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Lord Wyatt of Weeford: I am surprised to hear the noble Viscount running down the Observer with which he was associated for so long. He suggested that because its circulation was small it had no influence. I thought it was supposed to have a great influence, particularly under Mr. J. L. Garvin.

Have not the Government so far made a total muddle and mess of all the regulations, counter regulations, slip holes and arbitrary numbers? You can get underneath them or you cannot, and if you cannot, then this, that or the other happens. Would it be wise to examine all the implications again thoroughly before Report stage? Perhaps the Government can take on board the demonstration by the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, that what may be done could be in contravention of European law by which we are bound. Would not the Government be wise to go away, try to understand some of the comments made in the Committee stage so far, think again and consider their position more carefully?

Lord Desai: I support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Harris, and wish to respond to what the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, said. He is on the

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right lines; we need a measurement of the market, of market power, and of market share. But given that the different media interact and that there are cross-influences, we need a common measure of market power across the different sectors.

I have raised this issue before. We should consider how the 1990 Act got the domestic and non-domestic distinction totally wrong within three weeks of the passing of the Act. We are about to see tremendous technological change in the industry; we know that. We are about to enshrine in print proposals from 1995 which are likely to be out of date before 1996 has gone. I put this to the Minister. Suppose we want to restrict the influence of certain big barons on political opinion, for whatever reason. I imagine that the Minister would say that if people own news channels, in terms of news channel percentages and newspaper percentages, that is political influence and therefore we should do something about it. There may perhaps be logic in that. However, one would not want to put all television and newspapers together and say that 15 per cent., 20 per cent. or 25 per cent. of that is a meaningful figure when there is already a competition policy. I must emphasise that there is a competition policy. People will not be able to gobble up smaller producers just like that. The noble Viscount need not fear that, given that we have the MMC and the OFT. Therefore, I do not see the logic of having another competition policy. I am still not convinced by the sincere arguments of the noble Viscount showing that somehow the media are peculiar and that we must be more careful with them than with any other commodity. I am not persuaded of that.

Lord Inglewood: I begin my remarks with the obvious point that the noble Lords, Lord Harris, and Lord Wyatt, do not agree with our policy. That is the fundamental division between us.

I wish to pick up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Desai, about finding a way of measuring the impact of the media. The suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Harris, about measuring influence solely through time shows how wise the Government have been in the Bill in not attempting to suggest a common currency. It does not underscore the credibility of his proposal that his approach to the problem suggests that BSkyB has less influence than Capital Radio. We have at least found one currency of which the noble Lord seems to approve.

I wish to go to the heart of the debate because I do not wish to go over our general policy. I have explained what it is, some Members of the Committee accept it and others clearly do not. As it stands, the Bill will also prevent newspaper groups having 20 per cent. or more of national market share from exerting an influence over Channel 3, Channel 5 and radio licence holders through cable and satellite companies in which they have an interest above 20 per cent. Even if one disagrees with the approach which the Government adopt, it must follow that if there is a market share threshold, one must ensure that the Government's intentions cannot be circumvented by newspaper companies using companies

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in which they have major shareholdings from controlling such licences. The amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Harris, would remove that restriction from the Bill.

We must be clear about one point which was touched on earlier in the debate. We are not saying that News International controls Sky. We say that News International has such a large share in it that it should not be allowed, through Sky, to acquire control in leading broadcasters on top of its national newspaper dominance. It seems to me that that is a relatively simple and straightforward proposition to grasp.

However, at the same time, the debate has illustrated another important point. It is that if any organisation which has above the 20 per cent. newspaper threshold wishes to become involved in television, a great deal can be done if it is not a company acquiring Channel 3 licences or a Channel 5 company. In the case of BSkyB, it is a large company and a large proportion of its shares are exchanged on the Stock Exchange. There are plenty of ways in for those excluded from the Channel 3 and Channel 5 sectors of the market, and if a company wishes to go in that direction it can play a big part.

I conclude not by rehearsing the arguments again but by making two points. In bringing forward our proposals we have endeavoured to work out a scheme which we believe will deliver the policy aspirations which we have in the world as it is. I suspect that it is always tempting for professional economists to reduce their arguments towards abstraction because that is the nature of their trade. I sense that I have been hearing from one or two Members of the Committee this evening an analysis which provides enormous intellectual coherence in a purely abstract sense. However, it does not measure up to the realities of the world, as it is out there at the moment.

We have endeavoured to bring forward a series of suggestions which provide a proper balance between a number of conflicting goods which come into conflict with each other when considering such matters. I wish to emphasise one point before I sit down. It was suggested that in this area, in one way or another, the Government were cowering in their tent. I am not cowering in any tent. The Government are coming forward with these proposals which they are endeavouring to present to the Committee and to the country in as clear a manner as possible, in order to try to take a positive step in response to the technological changes affecting the media. Thus, on the one hand, the changes can be driven forward and at the same time the public interest is properly protected.

7 p.m.

Lord Harris of High Cross: I do not wish to prolong this absorbing debate very much longer. I urge the Minister and his friends to bear in mind the remarks of the noble Lords, Lord Thomson, Lord Donoughue and others: the 1990 Broadcasting Act has not survived the dramatic changes that are still going forward. This very detailed kind of regulation is brittle. It is liable either to prevent fruitful and important developments or to give way under stress and strain.

