Select Committee on European Scrutiny Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-22)



  20. I would accept that. In the letter, can you explain why content should be treated any differently from any other competition matter and why OFT and OFCOM should have a duopoly over competition?
  (Mr Alexander) My sense is that some of that will stray into the issues relating to the establishment of OFCOM and the draft Communications Bill. I am certainly happy to narrate both the terms of the accompanying narrative which goes with the draft Bill and the relevant clauses of the draft Bill.

Mr David

  21. Going back to the issue of regulation, I think what you said, Minister, and also Mr Conway, was eminently sensible, but there are some concerns about whether things will actually work like that in practice. I was wondering if you are aware of any concerns which have been expressed by the UK telecoms sector as to the abilities of the regulators, whether in this country or in other European countries, in their role of enforcement and also in terms of their ability effectively to identify those companies which have significant market power?
  (Mr Alexander) I have a couple of observations in response to your question. One is that there is a requirement in terms of the package that the regulators of other Member States have the resources in order to allow them actually to do their job. One of the reasons that we have established leadership in the field of telecoms regulation has been the fact not just of the individual expertise of members of staff but the fact that there is a willingness to support the regulator in terms of highly complex regulatory issues. When I meet with BT to discuss matters of regulation, they are able to provide batteries of lawyers armed with documentation. I think that it is very important, given the scale and ability of commercial operators in this field, to provide that volume of information and that we equip our regulators to be able to respond in kind. The other point I would make is that there is also specific provision in terms of the package to ensure that there is a means by which the costs that the regulator will incur in many of these issues can actually be recouped. In that sense, that is an added strength and foundation we provide to the national regulators, specifically in relation to the new powers that are being assumed. The final point that I would make would be that the ability of the regulator to recover costs means that there is a differentiation between the support provided, in this case by the Treasury but in other cases by the equivalent finance ministry at a European Member State level, from the regulators' power to make decisions. I think, consistent with some of the concerns that have been expressed in the Committee, that might also be a helpful counterweight to the suggestion that the independence was not real.


  22. Minister, I would like to thank you very much for coming along this morning. It has been a very quick hour. I suspect we would like to go on for another hour. I thank you for your candour and particularly for your reassurances and your assurances in your earlier comments that things will get better in the relationships with the Committee in keeping us informed of what you are doing and when you are doing it with particular attention to scrutiny reserves.
  (Mr Alexander) Thank you. I am sorry that it was in such inauspicious circumstances that I had the opportunity to speak to the Committee but I am genuinely seeing a big interest from senior colleagues in discussions in terms of how we can better facilitate the scrutiny position, which I can assure you, from my point of view, we regard as extremely important. I will ensure that the undertakings I have given to the Committee in terms of how we take that forward within my own Department reflect the undertakings I have given to you today.

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