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Lord Roper: My Lords, I do not intend to detain the House. We on these Benches are also grateful to the Minister for his full explanation of the regulations, particularly remarkable in view of the way in which he had to spend the past 48 hours. They are helpful in providing a proper framework for the definition of "turnover" in order that the provisions of the Communications Act can be carried out. We support them.
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, the suggestion of setting the definition in accordance with accounting practices and principles which are generally accepted in the United Kingdom was sensible. We will bear that point in mind in future legislation of this kind.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. I begin by making it clear that I raise no objection to the principle of the legislation proposed. The establishment and co-ordination of common standards for television makes sense for all parties. But the regulations as drafted are, in my view, deficient.
I had hoped to be able to give the Minister advance warning of some of my concernsindeed, I did so about two minutes ago. The forthcoming business announcement suggested that the debate was to be responded to by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey. I spoke to staff in the noble Lord's office, who told me that they did not believe he was responding and that they would ring me back and tell me who would be. I imagine that at that time the Minister was about 36,000 feet in the air somewhere, so it would not have been easy for us to have spoken. But I did try to ensure that we could have as useful a debate as possible this afternoon.
I have the pleasure of reading through many statutory instruments from the Minister's department. Quite often, they appear to me to be unclear or unhelpfully drafted in some single aspect or another. In such circumstances, it is my practice to table a parliamentary Question for Written Answer. Indeed, I tabled four such Questions yesterday. I nurture the hopeit is only a faint hope, but it is a hope none the lessthat somehow those parliamentary Questions and Answers are attached to the master file so that, when revisions come to be made, improved drafting, thus making the whole matter clear beyond peradventure, is incorporated in the new version.
However, from time to time, in individual regulations, the lacuna becomes lacunae and the issue needs to be addressed in more detail. This statutory instrumentSI 2003/1901is one such case, and I shall seek to persuade the Minister that the regulations that are drafted are unclear, unfair and, in at least one aspect, downright incorrect.
I want to make five points. For ease of reference, I shall deal with them in the order that they appear in the statutory instrument. First, I draw the Minister's attention to the point that I raised a few minutes ago on the definition of "wide-screen television service" on page 2 of the regulations. It states that the wide-screen television service is,
Fourthly, I refer to paragraph 5(2)(b)(i), which concerns the issue of search warrants and when a justice of the peace may issue a search warrant. He may issue it if he is also satisfied by any such information either that admission to the premises has been or is
So where admission to the premises is "likely to be refused", a search warrant can be issued. There is no safeguard whatever because in all cases the weights and measures inspectors wanting to make the investigation can say, "If I give such a notice, undoubtedly the person will take advantage of it".
During the passage of the Animal Health Bill in October and November last year, there was considerable discussion of the dating of warrants. During the course of the debate on 8 October 2002, recorded in Hansard at col. 190, the noble Countess, Lady Mar, stated that she had seen a warrant signed by a magistrate and left for the details to be filled in by whomsoever executed it. I am sure the Minister would agree that that is a very undesirable practice and would want to take steps to eradicate it. In pursuance of that objective, does he not agree that the regulation would be improved if after "which" one inserted the words, "shall be dated at the time of signing and", so that the paragraph would read:
Sixthly, and finally, I draw the attention of the Minister to paragraph 7, which concerns appeals against detention of equipment. This is hardware which cannot be copied and therefore once removed is no longer available to the firm. In particular, I draw the Minister's attention to subparagraph (3) which is the safety valve from the point of view of the person
Six months is a hugely long time for someone who might be innocent to be unable to reclaim his equipment. Again I stress that these are firms that at the point of seizure are innocent. They may be proved to be guilty but they are innocent at that time. To have equipment seized and to be unable to apply to reclaim it for more than six months seems another very harsh penalty. Perhaps the Minister could explain why six months. Surely pressure should be put on the prosecuting authorities to move with more urgency. In doing so, I should be grateful if the Minister could explain whether this provision will also apply to non-UK jurisdictions; that is to say, can equipment be detained and removed, as I said, to some other European centre?
To conclude, I believe that, while the purpose of these regulations is not objectionable, the wording, the drafting and the balance of them is unfair and wrong. Since we cannot amend them, I invite the noble Lord to withdraw them and to resubmit them in a better and fairer form. If I am right about the 16 to nine ratio, I think he has no option. Therefore, I beg to move.
