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Baroness Smith of Gilmorehill: I thank the Minister for dealing in detail with the issue. I thank, too, the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, for his support. We appreciate that it is difficult to legislate for untried technology. But it is counter-productive to award digital output licences by today's methodology--that is, limiting a specific channel to a single defined use. To do so does not reflect the nature or benefits of DAB. Surely it would be better for the characteristics of the services to become the responsibility of the service provider who in turn would apply for a proportion of the band width of the multiplexes concerned--perhaps a percentage or number of the available bits. Within that he would be able to provide a number of different audio data or text services.

The greater the flexibility of the digital service licensees to change and adapt within their own bit resources, the greater the plurality and diversity of the service and the greater the counter to the otherwise

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irresistible influence of the Radio Authority licence multiplex provider. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 80 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

[Amendment No. 81 not moved.]

Clause 31 agreed to.

Clause 32 [Meaning of "independent national broadcaster" and "simulcast radio service"]:

[Amendment No. 81A not moved.]

5.30 p.m.

Lord Donoughue moved Amendment No. 82:

Page 27, line 24, leave out subsection (5) and insert--
("(5) No order under subsection (4) 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: It gives me great pleasure to follow my noble friend and I wish to congratulate her on her first appearance, speaking beautifully in that lovely Edinburgh accent.

Amendment No. 82 is one which recurs. We have already moved a similar amendment and in this case it reflects our concern that periodically through the Bill the Secretary of State is given wide and unaccountable powers dramatically to change or reverse the meaning of the Bill. In this case the percentages can be changed by the Secretary of State from 80 per cent. to 8 per cent., 50 per cent. to 5 per cent. and so on. When I raised it on another clause, the Minister was extremely understanding and said that he would consider it. I hope that he will say the same about this amendment and the subsequent ones, which would limit the time we spend on them. I beg to move.

Lord Inglewood: As the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, pointed out, he has moved amendments on a number of topics to do with this matter. I must begin by saying that in this case I find his arguments less persuasive than some others. If he will permit me, I wish to explain why.

The expansion in the number of services which digital technology will allow for radio is much less than for television. In the current state of development, the spectrum allocated for digital radio multiplexes will only allow for a modest increase. Accordingly, it has not been possible to give existing independent national radio broadcasters, like their television counterparts, sufficient capacity to allow the immediate development of whole new channels.

A balance has to be struck. On the one hand, existing independent national radio licence holders need to be given a reasonable opportunity to provide distinctive new programmes on their digital service to help attract listeners to the new technology. On the other, the guaranteed places for independent national radio stations have been given on the basis of their existing licensed analogue service. It would not be right to give existing stations the competitive advantage of being allowed to broadcast a wholly or primarily different service on their guaranteed capacity.

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We think the arrangements proposed in Clause 32(3) strike the right balance. The digital programming must be at least 80 per cent. the same as the analogue service, so it will clearly be recognisable as the same station, but will be able to include new material. At least 50 per cent. of that 80 per cent. must be broadcast at the same time, which leaves the broadcaster free to reschedule particular programmes at times which some listeners may find more convenient. But we may well not have got it precisely right. Moreover, technological progress may in future allow INR broadcasters to broadcast a wholly new service within that guaranteed capacity. If the take-up of digital sets is sufficient to allow analogue signals for INR to be switched off, the percentage of simulcasting will need to be increased to 100 per cent. If that should happen, order-making powers will be needed.

The issues here are essentially about adjusting to market and technological developments. There is no question of the less advantaged listener becoming increasingly deprived of the best programmes as digital takes off, because if digital reception becomes the norm for INR the government response would, as I have said, be to increase the simulcasting requirement. I would also remind the Committee that INR services, unlike Channels 3 and 5 on television, and unlike BBC radio, do not have public service programming obligations. It is therefore hard to argue that major public policy issues are involved in the extent to which they are simulcast.

In the light of those arguments, I hope that the noble Lord will understand our position and be prepared not to press the amendment.

Lord Donoughue: I thank the Minister for that explanation and accept that it is less pressing with this amendment than with certain of the others. I am happy to beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 83 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Clause 32 agreed to.

Clauses 33 and 34 agreed to.

Clause 35 [Restrictions on the holding of licences]:

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 84:

Page 30, line 22, at end insert--
("(f) impose conditions on future local radio licence applications to ensure that new entrants are not disqualified from operating small scale radio services (as defined in subsection (8A)) by financial and other service limitations which the Authority believes appropriate to the operation of large scale radio services.").

The noble Lord said: Clause 34 sets down the general licence conditions applying to new companies coming in. The fear is that some of the conditions, while perfectly reasonable for large companies wishing to enter the radio business, may be too difficult for small-scale radio operators to comply with. The point of Amendments Nos. 84 and 85 is to make it easier for small-scale radio operators to enter by exempting them from some of the more difficult conditions that would apply to the large-scale operators. The idea is to make

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it possible for small companies to operate and to enter the business without having to meet the rather stringent financial conditions.

The benefit of such a situation is that it would help to encourage wider diversity in ownership and operation of small-scale radio services. As such, it has much to commend it. I beg to move.

Lord Inglewood: The authority has agreed that it will allow small groups who find it difficult to demonstrate the likely viability of their proposal for the eight-year duration of the licence to apply for shorter-term licences. Indeed, last month the authority advertised such a licence in Cambridge, explicitly stating that the intention was to accommodate applicants who may consider that a licence term of a shorter duration than eight years is more appropriate to their proposed funding or other aspects of their arrangements. In addition, the Radio Authority has agreed to encourage community radio by continuing with a flexible use of the restricted service licence regime, which permits the licensing of stations for 28-day periods. The Radio Authority decided, in 1994, to set aside capacity in the 107 to 108 megahertz band specifically for small-scale radio stations.

On digital radio, I hope there will be plenty of opportunity for all sorts of programming to be part of a multiplex, and the variety criterion which we have introduced will ensure that is the case. The multiplex system allows flexibility of contractual arrangements which could benefit small-scale radio. Multiplex providers will be looking for new types of programmes and I am sure small-scale and community radio will emerge naturally, alongside many other types of service catering for all tastes and interests. We do not need to require it, and so risk discouraging prospective multiplex providers from applying for licences because they find the conditions unnecessarily prescriptive.

Taken together, we are confident that these measures will be sufficient to safeguard the position of small-scale radio services without needing a statutory definition. I hope that that will satisfy the noble Lord and reassure him over his concerns.

Lord Dubs: I thank the Minister for his helpful answer. It seems to me that it augurs well for the small-scale operators. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 85 not moved.]

Clause 35 agreed to.

Clause 36 [Assignment of frequencies by Secretary of State]:

[Amendments Nos. 86 to 90 not moved.]

Clause 36 agreed to.

Clause 37 [National radio multiplex licences]:

[Amendments Nos. 91 to 96 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 97 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

[Amendment No. 98 not moved.]

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Clause 37 agreed to.

Clause 38 [Award of national radio multiplex licences]:

[Amendments Nos. 99 and 100 not moved.]

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