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Lord Avebury moved Amendment No. 250A:

"(2A) The practices required by the code must include, where there is more than one version of a public service channel available on an electronic programme guide—
(a) compliance with a request from the provider of a public service channel to substitute either—
(i) the appropriate version of that public service channel as designated by the provider of the channel; or
(ii) the version of that channel selected by the viewer for substitution;
for the most prominent listing of that public service channel in the relevant electronic programme guide;
(b) ensuring that, where the provider of the public service channel consents, the consumer can perform the type of selection described in paragraph (a)(ii).
(2B) In assessing the degree of prominence for the purpose of subsection (2), OFCOM must ensure that—
(a) such prominence amounts to a degree that is greater than it would have been without the giving of such guidance; and
(b) the degree of prominence at least matches the degree of prominence in existence at the date of the commencement of the Office of Communications Act 2002 (c. 11).
(2C) For the purposes of this section there is more than one version of a public service channel available if, in the service of television programmes provided, there are different programmes being broadcast or distributed at the same time for audiences in different areas, regions or nations of the United Kingdom in the same service.
(2D) OFCOM shall perform its duty to draw up a code under subsection (1) within six months at the latest of the commencement of this section."

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I wish also to speak to Amendments Nos. 250B, 250C and 250D.

The amendments together have a straightforward but crucial purpose of ensuring that viewers have easy access to their public service channels on digital platforms. They would tighten up the definition of "due prominence" to ensure that when, for example, a viewer in Scotland switches on BBC1, he gets the Scottish version.

Throughout the debate on the Bill, your Lordships have stated your strong support for the UK's public service broadcasters and the role they play in British society. Parliament and the viewers expect special things from their public service channels—the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and S4C. They require them, as we have heard, to broadcast impartial news, high quality drama, documentaries, arts programmes and minority interest programmes. That is because as a society we believe there is public value in such programmes being easily available and free at the point of consumption.

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On the previous amendment to be debated, we heard of the importance for people who are partially sighted or hard of hearing of accessing those channels via the electronic programme guides. The concession that the Minister made was an important one, because she agreed that their use was essential to enhancing the experience of viewers who want to access digital channels. They are the navigation systems for digital television—a combination of the Radio Times and a channel selector. The owners of those guides control where the channels are listed. That has a crucial bearing on viewers' ability to find the programmes that they want. If they cannot find them, they cannot watch them.

As Members of the Committee will have heard in previous debates, every digital platform has its own monopoly EPG. As the UK moves towards all-digital television, it is essential that those monopolies are regulated in the wider public interest. That is a particularly important requirement in the case of the satellite EPG operator Sky, which has its own pay-TV channels. It cannot be allowed to dictate how easily viewers can find the PSB channels that Parliament has established. It would be like allowing newsagents controlled by the Sun to put broadsheets on the top shelf.

Subsection (2A) of the amendment provides that, where a public service broadcaster has regional versions available on an electronic programme guide—for example, BBC Scotland or BBC Wales—at the public service broadcaster's request, the provider of that guide would have to place either the regional version chosen by the broadcaster or the version selected by the viewer at that broadcaster's most prominent slot on the guide. It would also ensure that, where a PSB has approved the principle of viewer selection—for example, a viewer in London wishing to view his regional news—the provider of the electronic programme guide must provide him with the means to do so.

Subsection (2B) would set a minimum standard of prominence for PSB channels on an EPG so that it is not set lower than the current slots allocated to them. For example, BBC1 would be located at 101, BBC2 at 102, and ITV at 103. That would prevent the PSB channels being buried many pages down the guide among lifestyle channels, pay channels or even worse, as suggested previously by one Member of the Committee.

Subsection (2C) provides a technical definition of a regional service. Subsection (2D) would set a six-month deadline for Ofcom to produce a code of practice for EPGs.

In summary, the amendments seek to ensure that the great British creation of public service broadcasting is maintained for new generations of television viewers. We can do that only by ensuring that viewers can find the programmes that they want to watch. People expect to find BBC1 at 101 and ITV at 103. Scots expect to find BBC Scotland or STV on those channels.

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I hope that Members of the Committee will agree to put the due prominence requirements into the code, not to give PSBs any advantage over other channels, but for the benefit of viewers all over the United Kingdom. I beg to move.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: I have put my name to these amendments because I believe that we must ensure that viewers can get easy access to their public service channels on digital television, and, in particular, that citizens have easy access to their local, regional and national programmes.

We have heard a lot about the importance of EPGs. For the future, I stress that their importance cannot be over-stated. It is the navigation system for digital TV—a combination of the Radio Times and a channel selector. Owners of EPGs control where channels are listed. That affects viewers' ability to find the programmes that they want. If they cannot find it, they cannot watch it.

In the Broadcasting Act 1996, Parliament regulated EPGs by giving public service broadcasters "due prominence" in their guides, but did not specify what that means. As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has explained, the amendments will tighten up what is meant by due prominence of public service channels and extend the principle of due prominence to include regional and local variants of public service channels.

Can the Minister confirm that the obligation of due prominence for public service channels applies independently of the purchase of any other service? In other words, would it be unacceptable to insist on the purchase of any other service, whether conditional access or anything else, as a condition of meeting the obligation to provide viewers with access to the appropriate regional version of their public service channel through a duly prominent position?

If allowed, this kind of bundling of services would appear to frustrate the purpose of the Bill's provisions on EPG due prominence and would not be permitted, I hope, either by the ITC or under the new code that will be devised by Ofcom. Can the Minister clarify that point? Can the Government confirm that the obligation of due prominence of public service channels applies independently of the purchase of any other service?

During debate on the 1996 Broadcasting Bill, both Government and Opposition sought guarantees that control of a monopoly EPG could not be used to deny viewers their traditional easy access to PSBs. The then Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, said:

    "Let me once again state unequivocally that the Government are concerned to ensure that electronic programme guides are not used to distort competition between broadcasters. It therefore seems eminently sensible for the Bill to establish certain principles as it does".

He went on to say:

    "Nevertheless, as I made clear in Committee, the Government intend to monitor the situation carefully. And should EPGs in the digital market develop in a way which makes further regulation necessary we shall introduce it".

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Clearly recent developments demonstrate that as both the market and technology have evolved, greater clarity over the will of Parliament is indeed necessary. The ITC's regulatory code requires "due prominence" without, as we have already heard, specifying what that means and in the case of the current dispute between the BBC and Sky has not been able to rule, despite the complaint being made by the BBC on 7th April. Nor does the Act or the ITC code deal with the different regional and national versions of PSB programming. Yet surely Parliament, when creating due prominence, intended that it would mean that viewers in Scotland could get BBC Scotland, viewers in Wales BBC Wales, and so forth. Where PSB channels are available with national or regional versions, viewers' easy access to those channels must surely be the right version for them.

I suggest that the amendment strikes the right balance between the role of Parliament in determining public policy and the discretion of Ofcom, the independent regulator, in implementing the policy set out by Parliament. Amendment No. 250A makes it clear that "due prominence" means the level of prominence at the enactment of the Ofcom enabling Act, safeguarding the position of the PSBs, and requires EPG providers to provide regionalised services.

It does not fetter Ofcom's discretion over the prices or the technical mechanisms which will be applied. These detailed regulatory matters are properly matters for Ofcom. But it is essential that Ofcom considers these detailed issues against the backdrop of clear public policy. Parliament has determined that EPGs should be regulated. It now needs to make sure that the new regulator, Ofcom, has a clear understanding of its intent behind that decision.

I hope that the Minister will be able to respond positively to the amendments and will be able to confirm my specific point about bundling of services.

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