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Lord McNally: My Lords, I do not want to take the Minister's time. Did he not read the Whitaker's Almanack survey yesterday? It showed that only half the electorate knew what the Deputy Prime Minister did. Does that not surprise the Minister?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I think that John Prescott would be rather pleased at that figure. I can think of many deputy Prime Ministers in previous administrations whom nobody could name, let alone starting to describe what they did.

I do not have time to cover the new provisions in the Communications Act 2003. Only the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe—I thank her for it—took the trouble to talk about the Communications Act and the effect that it will have. Clearly, the conditions on the licences of public service channels to secure that programmes on those channels include news and current affairs, and that the time allocated to the broadcasting of news is in appropriate proportion, are important safeguards, which I think were universally accepted as the Bill went through Parliament.

It is a requirement that programmes must be of a high standard covering both national and international matters. News programmes should be broadcast at intervals throughout the day. The times at which news and current affairs programmes are to be broadcast should include an appropriate amount of peak viewing times.

Ofcom must consult with the channel provider before determining the proportion of broadcasting time to be allocated to news and current affairs programmes and what constitutes a peak viewing time. Somewhat to my surprise, the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, expressed the view—in advance of the consultation process—that the BBC should be brought entirely under the remit of Ofcom. She is fully entitled to that view; I shall be interested to see whether the Conservative Party's official evidence to the charter review expresses that. Many Conservative speakers have spoken in favour of the governance role of the BBC. I hope that there will not be a split on that matter.

In my final couple of minutes, I turn to the issue of press regulation. Here, again, I have nothing interesting to say. The Government strongly believe that a press free from any interference from the state is fundamental to democracy. For that reason, we would not seek to intervene in any way in what a newspaper chooses to publish—or not to publish.

As an individual, I am very tempted by some of the views expressed today. But from the Dispatch Box I must say that newspapers are written for their readers. Readers, including Members of this House, should, as Members have tonight, let newspapers know their views on the coverage and editorial slant on a whole

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range of issues. The letters pages of our newspapers, and the rather welcome innovation of readers' editors in many of our better newspapers, show that there is no shortage of people wanting to give their opinions.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, and my noble friend Lord Parekh, self-regulation of the press, through the Press Complaints Commission, is preferable to any statutory control. That does not mean that we are uncritical of the Press Complaints Commission, where there is scope for improving its system of self-regulation. But that should be achieved by changes to the code of practice, which we continually urge upon it. We recently made suggestions about improvements that it might consider, but how they are taken forward is for the

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Press Complaints Commission to determine. Any departure from that would be interference from the state, which would be an abuse of democracy in this country.

I am sorry that I am unable to give the 20 to 30 minutes speech that I would have liked in response to the many interesting points made. I repeat my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Patten, for introducing the debate.

Sexual Offences Bill [HL] Bill returned from the Commons agreed to with amendments; it was ordered that the Commons amendments be printed.

        House adjourned at one minute before nine o'clock.

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