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Viscount Long: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.15 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.58 p.m. to 8.15 p.m.]

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Broadcasting Bill [H.L.]

House again in Committee.

Clause 7 [Multiplex licences]:

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton moved Amendment No. 21:

Page 6, line 35, at end insert--
("( ) specifying a prescribed proportion of education and social action programming to be provided on each digital programme service to be broadcast;").

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 21, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 22 and 30. Amendment No. 22 provides for a single digital programme service to be dedicated to education and social action programming. Amendments Nos. 21 and 30 provide, as a fallback, that each digital programme service shall include a minimum proportion, to be prescribed (as with Channel 4), to be dedicated to education and social action programming.

The importance of terrestrial broadcasting to education and training is the fact that it delivers free to people at the point of use without additional financial cost, in particular to those whose educational and social needs are greatest.

Later this month, on 22nd February, the UK will launch the European Year of Lifelong Learning. I declare an interest as chair of the Education and Training Committee of the Committee of the Regions and I was present last weekend at the European launch of the European Year of Lifelong Learning. It was a pleasure on that occasion, in the presence of the Minister, Mr. Paice, to hear the commissioner responsible for this area of the Commission programme work, Edith Cresson, compliment the United Kingdom on its outstandingly high quality of educational materials from radio and television. These amendments will protect the facilities necessary to maintain and develop those outstanding provisions--in European and world terms--made by educational broadcast makers in the United Kingdom.

Our country is committed to lifelong learning and to the need for building a learning society. Recently there has been agreed a new, ambitious, national training and education targets programme to achieve that. It cannot be achieved without the help of broadcasting and other new technologies. Neither will many of those most in need of more education or training be able readily to afford subscription services. Such services are very good for those who, already knowing what they want, also have the resources to obtain them. But, if we are to equip the population as a whole with the skills necessary to meet the needs of the coming century, it is essential that all groups in society have full access to education and training opportunities, starting with those provided in the area of basic education where it is needed for adults.

Groups involved with the education and training of adults are concerned that there is no requirement in the Bill to place any new education/training obligations on any new digital terrestrial provision other than the simulcasting of existing services. They propose that an

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education/training requirement should also be written in within the new services, and that those programmes should be available clear to air for all licence payers.

Given that the duration of a multiplex licence is to be 12 years, with a possible extension for a further 12 years, and that this outlasts the current length of arrangements for those channels with public service education obligations--the BBC and Channel 4--a situation could arise that analogue broadcasting, with its digital simulcast, is withdrawn, leaving no continuing educational obligations in place. That would be a tragedy and would be quite irresponsible, since it is expected that broadcasting will need to play an increased and not a lesser role, particularly in respect of the education and training of adults over the next decades. What is wanted is an extension of channel space which will allow a large number of education and training providers to add variety and choice to the current provision.

It is a pleasure to be able to pay tribute to the work done by professionals in this field. I hope the Minister's response will indicate that the Government are prepared to give serious consideration to protecting its quality and range and providing for an expansion in this vitally important area. I beg to move.

Baroness David: I should like to support this group of amendments. I thought that my name was going to appear on all three of them. In fact, it appears on only two. The amendment I shall speak to more particularly, Amendment No. 22, does not have my name on it. But I do not think that matters very much. It is the most important amendment in the group. It is the one we think is really vital. The other two are fall-backs. Amendment No. 22 is the one I hope the Minister will consider very carefully indeed and agree to support.

The proposal in Amendment No. 22 is that the ITC should be required to license one digital channel as a specialist education and training channel, not to be owned by the BBC or by Channel 4 but to be managed by a non-profit consortium of education and training providers. The task of running it could be put out to tender and awarded to the highest and most efficient bidder. It could house current users, such as the OU and colleges' and schools' programming, broadcasting the types of material which are increasingly being shifted to night-time. We have talked before about what has been happening to night-time broadcasting. The channel could assist in retraining and updating teachers, and in helping parents to help their children to learn. This is an important area and one in which a lot of people are doing very good work, including those who work at City Lit. in London. It is an area which can be expanded and it is one where broadcasting could help very much indeed.

Above all, the channel could house a new user, the University for Industry, which needs to reach, free at the point of use, every home, library, educational institution and workplace if this country is to raise the level of skills and be competitive with other countries, and get anywhere near reaching the national training and education targets which this country has set itself. The channel could target workplaces, colleges and

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community sites in the day-time and home learners in the evening. North America has several such channels already running on satellite.

