8.54 pm

The Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy (Mr Edward Vaizey): It is a great pleasure to respond to the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms), who made his case in a characteristically forthright, clear and brief manner, getting all the right points across as succinctly as possible. I shall try to follow his lead. I am also grateful for the contributions from my hon. Friend the Member for South West Devon (Mr Streeter), my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith) and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who has contributed to many debates in which I have taken part.

It might sound like I am going off topic, but I hope that as I speak it will become clear why I wish to talk generally about digital radio. As the right hon. Gentleman made clear, Premier Christian Radio is now available in Northern Ireland thanks to digital radio. I was interested to hear him talk about the postcard campaign that Premier Christian listeners might undertake to save their radio station. I hope that we can turn this army to another purpose, because I hope that they will work with me to promote the virtues of digital radio. As he mentioned, I have been a great supporter of digital radio precisely because it promotes diversity in broadcasting.

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The BBC, a laudable institution, dominates the radio airwaves, with something like two thirds of listening, and digital broadcasting is a great opportunity for a much wider platform of voices to be heard, which is why his points about whether we should have another pop music station or preserve Premier Christian Radio were so well made.

For that reason, the Government are working hard to promote digital radio, and I am pleased that figures for digital radio listening, driven in part, perhaps, by listeners to Premier Christian Radio, have risen in the last five years from about a quarter to almost 40%, and that the proportion of households with digital radios, and therefore able to receive Premier Christian Radio, has risen from about 32% when we entered office to about 50% now. It is also possible to listen to Premier Christian Radio in the car. Two thirds of new cars now have digital radios fitted as standard, although we need to do more to get cheaper car conversion kits for those of us who drive an older make of vehicle. That is all because of our digital radio action plan pushing out key improvements in digital radio infrastructure.

There are several successful digital radio music stations that have shown how viable this platform is. For example, Radio 6 Music was another station threatened with closure, not by being thrown off the mux it was broadcasting on, but by the decision of BBC bureaucrats. It might interest the right hon. Gentleman to know that I personally intervened, and although I would be too humble to claim credit for 6 Music’s survival, I hope that when the history of that station is written, I will earn a small footnote. In fact, 6 Music is now more popular than BBC Radio 3.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned pop music stations. Before concentrating on the virtues of Premier Christian Radio, it is worth saying that pop music stations do also have some virtues. Absolute 80s draws 1.5 million listeners every week, making Bauer the first radio group where more than 50% of its listeners now listen on digital radio. There is further good news for those devoted to these new digital radio stations. The construction of 182 new digital transmitters across the UK—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I have given the Minister a free rein, but, in fairness, I think there are a few Members here who would like him to concentrate on the debate. All this good news is welcome, but the debate is more about Premier Christian Radio than the success of pop stations.

Mr Vaizey: I take your point, Mr Deputy Speaker. In fact, on the next page of my brief, it says, “This brings us on to the crux of the issue and debate today”, so I had better start reading from there.

As the right hon. Gentleman said, Premier Christian Radio started broadcasting on D1 in 2009. We are in a period of transition—I will come to that in a minute—but there is an opportunity for Premier Christian Radio arising from our announcement of another national multiplex—the imaginatively name D2, to go alongside the equally imaginatively named D1. The good news is that Premier Christian Radio is part of both bidding consortiums for D2. So Premier Christian Radio should

11 Feb 2015 : Column 926

and, I expect, will have a great future when the D2 multiplex is launched, which we expect to take place in the spring of 2016.

Now, let us get back to where we were with Premier Christian Radio on D1. It had a five-year contract, which was due to end at Christmas, as the right hon. Gentleman said. That was extended until the end of March. Since Christmas, additional capacity has become available on D1. As either my hon. Friend the. Member for South West Devon or the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed mentioned, there have been discussions with Premier about taking up this capacity. Those were on commercial terms, but in order to take up that capacity, Premier Christian Radio would have to transmit on D1 until 2018. Clearly, if Premier Christian Radio wants to move to D2 in mid-2016, it does not want to have a slot on D1 that runs until 2018. Furthermore, the D1 slot on offer is at 80 kilobits rather than the 64 kilobits that Premier, primarily a speech service, uses at the moment.

