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Lord Kirkhill: My Lords, with the leave of the House, perhaps I may intervene. In the Minister's response to my Amendment No. 141 he restated the

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position that he outlined in Committee so I am not totally surprised. I shall withdraw my amendment at this stage and then leave the matter to the House.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Prys-Davies moved Amendment No. 141A:

Page 57, line 22, leave out ("significant").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I was immensely impressed and persuaded by the Minister's speech on Amendment No. 141. As I have already spoken to Amendment No. 141A, I beg to move.

Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, perhaps I may advise my noble friend the Minister that I, too, prefer Amendment No. 141A and hope that the House will agree to it.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I understand that it is normal from the Dispatch Box for the Government to explain that they would like to take an amendment away to fine-tune the drafting. However, on this amendment, parliamentary counsel feel that nothing extra could possibly be done with it.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 142 not moved.]

Lord Prys-Davies moved Amendment No. 143:

Page 57, line 35, at end insert (", including those in positions which are designed to exercise editorial and management control of programmes in the areas,").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is important that the commission should be satisfied that regional programmes will continue to be made by people who live in that region and who have a thorough knowledge and full understanding of the interests and the views of the people there. It is that combination of knowledge and relationship with viewers which ensures that regional productions identify with, and reflect, the genuine interests of the region.

I believe that the underlying idea was, and is, acceptable to the commission. Indeed, in Committee the Minister said on 13th February, at cols. 590 and 591 of Hansard, that he was also sympathetic to the idea but that it was probably encompassed within the wider concept of "making" a programme in what was then Clause 63(4)(b). However, the Minister promised that he would discuss the matter with the commission to see whether it would welcome clarification. The only question, therefore, is whether the amendment is necessary. In our submission, the amendment provides important clarification. I hope therefore that it will be acceptable to the Minister.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, in Committee various noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, proposed adding to subsection (4)(c) of the clause which provides for the protection of levels of use of regional employees and offices as an important facet of the licence holder's regionality. If I understood the provisions correctly, they were aimed at preventing a company following the letter of the provision by using regional employees but avoiding the spirit of the clause

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and damaging regionality by not using those employees in posts where they would have an effect on the content and choice of programming.

As the noble Lord explained, the amendment is similarly intended to close that perceived loophole. I said in Committee that I would consider what might be done to strengthen the protection of regionality in subsection (4) and I have done so. I have also discussed the provision with the commission and found it sympathetic to the noble Lord's point. The Government therefore propose to table an amendment to Clause 66(4) on Third Reading similar in purpose and wording to that put forward by the noble Lord. In the light of that assurance, I hope very much that he will not pursue his amendment.

Lord Prys-Davies: My Lords, in the light of what the Minister has said I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Kirkhill moved Amendment No. 144:

Page 57, line 41, at end insert--
("(4A) Without prejudice to the generality of subsections (3) and (4), the Commission may also vary the licence, by a notice served on the licence holder, so as to give effect to any proposals made or assurances given in relation to or in connection with improving the service by the licence holder or by any person having or proposing to acquire control over the licence holder in connection with the relevant change of control.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I understand from the grouping and I assume that the Minister agrees--that is, if he has the same grouping, which is not always the case--that we are now considering Amendments Nos. 144 to 152, also taking in Amendment No. 155. It is on that basis--

Lord Inglewood: No.

Lord Kirkhill: My Lords, let us be clear. That is what I have in front of me.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, there has been a rearrangement of the groupings. Amendment No. 155 should be grouped with the following group of amendments and not with Amendment No. 144 et cetera.

Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I hope that Amendment No. 155 will be taken separately.

Lord Kirkhill: My Lords, I am always subject to the will of the House and I am delighted to agree with everyone else. My grouping included Amendment No. 155 with Amendment No. 144. But there you are. I am usually incompetent about these matters of fine detail--and about many other matters which are not of fine detail.

I must apologise to your Lordships--or continue to make some apology--because I tabled Amendment No. 148 in error. I was trying to refine Amendment No. 144 and did not mean to include Amendment No. 148 on the list. I apologise to both the Minister and your Lordships.

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The Bill provides for circumstances in which stronger companies could develop within Channel 3 and so benefit the viewer. A consolidated, stronger system might well offer added benefits for regional programming and production as well as for shareholders. Indeed, there is a precedent. In 1993 the merger of Yorkshire Television and Tyne Tees Television resulted in a completely new sub-regional service for viewers broadcast from a new studio near Middlesbrough.

As I read the Bill, it would not be open to the ITC to secure such improvements for the viewer as a result or consequence of a merger similar to that I have just described. Under Clause 66(6) the ITC cannot vary the licence to include any additional requirements. In other words, the ITC can ensure that viewers do not lose an important regional element they already enjoy but it cannot go further whatever the merits of the case.

My amendment would enable viewers to share the benefits brought about by such a merger. The ITC should be given such powers to enable it to secure improvements to the regional service so that viewers, as well as shareholders, share the benefits of greater industrial and commercial strength. I beg to move.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): My Lords, in view of the fact that Amendments Nos. 147 and 148 have been spoken to, I should point out to your Lordships that if Amendment No. 147 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 149, and that if Amendment No. 148 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 149 on that account also.

I should also indicate to your Lordships, for the purpose of clarification, that the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, is right. A note was circulated recently--it cannot have reached the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill--saying that Amendment No. 155 is no longer grouped with this series of amendments. It will, in fact, be called separately.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, once again I am happy to support the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, in his amendment. As I have before me almost exactly the same brief as the noble Lord, I shall not take up time by repeating his arguments. He put the case clearly and forcefully. Amendment No. 144 is important. It gives the ITC the right to seek improvements when there are changes of control. I am happy to support it.

4 p.m.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, the Government take the view that these amendments are unnecessary. In our view, Amendment No. 144 undesirably blurs the focus of Clause 66 on the key issue of protecting regional broadcasting which is the purpose of the clause.

If there are other issues relating to programming quality which the ITC wishes to consolidate in the licence, it can always resort to its general powers under Section 3(4) of the 1990 Act to vary the conditions of the licence if it wishes to do so. The new powers in Clause 66 are designed specifically to focus on something which is of particular importance at the time of a prospective takeover; namely, the possibility that

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existing levels of regional programming over and above what is required may be jeopardised. There is specific reason to suppose that greater consolidation within ITV might otherwise lessen its regional character and therefore particular reason to concentrate relatively narrowly on the regional issues within Clause 66 as it is currently formulated.

As to enhanced licence conditions beyond existing performance, they should be possible only if they are entrenched with the new licence holder's consent. We believe that the amendments subtract from, rather than add to, the effectiveness of the clause. For those reasons, we cannot support them.

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