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The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Geddes): Before calling Amendment No. 300A, I must advise the Committee that if it is agreed to I shall not call Amendment No. 300B due to pre-emption.

[Amendment No. 300A not moved.]

5 Jun 2003 : Column 1538

Lord Eatwell had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 300B:

    Page 306, line 38, leave out from "be" to end of line 41 and insert "taken to have control of a body corporate as mentioned in sub-paragraph (3)(b) if—

(a) he is a participant with a 20 per cent interest in that body or is one with more than a 20 per cent interest in that body;
(b) OFCOM has reasonable grounds to believe that he has such control; and
(c) having been given the opportunity to consider those grounds, he is unable to show to the contrary."

The noble Lord said: I am very grateful for my noble friend's reaction to the remarks that I made. I shall get it right this time: amendment not moved.

[Amendment No. 300B not moved.]

Clause 350 agreed to.

6.30 p.m.

Clause 351 [Annual factual and statistical report]:

Baroness Whitaker moved Amendment No. 301:

    Page 308, line 18, at end insert—

"(l) the extent to which news and current affairs programmes included during the period are serving all groups within the community and such international and national coverage is relevant to their interests."

The noble Baroness said: I declare both my interest as the deputy chair of the ITC and its support for the amendment. The amendment echoes the one tabled previously by the noble Baronesses, Lady Howe and Lady Prashar, to Clause 331, for which my noble friend on the Front Bench at the time offered some support.

The amendment is directed at a perceived, serious failing in our news and current affairs programmes. Recent authoritative research by Professor Ian Hargreaves on news and by the BBC, the BSC, the ITC and the Radio Authority, shows that broadcasting content simply does not reflect the world and the interests of minority parts of our multicultural society. The news research shows that less than half think TV news represents all sections of society fairly. It shows that black and Asian viewers trust the impartiality of TV news significantly less than white viewers and that it is often felt to be not relevant to their interests.

The joint research shows a widespread perception of tokenism, negative stereotyping, unrealistic and simplistic portrayals of particular communities and negative or non-existent images of countries or areas of origin. The reasons people wanted proper and more sensitive coverage were, principally, three: to demonstrate a sense of belonging within our society; to foster a better understanding of minority cultures; and—very important—to allow children to identify with positive representatives of people from their communities.

These are important social objectives. To abandon them to the inertia of the status quo would contribute to undermining both order and a sense of freedom. It will be an easy matter for Ofcom to include among its annual reporting obligations regular research of the

5 Jun 2003 : Column 1539

kind I have referred to on how far news and current affairs programmes met the needs of all our communities. I beg to move.

Viscount Falkland: We on these Benches broadly support the noble Baroness's amendment, particularly with regard to the young in ethnic communities in this country and, beyond that, in the way that she has described. We particularly support her desire to avoid the inertia of the status quo. That is always a danger, and I am sure the regulatory body will be well aware of it. We support the sentiments behind the amendment.

The Lord Bishop of Manchester: As Members of the Committee will know, I serve in an area of the country where there are very many different ethnic communities. I warm to the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, has made. I imagine it would be easy to include this proposal, and I hope that it gets a favourable response from the Minister.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: This amendment would require Ofcom, in its annual statistical and factual review, to consider whether news and current affairs programming is serving,

    "all groups within the community and such international and national coverage is relevant to their interests".

This annual statistical review, which is essentially quantitative, is the wrong vehicle to get at this more qualitative judgment. We believe the intention behind the amendment is entirely admirable, but this is not the best way to achieve what my noble friend wants. It would not be in keeping with the general purpose of this clause to require Ofcom to review a qualitative issue such as whether news and current affairs programming is relevant to the interests of all communities. The general purpose of Clause 351 is to produce a statistical and factual review of the whole television and radio market.

