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When a station changes hands, the format remains a part of it. In other words, when you buy the station, you buy the format, and the format will continue to ensure musical diversity regardless of who owns the licence. That is the real protection of diversity and the Bill has no plans for changing that basic approach. In short, I believe that the existing provisions on formats, and reviews under Clause 348, do everything required to protect musical diversity.
Clause 306, which Amendments Nos. 251 and 252 seek to amend, sets out the circumstances in which Ofcom can agree to a request for a change in local radio licence conditions. The clause amends powers currently exercised by the Radio Authority under Section 106 of the Broadcasting Act 1990, which Ofcom will inherit in its amended form. I should explain Section 106. It first provides that a licence shall contain conditions to secure that the character of the service is maintained. In practice, such conditions are reflected in the "formats" that I have just spoken about. Then, it allows the regulator to allow a station to depart from the "character" set out in the licence if, but only if, one or more specified criteria are met. One such criterion is that the change would not,
Amendments Nos. 251 and 252 would extend that to the range of programmes, "and music". Again, these amendments raise an important issue to which I am quite sure that Ofcom will be alive. However, let us look at the practical application of Ofcom's powers. Where the owner of a station seeks to make a substantial departure from the existing character of its service by changing the range of music played, that would trigger the controls under Section 106. Ofcom would then need to examine the proposed change and decide whether any of the criteria justifying a departure are met. If it could not avoid looking at the range of music played, and proposed, it is hard to see how a station could reduce substantially the range of music played without also narrowing the range of programmes available in the area.
I also assure the Committee that in practice the Radio Authority does consider changes in music when considering a request to agree to changes in the character of a station, and I believe that Ofcom will do the same. I hope that the noble Baroness will be reassured that the protection for musical diversity that her amendments seek, and which the Government wholeheartedly share, is already present in the Bill as drafted, and that her amendments are unnecessary.
Lord Bragg: Before my noble friend the Minister sits down, I hope that I may ask a short and simple question. My noble friend was as clear and as persuasive as he always is but I simply do not understand why this matter cannot be dealt with.
Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: I say to my noble friend Lord Bragg that I share his puzzlement. As the short debate developed it occurred to me that there appeared to be a huge gulf between what we as a government were saying and what Members of the Committee were saying. There may be a mismatch and someone has the position completely wrong. However, I undertake to read Hansard and to reread my speaking notes. If there is a discrepancy, I shall write to the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe.
Baroness Buscombe: I thank the Minister for his response to this interesting and helpful debate. I join the Minister in advising the noble Lord, Lord McNally, to buy his son some headphones. I bought my three teenage children headphones a long time ago. They are worthwhile and make for a quiet life in more ways than one.
As I say, it is helpful to have this discussion. As the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, just said, there is real concern in the industry about this important matter. As I believe the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, also said, there is no harm in having the words "musical diversity" on the face of the Bill. We believe that they would do a lot of good.
As regards the concern that we are asking for more regulation, that is not the case. The measure would constitute good regulation. I accept what the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, said; namely, that diversity is difficult to define. The noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, was concerned that consolidation in terms of ownership leads to conformity. My noble friend Lord Colwyn was concerned that we should seek to have the right safeguards with regard to musical creativity although he questioned the necessity to include the term that I am discussing on the face of the Bill.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, for her support for the amendments and for what she said in relation to her concern with regard to the risk to musical diversity. I am also grateful to my noble friend Lord Brooke for his contribution.
The matter is clearly of considerable concern in the industry, concern that we endorse and support. However, the Minister agreed to take the matter away. Perhaps the difference is that the Minister is used to reassuring words of comfort from officials when discussing such issues. However, those of us who seek to probe the Government in such matters are
The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 178 tabled by my noble friend Lady Howe of Idlicote, who is unable to be present today, I shall speak also to her other amendments in the group. We are all aware of the importance of Clause 260, and of the terrible warning that public service broadcasting in the United States provides for us of the possibilities should we get the clause wrong. I am all too aware that there are many considerable experts on the issue in the Committee, but one must not be daunted by that thought.
