Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Inglewood moved Amendment No. 9:

Page 2, line 22, leave out subsection (2) and insert--
("(2) Subject to subsection (4), in this Part "qualifying service" means any service which--
(a) is provided by an independent analogue broadcaster falling within paragraph (a), (c) or (d) of subsection (1) who has notified the Commission, within the period of one month beginning with the commencement of this section, of his intention to provide a service specified in subsection (3) ("the corresponding analogue service") for broadcasting in digital form, and
(b) as respects the programmes included in the service and the times at which they are broadcast, is identical with the corresponding analogue service.").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 10, 12, 60, 64, 77, 78, 186, 200 and 202. My first amendment to Clause 2 is one of a number which, taken together, seek to clarify the remit for S4C on its guaranteed digital capacity. The amendments concerned all relate to Clause 2 except the second insertion to line 31 on page 2 of the Bill, the amendment to Clause 25, the first new clause to be inserted after Clause 25, the amendments to Clause 30, the amendment after Clause 66 and the amendments to Clauses 68 and 69.

We are offering S4C a quarter of the capacity of the multiplex being offered to Channels 3 and 4 for it to broadcast its distinctive service for Wales. The simulcast arrangements for all the other existing terrestrial broadcasters, assuming that they take up the offer of reserve capacity, are very simple. They must broadcast in full and, at the same time, their analogue services. However, that does not make sense in the case of S4C. These amendments clarify what is to be required of them.

As I am sure Members of the Committee know, S4C's service in Wales consists of Welsh language programmes during the peak evening period and at other times during the day. When S4C is not broadcasting the programmes in Welsh, which are unique to that channel, it is required to broadcast Channel 4 programmes. But digital will allow Channel 4 to broadcast a full service for the first time to many parts of Wales. Welsh viewers of digital television will therefore be able for the first time to have a choice between Channel 4 and S4C.

That means that there will be no point in requiring S4C to simulcast its full analogue service. That would result in a duplication of Channel 4 programmes which will in any case be available. It is much better simply to require S4C to simulcast those programmes which distinguish its service from Channel 4--that is to say, its Welsh language programmes. That will provide S4C with the opportunity to offer new programmes specifically tailored to the tastes and interests of the

6 Feb 1996 : Column 167

Welsh audience, whether in Welsh or in English, and if they wish to repeat existing Welsh language programmes at times when new audiences might be reached.

That is the purpose of this set of amendments. I can, if desired, explain in more detail the specific effect of each amendment, but at this stage I draw the attention of the Committee particularly to the amendment to Clause 25 and the insertion after that clause, which goes to the heart of the matter. The deletion of Clause 25(3)(d) has been called for by many noble Lords and is the subject of an amendment by Members of the Committee on the Benches opposite, as well as by S4C. I am very happy to remove that provision. It was meant to allow the Secretary of State to introduce arrangements of the kind the Committee now has before it, but I accept that the power it would have taken from the Welsh fourth channel authority and given to the Secretary of State was unacceptable. I can assure the Committee that there was never any intention to do more than make sensible provision for its digital service. The insertion after Clause 25 clearly establishes the nature of S4C's digital service and the requirement to simulcast its Welsh language programmes. I beg to move.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Elis-Thomas I particularly welcome these amendments put forward by the Minister. In particular, I thank the noble Lord for his amendment dealing with Clause 25(3)(d) which, as he indicated, was the cause of some concern. I am aware that it is not the Government's intention to intervene with the independence of S4C as a broadcaster or indeed with any of the other arm's-length principles relating to broadcasting. On that basis I welcome these amendments.

Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde: We, too, on these Benches welcome these amendments and thank the Minister for the way in which he has approached them. There are still a number of other issues about S4C that we shall come to individually as the amendments arise. We certainly welcome the amendments that the noble Lord has put forward.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth: Since the Minister has had a somewhat "up and down" day, perhaps I may give him a little joy by saying that I join with everybody else in thanking him for these amendments.

