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A noble Lord: Sing it!

Viscount Falkland: No, my Lords, I shall not sing it. The hour is too late. The crystal set soon developed into a one-valve piece of equipment, which I took to a terrible boarding school to which I was sent. I had headphones, and hid in the evening and listened to theatre and other broadcasts. When I was at home, I became a film buff as a result of listening to someone called Peter Noble. Those who are old enough will remember him. He had a programme on films every Sunday, which incidentally is something that we need now. It gave quite lengthy reviews of films and played their soundtracks, a concept that we might revisit. I am glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, nodding at that.

The debate has been very interesting. In winding up, it would be invidious to single out any of the speeches. Usually when I wind up, I have a few remarks written on the Order Paper. On this occasion, it is absolutely black and blue with comments on what noble Lords said in all their excellent speeches.

I absolutely share the views expressed about pre-legislative scrutiny, especially as I have just been through the Licensing Bill, which clearly needed pre-legislative scrutiny. Such scrutiny will probably be a thing of the future. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, who recommended post-legislative scrutiny. That is an excellent idea.

There has been a lot of talk, not only in the Chamber tonight, but particularly by the noble Baroness's right honourable friend in another place, Mrs Jowell, about consumers and citizens and the balance that needs to be created between those two groups. Consumers are citizens and vice versa, of course. It is a curiously bold move of the Government to introduce much of what they have suggested since the White Paper, which includes the enabling of foreign broadcasters to come into our market without any reciprocity. The Government seem confident that they can control the standards that we have long enjoyed in the light of those developments. Many noble Lords have expressed at least their scepticism about that.

We had an excellent speech, one of the most notable of the debate, by the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam. He chaired the committee that conducted the pre-legislative scrutiny so admirably. I shall try to paraphrase the remark that he made in the middle of his speech and which I considered to be at the absolute core of it. I am sure that many of your Lordships would agree with me about that, but not, I venture to suggest, the noble Lord, Lord Harris of High Cross. Incidentally, the Liberal Democrats have had a very good evening—we have been mentioned by many speakers. The noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, said that it was absolutely certain that plurality and diversity, which most of us would agree are desirable aims, are not a natural by-product of unregulated market

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forces, particularly where the cost of entry is so prohibitively high. That struck me as being the key part of his speech.

As noble Lords would expect, another excellent speech was made by the noble Lord, Lord Alli, who has experience in broadcasting. He drew attention to the importance of the independent TV production market, in which he has played an important part. He gave some of the strongest praise to the BBC—our public service broadcaster—of any speaker in your Lordships' House. I was interested to hear him say that much of the denigration of the BBC places it in a position where it cannot possibly win. I agree with that. If the BBC is successful, then everyone starts to squeal and squeak and whinge about it being too successful. I understood him to say that when the BBC is not successful, then we hear the cry that perhaps we should put an end to our public service broadcaster and open up what it does to the rest of the market. I agree with the noble Lord about that.

Many people attack the BBC, for example, for using licence payers' money for film production. I am not particularly interested in film, but I hold the BBC in high regard, as I do Channel 4, for the way that it produced a quality hybrid product which held what we called our "industry" together. That product could be shown equally in theatrical exhibitions as well as on television screens. The BBC, in particular under Mark Shivas, its director of production, carried out such work during the difficult times encountered by the film industry in this country. The BBC still seeks to play a part in our film culture and I do not believe that it should be attacked for that.

I also agree with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Alli—as mentioned by several other noble Lords—that one of the worst things that could arise from the regulation through Ofcom, which it seems we all welcome, would be if it were done on the cheap. We see the dangers of large multinational media companies coming into our arena. If undoubted struggles take place with expensive law cases, that will not happen on the cheap. They will steamroller us. That is one scenario which I hope we shall discuss.

Incidentally, I took very seriously the point made, I believe, by the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, that many of the issues discussed by the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, were thrown out by the Government, and we have not had the privilege of hearing about them yet. I believe he said that it would be far better if the next stage of the Bill were held in Grand Committee.

