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Baroness Buscombe: I support the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Crickhowell. I had drafted an extensive note setting out the reason for that support, but it would be otiose of me even to attempt to repeat the words of my noble friend and others who have spoken in support of the amendment.

Baroness Blackstone: I believe that the debate will conclude with the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, and me against everyone else! Therefore, I am grateful for a little support from him. I, too, do not believe the amendment is necessary, at least in part for the reasons he gave.

I am also puzzled because I can see little in the amendment which relates to our debates on regional output. Indeed, there is nothing in it. I shall be strict and stick, as we should in Committee, to the amendment. I shall not go over old ground that we discussed during our debates on independent production earlier in Committee. I hope that Members will accept that I am not being unfair but am merely trying to stick to a sensible procedure.

I support the intention behind the amendment, but it is unnecessary because of the amendments made in another place following the ITC's UK programme supply review. Among other things, the amendments have given Ofcom the duty to undertake a review of the programming quota for independent productions as part of their annual factual and statistical reports. So, just as the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil, said, we are already requiring Ofcom to take on this responsibility.

Under Clause 351(3)(e), Ofcom must consider what it is appropriate to achieve by conditions and duties under Clause 273 in relation to Channels 3, 4 and 5 and paragraphs 1 and 7 of Schedule 12 in relation to the BBC and the Welsh authority and the effectiveness for that purpose of the conditions and duties for the time being in force. In subsection (3)(f), Ofcom must consider whether it would be appropriate to recommend to the Secretary of State that he exercises any of his powers under that clause or those paragraphs.

These subsections give Ofcom a duty to consider all aspects of the programming quota for independent productions, including the definitions that the

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Secretary of State has made by order under Clause 273 and Schedule 12 to define qualifying programmes and independent production and, furthermore, to make recommendations that he exercise any of his powers under those provisions if appropriate. Moreover, under Clause 351 Ofcom will also be required to publish the report, which is exactly in line with what the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, is proposing.

I therefore believe that Ofcom will have all the powers necessary to undertake exactly the duties that the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, set out in his amendment and I therefore hope that he will withdraw it.

Lord Crickhowell: I am grateful to the nine Members of the Committee on all sides who supported my amendment. I hope that the Committee will forgive me if in the interests of time I do not name them all. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Peyton for breaching a long-standing alliance. I must confess that I felt like President George W Bush must have felt when President Chirac launched into him during recent months. It was a sad moment.

My noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy made an important point which needed making in the light of some of the comments made in earlier debates, particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Alli. The impression was given that if the ITV companies in the regions were given the right to enter the field, they would somehow crush the independent companies. The reality of what happened with Welsh language broadcasting is extremely interesting in this regard. My noble friend is right that before the arrival of S4C, we in HTV had a large share of that Welsh language programming. With the arrival of S4C, we quickly found ourselves losing a large share of it and having to compete like fury to retain an important sector of our output. As the independents came out in competition with us, so they grew in strength and numbers. The effect of that has been to create a vibrant Welsh language broadcasting sector.

As my noble friend said, that has not however been the case in the English language sector. If my noble friend Lord Peyton wondered why this matter needed highlighting, I can give him one good reason. It was as recently as last July that the ITC, now part of Ofcom, produced its report and reached a negative conclusion. I acknowledge what the Minister said about the past and I am pleased that she said it. However, I suspect that now, instead of Ofcom saying, "We looked at that. The ITC looked at it last year. That need not be a priority for us. We have an awful lot to do in the next few years and we can kick that one into touch for a long time to come", it will know that the Minister has drawn attention to its various duties and tasks. It will also know that nine Members of the Committee—a substantial majority of those who spoke—have supported the case for re-opening the issue.

The issue is important now because of the difficulties faced by the ITV sector at this time as a consequence of the recent loss of advertising revenue. So this is an urgent question and although I shall withdraw my amendment, I do so in the knowledge

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that we have perhaps emphasised to Ofcom that this is an important matter. We need action within a very short time. This is not a matter to be kicked into touch.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 273 agreed to.

Clause 274 [Programming quotas for original productions]:

Viscount Falkland moved Amendment No. 199A:

    Page 247, line 6, at end insert—

"( ) In determining appropriate proportions for the purposes of subsections (1) and (2), OFCOM shall have regard to the number of viewers of the public service channel in question."

The noble Viscount said: I beg to move Amendment No. 199A which is, in fact, Amendment No. 201 that has been re-tabled. I also speak to Amendments Nos. 215, 224 and 234. I apologise to the Committee for an error that has crept into Amendment No. 224 where there is a reference to subsection (1). It should be subsection (3). I hope the committee will indulge me in nevertheless allowing me to refer to this amendment.

Amendments Nos. 199A, 215, 224 and 234 should be viewed as complementary amendments to achieve a single purpose. To give the regulator the ability—not the obligation—to review at any time whether the public service requirements on Channel 5 as shown by its audience share, are proportionate to its role in the mainstream television market. The key amendments are Amendments Nos. 199A—formerly 201—and 224. However, in order to apply the principle fairly across the market, Amendments Nos. 215 and 234 are also required. They would give the regulator a similar ability to consider the audience shares of Channels 3 and 4 when applying tier 2 quotas.

As I have said on previous amendments, Channel 5 was originally envisaged as a small commercial niche channel with relatively light public service requirements. It would not be expected to threaten the Channel 3 or 4 market. Government policy, as expressed in this Bill, positively encourages investment in the channel in order to drive up audience share. Were Channel 5 to raise its audience share by three or four percentage points, it would indeed have a comparable audience to Channel 4 and BBC2. In reality, of course, it would not be comparable. Its very light public service obligations would give it a distinct competitive advantage over those two other channels which would both inevitably struggle to fulfil the high levels of public service in both tiers 2 and 3. The regulator would have no power to correct this imbalance as the Bill currently provides Ofcom with the ability to impose quantitative quotas under tier 2 for original and regional production only in the event of a change of ownership of Channel 5.

What is at stake is the fulfilment of those protections of citizens' interests which the Government have repeatedly said they wish to uphold. The four dominant channels, in return for their market privileges, are rightly expected to provide the citizen with high levels of original and regionally based programming, tailored to their needs and interests. A competitive drive against them by a channel without such obligations will produce a downward trend or

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even a spiral of quality in their public service output. In introducing a sliding scale of public service obligations with the BBC at the top end and Channel 5 at the bottom end, the Government must put in place regulation to take account of movements up and down this scale. We believe they must continue to apply these principles to Channel 5, regardless of any changes to media ownership. If the Government's proposed changes to those rules remain intact, there is an overwhelming case for these amendments.

Respected media analysts and academics, which include Professor Steven Barnett of the University of Westminster, noted in a recent letter to the Financial Times that, in the event of Channel 5 being owned by News International—that company is the obvious example, although it may not be interested in Channel 5—it would not be unrealistic to expect that Channel 5 would drive its audiences up to a level which would compete and go beyond those of BBC2 and Channel 4. It could even rival Channel 3 with 16 per cent of market share. Professor Barnett has written in a briefing paper:

    "Through heavy cross-promotion from its newspapers and satellite TV platform, through negative coverage of competitor channels and by exploiting its ability to buy key sports and movie rights across pay and free-to-air platforms, News International could potentially transform Channel 5 into the United Kingdom's highest rating television station".

Under these circumstances, a large part of the programming thus being transferred and cross-promoted would probably be imported from outside the United Kingdom. In this scenario, the regulator must have the ability to act to protect original and regionally-produced programming in our mainstream television market beyond the point at which the change of ownership took place. I beg to move.

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