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Lord Gordon of Strathblane: This matter is entirely trivial but, purely for the record, Oban FM decided entirely on its own what it wanted to do. Radio Clyde had nothing to do with that. We were simply available, at no cost to it, whenever it wanted to fill gaps. The arrangement was entirely and quite genuinely altruistic.
Baroness Blackstone: We have had an interesting debate on this matter. There is a slight danger that community media may become a little like motherhood and apple pienecessarily always a good thing. I was enormously grateful for the intervention from my noble friend Lord Gordon of Strathblane. He brought to the debate a touch of realism as well as a rather constructive and interesting practical way forward.
I do not want to suggest that the Government believe that opportunities for community media are not a good thing. We believe that they are. But I shall disappoint the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, by saying that I do not support Amendment No. 30. Indeed, I am afraid that I am unable to support any of the amendments in this group. I do not support Amendment No. 30 because I do not believe that it is necessary. Powers already exist to licence local TV and radio services. Clause 241 provides for local digital television regime stations and Clause 258 will enable the Secretary of State to introduce a new tier of access radio. We believe that enabling powers of that kind are appropriate here.
Given that the powers will exist to license access radio and local TV, it is not clear what point is served by giving Ofcom an additional duty to promote those services. Ofcom already has a number of general duties that one would expect to encourage the development of local TV and access radio. I am confident that that will happen. Ofcom's duty in Clause 3(1) is to further the interests of consumers and the community as a whole. Put that in the context of Ofcom's duty in subsection (2)(c), to secure,
The noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, raised the issue of convergence. It is perfectly true that it has been argued that a duty to promote community media is necessary because of the increasing convergence between media. The Bill is certainly designed with convergence in mind but that does not mean, for example, that the provisions dealing with radio and TV can or should be merged into a single set of provisions. The main driver for convergence is the creation of a single regulator which is well placed to look at issues across the communications horizon. It is not necessary to converge the powers if the body that exercises the various powers is itself converged.
Turning to Amendment No. 175, I am unclear why this clause is necessary. We are committed to supporting local television, and existing analogue services are proving an important local focus for communities and a popular form of broadcasting. Ofcom will be able to licence local analogue TV as at present. And, as I have already indicated, Clause 241 provides for an effective licensing regime for local digital television which can come into force by order once digital spectrum becomes available. It is therefore not clear what the relationship is between the existing powers and the new clause. The new clause sets out criteria for award of such licences but these are not greatly different from those already in Clause 241. In short, other than cause a degree of confusion in the relationship between various licences, I do not think that this clause adds a great deal to the existing powers.
In regard to Amendment No. 176 we believe that it is important that the Secretary of State should be able to use the order to place limits on the amount of sponsorship and advertising that access radio stations can take. That view is backed up by the very thorough evaluation of the pilot stations by Anthony Everitt which was published in March. He concluded that access radio stations should normally be able to receive no more than half their funding from advertising and sponsorship. In areas where there is a small commercial station, an access radio licence should be offered only if the applicant can show that it will present little or no advertising sales and sponsorship competition.
No decisions have yet been taken on the funding of access radio, but it is clearly essential that the order should be able to place restrictions on the amount and type of advertising and sponsorship that such stations could carry.
I turn to Amendment No. 177. There is no need for the new clause because Clause 258 already gives Ministers the power to introduce access radio. We are still in the process of considering Anthony Everitt's report, but I am confident that we will bring forward an order later in the year for consultation. It will be debated in both Houses, subject to the successful passage of the Bill. So I am not quite sure why the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, is opposed to dealing with this matter in secondary legislation.
The amendment itself appears to want to bring access radio within the mainstream radio licensing regime. It seeks to do that by inserting a reference to "access radio" into Section 104 of the 1990 Act. However, Section 104 deals simply with the process of making an application. If the amendment were agreed, I am not clear how access radio would be treated in respect of other aspects of the licensing regime. The amendment is silent on that matter. In that sense, I think that it may be defective.
Anthony Everitt's report identifies a number of special issues which need to be addressed with access radio. They include funding, a matter which I have briefly mentioned. There are other issues; for example, how to deal with changes in the composition of the board and arrangements for evaluation, in particular with regard to receipt of government grants. Again, it is unclear how these matters are to be dealt with. The new clause does not tell us. They are questions that must be considered carefully.
We believe that access radio should be introduced in such a way to ensure that it has a good chance of success. That is through an order, on which we can consult, get people's responses and which Parliament will then have to approve.
Finally, I cannot support Amendment No. 302 as I believe that any fund should be limited to access radio. It is a prudent assumption that if and when we are able to secure funds they will necessarily be limited. If so, TV would almost certainly swamp the fund. The end result would be that the jam would be spread terribly thinly. So let us be realistic and try and make a success of access radio. We should not deliberately raise expectations that we cannot fulfil. A small, over-subscribed fund could damage, not help, the development of community media. We do not want that to happen.
On the issue of funding, there are certainly no plans to fund community media through broadcasting fees. That responds to the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, that were that to happen it would become an issue for other broadcasters. We are looking at the prospect of some Exchequer funding for access radio, but no decisions have yet been made. It wouldas I always have to say on these occasionson the availability of resources. Finally, on that note, I do not think it would be right in some way to top-slice the BBC licence fee. The BBC is universally available, whereas access radio will only be available in local areas. I believe that it would be wrong to use a fee paid by virtually everyone in the UK to support services that would be available to only small numbers of people.
Lord Thomson of Monifieth: The Minister will not be surprised that I am disappointed with her reply. That does not particularly surprise me either. One is accustomed to being disappointed by ministerial
However, in consolation, it was not a response without substance. Having listened to it, it mentions several matters that we shall all want to study to consider whether we want to make different approaches later. I am interested in what my former colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, said about partnership with community radio in Oban, for example.
So we shall return to that matter, but I am bound to say that I am dispirited by the tone of the response. In a massive Bill dealing with great issuessuch as the creation of a global industry of telecommunications and broadcasting and of international ownership, which in turn raises great issues about the quality and character of the broadcasting scene in this countryI am rather dispirited that such a modest, grassroots operation should receive so much cold water from the Government Front Bench. However, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.