I agree that many of the issues could be better explored within that environment because there is much common ground between the Government and those who have doubts; for example, in relation to the business, which we broadly favour, of the National Audit Office and the BBC's auditing. We are not absolutely certain about that. We tend to favour it, but there may be strong arguments against it which perhaps could be better explored in Grand Committee.

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I say that particularly in the light of an interesting remark made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hogg. I am sure that she had good reason for saying that the result of scrutiny by the National Audit Office would lead to a new avenue of transparency or responsibility between the director general and the Secretary of State. I had not heard that argument before. It is a worrying thought that the conducting of the BBC audit and its effect would effectively disappear and that the director-general would have a responsibility to have a closer relationship with the Secretary of State. That would be in no one's interest.

I do not wish to continue for much longer. I had much more to say, which happily I shall not have to say now because much of it is very pompous. In an advanced society such as ours there is the economic and the cultural imperative. It seems to me—as it may to other Peers—that the economic has rather taken precedence over the cultural. Noble Lords may agree that that is reflected in our society, in what is commonly known as the "yob culture". There is a lot of confrontation and disaffected young. If that is translated into the communications world, it could lead us down the path that has been experienced in the United States.

The United States is not fortunate enough to have our public service broadcasting background. It is absolutely central to our culture, and comes from our literary culture. In the US 10 major conglomerates have consolidated. Noble Lords may say that there is a lot of high-quality television. There is indeed quality television in terms of the basic concepts. The creative urges that drive them are quite different from production values that one sees on the screens.

There is never anything wrong with American production values, whether in cinema or on television. They are superb. The "Sopranos", which is a home box office programme, is always held up as an example of American television. It is superb. No one would deny that. But there is a great deal of scurrilous stuff on American television which panders to the lowest possible taste. I mention just a few. There is Reality TV, much of which sets out to humiliate people. It plays on people's sense of schadenfreude, the enjoying of other people's suffering. There is celebrity boxing. Whoever has heard of anything so ridiculous? I was tempted, like most people, to look at a celebrity boxing match. It was ludicrous, disgusting and awful, and, incidentally, an insult to boxing.

Voyeurism and narcissism is rife in this country and in the United States in the way that programmes are developing and catering for demand. I part company with the noble Baroness when she gives a great welcome to the market forces and customer demand. This field must be tempered with a great deal of—I think she said—"delicate balance". Otherwise, we will have an increase in brutal images on our screens and the presentation of facile, sexual images, and populism and civic values will conflict one with the other.

However, what is more important, especially to Members of your Lordships' House, is apathy, both political and moral. Political apathy is represented by

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the number of people who do not take any interest in politics whatever and who will not vote. To say that people do not like voting is ridiculous. They will vote on anything except politics because politics and what underlies our democracy has become boring to young people. Somehow we must liven it up. Perhaps I should run through those things again about voyeurism and narcissism and hope that it will get reported to liven it up.

That is the end of my speech. I welcome the Bill on behalf of these Benches. I do not need to mention my colleague in another place because that has been done by the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane. Liberal Democrats have been given a very good evening. The noble Lord, Lord Harris of High Cross, has mentioned us several times. We have had, as they say, "a lot of column inches" from him. It is much better being noticed than not. So I thank him for that.

Broadly, I wish the Bill well, but there are matters of great concern. I am quite sure that we who have concerns, and the Government, do not have any major differences. I am quite sure we all agree that we need to retain the high-quality broadcasting that we have in this country as well as moving into the modern digital era. I wish the Bill well.

10.39 p.m.

Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, for me, winding up the debate feels a bit like opening the envelopes at the Oscar ceremony. The House has been full of stars. We have witnessed some wonderful performances from veterans of the industry. The bravura performance of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, as master of ceremonies for the Liberal Democrats, set us off by introducing what he called the galaxy of experience and talent supporting him. I am sure that that has been vindicated tonight.

My noble friend Lord Wakeham spoke about press freedom and Ofcom's role in mergers. The noble Lord, Lord Birt, spoke about consumer choice and electronic programme guides. The noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, spoke about licence renewal and rolling contracts. My noble friend Lord Fowler spoke, as a journalist, about what is best for UK plc. The noble Lord, Lord Bragg, cantered through a paeon of praise for public service broadcasting. The noble Lord, Lord Borrie, urged us to trust Ofcom and the Competition Commission—I am with him on that. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, gave us historic perspectives of open competition. The noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, led his high-stepping group of grizzled veterans.