Lord Inglewood: I am glad that some things I say meet with the approval of your Lordships.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Inglewood moved Amendment No. 10:

Page 2, leave out line 29.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Elis-Thomas moved Amendment No. 11:

Page 2, leave out line 29 and insert--

6 Feb 1996 : Column 168

("(b) the S4C service referred to in Chapter VI of the 1990 Act as amended by section (Television broadcasting by Welsh Authority) of this Act.").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment it may be convenient to speak to Amendments Nos. 173 and 174 although they are not formally grouped. I am anxious to give the Minister a little further happiness this evening. This group of amendments relates to a broader issue, which is the capacity of the Welsh fourth channel to undertake additional services to the specific digital services which are specified in the Bill. I refer in particular to the central section of Amendment No. 173 which inserts subsection (1) in place of Section 57 of the 1990 Act.

I draw the attention of the Minister specifically to the changes set out in the amendment as regards the high quality of reception primarily in Wales. That will technically enable S4C to broadcast on satellite. The other subsection (1A) refers to,

    "such other services as may be licensed under the Broadcasting Acts 1990 or 1996 subject to their obtaining the appropriate licence".
Were that to be accepted it will enable the authority to undertake other commercial services under the ITC or the Broadcasting Acts. The purpose of these amendments is to raise the issue of the remit of S4C in terms of the other delivery mechanisms. It may well be the case that digital terrestrial coverage in Wales, certainly in its early period, is likely to be patchy. Therefore, it is important that viewers receiving digital terrestrial services should not be limited to those within reach of the main transmitters.

At Second Reading I raised the question of the 180 separate relays. We do not know the exact coverage. That will not be known until the NTL-BBC-ITC frequency plan is published. Therefore, we need to look at the possibility of a broadcasting authority such as S4C being able to use additional delivery mechanisms such as satellite and cable in order to offer the widest possible coverage of its services. That is particularly important in view of the position of S4C as an authority.

If this amendment were accepted, it would give the authority the right to broadcast on satellite enabling it to reach outside Wales. We estimate that there are more than 300,000 Welsh speakers living in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Indeed, it could enable noble Lords in this House to receive S4C in London should they so wish.

At present S4C is barred from holding an ITC licence which would be required in order to operate through different or additional delivery mechanisms. The amendment would enable S4C to hold such a licence. These issues concern the development of a broadcaster such as S4C in the digital age and the importance of enabling a "minority language" to reach the widest possible audience by the widest possible means. S4C may not wish to hold an ITC licence; it may decide not to take advantage of the satellite broadcasting option. But it is important to have that option available so that S4C does not become merely a terrestrial authority and is able to operate in the broadest context because of its

6 Feb 1996 : Column 169

linguistic and cultural remit. There are other issues in relation to capacity and funding to which we shall turn at later stages of the Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Aberdare: I am pleased to support the amendment moved so ably by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas. On this side of the Committee we take great pride in S4C. It was introduced by a Conservative Government and two of our Members played extremely prominent parts, my noble friend Lord Whitelaw who was Home Secretary and my noble friend Lord Crickhowell as Secretary of State for Wales. Therefore, we are very interested in S4C, although I confess that its introduction was supported by all political parties at the time. It has undoubtedly been a very great success. One tends to forget what things were like before it came into being. A great deal of acrimonious argument sometimes broke into violence and civil disobedience. That was all solved by the arrival of S4C in 1980. Since then we have had 15 years of social harmony and a considerable boost to the Welsh language and Welsh cultural traditions. Moreover, a considerable number of independent companies have come into existence around S4C. They make films and television programmes or supply ancillary services. We must be very careful that that development, so favourable to Welsh life, is not damaged by the Bill. It would be a tragedy if the Bill were to affect its future performance or limit its facilities compared with other public service broadcasters. That is what the various amendments concerning S4C, to which I and other Members of the Committee have attached our names, wish to avoid. I am sure that that is supported by all parties. Our one endeavour is to ensure the future success of S4C.

As the noble Lord explained, the amendment is a paving amendment. It amends Section 57 of the 1990 Act. The noble Lord explained it far more lucidly than I could; I content myself with supporting him.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page