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Tessa Jowell: The fact is that the FA is currently in negotiations and I believe that those negotiations need to be allowed reasonable time to run their course. That is why I indicated to the House that I shall provide further information—a further report on progress—before the Whitsun recess.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington): Is the Secretary of State aware that Wembley holds a special place in the hearts and minds of football fans internationally? Does she agree that it is only too appropriate that the Government should bring the national football station—[Hon. Members: "Stadium!"]—the national football stadium home to Wembley and that that decision will be welcomed not just by many millions of people internationally and in London, but by people all over the country who love football and love the traditions that Wembley represents?

Tessa Jowell: Yes, I do, and I thank my hon. Friend for that point. The national football station, as well as stadium, would also be better upgraded with the money that the Government will provide if the deal goes ahead.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): Does the Secretary of State not recognise that the whole history of this project

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has been one fiasco after another? Every time there is another problem, another Minister from this sorry Government pops up, with further reports being commissioned, further excuses and further delays. The real problem for those of us in this place and outside who care about sport is that, at every stage, the Government have completely failed to get a grip of this project and bring it to a conclusion. From the City pages of the papers, one sees that banks are walking away from the project as soon as they get close enough to realise the mess that the Government and all around them have made of it. Is not the real problem that what we need is not further delays and reports but a new Government who will get a grip of the project?

Tessa Jowell: I do not think anybody thinks that. The bile that the hon. Gentleman has just tipped over this issue is the easy bit. The hard bit is to do what we have done: work with the FA to get the project to a point where it has achieved more progress than ever before in its history, and make the judgment that it would not be right to pull the plug when there is a possibility—not a certainty, but a real possibility—of success.

Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey): If the stadium is to be for football first, with athletics afterwards, how many seats will be lost when the athletics part is put in? The opening of the Olympics requires at least 80,000, so if the stadium is to be used for Olympics we need to be certain that we can provide that many.

Tessa Jowell: Those are precisely the kind of questions that I hope to be able to answer, and on which hon. Members can form their own view, when Sport England publishes its report on athletics at Wembley. The report will be prepared in conjunction with the athletics governing bodies.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker: Order. The House will have heard the Secretary of State say that she will make another statement on this matter. I will take note of hon. Members who have been disappointed today when the right hon. Lady comes back to the House.

We now come to the statement on the draft Communications Bill. I call the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

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Draft Communications Bill

4.8 pm

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell): Here comes the second episode, Mr. Speaker. With permission, I should like to make a statement, on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and myself, on the draft Communications Bill, produced jointly by our Departments and published today.

Copies of the Bill have been placed in the Library and are available from the Vote Office, along with a policy document and explanatory notes. It is also available on the world wide web.

In December 2000, the White Paper "A New Future for Communications" set out the Government's objectives: creating a dynamic market; universal access to a choice of diverse services of the highest quality; safeguarding consumers and citizens; and minimising regulation. Everything that we announce today flows from those principles.

The communications industry is of immense importance to this country, so we are determined to proceed, wherever possible, with the fullest consultation and consensus. That is why we held further consultations on media ownership. That is why the Bill published today is in draft and is subject to scrutiny by a Joint Committee of both Houses. This degree of consultation on major legislation is perhaps unprecedented, but it is important that the legislation has the confidence of the industry and of the public.

There is general agreement that the existing regulatory framework has become outdated because of rapid changes in technology, markets and consumer behaviour over the past six years. The communications industries are regulated in different ways by separate regulators, yet they are coming increasingly closer together in their ownership and in their operation. The evidence is all around us: television and radio companies are linked to newspapers; traditional media are developing websites; cable companies deliver television, radio, telephony, interactive services and broadband internet. This converging industry needs a converged regulator, providing industry-specific regulation with a light touch: a framework that protects the citizen while setting business free; and a regulatory framework that offers certainty where it is needed for business plans and investment, and flexibility where it is needed in a fast-moving environment.

Previous legislation in 1984, 1990 and 1996 has left us with clumsy regulation that inhibits investment and reduces efficiency. The ownership rules send the signal that the UK is not open for investment in our communications industries. The rules on newspaper ownership are opaque, discriminatory and still retain criminal sanctions. The rules on news on ITV have seen investment in ITN fall. Furthermore, technology is changing, throwing up new challenges and new opportunities. The case for change is therefore compelling. The twin ideals of regulation are to be light-touch yet effective. But the current rules are neither.

The communications industries are vital to the health of the British economy and to our democracy. Every week we watch more than 1 billion hours of television, listen to more than 1 billion hours of radio and buy 100 million

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national, regional and local newspapers. The BBC licence fee costs each viewing household £112 a year and raises £2.5 billion. We send billions-plus of text messages a year; three-quarters of adults use mobile phones; and 24 million people have internet access in their homes.

