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Regulation By Authority Of Independent Radio Services

Volume 178: debated on Friday 12 October 1990

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Lords amendment: No. 228, in page 66, line 39, leave out

("within a particular institution, or at")

and insert

("for a particular establishment or other defined location, or").

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.— [Mr. Mellor.]

With this, it will be convenient to consider Lords amendments Nos. 229 to 235, 239, 240, 250, 251, 277, 300 to 309, 311 to 314, 333, 334 and 338.

I shall not detain the House, but I wish to make a small point on amendment No. 313. We could spend many hours on the difference between "shall" and "may", but we will not do so.

The amendment applies to when an announcement must be made about the results of a finding. The Minister accepted in Committee that a radio station should explain why an announcement was being made. I am interested, if he is able to help me, to know why their Lordships felt that they had to change "shall" back to "may". If he can assure me that the effect is the same, we can move on.

In Committee, the Minister was kind enough to be persuaded that we should make this mandatory and that we should use "shall" in that context. I wonder what has persuaded him to change his mind since Committee.

I have another point to make, although I should like to return to amendment No. 313.

Amendment No. 306, if I read it right, would permit companies that did not want to or were unable to live up to their service responsibilities to abandon them. The use of the word "substantially" is much too strong; it allows considerable watering down of the schedules. Some explanation of that is called for, even at this hour.

I noticed the change, to which the hon. Member Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) referred, from "shall" to "may" in amendment No. 313. I am seeking to protect listeners' rights. If an announcement is made, listeners are entitled to know whether the Radio Authority has found a station to be in error, to have done something that is unacceptable and, indeed, whether it is censoring the station. The listener can then make up his mind whether that is an effective remedy for a transgression.

I think that by this time there is a fair chance that the Minister will have a view about that.

Yes, I have managed to acquire a view, and I am only too happy to give it to the House.

I begin with what the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) said about amendment No. 306, which allows the Radio Authority mare flexibility to let stations drop unpopular programmes or strands of programmes that have gone out of fashion. It makes it clear that the fundamental character of the station may not change, and I attach importance to that. I said in a public speech not long ago that it is very important that stations that have been given a licence on one basis should not be allowed to slither rapidly towards the middle of the pop market and stay there so that every time a listener flicks across the airwaves he finds the same old stuff.

I am reliably assured by my noble Friend Lord Ferrers that pop is something that goes thump, thump, thump. That was said not to be sophisticated enough for drafting, but for my purposes it seems absolutely right. In my long reign as Minister for the Arts, I intend to use that definition with monotonous regularity.

Amendment No. 314 gives the authority the ability to impose a fine on licensees who fail to observe their promise of performance. That shows that no leniency is intended, but sometimes there will be a good reason why one set of undertakings is not appropriate. However, no one will be allowed gratuitously off the hook and, like the hon. Member for Erdington, I attach much importance to that fact.

I am afraid that there is a problem with amendment No. 313. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) did rather well in Committee on 27 February. Nothing in his ensuing career has been anything like as glorious as that afternoon. The hon. Gentleman may recall that he was on something of a winning streak when, in one of our briefer exchanges, he proposed that "may" should be amended to "shall" and I said, "Why not?" I am afraid that when the matter got to the other place and the inconsistency between the television and radio provisions was tackled, the latter, rather than the former, was changed. I am sorry about that. Perhaps good comes out of bad, in the sense that we could have ended up with the right policy by going consistently the other way.

10.45 pm

On 27 February, the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland said:
"If a licence holder says that he has apologised because he must do so, that is a less powerful apology than one that simply states, 'I am apologising.'"—[Official Report, Standing Committee F, 27 February 1990; c. 1072.]
There is something in that point. There is also the more general point that, under the Bill, the licensee is responsible for his programming output, as the ITC and Radio Authority are not broadcasting bodies. It is arguably more consistent on this principle for the licensee to be able to decide whether he should say that an apology or correction is being broadcast as a result of a regulatory direction.

I am sorry. By and large, this is the only occasion when something has gone wrong with an undertaking. We have honoured dozens of undertakings. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will allow me to slither off this hook.

Question put and agreed to.

Subsequent Lord amendments agreed to. [Some with Special Entry.]