Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Earl Howe: My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord for his generous remarks. I too have enjoyed our exchanges across the Dispatch Boxes over the past 18 months or so. The future importance of NAAFI to the services cannot be overstated. NAAFI now has a chief executive who is determined to drive the organisation forward, to modernise and to make sure that its services are consistent with what our Armed Forces wish to receive. I have every confidence in NAAFI's ability to do that and every confidence that the restructuring exercise that I mentioned will enable it to

19 Mar 1997 : Column 900

invest to the degree necessary to ensure that the clubs in particular but also the retail outlets are upgraded to a satisfactory standard.

Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, while the business deal that has been explained today sounds very good, is the Minister aware that some of the people involved have a reputation for asset stripping in other companies? Can we have an undertaking that this exercise will not have that kind of ending? Is the Minister aware that some of the same people are now targeting the Co-op movement? Those of us who have been involved with the Co-op all our lives do not want anything to do with them. Can he give an undertaking that the Bank of England and the Ministries concerned will keep a close watch on the activities of these people as one of their companies has had to cease trading on the instructions of the Bank of England because it had acquired an artificial increase in its share prices?

Earl Howe: My Lords, the contract will be closely monitored as it proceeds. Booker is the market leader in food distribution. It has a well proven track record. It is setting up dedicated facilities to support the MoD contract which, as the noble Lord will be well aware, will be backed up by the considerable strength of the Booker plc organisation. My department considered all aspects of the food supply requirement both in this country and overseas during its evaluation of the tenders. We were absolutely satisfied that Booker's proposals were sound, realistic and achievable. I repeat that I am confident that we shall see a successful transition of the food supply contract when NAAFI's service comes to an end later this year.

Lord Palmer: My Lords, will the noble Earl tell the House how many other tenders they had other than Booker's for this particular contract?

Earl Howe: My Lords, tenders were initially invited from six companies, but in the end bids were received from only two; namely, NAAFI and the Booker Foodservice Group.

Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, in view of the fact that NAAFI is itself restructuring and no doubt endeavouring to modernise its activities, would it not have been better in the circumstances at least to have given the contract to NAAFI and to have retained the jobs rather than to put out the contract to an outside operation?

Earl Howe: My Lords, we made it clear when NAAFI gained the food supply contract initially in 1994 that that contract would be subject to a tendering exercise last year. We adhered to that. Having decided on that route, we had to make sure that the competition was fair and open. I, and no doubt many others, were disappointed that NAAFI did not manage to secure the contract. But clearly we have a good prospect, as I have said, in the shape of Booker to ensure that the contract is delivered successfully. As regards job losses, I stress again that jobs will be created by Booker. It is not

19 Mar 1997 : Column 901

entirely a one-way story. But for those people who are losing their jobs steps are being taken to minimise the pain to ensure that resettlement services are available, advice and so on. I believe that the decision we have taken is in the long-term interests of our Armed Services.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords--

The Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Cranborne): My Lords, with the greatest respect to the noble Countess, I think we should give perhaps five minutes to the next Question.

Digital Television Services

3.2 p.m.

Lord McNally asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they expect a decision from the ITC on the bids by the Digital Television Network and British Digital Broadcasting to operate digital terrestrial television in the United Kingdom.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of National Heritage (Lord Inglewood): My Lords, the award of licences to operate commercial digital terrestrial television multiplexes is for the Independent Television Commission. It is for the commission to determine the time needed to consider the applications which have been submitted.

Lord McNally: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the assessment in last Sunday's Sunday Telegraph that British television is on the verge of a decision which could see the multi-billion pound future of pay television handed to Rupert Murdoch? In those circumstances, does the Minister agree that it would be wrong for this decision to be made while Parliament is not sitting? Further, does he not think it right that Parliament should take a broader look at decisions being made in the broadcasting industry, such as over-the-set top boxes, paying the levy and various strategic alliances, all of which involve a steady accretion of power by Mr. Murdoch? Is it not time that Parliament took a broad view of the power that Mr. Murdoch is acquiring in our media to see whether that is in the public interest?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, these matters were considered at very considerable length during the debates on the Broadcasting Bill last year. Very strong measures have been put in place to control media concentration. No company can control more than three digital terrestrial multiplexes; no company can provide more than 25 per cent. of new digital terrestrial programming; no company can have more than 15 per cent of the total television audience. These matters have been set down. The procedures for dealing with digital terrestrial multiplexes were given by Parliament to the ITC. It is always the case that Parliament can debate these matters whenever it wishes.

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I am sure that the Minister is aware that the inside story is that this

19 Mar 1997 : Column 902

decision is scheduled to be announced on 1st May when perhaps the attention of the whole nation will not be entirely on it. The Minister mentioned Section 8 of the Broadcasting Act which covers these issues very specifically. Great emphasis is given to criteria of competition and the provision of a variety of programmes to meet a diversity of opinion. Will the Minister confirm that the Government still agree with that? Will he further confirm that the overarching principle stated in Section 8 is that the promotion of digital television should be, "otherwise than by satellite"? Will he tell us what the Government mean by that phrasing and whether they still support it?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I can confirm the first part of the remarks made by the noble Lord. The second part of his remarks are self-explanatory. We believe that award of the digital terrestrial television licences should be in order to promote the uptake of digital terrestrial television.

Lord Renton: My Lords, without disagreeing with the answers which my noble friend has given so far, is he aware that when I tried recently to buy a new television so that I could see how well we were doing in the general election, I found that the only kind of set available was Japanese, possibly made in this country? Can my noble friend say whether British Digital Broadcasting will be seen and heard in future on British made sets?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, my noble friend is jumping the gun a little. British Digital Broadcasting has not been granted a licence for anything. One of the purposes of our proposals for digital terrestrial broadcasting in this country is to promote the industry and technology in order to provide jobs for here and for profits to be generated abroad.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, is the Minister aware, as the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, said, that in the Bill which he steered through this House great emphasis was laid on the importance of maintaining competition? Is the Minister further aware that this decision will shape the future of British digital broadcasting in general in a way which is of great concern to future viewers and consumers? Although we are all told that the British general election has been virtually decided by Mr. Rupert Murdoch, as he already controls 90 per cent. of satellite broadcasting, that he intends to launch 200 digital satellite channels, and that he will be a major element in this new proposition, does the Minister agree that it might be a good thing if the ITC were to delay its decision until the general election was over and we were all a little cooler and able to take a more rational view of where the public interest lies in this matter?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, the proposals in Section 8 of the Broadcasting Act specifically state that one of the considerations of the ITC must be whether the applicant has acted in a manner to ensure effective and fair competition. The noble Lord is absolutely right

19 Mar 1997 : Column 903

about the long-term significance of the decisions that the ITC will take. Those matters have been set down by Parliament for decisions to be taken by the ITC independently. However, the noble Lord is not right in saying that the result of the general election is to be determined by Mr. Rupert Murdoch. There has been a lot of debate about his possible endorsement of one party or another. I notice that the newspaper which endorsed the video of the alleged frolics of Princess Di may have endorsed the party opposite.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page