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Lord Addington: The word "fairness" is worrying me. Is there a legal definition of the word in the Minister's response? If the noble Baroness gave one, I did not catch it. I not sure about the exact meaning of "fairness".
Lord Carter: My noble friend said "in exchange", but the draft Bill made reference to equality of opportunity and fairness of treatment; in other words, it had both of them. There has not been an exchange. We have removed "equality of opportunity" and left "fairness" in the legislation. I still believe that the latter would be stronger if both references were retained.
Baroness Blackstone: When I used the word "exchange", that was a slip of the tongue. I meant to say that we now rely on "fairness". I hope that what I have said is clear. I recognise that this is quite a complex area. However, I can assure my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Addington, of the Government's good faith in this respect. The provision
I cannot argue with the underlying aim of Amendment No. 86, which proposes to ensure a better-trained, more competitive broadcasting industry. I absolutely accept what all my noble friends said about the importance of training. I believe that most noble Lords who spoke to this amendment were from this side of the Committee. However, I do not share my noble friend's slightly pessimistic view that the existing provisions on training in the Bill will not be sufficient to achieve this aim. I shall return to that aspect in a moment.
My noble friend Lord Bragg has put forward an extremely interesting idea. It is certainly a proposal that I shall take away for consideration. However, I imagine that my right honourable friends, and my honourable friends in the Treasury, will argue that this money could be more usefully applied to many other areas of public expenditure. Nevertheless, I shall take away my noble friend's idea and see where that suggestion may lead.
I must also confess to being a little unclear about how the new clause would work in practice. It is not clear on whom the proposed levy would be imposed. Would it be an industry-wide levy? Would it be imposed only on those licensed radio and television services that fail to provide adequate opportunities for training and retraining? Alternatively, perhaps it would be imposed only on public service broadcasters.
It is a fact that the economics of the broadcasting industry, and the nature of a great deal of the employment within it, bring difficulties in sustaining the necessary level of skills development. Some broadcasters have recognised this, as evidenced in the support for voluntary initiatives such as the Skillset/DCMS Audio Visual Training Group that reported last yearan initiative with which my noble friend Lord Puttnam is familiar.
However, as the Government have said previously, we believe that training is so important in this sector that it is not enough to rely on voluntary initiatives alone. That is why we have introduced new, strengthened provisions on training in this Bill. For the first time, training obligations will apply to all television and radio broadcasters who meet the threshold conditions set out in the Bill. Ofcom will have a new duty to promote training more widely in the sector. These provisions put the broadcasting
In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, much will of course depend on the action that Ofcom takes under Clause 24, and on the licence conditions that it imposes under Clause 330. Following a recommendation of the ITC's Programme Supply Review, the Secretary of State has asked Skillset, which was referred to by my noble friend Lord Puttnam, to establish a formal task force and report back to Ofcom on these very issues. Skillset has already begun working with all the key stakeholders to consider how Ofcom might maximise and further promote training within the industry. We look forward to considering the results of this most important work.
We should also remember that Ofcom will have very broad powers to vary broadcasters' licences if it is satisfied that licence holders are not properly performing their obligations. Ofcom might use those powers to impose more specific conditions to promote training if that is believed to be necessary.
In summary, I believe that effective measures are in place to make sure that licence holders do deliver on training. Therefore, it is with regret that I have to tell my noble friend that I do not think that his amendment is really necessary.
Finally, I turn to Amendment No. 271A tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, but spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe. She said it was a probing amendment, but I believe that the noble Lord and, indeed, the noble Baroness, are on to something here. I have considerable sympathy with the aim of the amendment to ensure that the equal opportunities and training requirements are not evaded where individual television channels or local radio stations are part of a larger group of companies that, taken together, would meet the thresholds. It seems right that such services should play their parts both in promoting equal opportunities and training, but at present they would be exempted from the requirements of Clause 330, which relate only to the individual licence holder.
Lord Gordon of Strathblane: I am slightly astonished that any European directive should prevent a government agency such as Ofcom from simply promoting the development of opportunities for young people in the field of telecommunications. I could understand that if perhaps it was going to pay for it because that might be construed as interference with international competition. However, the Minister has been very gracious in offering to write to me on the subject. I shall study her letter with the greatest interest and return to this matter on Report.
Lord Lea of Crondall: As regards Amendment No. 86, the question was raised by the Minister of a levy and what would happen about training. The normal principle of a levy is that there is a rebate for people who carry out the training. Clearly, this has to be considered more and will arise again on Report. Given the support around the Chamber, we are asking that the Government consider how this could be made better. It would be helpful if the Minister could give consideration to how the principle set out by my noble friend Lord Puttnam in Amendment No. 86 can be improved before we reach Report.
Lord Puttnam: I shall not move Amendment No. 86, but I should like to make three points. First, I hope the noble Baroness will acknowledge the increasing and total discontinuity between the rhetoric and action in the Government's entire attitude to training. We cannot keep referring to a skills gap; keep urging the Creative Industries Board or keep referring to parity of opportunity and not be prepared to back to the hilt those industries and, indeed, those companies within those industries, that are prepared to pay for training. It is interestingwe have touched on Europethat the German industrial economy is being crippled by what is termed "the free rider principle". German businesses, in droves, are getting out of paying for training for which they have paid not just for decades but centuries. Are we seriously to go down the same route?
Here, we have an industry and major players within it who want to pay but who are extremely irritated by the fact that many people are able to evade and avoid. All we suggest is a back-up power for Ofcom to address that issue. Perhaps this is not the right amendment. I am certain that other and more specific amendments will be tabled on Report.
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