Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Donoughue moved Amendment No. 101:

Page 34, line 16, at end insert--
("( ) the capacity of the digital sound programme services proposed to be included in the service to provide a sufficient amount of programmes of high quality.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment concerns the important issue of quality, and quality criteria, which we discussed at some length at the previous meeting of the Committee in relation to television. We dealt with the arguments fairly thoroughly. We are now discussing them in relation to radio. I shall not detain the Committee since the arguments are all on the record--as are the Minister's replies, to which we shall return at a later stage. I beg to move.

Lord Inglewood: Like the noble Lord opposite, I do not want to go over the well-trodden ground of Tuesday's debate. I believe that we have quality independent radio now, and an increasing diversity of services to meet the varied tastes and interests across the country. It is the product of a regime that does not have any quality thresholds for the award of licences. The duty of the Radio Authority is to seek to ensure that independent radio, taken as a whole, provides services of high quality. It is performing that duty well with regard to analogue radio. The Bill extends the duty to digital radio. I can therefore see no case at all to introduce quality thresholds which would inevitably be subjective and might place unnecessary extra costs on an enterprise hardly off the ground.

I appreciate that the noble Lord might not find my reply very satisfactory and may return to the matter at a later date. However, I thought it important to put that particular point on the record at this stage.

Lord Donoughue: I thank the Minister for that reply. I look forward to that later stage. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 38 agreed to.

Clause 39 [Reservation of capacity for independent national broadcasters]:

[Amendments Nos. 102 to 107 not moved.]

Clause 39 agreed to.

Clause 40 agreed to.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth moved Amendment No. 108:

After Clause 40, insert the following new clause--

Duty of Authority to reserve capacity for digital community services

(".--(1) In exercising their powers to grant local radio multiplex licences, the Authority shall reserve such digital capacity as the Authority consider appropriate for the provision of local digital sound programme and additional services which are operated for the

8 Feb 1996 : Column 376

benefit of the community, or a particular section of the community, by one or more non-profit-distributing bodies, other than the BBC ("digital community services")
(2) The amount of digital capacity so reserved shall not be less than 256 kilobits per second in any area or locality where the coverage area of one local radio multiplex service is to a significant extent the same as that of another local radio multiplex service.
(3) Where a local radio multiplex licence is granted in respect of a frequency and area or locality in which digital capacity is reserved in pursuance of this section, the licence shall include such conditions as appear to the Authority to be appropriate for the purpose of securing that, in consideration of the making by local digital sound programme or additional service licensees, in relation to whom capacity is reserved under subsection (1), of such payments as are agreed from time to time between the holder of the licence and such licensees, the holder of the licence uses such digital capacity for the broadcasting of such service.").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 112. These amendments are linked with a more substantial later amendment, Amendment No. 190. They relate to seeking to use the exciting new development of digital audio broadcasting to provide the possibility of new opportunities for establishing a healthier community radio sector than we have so far had.

I confess to the Minister that I should not like to have to explain the technical detail of the text of Amendment No. 108. However, I shall set it against a few words of background as to why these amendments appear on the Marshalled List.

I do not think that over the years--I have had my share of responsibility in the past--we have done as well as we ought to have done in this country in regard to the encouragement of community radio. Other countries on the European mainland do a great deal better. There are over 400 community radio stations in France, for example. For various reasons we have not done very well over a section of activity that is right at the grass roots of broadcasting. Radio offers opportunities to do things at grass roots level that are more difficult for the more sophisticated broadcasting media. It engenders a very great deal of local enthusiasm.

I therefore begin my case by quoting the present chairman, Sir Peter Gibbings. (I see the former chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, in his place). In the recently published 1994 annual report, he stated:

    "During the debate on the [1990] Broadcasting Bill the Minister responsible for broadcasting at the time said that the Government supported community radio. However, they did not provide the mechanism within the Act for the authority to differentiate this class of licence from other local services".

In these amendments we seek to take the opportunity of this new dimension in radio broadcasting to see whether we can provide a mechanism that differentiates this class of licence from the other local services.

The purpose of this particular amendment is to reserve capacity on the local digital radio multiplex for digital community radio services. It would be the responsibility of the local radio multiplex operator to assign this capacity to one or more digital community radio services--similar to the local channel requirement on cable operators. Local radio multiplex operators will wish to maximise their commercial return subject to meeting the licensing criteria set out in Clause 42.

8 Feb 1996 : Column 377

Unless positive steps are taken in the face of this new development, with all the pressures and difficulties of a new enterprise that the Minister outlined, there is a real danger that the opportunity to establish a reasonable sector, without being too ambitious, for community radio, may very well be lost.

In 1994 the issue of community radio was highlighted in the report by the Radio Communications Agency on the future management of the radio spectrum. The report used words that I commend to the Minister. It concluded that the management regime of the radio spectrum should aim to obtain the optimum value from the spectrum in support of a competitive open economy but avoid squeezing out non-economic users, and that that would require a careful balance to be struck.

These new developments provide an opportunity to encourage community radio in a way that has not taken place in the past. That is the spirit of these amendments. I beg to move Amendment No. 108.

Lord Milverton: I support the noble Lord's amendment. Like the noble Lord, I should not be able to explain all the detailed technicality. However, from information I received from the community radio representative whom I met, I understand that it is sound and good. I agree with all the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson.

In so far as I can understand it, it would give community radio a greater identification and strength, and a firmer foundation on which to do its work. At the moment it is a "stop-go" process--go for a period and then stop, or if not stop completely, slow down. It does not help to bring in gifted artistes with talent. It seems only sensible and right that the energy and effort that can be put into community radio should be more available and give more help. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will reflect carefully on these amendments so that he comes to realise that those involved cannot do their work properly if they do not have the means to have a continuous foundation on which to work. I hope that he will give an appreciative hearing to this amendment and the others that stand in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, and in my name.

Baroness David: I should like to support the amendments moved by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, which are aimed, as he said, at ensuring that community radio is given an opportunity to be heard in this country as it is in many other European and English-speaking countries around the world. The amendment has widespread grassroots public support in Cambridge--where there is a local community station that asked me to help in trying to have these amendments accepted--and in many other rural and urban areas around the country. That is demonstrated by the evidence of thousands of listeners to community radio groups broadcasting on restricted service licences for up to a month at a time, which is a very unsatisfactory way to proceed. That is the maximum period available in most areas under present Radio Authority regulations.

Like the group in Cambridge, those groups broadcast with volunteers from the local community, which are more able to reflect it and provide a truly

8 Feb 1996 : Column 378

local choice without having to concern themselves about maximising profit. Cambridge Community Radio had to wait 11 years for the opportunity to apply for a full-time broadcast licence because previous Acts failed to include that sector. Britain is lagging behind many other developed countries which have licensed that sector. For over 20 years Australia has had a very successful legislative arrangement, similar to the one proposed for the United Kingdom. It now has around 140 stations to which over 5 per cent. of the population listen. All of them are owned and run by local people for the benefit of their local community. We could have the same system here if the amendments are supported.

Nowadays, a great deal is said about communities and trying to help them. It seems to me that community radio is one way to do that. I hope that the Minister will be able to take a favourable view of the amendments.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page