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Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme): May I bring the hon. Gentleman back to the subject of the amendments? As a fellow Celt of Irish extraction, I had lunch yesterday with S4C. It was made clear to me that S4C considers itself not just a Welsh broadcaster, but a British broadcaster and was keen to be regulated from London. Coming back to the subject of the amendments, has the hon. Gentleman any comments on that stance?

Mr. Thomas: I am not the Member for S4C, I can assure the hon. Gentleman. I am pleased that S4C gave him lunch because that obviously underpins its UK-wide remit. It is good to hear that. As he has accused me in a roundabout way of straying from the subject, I remind him that the amendments are about how Wales will benefit from the digital revolution which is to be regulated by Ofcom. I am trying to set out for the benefit of the House—

Michael Fabricant: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Labour Members say that the hon. Member for

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Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) has been wandering off the subject of the amendments. If that were the case, surely you would have called him to order?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct.

Mr. Thomas: With that vote of confidence, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall conclude the argument about broadband and its relationship to the regulatory system which Ofcom is set up to implement. At present we do not have a very good story to tell about broadband communication in the UK. According to the figures that I have for the UK's broadband connectivity, we are in 22nd place in the world league. That is a poor result for the Government. We are behind Portugal and Spain, for example. I regret to say that if the figures for Wales were disaggregated, we would be bottom in the UK in broadband access. Broadband infrastructure is essential for the development of the Welsh communications industry.

Brian White: The hon. Gentleman has obviously not taken account of BT's announcement last week. That will be the platform under which broadband will develop extensively in Britain because it is exactly what everyone has been asking for at a low wholesale price. He should bear that in mind when he is making his comments.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I have been reasonably tolerant with the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) so far, but he must address his remarks to the new clause.

Mr. Thomas: I simply say briefly that the BT announcement does not take into account the cost of bringing broadband to rural areas. I do not believe that broadband access for rural areas will come through BT; it will come by other means.

I come now to why Wales needs to be represented on Ofcom. The public service role of broadcasting is particularly relevant. Programming in Wales is different from that elsewhere in the UK. The situation is unique. The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Paul Farrelly) met S4C—SpedwarC—and knows that it is a public service broadcaster, established after many years of campaigning in Wales, which provides a hugely valuable service to television viewers in Wales in the Welsh language. That is a unique feature not found elsewhere in the United Kingdom that needs to be looked after and protected within a regulatory environment. If that regulatory environment is to be Ofcom, there surely needs to be someone within Ofcom, whether an advisory committee, a member of Ofcom itself or someone on the office side, who understands what S4C and Welsh language broadcasting is about, and what English language broadcasting in Wales is about. That is why some form of representation for Wales and Scotland within the proposed Ofcom body is so important.

If Scotland and Wales, as peripheral countries in terms of economic development—[Interruption.] In terms of economic growth we lag behind. I do not know the Scottish figure but my hon. Friend the Member for North Tayside (Pete Wishart) backs me up. Wales has 80 per cent. of the UK's GDP, so we cannot be described as anything other than lagging behind. We are told that broadband can bring us together, that it cuts the distance between markets and that it will be part of the answer

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to bringing rural areas of Wales and Scotland into the mainstream of economic development. If that is to happen, Ofcom must regulate it. It must set up the structures and the fabric that will allow it to happen. It will not do so if it does not pay proper attention to Welsh and Scottish needs, and it will not do that if there is no way of them being effected in the constitution of Ofcom. That is why we need to decide the matter now in a debate on the membership of Ofcom, not afterwards in a debate on the communications Bill.

Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith): For those of us who are used to the hon. Gentleman's friends in the Scottish National party in their usual sectarian mode of address in the House or in Grand Committee, it was a pleasure to hear the more constructive tone with which the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) addressed the House today. I do not wish to pursue that line much further because I would no doubt be ruled out of order and I in no way wish to cause a division between the hon. Gentleman and his SNP colleague, the hon. Member for North Tayside (Pete Wishart), who has joined him belatedly.

Although his manner may have been constructive, I suspect that beneath the fine words of the hon. Gentleman and his SNP friends there is still the same nationalist agenda, which is to undermine the devolution settlement and reopen the question of responsibility for broadcasting between the UK Parliament, the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales.

Mr. Thomas: Not undermine the devolution settlement, build on it.

Mr. Lazarowicz: It is a matter of opinion how that is best to be done. Had the hon. Gentleman not intervened at that point he would have heard me move on to say that beneath the nationalist agenda pursued by him and his SNP friends on occasion after occasion, sometimes there are points which have some merit. Although the agenda that he is promoting today undoubtedly pursues his nationalist objectives, there are also those within Scotland, and no doubt within Wales, who are concerned about the way in which Scottish and Welsh interests will be represented within Ofcom, so it would be helpful if the Minister would restate the Government's commitment to ensuring that Scottish and Welsh interests are taken on board in the eventual structure of the new regulatory arrangements.

5.45 pm

Concerns about Scottish and Welsh representation have come from bodies such as the Scottish Consumer Council. I urge the Government to make clear, either at this stage or some future one, how such interests will be taken into account. In its report on the issue, the Scottish Consumer Council made the vital point that in the interests of Scottish consumers it is essential for Ofcom and its consumer panel to have a physical presence in Scotland and for both bodies to have clear effective policy relationships with the Scottish Executive and the Scottish Parliament and with a range of stakeholders within Scotland. I endorse those comments.

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I welcome the commitment that has already been made to having an office in Scotland and I urge the Government further to expand upon the ways in which they envisage such links with the Scottish Parliament, the Executive and stakeholders in Scotland being set up. During the past few weeks, as a member of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, I have heard evidence from several organisations concerned with current affairs broadcasting in Scotland, and the relationship between Ofcom and Scottish interests after the new regulatory arrangements have been set up has been raised in passing by several bodies. I therefore hope that the Government will today be able to give some indication of the ways in which they hope to address these concerns.

Pete Wishart (North Tayside): I assume from the hon. Gentleman's remarks—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Is the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mr. Lazarowicz) giving way or has he completed his remarks?

Mr. Lazarowicz: I was about to complete my remarks, but I am happy to give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Pete Wishart: Given the evidence of those representations, will the hon. Gentleman join Plaid Cymru and the SNP in the Division on the new clause?

Mr. Lazarowicz: I regret that I shall have to disappoint the hon. Gentleman. The way in which the new clause has been drafted is not helpful or practical. Given the size of the organisation involved, the arrangements set out are not the right way forward. However, I accept that there is a need to make clear how these concerns will be dealt with and I hope that in that respect at least the Government will be able to say how they will take such interests into account in future.

Michael Fabricant: I rise in general support of the new clause. I do so as an Englishman and a Conservative Back Bencher, but also as someone with strong Welsh connections. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Bryant) is being as unclear as ever from a sedentary position. The hon. Gentleman could not be bothered to listen to the arguments advanced by the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) about broadband—something that he himself constantly prattles on about—and arrived late. It ill behoves the hon. Gentleman to appear late and start shouting from a sedentary position.

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