Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Ashley of Stoke: The noble Lord has taken a great deal of trouble, and I appreciate that. I do not intend to respond to him now, as he took us over ground to be covered by the next batch of amendments, which I shall move in some five minutes' time. Then I shall ask for specific figures to take the matter further. The Minister refers to a code of guidance, whereas we want a code of practice. He speaks of sign language and I shall go into detail on that. He spoke about audio description, which is also mentioned in the next batch of amendments. Therefore, I will not deal with those matters now.

The noble Lord spoke of the cost of subtitling. I should like him to bear in mind that for totally deaf people there is no television without subtitling. Unless they have wives as wonderful as mine, they simply cannot follow television. They must have someone to make notes and explain to them. When they do not have that, and if they are totally deaf and there is no subtitling, television does not exist for them. It is as simple as that. It is unbelievable that television in the 1990s does not exist for deaf people unless there is subtitling. That is the cost to deaf people. To speak of costs to people who are multi-millionaires is a little out of focus. I hope that the noble Lord will bear that in mind.

6 Feb 1996 : Column 218

The noble Lord said that when digital takes off there will be an increase in subtitling. Perhaps I may tell him that today there is very little subtitling on satellite television. It has nothing like what is done by the BBC and ITV. Sky television has taken off but it does not do as much subtitling as others. The Minister does not put forward a very powerful case. I know that he presents it in good faith and I respect his views very much, but I should not like him to be misled into believing that everybody acts in that same good faith. In view of what he said, I ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy Chairman (Lord Skelmersdale): I understand that the following amendments are not to be moved. If I am wrong, I am sure that I shall be stopped at the appropriate place. The amendments are Amendments Nos. 34, 35, 36 and 37.

[Amendments Nos. 34 to 37 not moved.]

Clause 8 agreed to.

Clauses 9 and 10 agreed to.

Clause 11 [Conditions attached to multiplex licence]:

[Amendments Nos. 38 and 39 not moved.]

Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde moved Amendment No. 40:

Page 11, line 4, at end insert--
("( ) that, while the licence is in force, digital capacity is available on favourable terms to encourage local, regional and national digital programme services and that these terms are to be published").

The noble Baroness said: This is a probing amendment. Under Clause 11 there are provisions for conditions attached to multiplex licences, and those conditions are listed. The amendment seeks to ensure access for small screen regional and local digital services so that they are not marginalised and so that we do not see undue pressure coming from the large screen service providers.

We all know a little about this Bill now. We know that wide screen provision takes up far more space than small screen provision. That is the top of the range that will be sold to the public. That will be the area that will attract a lot of resources. We are concerned that the broadcasting system in the United Kingdom should not lose the availability of local services--getting local services off the ground--as well as regional services, and that they are not marginalised.

I suggest that the Bill encourages large media companies. That is said quite overtly. The reasoning behind it is that they need to compete. In order to be able to compete in this new information world of entertainment and information education, the ownership of broadcasting companies needs to be allowed to expand. Understandably, there has been very strong concern expressed not only from these Benches but elsewhere that that might mean--though not intentionally in the Bill--the loss of the small local companies.

This amendment provides that it be a requirement of the ITC when looking at conditions attached to multiplex licences to require favourable terms to

6 Feb 1996 : Column 219

encourage local, regional and national digital programme services and that those terms themselves are to be published. I beg to move.

9.45 p.m.

Lord Inglewood: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for explaining the nature of the amendment. She referred at one point to something akin to regionality. With the agreement of the Committee, I shall leave my comments on that until we reach Clause 63.

The amendment relates to a wish to ensure--or rather to ensure--more programming that reflects the interests of communities, local, regional or national, which in turn will be subsidised by the multiplexer and hence indirectly by the public and the other channels to be broadcast. I have three specific worries about the approach reflected in the amendment.

