Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Viscount Astor: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, is the occasional dissenting voice not on subjects such as this but on the EU. However, he raised an important point, which is: what do we want the media industry to be? How large do we want it to be? How large should it be? We have looked long and hard at the matter and have put forward the 10 per cent. and 20 per cent. proposals.

If we are to have a strong, independent media—whether broadcasting, newspapers, satellite, radio or cable—it is important that it is a viable industry. It must be able to invest, expand and compete on a European basis and in world markets. If we have a viable industry the section about which the noble Lord was concerned will find its voice. It will not find its voice if we have a weak industry that cannot make its voice heard.

Lord Renton: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that most people will wish to know what effect the proposals will have on the independence of broadcasting producers, news editors, programme directors and so forth? Will he assure the House that the independence of such people will be maintained and will not be influenced by those who are investing in the various independent television companies.

Viscount Astor: My Lords, my noble friend makes an important point. Of course, newspapers and television companies have different policies: historically newspapers have a view and a strong editorial policy but broadcasters do not. According to the regulation of their licence, broadcasters are required not to present the views which newspapers present; they are required to have independence and balance. That is extremely important and it is important that we maintain the position. That is the role of the ITC, and I am sure that it will continue as such.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the exchanges and I do not refer to my noble friend Lord Renton, who has just intervened. However, I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if I remind them of page 81 of the Companion to the Standing Orders which states:

As always, I am in your Lordships' hands, but I hope that the House will remind itself of the wisdom of what is contained in our red book.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, for several years I worked in the European Parliament on the EU Commission paper dealing with this subject. Luckily, it was not accepted. Therefore, I congratulate the Government on producing these long-awaited and important proposals on such a complex subject. They were so right to have taken their time and not to have

23 May 1995 : Column 942

rushed into making the proposals. They are so important because today the media have such enormous power and influence in the world.

Here is a fine example of a government legislating for the future—and an exciting future. Will the Minister urge the Secretary of State at the next EU council meeting to make certain that this fine example will be followed and will not be tampered with in any way?

Viscount Astor: My Lords, as my noble friend knows, the EU is at a relatively early stage of its consultations and might not put forward its firm proposals for some time. We believe that it is important for our industry and for British consumers to act now, and that can lead to a wider debate within Europe. We hope that our proposals will be looked at very carefully by the EU and other countries in Europe which have different rules. Some EU countries have a media controlled by significantly large groups. Indeed, those groups are significantly larger than any of the groups which exist or trade in this country.

We believe that the EU proposals are some way off. We wish to be at the forefront of the discussions in order to ensure that the single market operates in the best interests of the commercial and consumer interests of Europe and this country.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, are the Government considering monopoly practices such as using other money or commercial strength to damage the circulation of an opponent's newspaper, as we have seen in the present price war? Is there a danger of that happening in the other forms of media; and are the Government concerned about that practice?

Viscount Astor: My Lords, it is for those in the newspaper industry to decide what price to put on their newspapers. If in any instance there are complaints about unfair practices it would be for the competition authority to decide the matter and not the Department of National Heritage.

We must remember that broadcasters are in a slightly different position; television broadcasters are regulated by the ITC and radio broadcasters are regulated by the Radio Authority. Therefore, there is not the similar read-across as is the case with newspapers.

It is extremely important that nationally and regionally concentrations of regional ownership, whether in Scotland or wherever else, do not exist. The consumers will then have the widest choice and the advertisers, who pay the bills and allow commercial radio and television to survive, will have freedom of choice and the ability to advertise their products in a proper and competitive way.

Viscount Chelmsford: My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on the start of regulatory convergence. Will the Government remember that "multi-media" is considerably wider than just those two regulators and that there are many more to come? Some of us have been looking at those who can affect various parts of the media in the UK and we have counted up to 20. Four are in Brussels and the rest are in the UK. I hope that this is a first stage and the wider aspects of multi-media will engage the Government's attention significantly.

23 May 1995 : Column 943

Viscount Astor: My Lords, one of the reasons for the proposal is the wider aspects of the media and the fact that there is a convergence of different media. It is difficult to see where the overlap begins and ends. That is why, for example, we have abolished the restrictions in ownership between terrestrial, satellite and cable broadcasters. All will be subject to the same ownership regulations. There are numerous delivery systems and therefore one cannot have a regulatory system which regulates one system in a different way from another. What matters to the consumer and to the public interest is what comes out and what is available to the public. That is what we should be looking at and that is how we wish to regulate the system in the future. Whatever the new delivery system, it will always fall under our cross-media proposals.

Jobseekers Bill

4.28 p.m.

Proceedings after Third Reading resumed.