Crucially, our democratic debate could not take place without newspapers, television channels, radio stations and internet sites that tell us what is happening. Those sources can be biased, sometimes wrong, and occasionally strident. There are many of them, however, and people can hear many voices. This plurality must be protected at all costs.

The White Paper proposed one regulator—Ofcom—to replace the Independent Television Commission, the Radio Authority, the Radiocommunications Agency, the Broadcasting Standards Commission and Oftel. It also suggested that Ofcom should have sector-specific powers to promote competition; that quality public service broadcasting should be protected; the introduction of measures to enable universal access to public service broadcasting channels over all main platforms; the consolidation of ITV subject to competition rules; the simplification of regulation for commercial radio; that BBC regulation be brought within Ofcom for basic standards and for specific public service broadcasting requirements, while retaining the regulatory role of the BBC governors; and the promotion of broadband. Since then, the policy has been developed, the detail of which is contained in this draft Bill, supplemented by the policy document.

With regard to the structure of Ofcom, its top board will operate at the highest strategic level. It must be able to move quickly and with agility to address issues in a fast-moving sector. At the heart of its operations will be its sector-specific responsibility to promote competition, to curb abuses of dominant market positions and to ensure fair access to dominant network systems and platforms. In addition, all broadcasters, including the BBC for its commercial services, will continue to be subject to the Competition Act 1980.

Ofcom will have a number of other duties to promote certain interests, especially those of nations and regions. That is why we are providing for Ofcom to establish a content board as an integral part of its structure. It will be a significant body, bringing together diverse interests, including those of the different nations of the United Kingdom. There will also be a consumers panel that is able to articulate the needs and views of consumers, again with strong representation from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The draft Bill proposes a regulatory regime that will be lighter in touch, with greater reliance on self-regulation by all broadcasters. Ofcom will be taken out of day-to-day regulation and will use its backstop powers only if licensed broadcasters fail to deliver.

Ofcom's responsibilities will extend to the BBC for the basic broadcast standards and for agreed quotas for such things as regional and independent production while setting the general standards across the industry. It will be responsible for general reviews of public service broadcasting. However, the quality of BBC output under its public service remit will remain fully regulated by the governors. This regime, with its detailed scrutiny by governors, is a measure of the special role that the BBC fulfils. This system has developed because the BBC's obligations are the greatest, not the least.

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But we recognise that the media of the future must provide the high-quality public service broadcasting that people have enjoyed in the past. Competition alone cannot guarantee this. Public service broadcasting nurtures creativity. It is vital to independent producers. It provides training grounds that sustain the whole sector. It meets the particular needs of local and regional communities, both in programming and in production. And in the case of the BBC, the £2.5 billion raised annually by the licence fee is venture capital for the whole of British broadcasting.

Most important, public service broadcasting works for the public. The draft Bill therefore proposes for the first time to define public service broadcasting and to consolidate in statute the hierarchy of public service broadcasting obligations that viewers and listeners will readily recognise.

The draft Bill is much more than a system for regulating the content of television and radio broadcasting. Telecommunications have become ever more important to our economy and to our society. By bringing together the functions of Oftel and the Radiocommunications Agency with those of the Independent Television Commission, the Radio Authority and the Broadcasting Standards Commission, we will ensure that content, economics and technology are viewed as a piece, not as fragments.

The competition responsibilities for Ofcom are intended to deliver dynamic competitive markets in networks and infrastructure as well as in content. Our economy needs access to networks to be opened up. That means a regulator that is light-touch where possible, but powerful where necessary.

The new regime for telecoms will enable Ofcom to operate within a harmonised European framework, providing greater certainty so that UK companies are better able to sell their services abroad. The new regime will be lighter in touch, removing the requirement for licensing of telecoms systems—thereby removing about 400 licences—and replacing it with a much simpler regime for electronic communications. The new regulator will have the right responsibilities and powers to promote competition, tackle abuses and make sure that consumers' interests are protected.

We will also extend the principles of deregulation and market competition to the allocation of the radio spectrum by introducing spectrum trading. Spectrum is to the modern age what iron and steel were to the first industrial revolution, and it must be used efficiently. Companies need to know that they can gain access to spectrum so that they can bring their ideas to the market. In future, as well as being able to apply for a licence, firms will also be able to buy spectrum from an existing user within the terms of that licence. That should prevent the hoarding of spectrum, increase the number and range of users, deliver significant benefit to businesses and consumers and promote the innovation on which the future of United Kingdom competitiveness depends. The proposals are broadly in line with the recommendations of Professor Cave's independent review of spectrum management that was published in March. We intend to respond to that review by the summer and I therefore emphasise that all the spectrum management provisions are subject to revision.