We heard from new kids on the block. I have decided that our new kids today have been as follows. The noble Lord, Lord Alli, talking of his magic and of creativity; my noble friend Lady Flather, discussing minority stations and Radio Asia; the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, discussing access radio; and my noble friend Lord Inglewood, who spoke bravely for his daughter getting her news from the soaps and the viral text transmissions so favoured by the young. We have

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learned from the Government that the old production houses have been merged into one huge block-buster: a new, independent, super-regulator called Ofcom.

From these Benches, we generally welcome and support the Bill. As my noble friend Lady Buscombe said in her opening remarks, we welcome the creation of a new framework for the communications industries, including the liberalisation of ownership of the media. Although we support the Bill in principle, like many of your Lordships who have spoken, we do not agree with the Government on a number of issues. We hope to persuade them to change their mind in the days and weeks ahead.

As a spokesman on trade and industry, I am passionately for the consumer and believe in free trade. For the consumer, I fear that the Bill does not go far enough to promote access for all. For consumers who are deaf or visually-impaired, insufficient information has been provided on the availability of subtitles and more effort should be made to encourage formats and design that are user-friendly for disabled consumers. The noble Lords, Lord Ashley of Stoke and Lord Addington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins, spoke with great experience as campaigners on that subject.

On free trade, as chairman of the National Consumer Council, I spent two long, hard years researching the fairest possible provision of goods and services to advantaged and disadvantaged consumers throughout the world. Free trade, open doors and the greatest possible liberalisation won hands down.

The Office of Fair Trading does an excellent job, as does the Competition Commission for industry, although my noble friend Lord Fowler may not agree with me, from his example report into free newspapers that he brandished earlier. I do not view this industry as any different from any other, and I am encouraged in that by the words of the noble Lord, Lord Currie, the chairman of Ofcom, when he said:

    "where competition is reasonably robust or where it can be developed to be so, it is usually better for sector regulation to withdraw and for reliance to be placed upon competition policy".

So foreign ownership of national terrestrial broadcasting licences should hold no fears for us, and I support the removal of the ownership qualifications. Let the investment and innovation flow; it brought us cable and satellite. British consumers need the widest possible choice. Our culture is deep and strong and I have confidence in our people's stubborn ability to look, listen and make up their own minds. We have no reason to feel threatened by Johnny Foreigner.

We welcome the Government's move to resist one recommendation made by the Puttnam committee: that foreign companies should not be able to own British licences. We believe that a lack of reciprocity does not justify protectionism.

Other recommendations from the committee, as so eloquently expressed by my noble friends Lord Pilkington and Lord Crickhowell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cohen, have already been accepted by the Government, and we support many of them. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, as did

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noble Lords around the House, on the informed, painstaking work undertaken by the committee under his fine leadership. As the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, commented, Parliament is the better for it.

We believe that the BBC belongs to us all and has served us long and well. I have a long list of noble Lords' comments on the BBC, but it is a little late to repeat them all. I am certain that the BBC provides the best public service broadcasting in the world. I was privileged to serve for six years on its advisory committee under the noble Lord, Lord Birt. My experience with the Beeb leads me to believe that it will damage itself if it insists on staying outside the full regulatory regime of Ofcom. My noble friend Lord Crickhowell spoke convincingly on that, as did the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, and my noble friend Lord Astor.

Like other bodies funded by tax, the BBC must open its books to the scrutiny of the Comptroller and Auditor General for full value-for-money access rights. What has it to hide? I am delighted that someone as experienced as the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, is prepared to debate the issue during the passage of the Bill, and that my noble friend Lord Astor and the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, regard such scrutiny as beneficial to the BBC. I encourage the noble Baroness, Lady Hogg, to read in Hansard tomorrow the reassurances of the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, about her role on the BBC audit committee.

