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Earl Peel: My Lords, it was a pleasure to hear my noble friend.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, it was also a pleasure for me. However, I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Peel, will convey to his colleagues the power of his noble friend's attack. It is quite legitimate to poke fun at anybody in any party who, while in opposition, promises to repeal legislation and then finds a number of years later--the noble Lord is also right about this--that it is not as easy as was thought.

I remind the noble Lord that this draft order is laid before Parliament under Section 77(2) of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 which was not part of the original Bill that attracted particular criticism from the then Opposition, just as it is not as important as the first five sections of the 1994 Act which have caused the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee to institute special procedures for parliamentary scrutiny of these orders. I believe that this is less controversial than the noble Lord has said.

However, the noble Lord has a valid point in suggesting that the unions will be concerned about this contracting out if and when it takes place. I made it clear in introducing the order that there was no certainty that there would be a form of public/private partnership now or at any time in the future, but the unions have an understandable concern. The agency has consulted the trade unions regularly, and the Economic Secretary to the Treasury has had two meetings with them in recent months. There will be further contact with the unions and staff.

The noble Lord is also right that there is no guarantee that there will be no compulsory redundancies, although he will be aware that the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations will apply in this case and will ensure that there are broadly comparable conditions of service and pensions for the staff concerned. But it is no secret that the review which National Savings was undertaking might itself have resulted in job losses even without any public/private partnership, the subject of this order.

One possibility which should not be ignored, which would work in the opposite direction, is that a contractor taking on the operational aspects of National Savings, under a public/private partnership, might well find additional uses for the skills of the staff in Durham, Blackpool and Glasgow. Those are transferable skills within the FSA. There may be additional protection for jobs rather than job losses.

I suppose that I have to be grateful--whether for satirical reasons or not--that the noble Lord commends the order. I take his words at face value and thank him for them. I commend the order to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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Broadcasting (Percentage of Digital Capacity for Radio Multiplex Licence) Order 1998

5.15 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 7th April be approved [30th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, after that debate, the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, should not leave his colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, entirely on his own.

The Broadcasting Act 1996 restricts the amount of capacity on digital radio multiplexes that can be used for transmitting data services which are unrelated to the sound programming to 10 per cent. By data services, I mean non-sound services which are most likely to be displays in either text or video form on the front of digital radio receivers. These restrictions exist because the Government believe the primary use of the spectrum that has been allocated to digital radio should be for audio services for public reception. However, digital technology will enable a variety of associated services to be delivered via the airwaves and it is right that these associated services be allowed to develop for the benefit of the consumer. By this order the Government propose that up to 20 per cent. of capacity should be used in this way.

The Government are raising the limit from the level set in the 1996 Act following representations we have received from the commercial radio industry. It was the view of the industry--backed by the UK Digital Radio Forum--that the 10 per cent. limit was too restrictive and that its relaxation would greatly assist the establishment of sustainable commercial digital radio services. We have listened carefully to those representations and have consulted the Radio Authority, which agrees that our proposal to raise the limit to 20 per cent. is acceptable.

In accepting the case for raising the limit of capacity that can be used for data services we have made clear to the industry that the bulk of this capacity should be used for data services receivable by the general public on all digital radio receivers. We do not want to preclude digital radio licensees delivering some business services to closed user groups. But we are aware that such services are already provided in other parts of the spectrum and via telecommunications systems. The Government have therefore asked the Radio Authority to monitor the additional services that are broadcast and to report to my right honourable friend the Secretary of

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State on the second anniversary of the start of digital radio services on the proportion of additional services taken up by services aimed at closed-user groups and on whether this amount was detrimental to digital radio services. The Government will consider in the light of the authority's report whether the 20 per cent. limit introduced by this order needs to be revised.

The Radio Authority has already advertised the sole national commercial multiplex licence and has outlined a provisional timetable for local licence advertisements. Press reports indicate a significant degree of interest in these licences and the Government will play their part in promoting a successful launch of digital radio in the UK. The changes that will be brought into effect by this order will enhance the prospects for digital radio further. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 7th April be approved [30th Report from the Joint Committee].--(Lord McIntosh of Haringey.)

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, perhaps I may ask the Minister one brief question. Are the proposals triggered by the fact that digital compression techniques have improved so that the same volume of radio services can be carried on the 80 per cent. which, it was anticipated when the Bill was passed, would require 90 per cent. of the multiplex? Alternatively, is the additional 10 per cent. for other services such a valuable source of extra revenue for the broadcasters and multiplex owner that it has driven forward the proposal?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the pressure underlying the order is economic and commercial rather than technical. The data services are of value to those who broadcast to wide user groups. But they also have a value to narrower user groups. We believe that it is desirable to give this degree of flexibility to those who apply for licences. It will help to ensure the economic success of the digital radio project.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, can the Minister confirm that he does not anticipate that the public will receive any less good a range and quality of services by virtue of the change than they otherwise would have done?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I can confirm that.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

        House adjourned for the Spring Bank Holiday Recess at twenty-one minutes past five o'clock.

21 May 1998 : Column 1847

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