The context in which we have made these regulations is that, as he said, of the four directives on regulation of electronic communications networks and services, which were adopted by the European Community in 2002. These are the Framework Directive, the Authorisation Directive, the Access Directive and the Universal Service Directive. Together they provide a comprehensive overhaul of the framework in European law for the regulation of these services. The UK strongly supports this new harmonised framework, which will strengthen competition throughout Europe.
The directives had to be transposed into national law with effect from the 25th July this year. As many of your Lordships will be aware, the major part of this transposition was effected through the Communications Act, which received Royal Assent on 17th July. The relevant provisions of the Act were commenced on 25th July. However, some aspects of the transposition were effected through other instruments, including these regulations. Specifically, these regulations transpose Article 4(2) of the Access Directive, and also Article 24 and Annex VI of the Universal Service Directive. These provisions replace
Given their largely technical nature, we have taken the same route this time. But these regulations have of course to be viewed as part of the overall task of transposition, and are subject to the UK's obligations to implement these directives on the specified datethat is, 25th July 2003.
The regulations cover three separate issues. The first deals with widescreen television services. Regulation 4 requires that all digital television networks must be able to transmit television programmes in the widescreen format, that is with a ratio of 16 to nine. This requirement was included in the 1996 regulations. However, the new regulations, flowing from the new directives, also require that any digital television signal that is received for retransmission in widescreen format must be retransmitted in the same format. This extra requirement will cover, for instance, the situation where a broadcaster transmits its services in widescreen format over the terrestrial network and these services are then picked up by a cable network for onward transmission over its network. This provision relates to services and will be enforced by Ofcom as if it were a general condition under the Communications Act.
The second issue is the application of the common scrambling algorithm and the transmission of unscrambled images. The intention is that consumers should be able to view on their television sets all digital services to which they are entitled whether or not the broadcaster transmits them scrambled, for example to protect rights. Regulation 5 places the same requirements on descramblers of digital television signals as Regulation 9 of the 1996 regulations. However, it is slightly narrower in scope and covers only consumer equipment which is intended for the reception of digital television signals, rather than equipment that is capable but not intended for that purpose.
The third issue is the interoperability of television sets with other equipment, such as video recorders, digital adapters and digital video disc players. All analogue television sets above a minimum screen sizeapproximately 17 inches diagonally across the screenare required to have at least one standardised open interface socket: what the industry normally refers to as a SCART socket. That applies also to integrated digital television sets which can receive and display analogue signals, and hence covers all integrated digital television sets currently available in this country.
In addition, for digital television sets with a screen size greater than approximately 12 inches the standardised open interface socket must permit the passage of all the elements of a digital television signal. Those elements include information relating to interactive and conditionally accessed services. The 1996 regulations include those requirements, but the
The regulations have been the subject of public consultation and take due account of the responses received from broadcasters, manufacturers and the Royal National Institute for Deaf People. Like the regulations that they replace, they are intended to ensure a minimum level of interoperability that supports considerable consumer benefits. It is important that consumers can buy or rent equipment confident that it will provide access to all the expected television services.
The market for television receivers is developing rapidly. Gone are the days when we had a choice of a small box or bigger box that gave access to services that could be numbered on the fingers of one hand. We have a range of ways of watching television services: whether using a single television set, a screen connected to a decoder of signals, or by adding an adapter box to a television. We can also connect a variety of recording and other equipment to the television. We can plug in a module to provide access to audio description services. But all of those options are available only if there is a common means of connecting the various boxes and screens together.
For that reason, there must be some minimum requirements of the kind set out in these regulations. In due course, they may need amendment at European level to reflect new market developments, but for now they are the agreed way of supporting the internal market in television sets for use with today's television services.
I turn to some of the specific issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson. He asked about the height: width ratio of 16:9. Of course, that should have been the width: height ratio, and we shall take steps to rectify that. He asked about paragraph 5(2). The use of warrants beyond one month is unlawful, but I shall take account of his suggestion of dating warrants when considering what amendments should be made. The provision in paragraph 4(4)(a) is the same provision as in the 1996 regulation and has caused no problem until now, but, again, we shall take account of the noble Lord's point when deciding what amendment may be needed.
He also asked about Paragraph 4(4)(a)(ii). I fear that without notes I am unable to answer the noble Lord's question about the universal service directive. I shall write to him when I have had the opportunity to consider the point.
Finally, the noble Lord mentioned paragraph 5(2)(b)(i). A justice of the peace will not grant a warrant unless he is properly satisfied of the likelihood of refusal. That is not something that he will take lightly, but I shall consider what may be done to deal with that point.
I hope that that answers the points raised by the noble Lord. There is little difference between the regulations and those that the noble Lord's party introduced when in government. Now, as then, we are
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