The factors to be considered by Ofcom are on the whole quantitative and objective, such as the size and behaviour of audiences and the financial condition of the market, rather than qualitative issues. However, we believe that the Bill requires all public service broadcasters to provide programmes which,

    "reflect the lives and concerns of different communities and cultural interests and traditions"

in the UK.

In addition, one of the overall purposes of public service broadcasting is the provision of services which are properly balanced and meet the needs and satisfy the interests of as many different audiences as practicable. These provisions, which reflect the aims of the amendment, fall within Ofcom's review and report on public service broadcasting under Clause 260. The review would take place no less frequently than every five years.

5 Jun 2003 : Column 1540

I hope that, for the reasons that I set out, my noble friend Lady Whitaker will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Whitaker: I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate and to the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, for their enlightened support of the amendment.

I must tell my noble friend on the Front Bench that the research to which I referred was in large part quantitative, and I am not entirely sure that I follow him in the split that he made in how Ofcom should account for broadcasters. However, I shall read carefully what he said in Hansard. In the mean time I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 351 agreed to.

Clause 352 [Grants to access radio providers]:

[Amendment No. 302 not moved.]

Clause 352 agreed to.

Clause 353 agreed to.

Schedule 15 [Amendments of Broadcasting Acts]:

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendments Nos. 303 to 306:

    Page 440, line 19, leave out "In"

    Page 440, line 20, after "licence)" insert "shall be amended as follows.

(2)" Page 440, line 21, at end insert—

"(3) In subsection (2), in the definition of "associated programme provider", for the words from "appears" to "inclusion" there shall be substituted "is or is likely to be involved, to a substantial extent, in the provision of the programmes included"." Page 450, line 12, after "interpretation)" insert—

"(a) in the definition of "associated programme provider", for the words from "appears" to "inclusion" there shall be substituted "is or is likely to be involved, to a substantial extent, in the provision of the programmes included"; and
(b) in the words after the definition of "the relevant period","

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 307 and 308 not moved.]

Schedule 15, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 354 agreed to.

Clause 355 [Interpretation of Part 3]:

[Amendment No. 309 not moved.]

Clause 355 agreed to.

Clause 356 [Licence required for use of TV receiver]:

[Amendments Nos. 309A to 309C not moved.]

Clause 356 agreed to.

Clauses 357 and 358 agreed to.

Clause 359 [Powers to enforce TV licensing]:

[Amendment No. 309D not moved.]

Clause 359 agreed to.

Clauses 360 and 361 agreed to.

5 Jun 2003 : Column 1541

Clause 362 [Matters in relation to which OFCOM have competition functions]:

[Amendments Nos. 310 and 310ZA not moved.]

Clause 362 agreed to.

Clauses 363 to 365 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 310A not moved.]

Clauses 366 to 368 agreed to.

Clause 369 [Adaptation of role of OFT in initial investigations and reports]:

Lord Wakeham moved Amendment No. 310B:

    Page 324, line 33, leave out from "daily" to "newspaper" in line 34 and insert "or Sunday"

The noble Lord said: I get the impression that we are moving on rather fast. I shall therefore be as quick as I can. In moving Amendment No. 310B, I shall also speak to my other four amendments in this group. Although the amendments are perhaps out of the wide range of the debate which we have been having all day and are relatively small in some senses, they are pretty important to the newspaper industry. I should like to say a word or two about them.

Four of the amendments seek to restrict the way in which the public interest regime would be operated in the case of small and local newspapers, a regime which is in my view quite unnecessary for those small and local newspapers. Amendment No. 310F seeks clarification from the Government on exactly what they meant by a concession which they made in another place.

Amendments Nos. 310B and 310C effectively remove from the newspapers that are subject to this regime the weekly newspapers and the smaller newspapers, leaving in fact only daily newspapers. That is very much in line with what the Joint Committee which considered the draft Bill recommended: that there should be a substantial deregulatory outcome for the newspaper industry, whereas I think the Bill as drafted unnecessarily increases the burden on newspapers. The Bill would, for example, put a burden on newspapers with a circulation of fewer than 50,000, including I note with some horror a newspaper that is circulated in my old constituency of Malden which has a circulation of 8,000 copies. I think that that is a very heavy weapon to employ.