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I was much encouraged by the debate on these amendments. The noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, on the Liberal Democrat Benches, the noble Lords, Lord Donoughue and Lord Desai, on the Labour Benches, and some Members on the Cross-Benches, all spoke about whether this provision is arbitrary and whether 20 per cent. is the right kind of arbitrariness to go for. As the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, said, before Report there must be some way of putting to the test, in a perfectly open spirit of inquiry, not the abstract view of the economists, but the view of Members of this Committee on the great issue of which way we should lean. Should we lean towards restriction and detailed control; or should we be a little more laid back and trust leading established institutions such as the Monopolies and Mergers Commission and the Director General of Fair Trading to play their proven role?

We are being very noble. We are not dividing the Committee and marching through the Lobby. However, it would be valuable if, on Report, we could find between us some way of presenting that choice in some part of the Bill. In that way we could test the blinkered, tunnel vision of the Government's spokesman against the more confident, optimistic, forward-looking and dynamic view represented in all parts of the other side of the Chamber. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 156E to 156EB not moved.]

[Amendment No. 156F had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

[Amendments Nos. 156G to 156GH not moved.]

[Amendment No. 156H had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

[Amendments Nos. 157 to 161B not moved.]

Schedule 2 agreed to.

Clause 63 [Variation of regional Channel 3 licence following change of control]:

[Amendment No. 161C had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Lord Crickhowell moved Amendment No. 161D:

Page 55, line 43, leave out ("referred to in section 14(1)") and insert ("or
(d) the quality of range of programme originating from each regional service area and offered for inclusion in the nationwide system of services,").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I propose to speak also to Amendments Nos. 169B and 171A grouped with it. Again, I declare an interest as a director of HTV.

During an earlier debate, the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, pointed out that sometimes the grouping of amendments and the order in which we take debates is not exactly helpful. We now come to a very important series of four debates on regional broadcasting. Had I had the choice, I think I would have taken them in reverse order. It is not entirely rational to start with the contribution to the nationwide system, follow it with a debate about the relevant period and then touch on what constitutes a significant reduction,

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before debating the crucial and important issues of editorial control, where programmes are produced and who produces them.

However, faced with this difficulty, I say one general word about the importance of regional broadcasting. Last night, speaking at the Royal Television Society dinner in honour of David Glencross, John Birt said that regional programming is surely the singular achievement of ITV. That is a judgment with which I agree. My company, HTV, is responsible for two quite separate regional areas and provides very different services to each.

For Wales, regional broadcasting is of absolutely crucial importance. In Wales, HTV provides a national service to its viewers which records, reflects, questions, reveals and celebrates all aspects of Welsh life. Of all the television channels available in Wales, it is the most watched. Its news programmes, for example, regularly attract a greater number of viewers than any other channel. The programmes that the company produces include drama, documentaries, sport, music, arts, entertainment, current affairs, education, community programming and religion. At least 95 per cent. of HTV's regional programming is produced in Wales. The same could be said about other regional companies. I use this example only to illustrate the importance of regional broadcasting.

I am therefore pleased that Clause 63 of the Bill recognises that new licence conditions may need to be imposed to maintain the standards of the regional Channel 3 service when control of either the licence holder or the body providing programmes for the service is changed.

However, I am concerned that, as presently drafted, the clause does not protect the level of service currently provided. It is important to emphasise that the two are not necessarily the same. In most cases the regional broadcasters provide a service that is significantly better and greater than that demanded of them by the licence conditions. We need to consider whether we can strengthen the provisions in the Bill in any way. A number of attempts are being made in this grouping and in those that follow to do just that.

This amendment deals with a matter that is clearly considered relevant. The Government refer to it in Clause 63(3)(c), which relates to the quality or range of programmes included in the nationwide system of services known as Channel 3. The balance is provided by programmes that are acquired or commissioned for transmission across the whole of the United Kingdom.

At the present time all regional broadcasters are able to offer programmes to the Channel 3 network for commission and subsequent transmission throughout the United Kingdom. The existing provision ensures that the Channel 3 network carries programmes which are properly representative of the geographical diversity of the United Kingdom. I welcome the attempt by Clause 63(3) to strengthen the Independent Television Commission's ability to ensure that programmes from all parts of the country continue to be offered to the Channel 3 network and to monitor the supply of programmes to that network. But we must consider one or two problems in that connection.

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One could make an interesting speech and write an interesting book about the factors that help to decide exactly what is included in network broadcasting and how decisions are taken by the powers that be to put specific programmes onto the network. Clearly large companies have a considerable influence in deciding what share of the network is taken by their companies. But it is also true that if we do not have good quality programmes produced by the right kind of staff in the regions, with the necessary skills and experience to make programmes that are attractive not just in the regions but throughout the country, we shall not have the opportunity to share in the national network.

There is a danger that the situation could arise where we are down to two or three large companies producing the bulk of their production in London, the Midlands or elsewhere. The chance of obtaining good regional programmes is then reduced because the scale of the production facility, the numbers of people involved, and so forth, have been whittled down in the regions and concentrated in the centre. The object of the clause is to strengthen the ability of the Independent Television Commission to protect that aspect of regionality as part of a package of measures to protect the great achievement of ITV in its contribution of regional programmes to television. I beg to move.

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