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The draft Bill will continue our policy of not imposing regulation on the operation of the internet, although we will continue to work with the industry to improve the standards of protection available through self-regulation.

Lastly, on media ownership, competition and competition rules to regulate undue economic power are increasingly recognised here and abroad as the best means of delivering innovation, investment and employment. It is our intention to apply the same principles to the communications industry. But the media are different from other industries in one crucial respect: they are uniquely important to the debate that underpins our democracy. Citizens need access to a range of different media voices if they are to take informed decisions. So we need a system that delivers a plurality of owners and a diversity of output.

Our approach is simple and proprietor-neutral. We will deregulate where it is possible to rely on competition law to maintain a range of voices; where it is not, we will establish clear, predictable rules. The changes that we are proposing today will remove barriers to investment, will encourage innovation and will allow companies to consolidate and expand.

Ofcom will combine the important twin roles of promoting competition while protecting plurality and diversity. Within television, radio and newspaper markets, competition law will tend to encourage dispersed ownership and new entry. We will therefore remove most ownership rules within those markets, retaining only those that we need as minimum guarantees of plurality.

Overall, we intend to get rid of or relax most rules concerning media ownership while keeping those necessary to protect the public interest. We will strengthen safeguards for news and other broadcast content. The rules that we will scrap include those which prevent the ownership of a single ITV, those which prevent large newspaper groups from acquiring Channel 5 and those which prevent ownership of more than one national commercial radio licence. In addition, we will ease the complex rules preventing consolidation of ownership of local commercial radio and scrap the criminal sanctions that apply in the newspaper merger regime.

We also intend to scrap the inconsistent rules that prevent the non-European ownership of some broadcasters. It makes no sense that French, Italian or German companies can own television and radio licences, but Canadian, Australian or United States companies cannot. The resultant inward investment should allow the UK to benefit rapidly from new ideas and technological developments. New blood and new competition will help to give our industry the edge.

The recent report on communications by the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, for which I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) and his colleagues, made a case for relying on competition law alone, but we do not believe that that will guarantee the plurality of ownership that democracy demands. We will therefore retain three key limits on cross-media ownership to safeguard debate at every level—national, regional and local. First, recognising that most people get their news and information from national newspapers and terrestrial television, we will keep a simple rule that any newspaper group with more than 20 per cent. of the national market will not be able to own a significant stake in ITV,

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the only commercial public service broadcaster with universal access to a mass audience, currently 25 per cent. of all television viewing. Secondly, a parallel 20 per cent. rule will prevent anyone with a dominant position in local newspapers from owning the regional ITV licence in the same area. Thirdly, there will be a scheme to ensure that at least three commercial local or regional media voices exist—in newspapers, TV and radio—in addition to the BBC in almost every local community.

Where necessary we will retain and strengthen content regulation to ensure the quality, impartiality and diversity of broadcasting services. Ofcom will have the power to investigate the news and current affairs programming of any local radio service if it has concerns about accuracy or impartiality. It will have a new duty to protect and promote the local content of local radio services. It can vary any licence on change of control, to ensure that the character of the service is maintained. For ITV, that will protect regional production and programming requirements. Ofcom will oversee the nominated news provider system for ITV, to ensure high-quality and independent news on free-to-air public service television.

In conclusion, these changes are deregulatory. We will depend more on competition and on competition law exercised by a sector-specific regulator. Ownership regulations will disappear or be reduced. Self-regulation will be extended wherever possible. Complex schemes for licensing networks and access to them will be scrapped and replaced with a streamlined system. All regulations will be reviewed regularly.

The rules that remain will be simple and purposeful, and will include a streamlined system for newspaper mergers, simple limits on cross-media ownership of ITV and the largest newspaper groups, and minimum levels of ownership for local radio and for cross-ownership by local newspapers. There will be content rules in broadcasting to ensure UK production, regional production, local and regional programmes and accurate, impartial news and information. Public service broadcasting will be protected in the digital future as it has been in the analogue past.

The reform of the regulation of this vital sector is a major task. The draft Bill will exceed 250 clauses. The accompanying documents also indicate areas of policy not yet fully reflected in the draft clauses, notably those giving effect to the policies on media ownership which I have announced today. Like the changes to the BBC agreement, these will be published shortly so that they can be considered alongside the draft Bill. Our proposals are subject to a three-month consultation period, and I am delighted that both Houses have agreed also to subject the draft Bill to pre-legislative scrutiny. We shall introduce the Communications Bill itself as soon as parliamentary time allows.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and I want Britain to have the most dynamic communications industry in the world. We want Britain to continue to have the best-quality TV and radio in the world. This Bill is the route map to making those ambitions a reality. We look forward to hearing the views of hon. Members and we commend the draft Communications Bill to the House.

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