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Lord Hussey of North Bradley: I have listened with great interest to this debate. I intervene with some hesitation having spent the whole of the holiday in bed. I hope that the Committee will excuse my somewhat halting few words. I declare an interest, having been chairman of the BBC for 10 years. I think that that is the longest anyone has ever done it and I do not suppose that anyone will ever try to do it for longer. During most of that time I tried to uphold public service broadcasting, which I thought was the hallmark of the BBC and which is what the audiencethe subscribers, the people who pay the licence feeexpect.
So how does one define public service broadcasting? Speaking from memory, Lord Reith defined it as providing the best of all types of broadcasting, of whatever nature, that raised standards and tempted the audience to reach, in what they watched and what they enjoyed, higher standards than they would otherwise have reached had they concentrated entirely on the less exciting or less honourable parts of the national press.
I think that we more or less succeeded in doing that. I hope that we did. In some ways, it can be seen more clearly in the World Service, which I think is generally acknowledged to be the highest level of broadcastingno longer only on radio but on television too. But that, to me, is what public service broadcasting should be. It is about higher standards across the whole range of output and about tempting audiences to look at and enjoy programmes which they would not otherwise have done. In that way, not only is the worth of the BBC increased, but also, through the audiences, the value of the BBC is increased and its important hold on the British public.
Baroness Buscombe: I support these amendments. I am tempted to ask myself whether the reason that this important duty for Ofcom to uphold the principles of public service broadcasting is not on the face of the Bill in the early stages, under the general duties for Ofcom, is that somehow the Government have taken it for granted that these principles would be upheld.
I hope that the Government will realiseindeed, noble Lords have made the point absolutely clear today on all sides of the Committeethat nothing can be taken for granted. In a sense, the words that I was going to say were taken from me by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester. Nothing can be taken for granted. There is a need for flexibility from the Minister and each of these amendments can do no harm but a great deal of good.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: As this is my first intervention in Committee, it might be as well if I say something about the more general challenges that have been made today. The Government have been accused of marching towards the Adam Smith Institute
None of that represents the position of my noble friends Lady Blackstone and Lord Davies or myself in the way in which we address this Committee. We are looking at the amendments objectively. We are trying to understand what they mean and what they intend. We are trying to make an objective judgment on whether they improve the Bill. If they are defective but their intention is to improve the Bill, certainly we shall look at any alternatives that we can think of or, in discussion with anyone who is proposing amendments, we shall seek to find a way forward. Our attitude is not simply to oppose every amendment on principle.
It may be that the number of resists is more than the number of considers. It is because when we look at the amendments we find that, in our view, they do not make any improvements to the Bill. But if that is the case, we shall say so and will explain why. If there is disagreement about a matter on which we have sympathy we shall try to pursue it and make any improvements that are possible.
I turn now to these amendments. I have particular difficulty with Amendment No. 5. That is because of the wonderful phrase which the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, introduced into the debate; that is, "unarguable piety". I think that phrase will occur over and over again in our debateat least I shall find myself using it.
What the Bill would propose is a duty to uphold the principles of public service broadcasting in the general duties of Ofcom. What the principles of public service broadcasting are, the amendment does not say. Yet, in introducing it, the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, said that these would be legally enforceable on Ofcom. I simply do not understand that. I do not understand how a statement can be made about the principles of public service broadcasting without ever seeking to define what is meant. How can such a statement be other than simply a statement of principlea wishrather than of actual content and improvement?
In saying that, perhaps I should explain something about the structure of the Bill because a number of noble Lords said that it is terrible that the real consideration of public service broadcasting occurs only at Clause 260 and that it should be higher up in the Bill. That suggests that what comes earlier in the Bill can be in conflict with or more important than what is later. That is not the case.
Part I is about the functions of Ofcomnot just the functions in relation to broadcasting but the functions in relation to the whole telecommunications area. There is reference in Clause 3 to quality broadcasting. Clause (3)(2)(c) refers to the requirement on Ofcom to secure,
Lord Crickhowell: I am genuinely puzzled by the noble Lord. He has asked how it is possible to include a statement when there is nothing to explain what it means. However, as he pointed out himself, it does not matter whether something is set out at the beginning or the end of the Bill. Later we have a clear statement that:
I do not understand why it is so difficult to link the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, with what is set out so clearly later in the Bill. Surely it would be perfectly possible for the noble Lord to do that if he was so minded.
Part 2 of the Bill is not the appropriate place since it covers network services and the radio spectrum. However, Part 3 covers radio and television services. We must look in some detail at what is set out in Clause 260 and the subsequent clauses. If any accusation has been madeand by implication that was the casethat somehow the Government are being soft on the principles of public service broadcasting, then this should answer it.
Clause 262 requires public service broadcasters to produce "statements of programme policy". They must do so at the outset and then at regular intervals. It may be said that a statement of policy may or may not be worth the paper it is written on. However, Clause 260 requires Ofcom to report on the fulfilment of the public service remit. Subsection (6) in particular sets out in great detail the requirements of public service broadcasting. Those requirements are detailed in such a way that, taken together with the powers conferred to enforce the principles, they provide exactly the protections for public service broadcasting which all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate are seeking. The subsection provides specifically that Ofcom should have backstop powers to enforce these principles for all broadcasters except the BBC, and that the Secretary of State shall have powers under the agreement with the BBC to enforce those principles for the BBC itself.
So not only do all public sector broadcasters have to undertake a form of contract with the nation about public service broadcasting, but Ofcom has the responsibility and the power to see that that is enforced. That is what I call a commitment to public service broadcasting. Simply to insert it as a part of the general duties of Ofcom does not seem to add anything of any significance whatever.
I turn now to Amendments Nos. 7 and 8, which seek to amend Ofcom's duty to imply that each individual television and radio service must be of high quality. Of course we want to see consistently high quality programming made available throughout the United Kingdom by all broadcasting providers. However, we provide for that, first, through the provision of high quality public service broadcastingI have talked about thatand, secondly, we have provided for that through the licensing of other broadcasters, taking into account the overall responsibilities set out in Clause 3, including those relating to quality and diversity. But where there is no constraint on spectrumI say this to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester, who appears to think that we should award restrictive licences to all broadcasters; that is not the case where there is no constraint on spectrumwe would be wrong to set a threshold of high quality for all new entrants.
For example, I cite community radio and television, as well as radio and television services for particular minorities. There is a sense of trade-off between high quality and diversity; that is, services that appeal to a variety of tastes and interests. If we are considering community and ethnic minority radio and television services, I do not think that we would wish to impose the kinds of standards of quality intended by these amendments. Surely the right approach is to seek high quality across broadcasting services taken as a whole rather than to impose it on every single provider.