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[Amendments Nos. 79 and 80, as amendments to Amendment No. 78, not moved.]

On Question, Amendment No. 78 agreed to.

Schedule 4 [Minor and consequential amendments]:

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath moved Amendments Nos. 81 to 88:

81: Schedule 4, page 137, line 6, at end insert—

“Gas Act 1986 (c. 44)

In section 64(2) of that Act (orders) after “41C” insert “, 41HA,”.”

82: Schedule 4, page 137, line 10, at end insert—

“2A In section 47 of that Act (general functions of the Authority)—

(a) in subsection (1A) after “microgeneration” insert “or small-scale low-carbon generation”, and

(b) for subsection (1B) substitute—

“(1B) In subsection (1A)—

“microgeneration” has the same meaning as in the Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Act 2006;

“small-scale low-carbon generation” has the same meaning as in section (Feed-in tariffs: electricity) of the Energy Act 2008.”

83: Schedule 4, page 137, line 10, at end insert—

“2B In section 106 of that Act (regulations and orders), after subsection (1) insert—

“(1A) Any power of the Scottish Ministers to make orders under section 32 is exercisable by statutory instrument.””

84: Schedule 4, page 137, line 10, at end insert—

“In section 106(2)(b) of that Act (regulations and orders) for “or 56A” substitute “, 56A or 56FA”.”

85: Schedule 4, page 137, line 26, after “section” insert “(Feed-in tariffs: electricity), (Power to amend licence conditions: transmission systems) or”

86: Schedule 4, page 137, line 26, after “section” insert “81 or”

87: Schedule 4, page 137, line 30, after “section” insert “81 or”

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88: Schedule 4, page 137, line 31, after “information)” insert “—

“(a) in subsection (1)(a), omit the words from “or section 184(5)” to the end and insert “, section 184(5) or 185(5) of the Energy Act 2004 or section (Feed-in tariffs: electricity) or (Renewable heat incentives) of the Energy Act 2008;”,

(b) in subsection (3)(a), after “2004” insert “sections (Feed-in tariffs: electricity) to (Feed-in tariffs: supplemental) or section (Renewable heat incentives) of the Energy Act 2008”, and”

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 5 [Repeals]:

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath moved Amendments Nos. 89 and 90:

89: Schedule 5, page 138, line 22, column 2, at beginning insert—

“Section 4AA(5)(ba).”

90: Schedule 5, page 138, line 23, at end insert—

“Electricity Act 1989 (c. 29)

Section 3A(5)(ba).”

On Question, amendments agreed to.

In the Title:

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath moved Amendments Nos. 91 to 94:

91: In the Title, line 2, after “sources;” insert “to make provision relating to electricity transmission;”

92: In the Title, line 2, after “sources;” insert “to make provision about payments to small-scale generators of low-carbon electricity;”

93: In the Title, line 8, after “matters;” insert “to make provision about the duties of the Gas and Electricity Markets Authority;”

94: In the Title, line 8, after “matters;” insert “to make provision about payments in respect of the renewable generation of heat;”

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass. I thank noble Lords for their contributions to this Bill. Clearly, a great deal of progress has been made. The Government have welcomed the scrutiny that the Bill has received in your Lordships’ House. The numerous amendments that I have brought today are a product of the debate that has taken place in your Lordships’ House and the other place. I have no doubt whatever that this is a vastly improved, significant Bill. I am most grateful to all noble Lords for their constructive approach.

I do not think that I am supposed to do this but, since much of the work was done by my noble friends Lord Davies and Lord Bach, I should like to pay tribute to them. I should also like to thank the outstanding Bill team who have worked with all noble Lords and have played a significant role.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Hunt of Kings Heath.)

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.

