Essex for changing his mind—that would be more than my job is worth—and many hon. Members have shown a refreshing honesty in stating how they came to hold the position that they are urging hon. Members to vote for tomorrow.

We heard a clear call for a unicameral Chamber from my right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth). The hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), speaking for the Liberal Democrats, was reminded of the views of the former leader of his party, Lord Steel of Aikwood, who last month said:

That is the Liberal Democrats all over: they say one thing here, and another thing 300 yards away. I urge hon. Members to heed the plea of the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso), who accepts that “predominantly” embraces the 60 per cent. proposal. That may be the way for hon. Members to achieve a considerable proportion of what they want.

The royal commission that met under Lord Wakeham produced an option under which 87 of the 550 Members of the second Chamber would be elected. The White Paper that followed proposed that a higher proportion—120 out of 600, which is the 20 per cent. figure—be elected. It was not my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, or the Government, who proposed a very long term of office for Members elected to the other place. A term of some 15 years was proposed by the royal commission.

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Tom Levitt: On the 15-year term, does my hon. Friend accept that Members of the House of Commons become accountable only when we are first elected, and are held to account only when we put ourselves up for re-election? If someone is in office for 15 years and cannot be re-elected, how can they be held to account?

Nigel Griffiths: The debate is about whether a repeat election would challenge the primacy of the House of Commons and give Members of the other place a legitimacy that went beyond what the Chamber wanted to give them, and that was what the royal commission considered. That was the key reason Lord Wakeham and his colleagues proposed a single term, with a quarantine period at the end to deter anyone from using membership of the second Chamber as a platform to campaign to become a Member of Parliament.

All three main parties are committed to a more substantial reform of the second Chamber. All of them want an elected element, and there is no reason why, tomorrow, we cannot agree on the basis for moving that reform forward. I urge those hon. Members who were not present today to read Hansard and to consider the many thoughtful contributions made today. I urge them to attend the debate tomorrow and make sure that they absorb the further points made then. We did not do ourselves credit the last time we attempted reform, although I accept that hon. Members who got the result that they wanted—that is, no change—were pleased with the end result. However, not even they took any comfort from the process, and the way in which it was undertaken, which was no credit to us. I put it no more strongly than that.

Chris Bryant: I hope that my hon. Friend will tell us how he will vote tomorrow.

Nigel Griffiths: My voting intentions will be to secure the objectives of the Government. If I achieve that, I can hold my head high and say that we have done something that we have not been able to do in the past 98 years, including in 2003. My record speaks for itself—on the previous occasion, I voted for every option that offered maximum democracy and the election of Members to the House of Lords, and I intend to do the same tomorrow. I urge all hon. Members to reflect on today’s debate, and to return tomorrow with a firm intention to make history and provide a second Chamber that is fit for the 21st century. We should be confident of the role that we play in the Chamber and of its primacy in our legislature. We should ensure that those who are elected or appointed, or whatever we decide, in the other place, have the means to—

It being Ten o’clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed tomorrow.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 145 (Liaison Committee) ,

Question agreed to.



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Radio Microphones

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Mr. Roy.]

10 pm

Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on an important subject, and to the Minister for Industry and the Regions for coming to the Chamber to reply. I know that there is a limit to what she can say because of the nature and timing of the Ofcom consultation, so we have agreed it will not cause a problem if I stray over the usual 15-minute limit on Back-Bench contributions.

My purpose is to alert Parliament, all users of radio mikes and the general public to a real and present danger—I believe that Ofcom is now aware of it—caused by Ofcom’s proposal to auction the spectrum, which has been freed up by the move from analogue to digital terrestrial television. Until recently, that was regarded as an exclusively good thing, enabling a whole range of new uses for one of the most valuable commodities of the modern world—the radio magnetic spectrum. It has become apparent, however, that there is a potential casualty—the radio or wireless microphone. It may not sound serious at first blush, but closer examination shows that it could be a significant problem. My hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale), who chairs the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, shares my concerns. Given my chairmanship of the Trade and Industry Committee, that means that the Chairmen of both Committees to which Ofcom is accountable in the House are worried about the issue.

For the technically minded, when I use the phrase, “radio mike”, I may be referring to a range of crucial wireless gadgets such as wireless in-ear monitor systems, wireless talkback systems and wireless instrument systems. There is even a Downing street petition on the subject with about 6,000 signatures, including that of Gillian Lynne, who is perhaps the most distinguished choreographer in the world and the genius behind “Cats” and many other theatrical triumphs. I hope that the petition will attract many more signatures, although they may not reach road pricing levels. Ofcom is highly regarded, and rightly so, but it is only beginning to understand how serious the issue is and how incomplete its initial understanding of it was. That is not intended as a criticism, as it is a highly technical subject involving a plethora of firms, organisations and individuals. Indeed, despite having immersed myself in it for several days, I am apprehensive lest I make a serious gaffe in my brief remarks.

I could have entitled the debate, “The implications of Ofcom’s actions and the threat to the use of interleaved spectrum by the programme-making and special events sector”, but I would lose my audience very quickly. That may be why the issue has taken so long to gain traction. Unless—and I think that it may be the case—there is substantial change to Ofcom’s proposals, we run the serious risk that some very bad things will happen. I must declare an interest: I am a passionate fan of musical theatre, and I am delighted that my son is studying at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art on a stage management and technical theatre course. His account of the gloom among his professional tutors is one reason why I wished to speak on the subject.