We are concerned that certain provisions to micromanage the radio industry are unnecessary and restrictive. The noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, made a wonderful speech on that—I could say it no better than he did—and so did the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, expressed concern about access radio; the noble Lord, Lord Alli, spoke about radio quotas, and the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, spoke about minority stations.

What sort of discrimination is it to ban religious organisations from holding national analogue radio and television licences and multiplex licences? The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester spoke passionately and convincingly of the unfairness of that arbitrary prohibition. Many in the country will be heartened to hear that he will press for the remaining disqualification on religious ownership to be lifted. We on these Benches will do the same. The right reverend Prelate has been supported by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Howe. If nothing else, the ban is surely a restriction of consumer choice.

I make a small plea for a voice for business—the new generation of communication companies. Multimedia goods and services sectors are still young and barely established. The formation of Ofcom could help to reduce red tape and enable UK businesses to develop innovative commercial relationships and competitiveness. Yet those huge strides forward that have demonstrated the crucial value of new technologies are under serious jeopardy because businesses will be unable properly to scrutinise, and provide advice on the activities and decisions of the regulator and because of insufficient transparency, predictability and openness in Ofcom's decision-making

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process. The current version of the Bill ensures, rightly, that established media and consumer groups can voice their opinions on the content board and the consumer panel. That was expressed very well tonight.

By contrast, businesses will have to rely solely on the good will and discretion of the Ofcom board. The current Government may appear to have good will and good intentions to develop a competitively oriented regulatory environment, but that may not be the case in the future. It is vital that that paternalistic bias is rectified in the Bill.

Today this House has reflected upon the wonder of our age. It would not be an exaggeration to say that communication has undergone a revolution in my lifetime. An example is the access and immediacy of the war being waged in Iraq as we speak. Images of it are beamed to us in real time.

If I look back, I can remember my son as a baby staying up to see the first man walk on the moon. Like me, some noble Lords might remember a black-and-white television set with a nine-inch screen and the snowstorm that cleared just enough to show us the coronation of our dear young Queen. Before that, I listened to Dick Barton on the wireless. Before that, I sat in silence with my parents to hear Winston Churchill speak on the BBC to give us courage during the Blitz.

Now we have a new wonder to explore. The noble Lord, Lord Currie of Marylebone, hopes that the Bill will leave the House in good health. I hope that, by the time that it leaves the House, it will be an even better Bill than the fairly good one that it is today.

10.50 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, one would not know it from today's debate, but broadcasting is only a subset of the wider issues covered by the Bill. The "fluffies" have crowded the "techies" out of the debate, with the noble exception of the noble Lords, Lord Avebury and Lord St John of Bletso, and my noble friend Lady Jay of Paddington, and a few chance remarks by others.

The Bill is not just about broadcasting; it is about the networks that carry voice, data, pictures and a range of news services. It is about radio spectrum—the lifeblood of communications. It is about a communications industry that has grown at the rate of 10 per cent every year for the past 10 years and employs tens of thousands of people. It is about getting the right regulatory framework in place so that that growth is sustained and sustainable, now and in the future.

Part 2 of the Bill puts in place a framework for electronic communications networks and services and for spectrum that can respond better and more rapidly to markets that are evolving and technology that is developing and converging, although, as my noble friend Lady Jay of Paddington and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said, that is not happening as fast as we once thought. A key part of the new regime is the implementation of four European Community directives on electronic communications that the UK was

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instrumental in negotiating: the framework directive; the authorisation directive; the access directive; and the universal service directive. That will remove the need for 400 telecommunications licences—the noble Lord, Lord Harris of High Cross, ought to be in raptures about that, but I suppose that, because the licences were removed by European directives, it will be only modified rapture—and replace them with a flexible system of general authorisation and specific obligations to protect consumers and guarantee competition. Implementation by all member states will provide a harmonised framework for regulation of those activities throughout the European Union, and that must be the right approach. The markets for electronic communications networks and services, unlike the markets for the content that they carry, do not recognise national boundaries or cultural differences; neither should their regulation.

