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Lord Fowler: My Lords, I, too, was about to make a long and spirited speech on this subject. I, too, thank the Minister. I congratulate my noble friend Lady Buscombe on the persistence with which she has put the case and for the victory she has secured.
ITN has a proud history. "News at Ten" has been genuinely innovative over the years and reporting standards have been very high. In recent years some of us feared that ITN had lost its wayparticularly in regard to its decision to move the main evening news programme around the schedulesbut its coverage of the Iraq war, where one of its reporters was so tragically killed, showed that its old skill and flair are still present. That needs to be underlined.
The Minister, urged on by my noble friend, has taken away one of the restrictions on ITN. It did not seem to make any kind of sense to deter investment in the way it was deterred under the rules, even as modified, in the Government's first proposals. The BBC owns its own news service, Sky owns its own news service, and we can now have a situation where ITV can benefit from the same kind of freedom. I believe that, as a result of that, it will go forward from strength to strength and become a major force in British and international television, as it deserves to be.
Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, I was not going to make a long speech because I said what I wanted to say at the Committee stage. I thank the Minister for his wholly helpful statement. It needs to be said that the restrictions he suggested are also very reasonable. The balance he has produced is acceptable and greatly improves the Bill.
Like my noble friend Lord Fowler, I, too, congratulate my noble friend on the Front Bench on a notable victory. She has achieved a significant improvement to the Billa very satisfactory outcome. It shows that when the House works on a cross-Bench basis with support from all parts of the House we can improve legislation, as we have done on this occasion.
I admit that when we debated this in Committee the arguments were so convincing, made even more convincing now, that I could not believe that the Government would not give way. I also admit that I made a rather cross comment about the Government not giving way. I take that back unreservedly. I am delighted that the Government have given way, and I agree that the additional conditions make much sense for the future. So there is no need to say any more, just congratulations.
Lord Lipsey: My Lords, I am tempted to say that I was about to make a short speech but will instead embark on a long one. All that I wish to say in response to this remarkable development is that this Report stage demonstrates this House working at its best. I contrast that with a less satisfactory Bill, such as the Licensing Bill.
There has been give and take on this Bill, a good atmosphere, genuine argument, and as a resultI do not like the words "concessions" or "victories"we have made progress by consensus. I happily pay tribute to the role played by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, and I also thank the Minister for the approach that he has injected into this Report stage. For once, we can be proud of our work.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I have no response, except to say that I have been outnumbered 10 to one on more than one occasion, and I expect that to continue. It does not always mean that I am wrong. On this occasion I add my congratulations to those who have successfully argued the case.
Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to thank the Minister for his response. I also thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this important debate through the different stages of the Billmy noble friends Lord Fowler and Lord Crickhowell, the noble Lords, Lord Bragg, Lord Lipsey and Lord McNally, and the noble Baroness, Lady Howe.
I thank those who have complemented me, but this is a victory for all noble Lords and for the Government, who are now making good law. It is an example of your Lordships' House working at its best, but I also thank the Secretary of State for offering me the opportunity to debate these issues with the Minister. That contributed greatly to the result that we have achieved. The Minister has given a clear assurance and was kind enough to give me advance notice of his comments. We have come a long way and we are enormously grateful. We shall consider the proposed amendments with care, to ensure that they fully reflect the Government's reassurances and the Minister's comments this evening. On that basis, it gives me great pleasure to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise briefly to movemove againthe amendment. I read carefully the Hansard report of our discussion in Committee. It was a fairly sad occasion. I then went to the Oxford English Dictionary and looked up the definition of the words "substantial" and "suitable". According to the OED, "substantial" means,
I suggest that there is no contest between the meaning of those two words. It is clear that what we are looking for, in the context of the clause, is "substantial". I would even be prepared happily to settle for "significant". In no way can the word "suitable" be applied. I beg to move.
Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, the Minister is basking in the glow of the approval of the whole House for the action that he took on the previous amendment. He can gain even greater approval if, on this occasion, he again accepts this utterly reasonable amendment, which will strengthen the Bill. The issue has been raised repeatedly by the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, and the amendment deserves support.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, said, I think, that we were losing a "slam-dunk" opportunity to be flexible. We debated the amendments in Committee, and I cannot accept the amendments before us today. I listened carefully to the views that were expressed in Committee, and I hope that, even if we cannot accept the exact wording proposed, there will be something that we can do to meet the concerns expressed.
The concerns expressed are difficult, and I am not sure that we got that across adequately in Committee. The problem is that, unlike the word "substantial", the current words "suitable" and "sufficient" have a wide meaning. I know that that is a cause of concern to some people, but the words give Ofcom essential flexibility to apply the targets for regional production, investment in regional production, and regional programming at a level appropriate to the service in question.
We need flexibility because this is not an area in which one size can fit all. There are considerable differences in the production capabilities of the different regional Channel 3 licensees. What is right for, say, Granada in Manchester, with a well established production base, may not be right for smaller licensees such as Channel or Ulster or for the London licensees. Similarly, what may be right for Channel 3 may not be right for Channel 5, which has no production base of its own and is, after all, a national service. I know that the amendments do not apply to Channel 4, but the same arguments would apply there.
Ofcom would have no flexibility, as it does at the moment, to take such factors into account when setting targets. For example, if it were to set a target for Channel 5 that appeared to them to be "substantial", that target would set a threshold because Ofcom would have deemed it to be "substantial". It would not have the flexibility to set targets significantly above that threshold to determine, for example, that a "substantial" amount in the case of a Channel 3 service should be much higher than for Channel 5. So, there is a danger that the targets would be set at the lowest common denominator. That is not what we want.
There is also a problem with regional programming. The current word"sufficient"gives Ofcom the flexibility to take individual circumstances into account but ensures that whatever targets are imposed must be enough, in its view. Clearly, the regional programming requirements in relation to the national Channel 3 servicecurrently GMTVshould be different from those of the regional licensees, but the amendments would take away any discretion for Ofcom to take that into account in setting targets.