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The loss of spectrum for radio microphones would mean many things, including an end to west end musicals. The use of radio mikes to achieve the necessary volume and co-ordinate the stage crew is essential, so it would be goodbye to “Phantom of the Opera”, “The Lion King”, “Evita”, “Spamalot”, “Porgy and Bess” and the rest, as they would have to close. Gillian Lynne told me:

Some opera companies use radio mikes too, and touring productions like Raymond Gubbay’s operas in the round just would not happen. Tours by stars of the music world, whether that is Elton John doing his back catalogue at England’s cricket grounds, Kylie Minogue strutting her stuff, George Michael’s stylish pop, or Arctic Monkeys’ raucous rock, would all end.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman is arguing against himself, now!

Peter Luff: There are some arguments on the other side. I shall come to that later.

There would be an end to all UK film making, including most television drama—they all use radio mikes now, not the old boom mikes. Think of “The West Wing”, with its long continuous shots in corridors and offices. That is what audiences expect, and radio mikes are needed to do it. Lord Puttnam—David Puttnam—told me:

So no radio mikes means that no more British triumphs, like “The Queen”, will be made in Britain and, by the way, no Bollywood extravaganzas will be filmed at British locations, either.

TV news gathering would also grind to a halt. All outside broadcasts now depend on radio mikes and spectrum for the cameras to transmit footage back to the outside broadcast van. One cannot have trailing cables at scenes of terrorist outrages like 7/7, and one cannot have single-handed film crews interviewing people, including MPs, if they have to hold a furry mike in front of the interviewee as well as operate the camera. ITV told me:

Outside sports broadcasts, from Formula 1 to the rugby World cup, depend on radio mikes for the reporters and camera crews to cover the event, and even to let us hear the referee’s comments to players. One of the best inventions in TV coverage of cricket,
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the snickometer, would also be endangered. As for the possible effect on the 2012 Olympics, the BBC told me:

Major special events would suffer in particular, as they make huge use of the spectrum, so no more “Children in Need”, no more televised 80th birthday parties for Her Majesty, no more Brit awards, no more VE-day celebrations, no more Band Aid or Live8. Finally, perhaps my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) might never have become Leader of the official Opposition without a radio mike. He needed one to walk confidently around the stage at Blackpool in October 2005, delivering to that imposing hall and a wider television audience his barnstorming and inspiring speech.

One of our greatest screen and stage actors, Patrick Stewart, of “Star Trek” and “X-Men” fame, said to me, also making the point that even if the actors do not need mikes, the backstage crew do:

There is, however, one silver lining—no radio mikes would mean an end to reality television, and programmes like “Big Brother” would no longer grace our screens!

The programme making and special events, or PMSE, sector is a disparate and diverse community of content producers, manufacturers, rental organisations and freelance engineers.

John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the PMSE industry has neither the finance nor the organisation to bid through an auction to Ofcom for the spectrum? That is the heart of the problem. If it is forced into an auction, it will not win it.

Peter Luff: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who I know takes a close interest in the subject. He anticipates remarks that I shall make later and he is entirely right.

The sector, with its vast diversity of people, plays a critical role in the British entertainment industry. It represents over 100,000 professionals who belong to organisations such as Equity, the Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph and Theatre Union, SOLT—the Society of London Theatres, the Association of Motion Picture Sound, and the Musicians Union. It relies very largely on the unused spectrum that interleaves between existing analogue TV broadcasts, to enable the use of radio microphones.

The UHF spectrum for TV broadcasting has 49 channels numbered 21 to 69. Each channel is 8 MHz wide, enough for eight radio mikes—in some circumstances, up to 16. The only UK channel dedicated to radio mikes is Channel 69, so when more than eight systems are needed in one location, Joint Frequency Management Group—JFMG—allocates other channels as required. That is possible because of the low power of radio mikes compared with TV
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transmitters. A radio mike needs to communicate with its receiver over only a few hundred yards.

About 180,000 wireless units use this spectrum at 45,000 different events, from small-scale ones such as church fetes using a single frequency to much larger live events that might use up to 240 frequencies. I recently went to a drama school musical production that used about 14 channels, while a west end production will use four or five times as many. Responding to public demand, there is a growing trend in live entertainment towards much larger live events, such as Live 8, which require very significant frequency capacity.

Following digital switchover, in each region some channels will be cleared and some re-used to allow expanded digital television coverage. There will be new interleaved spectrum, but at different frequencies from the current interleaved spectrum, demanding massive new investment by everyone using radio mikes even if they can access the spectrum. Crucially, Ofcom proposes to auction this new interleaved spectrum. Bizarrely, it said in a letter to me:

I think that it now understands that it did not look hard enough. It says:

However, there is no single “commercially viable industry”—there is a massively disparate community making much more extensive use of the spectrum, often ingeniously, than Ofcom realises. Its offer of free access to the new spectrum to the end of 2012 showed a worrying lack of understanding of the sector, its use of the spectrum, and the cost of changing to new frequencies. Indeed, given that Ofcom intends to abolish the organisation that currently co-ordinates the spectrum, JFMG, it is not even clear how it would ensure access to the new spectrum at all.

How much of this community is commercially viable? Theatre is on a constant knife edge. Yes, the big blockbusters make money, but only a lucky few have ever made their fortune out of the stage. Are the BBC and ITV awash with cash to fund new equipment and massive new charges for access to spectrum? Do the charities which benefit from major events really want to hand over enormous sums to the Treasury to pay for this spectrum? Even the relatively rich music industry believes that there are not enough superstars touring with high-income events to enable venues to continue to afford sufficient access to the spectrum—and they need a lot of it. A recent George Michael concert used 17 frequencies for in-ear monitoring and 24 for radio mikes.

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