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', up to a maximum of £10 million in any one financial year.'.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 32, in page 11, line 6, leave out "and at such rates".

No. 21, in page 11, line 7, at end insert—


'(3) The rate of interest on any sums advanced under this paragraph shall be the same as the lowest rate determined by the Treasury under section 5 of the National Loans Act 1968 (c. 13) in respect of similar loans made out of the National Loans Fund on the day the advance is made.'.

Miss McIntosh: It gives me great pleasure to speak to these amendments, which arise from a debate that we had late in the day during our happy hours in Committee, to which the Minister has referred. The Government should address several of the issues that arose.

Amendment No. 22 would set a maximum of £10 million of projected expenditure by Ofcom in any one financial year. That is important because it is not guaranteed that the main communications Bill, for which we wait with anticipation, will reach the statute book. We may, therefore, find ourselves in the regrettable situation in which Ofcom may have to be disbanded. The Bill does not make sufficient provision for that. Amendment No. 32 is purely consequential—the Secretary of State would not set such rates because, under amendment No. 22, a maximum of £10 million would have been set.

Amendment No. 21 enshrines what the Minister helpfully set out in a letter for the attention of my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) on 8 February 2002 about what the rate of interest on a loan should be. It is our fervent desire that the rate of interest on sums advanced under this paragraph of the schedule should be the same as the lowest rate determined by the Treasury under section 5 of the National Loans Act 1968 in respect of similar loans made from the national loans fund on the day of the advance.

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These amendments are important because of the gap left by the helpful comments about clause 5 made in Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield. He said:


He continued:


The Minister responded:


At column 249, my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield said that


He went on to point out that


He added:


He finally asked:


The point is that, in giving his explanation to the House, the Minister raised more questions than the Bill answers. At column 250, he claimed that


and


He also said:


In my view, those provisions are not at all clear, which is why I tabled the amendments.

Dr. Howells: We debated in some detail in Committee how it is proposed that Ofcom should be funded. It may help the House—and, I hope, the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh)—if I set out again what those arrangements will be.

As hon. Members will know, the general approach for sectoral regulators is that the cost should be borne by the sector concerned. Indeed, industry recognises that that is part of the cost of doing business and is generally content with that. That arrangement applies to the existing broadcasting and telecommunications regulators, although, in the case of the Broadcasting Standards Commission, half the costs are met by grant from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

At the start, when Ofcom is preparing to take on its later functions, it will have no fee income from industry. It is the Government's view that the extra cost associated with creating Ofcom should be borne by the sector, but it makes sense for the businesses that are in the sector once the new regime comes into force to finance that cost rather than those which are in the sector today. We therefore

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envisage that all—or virtually all—of the cost of transition should be financed by a loan to Ofcom made by the Secretary of State. It is intended that that loan will eventually be repaid by Ofcom out of the fee income that it will start to receive when it takes on its regulatory functions.

I do not believe that a limit should be set in primary legislation on the maximum amount that the Secretary of State can advance to Ofcom, as amendment No. 22 suggests. At this early stage, there is too much uncertainty about how long Ofcom's preparatory stage might last and what practical steps it will need to take to prepare to receive its regulatory functions. Obviously, we all want the transition to the new regulatory regime to be as smooth as possible for all concerned, but it is only when the Ofcom board is in place later this year that it will be able to take decisions on the practical steps.

It is not necessary to set out in the Bill the level of interest payment on any advance that might be made to Ofcom—the subject of amendments Nos. 32 and 21. As I explained in Committee, in answer to a question from the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant), to which the hon. Member for Vale of York referred, the level of interest charged on any advance made by the Secretary of State to Ofcom would be made on the presumption that it should reflect the cost to the Government of borrowing. I therefore oppose the amendments.

Miss McIntosh: I am grateful to the Minister for clarifying the position. Although I resist his arguments, I believe that we may be able to explore the matter at a later stage. My hon. Friends and I believed that this was the best opportunity to consider the provisions in question, but as the Government are not minded to accept my temptations and agree to the amendments, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Miss McIntosh: I beg to move amendment No. 12, in page 12, line 25, at end insert—


'Consumer Panel
14A(1) It shall be the duty of OFCOM to establish a Consumer Panel of 10 members, comprising persons who are neither members nor employees of OFCOM.
(2) Members will be appointed for four year terms and shall serve a maximum of two consecutive terms.
(3) Paragraphs 17, 18, and 19 of the Schedule shall apply to the proceedings of the Consumer Panel, but paragraphs 15 and 16 shall not apply and the Consumer Panel shall make other such arrangements for regulating their own procedure as they think fit.
(4) The Consumer Panel shall—
(a) research consumers' views and concerns on issues relating to OFCOM's functions,
(b) publish its advice, conclusions and reports to OFCOM, and
(c) take due account in its work of the views of consumers with special needs, including those on low incomes or with disabilities.
(5) The Consumer Panel shall be funded by means of grants from OFCOM.
(6) The Consumer Panel shall make an annual report of its proceedings and financial position to each House of Parliament.'.

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Madam Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 13, in page 12, line 25, at end insert—


'Radio Committee
14B It shall be a duty of OFCOM to establish a Radio Committee to provide advice to OFCOM about, and carry out functions in relation to, the radio sector.'.

No. 20, in page 12, line 25, at end insert—


'Deregulation Committee
14C It shall be a duty of OFCOM to establish a Deregulation Committee to provide advice to OFCOM about how relevant proposals about the regulation of communications could be modified to deregulate the communications industry.'.

Miss McIntosh: I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to this group of amendments, particularly amendment No. 12, which relates to the role and constitution of a consumer panel. We wish to see Ofcom establish a consumer panel of 10 members, who would not be members or employees of Ofcom, and who would serve for a maximum of two consecutive four-year terms. In our view, Ofcom should have a duty to have regard to the work of such a panel. The fact that the panel would provide an annual report of its proceedings and financial position to each House of Parliament would ensure its accountability to Parliament.

Under the provisions of the amendment, the consumer panel would be funded by grants from Ofcom, and would research consumers' views and concerns on issues relating to Ofcom's functions. The panel would publish its advice, conclusions and reports to Ofcom, and its work would take account of the views of consumers with special needs, including those on low incomes or with disabilities. I regret that the amendment on disabilities tabled by the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) met with such a lack of response from the Government. In light of that amendment's failure, this amendment takes on additional importance. It would be the rightful role of the consumer panel to have regard to those with special needs and, in particular, those with disabilities. The Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport supported such a move in its report on the White Paper on communications.

The White Paper refers to Ofcom's consumer protection role in paragraph 7.4 on page 72, which states:


The White Paper makes many other references to consumer protection, and I must ask the Minister why the Bill makes no mention of a consultative panel.

I also want to speak briefly to amendment No. 13, which invites Ofcom to establish a radio committee to provide advice to Ofcom and to raise issues and problems that are very different from those of television, having regard to the fact that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) so eloquently pointed out in Committee and in the House today, the radio sector is of huge importance to the communications and broadcasting industry. A radio committee established under the auspices of Ofcom would be able to consider and advise on all those issues.

On amendment No. 20, it is the wish of the official Opposition to see a deregulation committee established. Such a committee would advise Ofcom about how the regulation of communications could be modified so as to

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deregulate the communications industry. If Ofcom is to achieve anything, it must deregulate. It is to replace five existing regulators, if we include the BBC—we would like it to replace six—and will, therefore, be essentially deregulatory in nature. We believe that placing a duty on Ofcom to establish such a deregulation committee is the best possible way to monitor Ofcom's deregulatory activities.


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