There are many reasons why that burden should not fall on local newspapers. The Competition Commission has never found that an acquisition of purely local newspapers raises issues that are against the public interest. The editorial content of local newspapers has to be driven by the views of the local population—otherwise they do not survive—and the burden of compliance on these newspapers is both onerous and in my view unnecessary.

Amendments Nos. 310D and 310E are concerned with restricting the Secretary of State's discretion to intervene in regional and local newspaper transfers to those where the acquiring newspaper owns a 25 per cent share of all newspapers in the United Kingdom or

5 Jun 2003 : Column 1542

the acquiring publisher is to acquire newspapers in some substantial part of the United Kingdom where the publisher already owns a 25 per cent share. So again it is an attempt to restrict the interventions of the Secretary of State in the regulatory regime to those that I think will be of public concern and will avoid unnecessary complications for the smaller newspapers and where there is no public interest likely to arise.

Amendment No. 310F follows a helpful government amendment to the Bill in another place to remove the supply of the newspaper advertising from the criteria that allow intervention on special public interest grounds when examining plurality interests. Despite this change, the industry feels that the width of the interpretive direction given to the decision-making authority by this clause could still enable newspaper advertising share to remain a trigger as a backdoor option under Section 59(6) of the Enterprise Act. Indeed, the illustrative draft of statutory guidance for the operation of the new regime refers to the newspaper advertising. The amendment seeks simply to clarify the Bill and to avoid any future ambiguity in its intentions and applications. I beg to move.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Fowler: I support my noble friend, particularly in Amendments Nos. 310B and 310C. The noble Lord, Lord Borrie, and I debated earlier today the rival merits of the regional and local press. It is worth underlining what my noble friend Lord Wakeham said. Although the amendment appears not to raise some of the profound issues we discussed today under some of the broadcasting amendments, a strong regional and local press is vital to this country. As I suggested earlier, there is no question that public support for and trust in the regional press is very great indeed. All the surveys suggest that it is rather greater than trust in national newspapers. We would be well advised to pay careful attention to that and certainly not to change the rules in any way that would act against the interests of local newspapers.

My concern, as has also been set out in Amendments Nos. 310B and 310C, is that the Government seem to be moving backwards. The Joint Committee on the draft Communications Bill recommended that the Government should have full regard to the need for a substantially deregulatory outcome for the newspaper industry, especially as regards local newspapers. However, far from deregulating the industry, the new regime, in some respects, is rather more restrictive than the present one. The practical implications for the Bill as it is now drafted mean that the transfer of smaller, free and paid-for local newspapers, which would not be subject to the special merger regime under the Fair Trading Act 1973, would be exposed to extended discretionary scrutiny on plurality grounds alone under a new exceptional public interest regime. The proposed regime would increase the scope of discretionary ministerial involvement in newspaper transfers where the newspapers in question have an average daily circulation of under 50,000. That would lead to the anomalous situation in which the transfer of a newspaper with a circulation of 8,000, 9,000 or

5 Jun 2003 : Column 1543

10,000 could be treated with the vigour of the special controls together with mergers that threaten national security. That seems frankly to be out of proportion.

The amendments address that issue. To someone such as myself who, in my old days, was a chairman of regional newspapers, the process of going before the Competition Commission, putting forward the evidence and setting it out seems to place a tremendous time and financial burden on any newspaper company that has ever sought to do that. Therefore, the burden of compliance under the new regime would be onerous for smaller weekly and free newspapers. The direct costs that arise can be unduly onerous as well.

I hope that the Minister will listen to the points that have been made, particularly by the Newspaper Society, which is well respected in the regional newspaper industry. It has represented the regional newspaper industry for a long time. I hope that she will listen to it and make some movement towards the amendments proposed by my noble friend.

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