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Lord Inglewood: It is important to be clear that, in relation to additional access systems, we propose that it should be stipulated that there should be fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory access to them. The DTI recently published a consultation document on the subject of conditional access. It is proposed that we should deal with the nuts and bolts of the licensing system as regards access to digital conditional access systems through legislation under the European Communities Act. Many of the noble Baroness's anxieties are dealt with outside the framework of the Bill because we are dealing with the matter in that different way.

I am prepared to look at the criteria that are to be applied by the ITC in determining who might be a successful multiplex licensee. As has already been mentioned by Members of the Committee, the key issue is to get the market to take the digital services. One of the characteristics that we are seeking to identify with

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potential multiplex operators is the steps that they are taking to ensure that there is a successful roll-out of the system.

We feel that it may be appropriate to outflank some of the anxieties that Members of the Committee have expressed. We wish to meet their anxieties while at the same time ensuring that the market works properly. We do not know which way this will go. It would be extremely foolish to put a corset round the industry which might, with the best will in the world, lead to the industry going down a cul-de-sac. That is one of the surest ways of killing the whole thing stone dead. We feel that it may be possible to help to provide some kind of framework by looking at this matter along the lines that I have suggested.

Lord Donoughue: We are happy with the Minister's approach. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 24 not moved.]

Lord Ashley of Stoke moved Amendment No. 25:

Page 7, line 26, after ("achieved") insert ("including phasing-in arrangements and considering the potential impact on existing analogue services, especially those currently provided for people with sensory disabilities").

The noble Lord said: Perhaps I may link Amendment No. 26 with this amendment, because in both amendments we are seeking to link applications for licences to provide multiplex services. A technical plan has to be provided under the Bill with a timetable showing when the planned coverage will be achieved. The amendments highlight the need for existing provision for disabled people on analogue to be maintained until it is certain that equal provision is available on digital, and that disabled people have access to it in a given time to be able to afford digital receivers, and that they are made aware of that.

Anticipating the problems, and preparing to deal with them, are the keys to the provision of successful services. The reason for tabling the amendments is that we want to move from one system to another better one, but we want to ensure that all the advantages of the previous system are not lost. It will not be good enough merely to say that the advantages gained by the move are so great for the majority that it does not matter if there are losses for the minority.

If that loss happened to be a loss of text subtitling for deaf people, or talking teletext for blind people, the consequence would be to deprive them of television if they are severely impaired. So it is essential that the application for a licence should include in it a timetable for the phasing out of present analogue provision and proposals to protect the interests of disabled people. There must be no loss of the valuable text provision for both deaf and blind people.

The second amendment draws attention to the affordability of new systems. Many disabled people have low incomes. When the valuable old systems are dropped, they must be replaced by new ones which are affordable. Otherwise, we shall be benefiting the prosperous at the expense of the poor. I am sure that

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both sides of the Committee and the Government would find that unacceptable. Nothing can be more confusing than new technology. The enthusiasts love it, but the rest of us just want straightforward information about how it benefits us and what, if any, are the snags. The amendment emphasises the need for that to be provided. It is as simple but as important as that. I beg to move.

Lord Inglewood: I am most grateful to the noble Lord for tabling the amendment. As I understood it, he spoke to Amendments Nos. 25 and 26. Therefore it might be appropriate for me to telescope my remarks to cover the two amendments. It provides me with an opportunity to give the Committee some assurances regarding the specific point that he raises and more general matters surrounding the future of analogue transmission.

The introduction of digital television will not mean that anyone--I emphasise anyone--loses access to existing analogue services. In the longer term, we hope that the coverage of digital terrestrial television can be increased to levels similar to that of current analogue transmissions. That in turn will open up the attractive possibility that when, and only when, the vast majority of the population has acquired digital receiving equipment, the frequencies currently used for analogue transmission might be released for other uses. The Government intend that to happen as soon as reasonably practicable and will, five years after the introduction of digital terrestrial television or once 50 per cent. of the population has digital receivers, whichever is the sooner, review the scope for setting a date on which analogue transmissions will end. But we do not propose to deprive people of the television services they currently receive by turning off analogue before they have the necessary equipment to receive digital, upon which programmes will be carried in parallel.

There will therefore be no effect on analogue services, including ancillary services such as subtitling, arising from the roll-out of digital equipment. On a minor point, and taking the amendment word for word, the timetable referred to in Clause 7, subsection (4)(b) will, in practice, need to cover any phasing-in arrangements.

I shall now deal with Amendment No. 26. The points the noble Lord makes here are at the very heart of the matter. If digital terrestrial television is to take off, it is going to need to be both affordable and accessible. But I believe our proposals as they stand address these points adequately.

Those who wish to run multiplexes will need to submit detailed licence applications which will be judged on three main criteria. One of these is their technical plan for the roll out of infrastructure. The greater proportion of the population their services will reach within a reasonable time--in other words the greater number of people who will be offered access to their services--the more chance they will have of being awarded a licence. That is a key element of accessibility.

Another criterion is the applicant's plans to remote or assist the acquisition of receiving equipment. One of the key issues here, indeed perhaps the key issue, will be

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offering that equipment at an affordable price. If applicants can show they will be able to do that, it is more likely that they will get a licence.

There is also, as the noble Lord mentioned, the question of the affordability of any pay--TV services which are offered by digital broadcasters. Of course, as in any market, it will be in the interests of the suppliers of such services to ensure that they are affordable. Otherwise they will not be in business for long. And subsections (4)(c) and (4)(h) of Clause 7 allow the ITC to require information on the characteristics of the digital programme services to be provided and on the applicant's financial plans respectively. Under each of those areas, the commission could require information about the pricing of pay services.

I should mention, too, that the Bill stipulates that multiplex providers' licences will include conditions preventing them from showing undue discrimination for or against particular broadcasters. That will help to ensure that broadcasters pay fair prices for access to multiplexes and, in turn, that viewers pay fair prices for services. The proposals in the consultation paper, The Regulation of Conditional Access Services for Digital Television will introduce similar conditions in the licences to be issues to conditional access providers.

I suggest that it would be over-regulation to seek to impose on applicants for multiplex licences further requirements of the sort mentioned in the amendment, which would largely have the same effect as requirements already applicable. The bottom line is that those entering the digital terrestrial television market need to make their services affordable and accessible to all sections of the community if they are to succeed, and the Government, through the criteria which will be applied for the award of licences, will be giving them the strongest possible encouragement to do just that.

Having said all that, I fully understand the noble Lord's concerns, which closely reflect our own. I hope that my explanation of the way in which the matter will proceed will have reassured the noble Lord.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: I am most grateful again for the Minister's most constructive response. When I was trying, not very well, to read economics at university, great theorists used to tell me that there was such a thing as perfect competition. When they had explained that at great length, they would end by saying, "Of course you realise that there is no such thing as perfect competition". Having spent months trying to understand perfect competition, I could not understand the great academic minds--nearly as great as that of my noble friend Lord Donoughue--which were trying to explain those concepts.

When the Minister says to us that it is in the interests of the suppliers of the equipment to ensure that the equipment is affordable to everyone--that is a perfect market of course--let us assume that there are some deaf people and some blind people who, despite the noble efforts of the suppliers, cannot afford the new equipment. There are some very poor deaf people and some very poor blind people: what will happen to them?

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