First, I fear that requiring multiplex providers to offer favourable terms to particular types of broadcaster would be to interfere far too much in matters which should be left to the commercial judgment of the multiplex provider and of the broadcasters with whom he is collaborating. I believe that there will be plenty of opportunity for all sorts of programming to be part of a multiplex. The variety criterion which we introduced will ensure that that is the case. I have not the slightest doubt that, quite apart from the activities of the public service broadcasters in this area of activity, local, regional and national programming will emerge naturally alongside many other types of service catering for all tastes and interests. There is no need to require it and so risk discouraging multiplex providers from applying for licences because they find the terms offered are so circumscribed and rigid that they feel it better not to get involved at all.

Secondly, it is unrealistic to expect every multiplex provider to find space for any one specific type of programming, which is the implication of the amendment. Indeed, that seems to work against the growth of diversity and variety which I believe all Members of the Committee hope to see in the digital age. In the future, I anticipate that multiplexes of a regional or local nature may well become available in addition to the six multiplexes currently planned. Those will be particularly appropriate for local, regional or national services.

Thirdly, the amendment is at odds with Clause 11(1)(f) which requires multiplex licence holders to show no undue discrimination against, or in favour of, a specific programme service or additional service providers. Members of the Committee apparently welcome that provision, yet we now see an amendment which cuts right across it. In that regard there appears to be some inconsistency. I hope that I have explained our thinking and that the noble Baroness finds my remarks helpful.

Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde: I thank the Minister for sharing those worries with us. This is a probing amendment. We do not see the inconsistencies referred to by the Minister. But life is full of inconsistencies and we manage to live with them.

6 Feb 1996 : Column 220

The Minister referred to matters of commercial judgment. I have seen commercial judgment operate sometimes to shut the small player out and ensure that the large operator has a ring fence for its own systems and services--in this case programmes. I listened carefully to all that the Minister said and will read his remarks tomorrow in Hansard. This is a probing amendment; we may return to it at a later stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 41 to 43 not moved.]

Lord Donoughue moved Amendment No. 44:

Page 11, line 20, leave out subsection (6) and insert--
("(6) No order under subsection (5) shall be made unless a draft of it has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.").

The noble Lord said: I can be brief. Basically, the amendment concerns the powers of the Secretary of State to unaccountably alter the whole nature of the Bill. The Committee will be aware that at the relevant point in the Bill, Clause 11(1)(j) says that,

    "at least 90 per cent. of digital capacity on the frequency or frequencies to which the licence relates is available for the broadcasting of digital programme services or qualifying services".
That is important. Subsection (5) says:

    "The Secretary of State may by order amend subsection (1)(j) by substituting for the percentage for the time being specified there a different percentage specified in the order".
That may be 3 per cent. We suggest that no order--for example, changing 90 per cent. to 3 per cent.--should be made unless a draft of it has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament. In this House that is not a major constraint, but it is a protection. Several similar amendments are tabled and how we approach those will be conditional upon what the Minister tells us now as to whether the Secretary of State is exercising rather wide powers. I beg to move.

Lord Inglewood: The noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, commented that the Bill contains a number of order-making powers. That largely reflects the continuing technological and commercial uncertainty of what is a fast changing world.

I was pleased to see that in its report on the Bill your Lordships' Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee concluded that it was in general satisfied that the powers delegated by the Bill were appropriate. This order-making power was one in respect of which the committee concluded that, on the material available to it, the negative resolution procedure appeared to be appropriate. Our rationale for providing that in the Bill was that the likeliest reason for using it was technological change altering the amount of spectrum needed to deliver services of various kinds, so that weighty policy issues would not be involved. Nevertheless, I accept the noble Lord's argument that an order which reduces the extent to which the broadcasting spectrum is actually available for programme services might well raise substantial issues, for which the affirmative resolution procedure would be justified.

6 Feb 1996 : Column 221

If the noble Lord will forgive me, I should like to refrain from definitively agreeing to his amendment this evening. I should like rather more time to consider its ramifications. But I am in principle disposed to agree to it and to bring forward a later government amendment accordingly. On that basis, I hope he will agree not to press it today.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page