These are important matters. Technically, I should not intervene in these discussions, which are commercial, so it is not for me to influence them, but this is an important radio station—one I support wholeheartedly—and I spoke to its managing director, Peter Kerridge, this afternoon to ascertain the situation. I hope a solution can be found. I am pleased with some of the progress made. As I understand it, Arqiva is going to see if it can re-purpose some other spare capacity on D1 to create a 64 kilobit stream for Premier Christian to take over. For that to work, there would need to be some give and take on all sides.

It is important, and, I think, good news for Premier, that even if for the sake argument the contract came to an end on 31 March, Arqiva would still need to apply to Ofcom to change services and until a decision is made by Ofcom, Arqiva will need to meet the current format requirements for the slot. That would allow Premier to continue to broadcast potentially beyond 31 March. As the right hon. Gentleman noted, Ofcom would need to consider whether the multiplex was still catering to the variety of tastes and services required under the original licence. Ofcom cannot intervene in that respect or in the commercial negotiations until any application is made by Arqiva to change the current line-up of services.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned that D1 carries another Christian station, UCB, which will continue to cater for other Christian listeners, and listeners to Premier can listen to it on tablets, smartphones and, of course, on Freeview until D2 comes on stream. It is available on medium wave in some areas. I want to urge both parties to continue their discussions and to negotiate in good faith. Premier was an early adopter of digital radio. When it was on the D1 multiplex, there were only three other stations on the national commercial multiplex. It is a matter of good faith, shall we say, to recognise the stations that had faith in digital radio at an early stage, which were part and parcel of the success that digital radio is now, and are therefore part and parcel of the success that Arqiva is enjoying by being a broadcaster.

I think that there is an opportunity for a solution to emerge. It seems to me pretty obvious that Arqiva should come to the table, sit down with Premier, negotiate a solution for a 64 kilobit service that runs until the spring of 2016 and then allow Premier to move seamlessly to D2. I am not influencing the outcome of the D2

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bidding process, because, as I said earlier, Premier is part of both bids, so it should be on the D2 service regardless of who wins.

It is not helpful for such an important broadcaster with such a devoted and enthusiastic audience to be subject to this level of uncertainty. I think that Arqiva needs to understand that there are issues that go beyond purely commercial graft, or hard grind, and that there is something called “doing the right thing”. I hope that, in this instance, Arqiva does do the right thing by Premier.

It is important to remember that, although the muxcos must comply with the licence from Ofcom, they act as gatekeepers to a certain extent. They are subject to Ofcom oversight, but as more radio listening becomes digital and demand for capacity increases, it may be necessary to ensure that Ofcom has the appropriate

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powers to intervene if necessary, and we may need to think about that in the next Parliament.

I think that the right hon. Member for East Ham, and those who have intervened in the debate, have put the most forceful case possible for Premier Christian Radio. I hope and intend to see an end to the negotiations in short order, and a secure future for Premier on D1. As I have said several times tonight, I trust that it will take only 12 to 18 months to secure that future. Let us all work together to ensure that we achieve the right result.

Question put and agreed to.

9.6 pm

House adjourned.

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Deferred Division

Public Health

That the draft Smoke-free (Private Vehicles) Regulations 2015, which were laid before this House on 17 December 2014, be approved.

The House divided:

Ayes 342, Noes 74.