The new framework is based on competition for the benefit of consumers. Ofcom will be able to tackle potential abuses by companies that have significant market power in communications markets. Work is already being carried out by Oftel to review the competitiveness of the relevant markets, and it has launched consultations on the specific obligations that it proposes to place on companies. Once it is up and running, Ofcom will be required to review the key communications markets systematically and to remove obligations where it finds that a market is effectively competitive. That is good news for the industry. Over time, the removal of regulation will reduce the costs of compliance with the UK regime.

Ofcom will be a powerful regulator, which is why Part 1 of the Bill contains a series of checks and balances to ensure that it will also be a good regulator. When regulating, Ofcom must have regard to the principles of good regulatory practice: its activities must be transparent, accountable, proportionate, consistent and targeted only at cases in which action is needed. The Bill imposes a duty on Ofcom to review the carrying out of its regulatory functions to ensure that it is not imposing or maintaining unnecessary burdens. For any proposals that are likely to impose a significant impact on business or on the general public, Ofcom will have to carry out and consult on an impact assessment. Ofcom must publish promptness standards and keep to them. We have given powers to the Secretary of State to intervene and require Ofcom to revise the promptness standards, if she believes that that is appropriate.

Those are significant balances that should reassure the business community. In addition, Chapter 3 of Part 2 gives a full right of appeal against Ofcom's decisions on matters connected with networks and services or with spectrum.

Of course, unless we make the best possible use of the radio spectrum, the vision that we have for the digital future cannot become a reality. As we move to a culture in which people want mobility in their communications, spectrum is becoming increasingly important. We need to ensure that it is managed efficiently and effectively and that it balances the needs of users—from the private astronomer, to mobile telephone customers, to the military.

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Ofcom will be responsible for the management of this valuable resource and the Bill will give it tools to ensure effectiveness and efficiency. Spectrum trading offers flexibility to make spectrum available faster. Giving a financial incentive to sell or lease unused spectrum should encourage the development of new services and innovations.

Trading will be an effective tool, but it needs to take place within a framework of regulation—to maintain competition, ensure compliance with international obligations and prevent harmful interference.

But there are other ways of managing the spectrum, to which the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, referred. We want to be sure that Ofcom will be able to make use of them as well. The Bill therefore provides for a scheme for recognised spectrum access, which will deliver enhanced security and spectrum quality for satellite and other services which, for whatever reason, cannot be licensed. I understood the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, to be in support of that.

It will also enable Ofcom to treat different groups of spectrum users as equitably as possible. I stress that those powers in the Bill are enabling powers—we are not waving the starting flag on either trading or RSA. Ofcom will carry out full and considered consultation on the detail of what these schemes would mean for all spectrum users affected by them, before it puts any new regime in place.

Having tried to rush through some coverage of the "techie" side of the Bill, it is my duty to respond to the debate as best I can. I do so knowing that there have been responses which have been mutually contradictory, which are sometimes helpful to the Government in Division Lobbies. But I suspect that it may not always be so in this case.

First, from this Bench we must say that we are pleased to have such a strong board in place—namely, to have my noble friend Lord Currie as an excellent chairman; to have a chief executive, Stephen Carter, with a strong business background; and to have non-executive directors who bring a range of skills, knowledge and experience. My noble friend Lord Puttnam described us as needing the best that money can buy; my noble friend Lord Currie said that this would not be the cheapest regulator in the business. But I assure my noble friend Lord Puttnam that there is not really any problem of the funding of competition costs. It has been agreed by Ofcom, by the DTI and by Her Majesty's Treasury. That is set out both in this Bill and in the paving Bill.

Ofcom will also, of course, be accountable. My noble friend Lord Currie recognised that these great powers require accountability to Ministers and to Parliament, as well as to the stakeholders. Therefore, Ofcom must be transparent, in keeping with the principles of good regulatory practice. That is set out not just in Clause 3 but also in Clauses 6, 7 and 8, which concern publication.

As regards the issue of citizens and consumers, we do not use the word "citizen" because it has a special nationality sense in this country. I think that talking about consumers and about the community does the

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trick fairly well. It is not a simplified system set out in Clause 3; it is a very complicated system, which I should be glad to discuss with the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, who had concerns about it.

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