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Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, I support my noble friend Lord McNally. Normally, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, on these matters, but I was tempted by his remark that he puts his faith in the fact that he could not foresee a situation in which Ofcom's serious views were rejected by Ministers. The noble Lord, Lord Borrie, was a very distinguished director of the Office of Fair Trading for a very long time. I do not know the full details of his history, but I would be very surprised if he was totally content with all the ministerial decisions put before him.

I support the views that the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, has expressed. Channel 5 must be regarded as a distinctive, separate case to be dealt with on its own merits. It is the fifth terrestrial public service channel in this country. It is true that, because of its lack

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of total coverage and for other reasons, the public service regulator has given it a lighter remit than the other ITV channels. However, that will change.

I find Channel 5 rather good these days. Very often, I find programmes on the channel that interest me. I hope earnestly that its standards and coverage will improve. I see no reason why it should be treated separately from the ownership considerations that apply to the rest of the public service commercially-funded system in this country—the ITV system. For those reasons, it is wholly right that Channel 5, as the fifth channel of our public service broadcasting system, should be safeguarded as proposed by my noble friend Lord McNally.

Lord Sheldon: My Lords, for some years now, I have been concerned about the increasingly close relationship between the Government and the media. We have seen it as an extreme form—nowhere near the one that we are discussing today—in Berlusconi, where there is almost a fusion between certain parts of the media and important parts of the government. That is what concerns me most. That relationship seems to be growing over time. We have never had that kind of relationship in this modern media age, but we are seeing it now. This is an opportunity for us to say, "Enough is enough". There comes a time when one must bring it to a halt.

Politicians now depend more than ever before, not so much on getting support from the media, but on avoiding unfavourable mentions from them. That has now become an important aspect of government and political life. We need greater safeguards to protect us from the increasing powers of these kinds of relationships. For that reason, I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord McNally.

Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, I wish to be very brief. I join the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, in congratulating the Government for making many moves in relation to the Bill. I do not think that it is the case, as the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, stated, that we are worried about pushing our luck too far. I genuinely mean that. Several noble Lords, including myself, were deeply concerned, when we set out to scrutinise the Bill in your Lordships' House, that the Government would not show signs of shifting, and of listening to noble Lords and our debates.

However, the Government have listened on several occasions. On behalf of Her Majesty's Opposition, I am extremely grateful for that. We support the Government on this issue. It is right to liberalise ownership rules for Channel 5, particularly given that the Government have tabled amendments to the Enterprise Act to introduce a plurality test in certain media mergers. Given that the plurality public interest test will act as a belt-and-braces safeguard—some have talked about a pillar—in addition to powerful competition law, we simply do not believe that it makes sense now to retain limits on cross-media ownership.

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With the exception of the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, who made a very powerful speech with which I agreed entirely, and the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, who referred to the OFT, noble Lords have spoken as if the OFT and the Competition Commission do not exist. They play powerfully important roles in such issues and the question of mergers. We believe strongly that Ofcom will have very powerful content rules. Ofcom will be in the driving seat rather than Ministers, as the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, said.

On several issues on which the Government have moved in your Lordships' House, we have concentrated on the need to future proof the Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, said, there is a concern that if the amendments were carried today, we would place in the Bill an unnecessary inflexibility on Ofcom's ability to act in the future. I ask the noble Lord, Lord McNally, to respond to the brief statement that the noble Lord made on Report with regard to similar amendments.

The noble Lord, Lord McNally, said:

    "in the light of the very important statement made by the Minister today about plurality and its effect on the Bill, I shall not move this amendment".—[Official Report, 2/7/03; col. 955.]

Was the noble Lord, Lord McNally, deciding on principle last week that it was not necessary to move his amendment in relation to Channel 5, or was it that the troops were not there to support him? That is terribly important, because it is unfortunate that we are not debating the government amendments on plurality before debating Channel 5. It would be helpful to have that point answered.

4 p.m.

Lord McNally: My Lords, I thought that I had cleared that matter up in my opening remarks. Within 24 hours, according to the Financial Times on 3rd July, an unnamed senior official at the DCMS was putting the concessions well into the margins of the Bill and making them extremely discretionary. That was why I was determined to bring this matter back to the House.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I must start by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord McNally, on the way in which he has succeeded in paving this debate.

Lord McNally: My Lords, when I was faced with this dilemma, I was told that the expert on paving Bills in Opposition was the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, so I was following the master.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, that is precisely why I was congratulating the noble Lord, Lord McNally. I was about to say that I did that for 14 years and enjoyed it. I challenge the noble Lord to achieve what I once did, which was to move an amendment in Part 6 of a Bill that would retrospectively have changed provisions in Parts 2, 3, 4 and 5. He can have a go at that if he wants to.

The noble Lord's amendment has had a very bizarre effect, paving up the debate on Channel 5 now. The amendment will be considered before the debate on the

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plurality clause. That means that I now have to bore your Lordships by saying what the plurality test, which will be introduced in the next group of amendments, will do. If my noble friend Lord Sheldon had heard what I am going to say, he would not have been able to say what he said about Berlusconi and Beaverbrook. The answers to all of the points that have been made are to be found in the plurality amendment.

The media plurality test is a new public interest consideration added to Section 58 of the Enterprise Act 2002, in addition to a consideration relating to national security that was included in the 2002 Act and the newspaper merger public interest considerations that are already in the Bill. The wording seeks to ensure that the Secretary of State can intervene in a proposed or completed merger between broadcasters or between broadcasters and newspaper proprietors.

The clause deals at great length and in detail, in many amendments, with the whole issue of cross-media ownership, which was not recognised by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, in his speech. It proposes to ensure sufficient plurality of persons controlling media enterprises in relation to: every different audience in the United Kingdom or a particular area or locality in the United Kingdom; the need for diversity of broadcasting throughout the United Kingdom; and the need for persons controlling or carrying on media enterprises to have a genuine commitment to attainment in relation to the broadcasting standards objective in the Bill—impartiality generally and impartial and accurate news, for example.

The amendment exactly addresses the problems of the potential motivation of individual media proprietors or would-be media proprietors seeking to enter broadcasting markets—be it Channel 3 or Channel 5—in this country. However, the difference between this amendment and the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, is that ours has two bases. It is based on principle and is not directed at individuals—and I really do deplore the noble Lord's levity when he said that his amendment was not about Mr Murdoch, but was about American or Australian moguls, because he could not name a second one, could he?

Our amendment is not only based on principle—in other words, on the competition legislation that has existed for many years. It is not untested, but is based on the high standards that are required of media owners throughout this Bill and the way in which the plurality amendments, which I hope that we will agree, protect the high standards of broadcasting in this country. Against that, the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord McNally—although not his supporters, who made serious speeches—was disgraceful. He talked about industry experts, the Financial Times, unnamed senior officials in the DCMS and Government Whips, but almost not at all about the substance of his amendment, which is an ad hominem amendment, directed at an American Australian media mogul.

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The way in which the noble Lord, Lord McNally, has approached this amendment has debased the argument in this House. The rest of the debate has been perfectly proper, but the noble Lord, Lord McNally, has sought to have this debate before the one on the plurality test. He has sought to do so in a personal and light-hearted manner. This is a serious matter that deserves serious consideration. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, has not given it that serious consideration.

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