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There is absolutely no demand for this change or reform anywhere in the country.[ Official Report, 7 February 2007; Vol. 456, c. 856.]
The diversity of opinion in all parties was illustrated by the contributions to todays 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 Twainor was it Samuel Johnson?who said that at 16 he thought that his father was stupid, but in the intervening periodfour years in the hon. Members casehe was surprised by how much the old man had learned. I make no criticism of the hon. Member for North Essex for changing his mindthat would be more than my job is worthand 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:
I think the worst thing would be the hybrid that has been suggested. The minute you have an elected second Chamber, I think it will destroy the relationship between the two Houses.
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 proportion120 out of 600, which is the 20 per cent. figurebe 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.
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 wantedthat is, no changewere 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.
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 itselfon 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 todays 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
That this House agrees with the Report [2nd March] of the Liaison Committee . [Mr. Roy.]
That, on Thursday 29th March, there shall be no sitting in Westminster Hall. [Mr. Roy.]
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 dangerI believe that Ofcom is now aware of itcaused by Ofcoms 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 worldthe radio magnetic spectrum. It has become apparent, however, that there is a potential casualtythe 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 Ofcoms 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. Unlessand I think that it may be the casethere is substantial change to Ofcoms 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.
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:
Cats, one of the most innovative shows ever staged, could never have worked without radio mics. No one could dance at that technical virtuosity and pace and sing flat out, as the performers have to, without radio mics. That show has boosted English expertise and creativity world wide and made a great deal of money for this country.
Some opera companies use radio mikes too, and touring productions like Raymond Gubbays 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 Englands cricket grounds, Kylie Minogue strutting her stuff, George Michaels stylish pop, or Arctic Monkeys raucous rock, would all end.
There would be an end to all UK film making, including most television dramathey 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 PuttnamDavid Puttnamtold me:
In the past decade the film and television industry has moved to a point at which virtually all sound recording is now down to using wireless technology.
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:
Access to these channels has been essential to ITVs effective operation and news coverage; they are used to service talkback and radio microphones, on location and in studios. To date, the Joint Frequency Management Group has effectively managed allocation of spectrum to broadcasters, ensuring efficient and effective use of radio spectrum to serve broadcast needs.
Any potential loss of the ability to operate radio microphones will compromise the quality of the news service they can provide nationally and locally.
Over the years, ITV has made a significant investment in these systems, and the future viability of this investment will be in doubt.
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 referees comments to players. One of the best inventions in TV coverage of cricket,
the snickometer, would also be endangered. As for the possible effect on the 2012 Olympics, the BBC told me:
It is difficult to see how the UK can meet the commitments it set out in its bid regarding access to spectrum.
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.
Modern entertainment depends on the use of wireless equipment to communicate. I am currently in The Tempest in the West End and the stage management rely on radio technology to do their work. The same is true for film making and other forms of entertainment.
If access to the spectrum became unaffordable or unavailable, the British entertainment industry would be severely handicapped and perhaps even grind to a halt. It would be disastrous.
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.
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, SOLTthe 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 mikesin 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 GroupJFMGallocates other channels as required. That is possible because of the low power of radio mikes compared with TV
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:
We have not identified anything intrinsic to the nature of professional PMSE use that would preclude a bid that reflected its value.
Our conclusion was based on the observation that this use forms part of a commercially viable industry, which is capable of funding the purchase of other inputs to its business as it deems necessary.
However, there is no single commercially viable industrythere 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 spectrumand 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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