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Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I fear that, as the noble Lord just said, the clause discriminates against local and regional papers, many of which compete with the nationals, although some are owned by the nationals. I am concerned that the Bill might prohibit a regional or local newspaper from owning a radio station in circumstances in which the newspaper's circulation in the radio station's area was modest. It would allow a national newspaper with a high circulation in a licensed area to own local broadcasting stations. I hope that the Government will amend the provisions to make them fairer.

Baroness Wharton: My Lords, as I understand them, the amendments seek to ensure that regional newspapers are treated fairly when in competition with national newspapers especially when bidding for local stations in their own areas. Local papers are a major factor in creating cohesion in a local community, often giving greater value for money as they tend to be far more responsible than the national press in that they are directly answerable to the local community that they serve. A regional newspaper with a circulation smaller than that of a national newspaper should not be automatically barred from being able to compete for a local station in its own area. It is with that in mind that I support the amendments.

The Earl of Stockton: My Lords, having listened to the debate and particularly to the contributions from the two noble Baronesses, I am a trifle concerned. This was precisely the position in many towns and cities in the United States before and after the Second World War when the local radio station was often controlled by the same business group as the local newspapers. It was for that reason that restrictions to inhibit that were introduced by the Federal Broadcasting Commission, later the Federal Communications Commission, because for obvious reasons local business interests took control not only of them but of local politics. While there are good commercial reasons, there are dangerous democratic reasons in allowing the amendment to go forward in its present form.

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11 p.m.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, since the noble Lord, Lord McGregor, spoke also to the other amendments in his name, I feel that it would be appropriate for me to respond in general terms. As he explained, all his amendments are designed to remove or relax the restrictions in Schedule 2 imposed on local newspapers seeking to control local broadcasting services.

I should like to respond for now with a few general remarks. What Schedule 2 does is to liberalise the arrangements for cross-media holdings, while continuing to protect plurality at both national and local level. Indeed, in my view, one of the strengths of this Bill is that it pays particular attention to protection of plurality at local level.

The local market share proposed in Part IV is intended to ensure that no one player can assume a position of dominance in the local media market place; that is, that part of the media which has a specifically local or regional focus: regional Channel 3 services, local radio stations and regional and local newspapers. I am sure that your Lordships acknowledge that national and local newspapers are distinctly different products in terms of their editorial focus.

I accept that national newspapers compete to some extent with local papers for readers and advertisers. They do not, however, provide the local news and information, for which readers turn to local and regional newspapers. Our proposals are about protecting plurality, and not about regulating competition in the markets. Newspaper markets and advertising markets will continue to be subject to normal competition law.

As the Bill stands, local newspapers will be free to buy broadcasters outside their circulation areas and to apply to control broadcasters within their own areas where their circulation is within the thresholds. The 50 per cent. threshold proposed for local newspapers buying into local radio already allows a considerable level of local media concentration. It seems to us that any local newspaper so dominant within its own area as to fall foul of that threshold should not also be allowed to control the local radio station. That was the point made by my noble friend Lord Stockton. The inclusion of national newspapers in the calculations would seriously dilute our proposals and remove in practice the protection of plurality at local level at a stroke.

In summary, we remain broadly satisfied that cross-media ownership restrictions as set out in the Bill are needed to limit local newspapers' capacity to buy into local broadcasters. However, we accept that some detailed improvements may be needed, and I hope that with those assurances and explanations of Government policy the noble Lord will feel that he now understands the position that we have taken in this regard.

Lord McGregor of Durris : My Lords, I thank the Minister for his remarks. I understand the position that he outlined, but I still believe that it is mistaken. I do not believe that we can increase local plurality of information by weakening one important group of providers of information. There is no doubt that the Government's proposals in the Bill will weaken the

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local press considerably. I am disappointed that the Minister felt unable to say that he would consider the issue further. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 101 not moved.]

Lord Inglewood moved Amendment No. 102:

Page 92, leave out lines 11 to 15.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth moved Amendment No. 103:

Page 92, line 17, at end insert--
("Public interest enquiries where paragraphs 4 to 8 otherwise apply
.--(1) The restrictions imposed by or under paragraphs 4 to 8 shall not have effect in relation to--
(a) the participation (direct or indirect) of any person in any other person, or
(b) in a case falling within paragraph 8, the control by one person of another,
unless the relevant authority has found that participation or control to operate or to be expected to operate against the public interest.
(2) Paragraphs 10 and 11 shall apply, with such modifications as may be necessary, for the purposes of sub-paragraph (1) above as they apply for the purposes of determining whether a situation within paragraph 9 operates or may be expected to operate against the public interest.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, as I read the Marshalled List, this is the last amendment of substance and I will not detain your Lordships at this late hour. However, I cannot resist remarking that it is perhaps a reflection of a Broadcasting Bill which has not divided us on party lines that an amendment tabled in my name has attracted the support of the noble Lords, Lord Harris of High Cross and Lord Pearson of Rannoch. I am fairly sure that this will be the only occasion on which the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, and I will be together on the same amendment. In the case of the noble Lord, Lord Harris, it is a different matter; he is an old Liberal and I am a new Liberal Democrat. I am professionally a regulator and he is a free marketeer of deep conviction. But we both come from around St. Andrews and we have not always disagreed on everything. Therefore I am happy to see his name attached to the amendment.

The amendment is a re-draft of one that I moved in Committee. I will not weary the House with the detail, but it has been re-drafted in order to meet the various objections which the Minister made to my original amendment. It also seeks to deal with some of the objections which the Minister made to the amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Donoughue. My starting point was the belief that as regards the particular case of restrictions on national newspapers the right course was to apply a rigid public interest test as to whether ownership of a television contract by any of the great national newspaper groups should be acceptable rather than to apply the arbitrary numerical test which affects only two newspaper groups.

Your Lordships have been very patient with me during our proceedings on the Bill and as you will know I am not an uncritical admirer of Mr. Rupert Murdoch. However, I believe that a provision which discriminates

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simply on numerical grounds solely against the Daily Mirror and the Murdoch newspapers is the wrong way to approach the problem. As a matter of general principle, I believe it right to apply a rigid public interest test to any aspirations that either of those groups have for the ownership of television stations rather than have them put in this particular position.

That is the background to the amendment. It has been revised in a way which I hope will meet some of the Minister's objections. However, I recognise the fact that it does not meet the basic objection. I simply put it forward again as a matter of general principle. I beg to move.

Lord Harris of High Cross: My Lords, I am pleased strongly to support the amendment. The effect of this on the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, seems to have been to land him in hospital. He will no doubt read the debates with great interest. He asked me to apologise for being unable to be present.

I shall not go over the argument, but shall make two observations. First, this is a joint effort by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, and me to rescue the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, from having to put forward the awkward amendment raising the limit to 25 per cent. in order to keep Rupert Murdoch out of reach, but allowing the Daily Mirror under the wire. No doubt if the noble Lord, Lord Desai, were here he would join us in saying that the limits are arbitrary and of all arbitrary limits 20 per cent. is the wrong one to choose.

My second observation is that in a fair world we have the Minister on the run. A moment ago he made a fantastic emphatic appeal saying that television is most important and dominant; it rules the world; we must watch it; it has a unique influence and so forth. Now he says said that newspapers are also important and that we must not have more than a 20 per cent. control of newspapers because owners will control the world and distort our affairs. That is a narrow, blinkered, fearful, backward-looking attitude for a young man, as the Minister is. However, he has time to get better, which is one encouragement. I believe in the idea of moving from a 20 per cent. fixed limit on which you bang your head and must not go above, to having a public interest test, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth.

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