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Ownership of the News (Communications Committee Report)

6.27 pm

Lord Fowler rose to move, That this House takes note of the report of the Communications Committee on the ownership of the news (First Report, HL Paper 122).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in this report the committee examined the impact of ownership of the media on the news that is provided for the public. First, I should like to thank the members of the committee for their extremely hard work on this report. It was a very good team and I very much appreciate all their work. I should also like to thank our small team of advisers and officials whose skill was invaluable. In particular, I should like to thank our clerk, Chloe Mawson, who is leaving us on promotion. She has made a tremendous contribution to this committee and its predecessor committee. I should also like to thank very sincerely the many people who gave evidence to us on both sides of the Atlantic. Again, their evidence was of enormous value. Perhaps I may pick out the evidence we received from very senior figures in the press and television in New York and Washington.

At the same time, I welcome very much to this debate the new Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Carter, about whom I shall say more later after he has made his maiden speech as the wind-up to this debate. I of course remind him that we expect his maiden speech to be uncontroversial. The only way he can achieve that is by agreeing with everything in our report. We look forward to that.

I shall start by setting out our belief. We believe that the news media have a vital role in a democracy. They report news from home and overseas. They can expose injustice and challenge officialdom and Government—any Government. At the same time, healthy media set out a huge range of views. It follows that media concentrated in too few hands can have the effect of limiting freedom of expression and diversity of view, which are the hallmarks of a democratic state. It can put too much power in the hands of one company or one individual.

In New York we interviewed Rupert Murdoch. I should add that he volunteered to be interviewed and was entirely frank about his position. He said that he was prevented by assurances he had given when taking over the Times and the Sunday Times from controlling their editorial stance, but when it came to the Sun and the News of the World, he was, in his words, the “traditional proprietor”. He set down the broad political stance of those papers, and hence the elaborate political courting of him by the political parties.

How concentrated is media ownership in this country? It is beyond doubt that over the past 30 to 40 years, ownership of the media in the UK has become more and more consolidated. In the national newspaper industry, one company has more than 35 per cent of the national newspaper market, while in the regional and local press, four publishers have 70 per cent of the circulation across the country. Radio news is dominated by the BBC with 55 per cent of radio listening, a position which has now been underlined by the announcement from Channel 4 that it will not enter

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the market after all. That leaves the commercial radio market dominated by four companies with a 77 per cent share. National television news is produced by three companies, the BBC, ITN and BSkyB. Only those companies produce national and international content. At the same time we have a position where there are increasing levels of cross-media ownership, notably owners with stakes in both newspapers and television.

There is an argument that this concentration of ownership does not matter much, with the implication that any special rules governing ownership of the media should be swept away and the matter left to ordinary competition law. The argument is that with such a multitude of providers, regulation to ensure competition is unnecessary. It is added that although there has been an increasing concentration of ownership, the traditional media of newspapers, radio and television are neither as big nor as influential as they once were. Certainly it is not difficult to find evidence of a commercial decline and a decline in readership and viewing figures.

Between 1992 and 2006, national daily readership reduced in this country by around a fifth, and the same is true for the Sunday newspapers. At the same time television viewing has also declined, with younger people in particular turning away. It should be added that the same is true in the United States. Newspapers there ended 2007 with an 8.4 per cent drop in daily circulation, and a decline of 11.4 per cent in Sunday circulation compared with 2001. The decline in US television news viewing is just as dramatic. Ten years ago the three big US networks, ABC, CBS and NBC, all expected an average news audience of approximately 10 million; now they each attract between 6 million and 7.5 million.

A complaint on both sides of the Atlantic is that more and more advertising is moving to the internet. The traditional news-gathering companies are seeking to adapt, but are struggling to make a profit from the internet. One of the more disturbing findings in our report is that this is leading to widespread editorial economies and a reduction in the service that the public once received. Foreign news bureaux have closed down, investigative teams have been disbanded and specialist correspondents have been cut. There is more reliance on news agencies and public relations handouts. The argument is that the internet is taking over and that in such a situation, why spend time devising special measures to regulate the traditional media whose day has probably gone?

