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Baroness Jay of Paddington: Before the noble Baroness speaks to her amendment, perhaps I may ask my noble friend a question in regard to Amendment No. 179. I am afraid it may be that I am being somewhat obtuse, but I am still not entirely clear about the dual approach to the public service revision by Ofcom.

Let me give a practical example. If Ofcom decides that a channel has evaded its public service commitments and is anxious to undertake what the noble Baroness described as enforcement procedures, will it be possible to do so under what the Minister described as the statistical review, which takes place every year? Can it be done only on an ad hoc basis when Ofcom decides that a breach has occurred? Or does it have to wait for the five-year review? I am unclear about the distinction between the different reviews and where any interest by Ofcom would have purchase in getting a channel to revise its programming.

Baroness Blackstone: As I understand it, Ofcom can intervene and enforce change whenever it believes there is a case for doing so. It does not have to wait for the five-year review.

Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve: I shall withdraw the amendment. Nevertheless, the frequency of the review is an important issue. We have not heard reasons why the combination of the annual review, which is quite restricted in scope, with a permitted five-year period is adequate. The Committee may feel able to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Puttnam had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 179.

The noble Lord said: It is late, and although I shall not move the amendment, I should like to talk to those on the Front Bench and others, because I am not entirely convinced by their argument.

[Amendment No. 179 not moved.]

[Amendments Nos. 180 to 182 not moved.]

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Lord Lea of Crondall moved Amendment No. 182A:

    Page 231, line 13, at end insert—

"( ) that sufficient high quality original drama is broadcast covering a range of issues in a variety of formats;"

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 182A deals with high quality drama. Amendments Nos. 184A and 184B are included in this group. My noble friend Lady Turner of Camden will be speaking to them.

The result of the grouping on Clause 260 means that some of these matters have been touched on, but they are all part of Clause 260. Following meetings with Equity and other unions, we have concluded that Clause 260(6)(b), which contains the only reference to drama, can be provided for just by broadcasting soap operas. That is our major worry. There is great concern among people dealing with drama that that will be the result, and we would like to hear the arguments.

Drama is an essential part of public service broadcasting. Whether a single drama or a drama series, the genre contributes to the British understanding of social issues and the UK as a community, as well as providing entertainment. The reliance on drama only as a means to reflect cultural diversity rather than as drama in its own right will detrimentally affect the quality of broadcasting in the United Kingdom.

Drama can be, but is not always, expensive. Without a positive requirement on broadcasters to produce high quality in a world of greater competition, we are concerned that original and innovative drama in a variety of formats is likely to be reduced.

For evidence of what is happening with virtually the same language that we have in Clause 260, let us look at Canada. Since its changes two or three years ago on this sort of formulation, home-grown drama has virtually disappeared. The equivalent clauses have provided what a Canadian colleague called a charter for philistines. We are concerned that this Bill could be a charter for philistines when we add the dangers arising from Channel 5 being snapped up by a big multinational operator which could make that an outlet for its back catalogue. That puts greater weight on Clause 260 to get this right.

There is the worry, the spectre, the scenario, that the 9 p.m. slot could be filled by a film on Channel 5, a game show on ITV, with the BBC, in time, being undermined. The Minister will no doubt give the other side of the argument. We shall listen with great care to what she says. We are left wondering whether the only clinching argument for a programme company putting high quality drama on television would be that it looks good in the annual glossy report and can lead to some self-congratulatory awards.

We want an assurance that the eight hours of drama on Granada, 12 hours of drama on Channel 4, and so on, as provided for in the broadcasting legislation, would continue to be provided and that Ofcom would be in a position to make sure that that was done.

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5.30 p.m.

Baroness Turner of Camden: I support the amendment so ably moved by my noble friend Lord Lea. I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 184A and 184B, which are included in the group.

Since I became partially disabled, I have spent rather more time in front of the television set than I used to. I am a great fan of television drama, but when one is looking for something to watch in the evening, one thinks, "Oh, not more cops and robbers, not more game shows". There is not enough of the good quality drama that we can produce in this country, such as "The Forsyte Saga", "Gathering Storm" and "The Lost Prince", whose names are redolent of quality. I can remember all the way back to "Brideshead Revisited". They were marvellous programmes, and arrangements should be in hand to ensure that such programmes continue to be made and increase in number.

Amendments Nos. 184A and 184B relate to children's programmes. It is clear from the contributions already made this evening that that is a matter of concern to Members of the Committee. The Independent Television Commission is on record as saying that there are signs that children's programming is often the first to suffer from harder times, as the pressure to cut costs in a more competitive environment is likely to lead to disproportionate effects on children's TV. The Bill does not ensure that those vital programmes should be original and sufficiently diverse in content. Without our amendment, or something rather similar, high quality domestic programming will inevitably be replaced by cheaper imported programming, to the great detriment of our children.

I note that the Minister has already taken on board some of the comments that have been made. One hopes that before the Bill leaves this House, we can have some commitment in the text of the Bill to ensure that, like adult consumers, children, who cannot always make informed choices and do not necessarily have access to digital or premium services, for example, will have access to good quality and programmes that are educative and culturally diverse. I hope that the amendments, or something similar to them, will commend themselves to the Government before the Bill leaves this House.

Viscount Falkland: I support strongly the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall. High quality broadcasting of drama has been a feature not only on television but, before that, on the radio as well. It is an absolute cornerstone of public service broadcasting.

In the past fortnight, I have had dinner here with an independent producer of high quality drama, who is extremely concerned about the effect that the provisions will have on the ability to continue to make the kind of productions that have won awards, and which have been consistent with the quality that we expect from the BBC and high quality broadcasting generally. Assurances from the Minister in response to

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the amendment will be of great interest to us on these Benches. As other Members of the Committee have said, drama is extremely and increasingly expensive to produce. The drift towards cheaper programming, which is evident today, is likely to carry on apace under the regulation unless proper safeguards are built in. I could not stress more strongly our support for the amendment.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: I mean no disrespect to the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, but he used the term "philistines" as a term of abuse. These are a cultural groups of amendments and I warmly support them, but I have to say to him that recent archaeological evidence demonstrates that the Philistines have had a much worse press down the centuries than they should have done.

Baroness Buscombe: We also strongly support these amendments, the case for which was admirably made by the noble Baroness, Lady Turner. It is tremendously important that we ensure that there is sufficient high-quality original drama being broadcast, not least for the benefit of our children. They want drama as much as everyone else.

Lord Bragg: I should like to add my total support for the amendment. However, I do not think that it is time to despair yet. On ITV1, for example, in the past few months we have had "Doctor Zhivago" and the "Othello" drama, and the new "Forsyte Saga" is coming back. There is also quality in some of the more popular drama. "William and Mary", for example, is a very high-quality popular drama. However, a good time to consider such an amendment is when we are still ahead of the field in quality drama—to reinforce its place in future schedules. I wholly support the noble Lord, Lord Lea.

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