The BBC's new agreement requires in paragraph 3.2 (e) that the home services,

    "contain programmes of an educational nature (including specialist factual, religious and social issues programmes as well as formal eduction and training programmes)".
Channel 4 is also required to provide a given proportion of programmes of an educational nature for adults. If the new digital terrestrial channels are to be of such significance, then it is in all our interests for the new multiplex arrangements to make a contribution to the education and training needs, and hence to the future, of the country.

The option offered by Amendments Nos. 21 and 30 is to place a certain obligation on all multiplex holders to include some proportion of education and social action programming, following the example of the obligation originally laid upon Channel 4. Channel 4's remit to be distinctive in character, to provide a given proportion of educational programming and to cater for tastes not otherwise catered for on ITV has been carried out to general acclaim and has not prevented the channel being a commercial success.

After the debate on the BBC Charter and Agreement, the Minister wrote to me. He said in his letter:

    "We agree that education should continue to form a key object of the Corporation".
I hope that his feelings about education forming a key object of the corporation will also extend to all the new arrangements. I hope that his enthusiasm for education, which seemed to be expressed in his letter to me, will be followed by very favourable consideration of the amendment which my noble friend Lady Farrington moved and of the amendments to which I have spoken tonight. I particularly commend Amendment No. 22. That would be our best option.

Lord Inglewood: I begin by welcoming the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, about the high quality of educational television in this country. The Government are very pleased about that and pay tribute to all those concerned. It is recognised on both sides of the Committee as providing real quality and as being a world leader.

Digital terrestrial television will provide tremendous opportunities for the provision of all types of programmes, catering for the tastes and interest of all types of viewers. Both noble Baronesses have made eloquent speeches about the value of educational and social action programming from which we do not dissent. These programmes are of real value and interest to viewers of all ages, in all parts of the country. They are very important as part of an educational process which can no longer be confined just to early years but which goes on through life. They help us to be aware of a whole range of matters, including industry, social and community issues, and how to respond to them.

However, we do not believe that, merely because something is good and should be encouraged, its attainment must therefore be brought about by statute.

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I believe that the wisdom of this approach--let us not forget that TV can be turned off, rendering valueless the programme being shown--is well substantiated by experience. Despite the lack of statutory requirements, educational programming is well established on satellite and cable because it is programming for which there is a clear demand. The Discovery and History Channels show that the market at work does not simply produce soaps and game shows, as some would have us believe. And of course the educational and social action programming currently provided by the existing terrestrial broadcasters will all be translated onto digital and thereby be entrenched and be freely available for all, with opportunities for more on the spare capacity they have been offered.

The kind of ideas referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady David, are precisely the kind of ideas that might well have a place on multiplex. The multiplex licensee, in putting together his bouquet of programmes--that is the technical phrase--has to provide as much variety and choice as he can. That is one of the licensing criteria. We must not overlook that the digital terrestrial revolution will be very expensive. It is difficult to anticipate how a multiplexer would be able to provide, in the way in which the noble Baroness rather sanguinely hoped, capacity. However, it is quite possible that these things can be funded either by advertising or sponsorship.

We have made the variety of services to be offered on digital one of the key criteria for the ITC to take into account when awarding the licences. It is clear that to win them applicants will have to provide a range of services catering for all interests. That will include, as I said, educational and social action programmes which, as I have described, hold their own on their own merits. As the number of channels increases there is less and less need to proscribe certain types of programme. With a new and unproven technology, an audience of zero, facing billions of pounds in investment, I suggest to the Committee that in those circumstances to accept this amendment would increase the likelihood of nothing happening at all with digital terrestrial. That would be in nobody's interests and would guarantee that there is no educational and social action programming at all. I know that that may be unwelcome comment to the noble Baronesses, but having heard it, I hope that they will agree not to press the amendment.

8.30 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: It would be difficult to interpret the Minister's reply as satisfactory or favourable. However, it is necessary to take time to read the detail of the reply. It is possible to have a bouquet with variety, but still be missing the English rose. We agree that that the English rose is one of the areas of perfection. At this stage we do not propose to press the amendment, but having read the Minister's reply, we may return to it at a later stage.

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