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Lord Barnett: My Lords, I do not want to withdraw the amendment at the moment because I know some noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare and Lord Thomson of Monifieth, want to speak.
Perhaps the Minister will clarify a point for me when he replies. Our amendment is entitled "Provision of news on Channels 3 and 5". I would not in principle be in favour of the same nominated news provider providing both ITV news and Channel 5 news. As I read the original Section 31 of the 1990 Act, it does not say that the nominated news provider should be the same in both cases. It merely indicates that there should be a nominated news provider and that it should be one of quality. With those qualifications, I strongly support what the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, has said.
Lord Orr-Ewing: My Lords, I always think that BBC news should be sacrosanct but I find it disturbing that it is made by Granada for the BBC. Who controls that if there are imperfections in the standards being set? I am not saying that there are, but does it come under the ITC as it is produced by Granada, which is an independent company? Presumably it comes under the BBC if it has it on its channel. It does not sow quite the same confidence when I see that it is news made for the BBC by Granada. It is a small point. I think purity of the public service is very important, particularly in the news area.
Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, perhaps I may make two brief points. First, the signatories to the amendment are either Cross Benchers or Social Democrats but there is support for the amendment on this side of the House. I tried to add my name to the amendment but, as the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, indicated, other people had jumped in first. I want to emphasise the fact that there is some support for the amendment on this side of the House.
Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, I never get the names right. The Liberal Democrats are such a wonderful party but I am always confused about the actual name. I did mean the name the noble Baroness mentioned--a very fine name indeed!
I trust the Minister to accept the spirit of the amendment. But when he gets in cahoots with his officials I hope he will emphasise to them that we do not want a patchwork provision. There must be one provider; not necessarily ITN, as the noble Lord said, although I hope it will be ITN. I have to declare that one of my daughters works for ITN. There should be one provider. Otherwise we shall have a patchwork provision and we shall have news being shown at different times in different parts of the country. That is the last thing we want. I hope the Minister will bear that point in mind.
Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare: My Lords, perhaps I may begin by pointing out to the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, that I am a Conservative and that my name is attached to the amendment. It is very cruel of him not to remember that I am a Conservative as he was my pair when I was in the lower House. Perhaps I may also say how aware I am that the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, hopes to catch a train to Manchester at a particular hour, so I shall not repeat arguments that have already been put forward.
I am bound to say, though, as a man who believes in free enterprise, that it would be natural for me to want to see as much competition as possible. But in this particular case it is a matter of wanting quality rather than anything else. I was moved by the comments of John Birt at the 40th anniversary of ITN--it is not ITN we are actually discussing here; it is anyone who might have this job--that the strength of the BBC as a news agency for the whole world was the strength of ITN. As long as you had outstanding competition for the BBC, the BBC had no choice but to make sure it was as good if not better. That is what we are fighting for in the House today. It is to make sure that the BBC has to stay on its toes for ever. I do not believe that would happen if this task was given out to many people and the standards were lowered. For that reason alone I back this amendment and back the noble Lord, Lord Barnett.
I want to be able to say whenever I travel around the world, and whenever I see anyone else's television, particularly in the United States, that we still have the best news service in the world. The way to keep that best news service in the world is to darn well make sure it is on its toes morning, noon and night. We shall not achieve that by dividing the talents we have among many people. We shall achieve it by making sure that they work together.
I am happy to support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, and I am pleased to have my name to it as well. I am pleased to remind my good and very old friend Lord Ashley that I am a member of the Conservative Party.
Lord McNally: My Lords, I rise with some trepidation because I know that the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, is heading for the six o'clock train. But I have always assumed that the Manchester train would not dare leave without him.
We want diversity and quality in television news, but that does not happen by chance or accident. This Bill has to have in it the amendments which have been put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett--I know what the Minister said--because they are needed. Without them there will be a tendency to go for the cheap and cheerful. As I said in Committee, the bean counters will prevail and news may well be forced to the margin of the third channel without the guarantees of this initiative put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, and his colleagues. I commend the amendment to the Minister.
Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde: My Lords, from these Benches we support this amendment. I am delighted at the enthusiasm of my noble friend Lord Ashley in jumping up and getting in his remarks, but my name was attached to the original amendment. It would have appeared with the amendment today, but as it has only four lines it could not be entered there. We felt that it was far better to have support from right across the House. As a fellow Mancunian, far be it for me to delay my noble friend Lord Barnett any longer. We strongly support this amendment.
Lord Inglewood: My Lords, with the leave of the House, although I thought that it might have been convenient to your Lordships--or one of them--to have indicated my response earlier, I would like to thank the noble Lord and his supporters in the "rainbow coalition" for having so clearly set out the purpose and rationale of the amendments.
When your Lordships debated this issue in Committee I undertook to reflect carefully on what was said about the provision of news on Channel 3 and I promised to make the Government's position clear today. I am pleased to do so.
A powerful case has been made for restricting the provision of news on Channel 3 to one provider. Having carefully considered the arguments, I can inform your Lordships that the Government agree with the purpose of Amendment No. 165. We are persuaded that there are significant benefits in requiring Channel 3 to have a single news provider and in amending the 1990 Act accordingly.
We accept that a single Channel 3 news supplier is an important counterbalance to the BBC and will help to provide competition for audience share and in the production of high quality newscasting. We agree that a
In accepting the case for a single news provider we recognise the valuable role played by the ITC in vetting possible applicants for quality and therefore want to retain the ITC's role as the body which designates nominated news providers as such. We would not want, however, the ITC to take all Channel 3's decisions for them. We therefore propose that the ITC may nominate as many news providers for Channel 3 as it deems fit, but that it is left to the ITV network to choose which single provider best meets their requirements from those deemed fit. Such a framework will have the additional benefit of ensuring proper competition between news providers when the contract to the chosen provider nears the end of its term.
As I made clear in Committee, the Government are opposed to attempting a definition in statute of a quality broadcast news service which has not heretofore been needed. I therefore remain opposed to the revised attempt of the noble Lord in Amendment No. 166 to do so. We have a firm and effective regulator in the ITC and I see no need to tell them how to do their job in defining the quality of news provision which they have managed quite satisfactorily in the past.
With the permission of the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, I should like to take Amendment No. 165 away, permit parliamentary counsel to work on it, and to table a similar Government amendment at Third Reading. I very much hope that the noble Lord accepts my reasons for opposing his second amendment and that, in the light of what I have said, he might consider withdrawing them.
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