Clause 3 [The income-based conditions]:

Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 3, leave out lines 10 to 14 and insert:
("(ii) who has reached the age of 16, but not the age of 18, and is registered for training but is not being provided with any training.").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, in speaking to Amendment No. 2 I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 3, 4, and 27, which are consequential. Amendment No. 2 is modest to the point of bashfulness. It does not conflict with any of the major items of government policy; with the requirement of compulsory registration for training; or with the requirement that there shall be no benefit for those who do not register for training. In fact it covers only two groups. One of them concerns those who are registered for youth training and are waiting for their first place, who of course have done everything that is required of them by law and still need to eat in the meantime before their place is provided. In 1991, according to Mrs. Shepherd, the average waiting time for a first place was eight weeks. I understand that subsequently the waiting time has considerably improved, in part thanks to Mrs. Shepherd's own efforts, which are appreciated. But it will not necessarily stay that short forever. It is a problem which may recur.

The second group, and I think the rather larger group, to which it applies are people who have registered for a youth training course, have completed it as required and have maybe gained a qualification but have not reached their 18th birthday and therefore are not eligible for JSA.

According to the MORI report commissioned by the Department of Social Security itself, 58 per cent. of youth training courses last three months or less. The likelihood therefore is that in a period of two years somebody will complete a course of youth training before the two-year period is up and before the JSA eligibility comes in; in fact the number might be very considerable indeed. It is in that situation that it often takes longest to find people a new training place, and it is while the Government and the TECs are trying to find

23 May 1995 : Column 944

such people a new training place that eligibility for JSA, because they have met the condition of registration and no training has as yet been provided, would, I think, be most relevant.

The amendment supersedes the existing severe hardship payments which were a well-intentioned attempt to do what was needed by an extremely cumbrous, ineffective and administratively burdensome route. It supersedes also the "dog licence" of the 1990s, the bridging allowance which, like the dog licence, has been left un-uprated for so long that it has become positively nugatory. The bridging allowance which is supposed to be paid to people between YT placements for eight weeks is £15 a week. That will barely buy you a zone two travelcard in London. It will leave you £1.20 for all other expenses. If there are any people who can eat on £1.20 a week I have not yet met them. I should be interested to talk to them: I might learn something.

The amendment is grouped with Amendment No. 27, which preserves the prerogative of mercy, as with the availability rules, of treating people as registered for training when they are not yet registered for training. That is purely a prerogative of mercy. It is strictly under the Secretary of State's control. It just deals with that part of the severe hardship need which is not actually covered by the registration for training. Take, for example, the following case, which comes to me from Barnardos. A young woman of 17 had been in receipt of severe hardship payments and was due to take up a place on a YT scheme; she was properly registered and looking for a place. The week before her training began she was indecently assaulted and, being severely traumatised, did not begin the course. A prerogative of mercy in a case like that is, I think, not unreasonable. That is the kind of situation that Amendment No. 27 is designed to meet.

The Government may say, since they are so certain that their guarantee is working, that this amendment does not apply to anybody at all. I would say that, if so, it is a cheap amendment and will cost the Government nothing. If they say that it is unnecessary, why do they not accept it so as to ensure that it remains unnecessary? It is after all in the nature of a guarantee that you get something back if a situation is not met. But in fact as at December 1994, the first group covered by this amendment included 15,849 people registered for youth training and waiting for a place. Its cost at the lower rate would be £443,000, or £573,000 at the higher living-at-home rate. Half a million pounds for saving 15,000 lives seems to me to be really quite a good buy. In fact I think that there are many more than that. The Nottingham Young People's Benefit Campaign has drawn my attention to the fact that there are large numbers of people in the last few months before their 18th birthday who do not get a training place because they do not have time to complete a course. They have someone at present who has been refused by three trainers and who is not 18 until July 1995. These people have done nothing wrong. They have done everything that is required of them; they have met all the conditions of eligibility. Why should not something be done for them?

23 May 1995 : Column 945

The Minister may say that they should live at home. In the MORI report, 65 per cent. of those claiming severe hardship had been thrown out by their parents. In the Centre Point sample of December 1994, 86 per cent. had been thrown out by their parents. Being thrown out by your parents is bad enough but to be deprived of benefit on top of it is a form of double jeopardy. Ten per cent. of those claiming severe hardship were from care and had no homes to go to; 50 per cent. of them had no money at all; 25 per cent. of them admitted that they had begged, stolen or sold drugs to survive. Self-incrimination usually involves an under-statement of the evidence. That 25 per cent. figure, based on self-incrimination, is startlingly high and should give us all cause for concern. This amendment allows YT to continue on a much more stable basis. Indeed, I would be inclined to believe that without this amendment, YT cannot be on a stable basis at all. On that basis, I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page