Division No. 152]


Abbott, Ms Diane

Adams, Nigel

Aldous, Peter

Alexander, rh Danny

Alexander, rh Mr Douglas

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Allen, Mr Graham

Anderson, Mr David

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Ashworth, Jonathan

Austin, Ian

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Baldry, rh Sir Tony

Banks, Gordon

Barclay, Stephen

Barwell, Gavin

Beckett, rh Margaret

Begg, Dame Anne

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Benton, Mr Joe

Berger, Luciana

Berry, Jake

Birtwistle, Gordon

Blackman, Bob

Blackman-Woods, Roberta

Blackwood, Nicola

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blomfield, Paul

Blunkett, rh Mr David

Blunt, Crispin

Boles, Nick

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Brady, Mr Graham

Brake, rh Tom

Brennan, Kevin

Brine, Steve

Brokenshire, James

Brown, Mr Russell

Bryant, Chris

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burden, Richard

Burnham, rh Andy

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burstow, rh Paul

Burt, rh Alistair

Burt, Lorely

Cable, rh Vince

Campbell, rh Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Gregory

Campbell, rh Sir Menzies

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Carmichael, Neil

Caton, Martin

Champion, Sarah

Chishti, Rehman

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Connarty, Michael

Cooper, rh Yvette

Corbyn, Jeremy

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Crockart, Mike

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Cunningham, Sir Tony

Curran, Margaret

Dakin, Nic

Danczuk, Simon

Darling, rh Mr Alistair

Davey, rh Mr Edward

David, Wayne

de Bois, Nick

Denham, rh Mr John

Dobson, rh Frank

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Doran, Mr Frank

Doughty, Stephen

Dowd, Jim

Doyle, Gemma

Dromey, Jack

Dugher, Michael

Duncan, rh Sir Alan

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Durkan, Mark

Edwards, Jonathan

Efford, Clive

Elliott, Julie

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Engel, Natascha

Esterson, Bill

Eustice, George

Evans, Chris

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, rh Michael

Featherstone, rh Lynne

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Flint, rh Caroline

Flynn, Paul

Fovargue, Yvonne

Francis, Dr Hywel

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Gale, Sir Roger

Gapes, Mike

Garnier, Mark

George, Andrew

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gilmore, Sheila

Glen, John

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Goodman, Helen

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Gove, rh Michael

Graham, Richard

Greatrex, Tom

Green, Kate

Greening, rh Justine

Greenwood, Lilian

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Griffith, Nia

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Gwynne, Andrew

Hague, rh Mr William

Hain, rh Mr Peter

Halfon, Robert

Hamilton, Mr David

Hammond, rh Mr Philip

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, rh Matthew

Hancock, Mr Mike

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Heath, Mr David

Hendry, Charles

Herbert, rh Nick

Hermon, Lady

Hilling, Julie

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hollingbery, George

Hopkins, Kelvin

Horwood, Martin

Howarth, rh Mr George

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Hunt, Tristram

Huppert, Dr Julian

Jackson, Mr Stewart

James, Margot

Jamieson, Cathy

Jarvis, Dan

Javid, rh Sajid

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Johnson, rh Alan

Johnson, Diana

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, rh Mr David

Jones, Graham

Jones, Helen

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Mr Marcus

Jones, Susan Elan

Keeley, Barbara

Kelly, Chris

Kendall, Liz

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Sir Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Lamb, rh Norman

Lancaster, Mark

Lansley, rh Mr Andrew

Lavery, Ian

Laws, rh Mr David

Lazarowicz, Mark

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Dr Phillip

Lewell-Buck, Mrs Emma

Lewis, Brandon

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lloyd, Stephen

Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn

Lopresti, Jack

Love, Mr Andrew

Lucas, Caroline

Lucas, Ian

Mactaggart, Fiona

Mahmood, Mr Khalid

Mahmood, Shabana

Mann, John

Marsden, Mr Gordon

Maude, rh Mr Francis

McCabe, Steve

McCann, Mr Michael

McCarthy, Kerry

McCartney, Jason

McCrea, Dr William

McDonald, Andy

McDonnell, Dr Alasdair

McDonnell, John

McGovern, Alison

McGovern, Jim

McGuire, rh Dame Anne

McKechin, Ann

McKenzie, Mr Iain

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

Meale, Sir Alan

Mearns, Ian

Miller, Andrew

Miller, rh Maria

Milton, Anne

Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew

Moore, rh Michael

Morden, Jessica

Morgan, rh Nicky

Morrice, Graeme (Livingston)

Morris, David

Morris, Grahame M.