We do not accept that argument because the figures show clearly that the traditional media are still an enormous influence in this country. It may be right that newspaper circulations have generally fallen, but they remain at around 20 million people reading a newspaper every day. It may be true that television news viewing has reduced, but again people watch on average around 90 hours of news a year on terrestrial television. The new forms of media have developed phenomenally, but it remains the case that two-thirds of the public still say that television is their main source of news, 14 per cent say that newspapers are the main source, 11 per cent say it is the radio—what we

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would do without the “Today” programme? Noble Lords are not required to answer that question—and only 6 per cent cite the internet. Anyone who thinks that the traditional media no longer have influence might remember that last week a dispute over a programme on Radio 2 eclipsed the biggest economic crisis since the war and provoked interventions by the Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition.

None of this is to say that the internet is not very important and that it and other means of communication have not had an effect. Some have benefited the traditional media. When I was a reporter in the 1967 Middle East war, there were two possible ways of getting the news out, by phone to a copy taker in London—but the line could be cut off—or by taking the story to the cable office where it had to pass the eyes of the official censor. When my stepson reported the Iraq war he was able to communicate directly with his paper either through the internet or with his global phone. No one doubts that there are many more platforms by which the news can be delivered. What is more questionable is whether that has led to a proportionate increase in investigative journalism and companies originating news. Companies such as Google and Yahoo do not gather news; they are basically indexers enabling the public to be guided towards news stories provided by other companies. And who is that news provided by? It comes from traditional newspapers such as the Guardian, the Times, the Telegraph, the Mail, and of course from the BBC. Equally, the big internet players like AOL and MSN do not find their own news; they rely on news agencies.

I do not accept the case that the development of the new media has in some way has in some way invalidated the case for special rules for the traditional media. We cannot do a great deal about the past and the consolidation that has taken place, but we can at least ensure that the public interest is protected in the future and that our media are not controlled by even fewer companies. Our report makes a number of proposals in this respect.

The Communications Act 2003 was deregulatory in its approach and lifted many historical limits on media ownership. However, to ensure that the public interest was protected in the new deregulated environment, this House—the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, is in his place—designed the public interest test, which is an incredibly important part of the legislation. It is there to ensure that no single voice becomes too powerful. Our recommendations are aimed at making that public interest test as independent, robust and streamlined as possible. We are concerned that the criteria in the test against which mergers are judged need to be reviewed and amended, and we make proposals to that end.

I want to add one point. There are concerns about regional and local newspapers because their advertising income has been particularly hard hit by the internet and by the financial crisis. Here we have proposed a significant relaxation in present regulation concerning local cross-media ownership. We see no reason why they should not be able to take over local radio stations. Subject to public interest considerations, we saw no need for specific cross-media ownership restrictions at the local level.

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But we have an even more fundamental point to make. We have had regulations in the past, and the rules have sometimes worked and sometimes not. We would be entirely foolish to rely on regulation if the aim of policy is to have as wide and as good news provision as possible. In that respect, Britain has one very substantial advantage. We have a system of public service broadcasting which provides news coverage that is both independent and of high quality. The BBC is not the only public service broadcaster, but it is certainly the main one.

Here, I want to now say something which just now is extravagantly controversial: I am an admirer of the BBC. I think we would be literally mad to turn our backs on it and allow it to be undermined. Obviously I and the committee have our criticisms of aspects of policy, to which I shall come, but our basic stance is a respect for the high standards of the BBC, particularly in the area with which we are concerned of reporting of news and the breadth of its coverage. Against the trend, the BBC reports from overseas with the authority of foreign-based correspondents and specialists and does not rely, as so many others do, on agencies or reporters acting as firemen, to be flown in only when there are crises. For those who doubt, they should check on the BBC’s reputation abroad—the World Service certainly, but not only the World Service. It was striking in our United States trip how many senior figures in the broadcasting world there paid tribute to the BBC and the high standing of reporting it maintained.

We put reporting the news as the first priority of the BBC. In our report we noted Jonathan Ross’s comment that he was worth 1,000 BBC journalists. It is to be hoped that that was intended as a joke—it is about as good a joke as his latest one—but it raises a fundamental point. If there was a choice, I know what my choice would be: it would be to choose for the journalists. The point is that people like Mr Ross can be afforded only once the public service duties such as news and current affairs have been financed. Our report, written long before the present controversy, is sceptical about the size of the pay packets given to some entertainers. I think it is an own goal for the BBC: it gives the impression that it is swimming in cash and gives ammunition to the critics of the BBC and of the licence fee. Sometimes the BBC behaves as if it has no enemies when in fact, out there, it has several who are very powerful, very influential and very determined. It should take note of that.