Amendment No. 178 is intended as a probing amendment. Clause 260(2) of the Bill sets an upper limit of five years on the frequency with which Ofcom must review and report on broadcasters' contributions to their public service broadcasting remit. The White Paper proposed an interval of three years. The scrutiny committee of the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, preferred a two-year interval. Amendment No. 179, tabled by the noble Lord and others, proposes three years. I look forward to hearing his reasons behind the shift from two years to three, and to hearing from the Minister the reasons for preferring up to five years.
Whereas Clause 351 proposes an annual review of the broadcasting market, Ofcom's reviews of the fulfilment of public service broadcasting requirements will be the indispensable means for Parliament, the Secretary of State and the public to judge whether broadcasters are living up to or falling short of those requirements. Those reviews will be central to decision-making on the performance of licensees, and surely they should be sufficiently frequent for performance to be assessed, made public and, if necessary, strengthened more frequently than every five years.
I shall deal with Amendments Nos. 180 and 181. The Bill proposes that public service broadcasters be judged on their performance taken togetherthat is to say, taken together to determine whether their programming meets the purposes of public service broadcasting. That is an easygoing approach to
Ofcom's approach should surely be to see that all licensees contribute widely, although diversely, to those purposesindeed, in many cases, that they compete in providing major genres of programming, listed under Clause 260(6)rather than to allow some to set aside many or all sorts of programming that contribute to public service broadcasting, in a cosy foreknowledge that others will provide. Hence Amendment No. 180 provides that Ofcom judge whether licensees meet the purposes of public service broadcasting, both individually and taken together; and Amendment No. 181 is consequential. Taken together, these two amendments would require Ofcom to take an overview of each licensee's annual policy statement of their individual commitments to public service broadcasting programmes and of their individual as well as their composite performance.
Amendment No. 183 focuses on ways of fulfilling the purposes of public service broadcasting. Clause 260(6)(e) sets a requirement for programmes on educational matters. I believe that this is too limitedindeed, I suspect that it is wrongly focused. A programme about your Lordships' House debating educational policy would be on educational matters. So would programmes about school life. Both might be fascinatingor perhaps not. But news items about educational issues are not the same as educational programming. The amendment seeks to ensure that educational programmes, through which broadcasters have contributed so much at every level, from pre-school through to adult education, remain a central way of fulfilling the purposes of public service broadcasting. I hope that the Minister will agree that the phrase "programmes on educational matters" is inadequate and that the Government may be able to accept this amendment.
Amendment No. 185 proposes a further specification on children's programming to ensure that it includes programmes that provide children growing up in the UK with access to programmes that reflect and enrich their cultural heritages, whether of language, literature, music or history. Today's children will form tomorrow's electorate and need to get their bearings in the world that they actually inhabit. This amendment may be the more important if the Government's intention of permitting foreign ownership is realised. Children need some protection against the homogenisation and simplification that programmes made for international consumption too often inflict on historical and cultural content. I hope that the Government may feel able to accept this strengthening amendment.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester and the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, have tabled Amendments Nos. 182B and 183A, and my noble friend Lady Howe has put her name to the former. If these amendments were accepted, Amendment No. 186 to which I have just spoken would be redundant. I beg to move.
Amendment No. 179 is an interesting amendment. To put it simply, the Joint Committee recommended a two-year reporting period. We were extremely impressed by the Government's statement on page 39 of their response. We felt that we had perhaps been over-zealous and backed off to three yearsonly to be slightly stunned by the fact that the Government then shifted their position to five years.
We regard a period of five years as wholly unacceptable for two reasons. First, as has been stated many times during this debate, the communications industry is fast moving. Changes seem to occur with amazing speed. Frankly, within five years the picture can change dramatically. We did not feel that a five-year period was legitimate. It must also be remembered that it means that within a nine-year period only one review will have been publishedwhich is patently absurd. I urge the Government to accept the helpful compromise that we came up withnamely, three yearswhich should be more than acceptable to them.
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