Morris, James

Mudie, Mr George

Mulholland, Greg

Munt, Tessa

Murphy, rh Mr Jim

Murphy, rh Paul

Murray, Ian

Nandy, Lisa

Nash, Pamela

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

O'Donnell, Fiona

Offord, Dr Matthew

Onwurah, Chi

Opperman, Guy

Owen, Albert

Paice, rh Sir James

Parish, Neil

Patel, Priti

Pawsey, Mark

Pearce, Teresa

Perkins, Toby

Phillips, Stephen

Pickles, rh Mr Eric

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Pound, Stephen

Powell, Lucy

Pritchard, Mark

Qureshi, Yasmin

Raab, Mr Dominic

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Redwood, rh Mr John

Reed, Mr Jamie

Reed, Mr Steve

Reid, Mr Alan

Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm

Ritchie, Ms Margaret

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Rogerson, Dan

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Mr Frank

Rudd, Amber

Russell, Sir Bob

Rutley, David

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Sarwar, Anas

Sawford, Andy

Scott, Mr Lee

Seabeck, Alison

Selous, Andrew

Shannon, Jim

Sharma, Alok

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Sheridan, Jim

Simmonds, rh Mark

Simpson, David

Simpson, Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, Angela

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Soubry, Anna

Spellar, rh Mr John

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Stanley, rh Sir John

Stewart, Iain

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stringer, Graham

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Stuart, Mr Graham

Sutcliffe, Mr Gerry

Swales, Ian

Swinson, Jo

Swire, rh Mr Hugo

Tami, Mark

Tapsell, rh Sir Peter

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thornton, Mike

Thurso, rh John

Timms, rh Stephen

Tomlinson, Justin

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Uppal, Paul

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vaz, Valerie

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Walley, Joan

Webb, rh Steve

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Willetts, rh Mr David

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Roger

Williamson, Chris

Williamson, Gavin

Willott, rh Jenny

Wilson, Phil

Wilson, Mr Rob

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Woodcock, John

Wright, David

Wright, Simon

Yeo, Mr Tim

Young, rh Sir George


Afriyie, Adam

Amess, Sir David

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Steve

Baldwin, Harriett

Balls, rh Ed

Bebb, Guto

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Bingham, Andrew

Bone, Mr Peter

Bradley, Karen

Bray, Angie

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Browne, Mr Jeremy

Burrowes, Mr David

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Carswell, Douglas

Chope, Mr Christopher

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Crausby, Mr David

Davies, Glyn

Davies, Philip

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Dunne, Mr Philip

Evans, Mr Nigel

Field, Mark

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Fullbrook, Lorraine

Fuller, Richard

Gilbert, Stephen

Grayling, rh Chris

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Hands, rh Greg

Hart, Simon

Hinds, Damian

Hoban, Mr Mark

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Hood, Mr Jim

Hopkins, Kris

Howarth, Sir Gerald

Khan, rh Sadiq

Lee, Jessica

Leigh, Sir Edward

Loughton, Tim

Lumley, Karen

McVey, rh Esther

Menzies, Mark

Metcalfe, Stephen

Mosley, Stephen

Nuttall, Mr David

Paisley, Ian

Penrose, John

Percy, Andrew

Perry, Claire

Pincher, Christopher

Prisk, Mr Mark

Reckless, Mark

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Spencer, Mr Mark

Sturdy, Julian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Tredinnick, David

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Vickers, Martin

Walker, Mr Charles

Walter, Mr Robert

Watkinson, Dame Angela

Wheeler, Heather

Wiggin, Bill

Wright, rh Jeremy

Question accordingly agreed to.

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