The BBC needs to find some new mechanism to decide these massive salary packages which dwarf anything paid to the executives. Although their salaries are determined by special remuneration committees, that is certainly not the case with entertainers. However, I would add in parentheses that the review of payments might also include the salaries awarded to those top executives. It is open to question whether 25 executives funded by the public should have salaries greater than the Prime Minister.

The public will not have been encouraged by the way in which the corporation and those executives handled the Russell Brand/Jonathan Ross case over the past two weeks. When speed was required we had delay; when action was required we had prevarication.

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I believe that this points to a fundamental fault in the top organisation of the corporation. In 2005, the predecessor body to this committee—the Select Committee examining the BBC charter—said it would be much simpler and much more effective to have a chairman and a board governing the BBC with Ofcom dealing with the complaints, as it does for other broadcasters. Instead we have an extraordinary hotchpotch. We have a chairman of the BBC Trust who is a regulator and can use the title “chairman of the BBC” only as an honorary title; we have an executive board with non-executive members; and we have complaints like the present ones which go to both the BBC Trust and Ofcom and other complaints which are exclusively the preserve of the BBC Trust.

Apart from its confusion for the public, this stands in the way of swift and certain action. It is also difficult for a chairman, who is first and foremost a regulator holding the balance, to argue wholeheartedly the BBC case at a time when everyone agrees that the debate on the future of public service broadcasting has never been more important. Above all, it means that the important and supportive relationship between chairman and chief executive is absent. My hope remains that all this can be revisited and I am interested to see that others are now beginning to take the same view.

However, public service broadcasting is not only a question for the BBC. The committee wants to see the continuance of public service broadcasters such as ITV, Channel 4 and Five, with ITN and Channel 4 News providing competition for the BBC. We regard the decision by ITV radically to reduce its regional programmes as a retrograde step and we are well aware that there are other bigger issues and problems ahead. The switchover from analogue to digital means that the implied subsidy for companies such as ITV and Channel 4 will disappear. That will leave them with a financial black hole and the Government will have to decide whether they should be supported in some other way or whether they are content to see them fade away.

We believe that public service broadcasting cannot be left only to the BBC and we propose for consideration a number of ways in which help can be given. For example, the present £600 million scheme financed by the licence fee to help people with switchover to digital is likely to be underspent—I hope it is. Any residual funds left over could be used to support the commercial public service broadcasters. Equally, it is sensible that Ofcom should look to see whether the present regulations on ITV—a case that I see Michael Grade putting again today—unreasonably constrain its commercial hands and whether it is feasible that the other companies should share BBC facilities. In our report we are cautious about top-slicing further the licence fee—for, of course, digital switchover is a form of top-slicing—but we will continue to review the issues.

At the start of my speech I paid tribute to the witnesses who came to give evidence to our committee. It is fair to say that not all were as willing as, for example, the chairman of the BBC, the chairman of ITV or, for that matter, Mr Rupert Murdoch. I am glad to say that Mr James Murdoch has also stated his

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willingness to give evidence to future inquiries of the committee. One or two needed some persuasion, including Rebekah Wade, the editor of the Sun, who, when she came, turned out to be an absolute star performer, although we were not entirely convinced that, as she claimed, she and she alone was responsible for the political stance of the Sun given the evidence of her own proprietor.

However, one proprietor—Mr Aidan Barclay, the chairman of the Telegraph—did not come. I wrote four times and four times he declined, offering only a private off-the-record interview in his office. This is now a matter for the Procedure Committee, which has said that it takes very seriously the committee’s concerns and is discussing improvements in the system of calling witnesses. I have no wish to personalise this as a dispute with one man. As I said, others—curiously, all in the newspaper world—were reluctant to appear too.

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