|Office of Communications Bill [Lords]
Miss McIntosh: I am disappointed by the Minister's response. Committee members agree that the Secretary of State should have the last word about the appointment. However, the pre-legislative scrutiny committee should be consulted about the appointment of the chairman in particular, as that is the senior member of Ofcom. We are hampered by the fact that we still have not heard what the role of that committee will be.
Glenda Jackson: I do not understand the hon. Lady's argument. She did not discuss more than one candidate for the job in her most recent contribution. Is she arguing that, if the Secretary of State has appointed someone to the job, before that appointment is confirmed, the decision should be scrutinised by the Committee?
Miss McIntosh: I meant scrutinised in the sense that the Committee will have the opportunity to take a view. The hon. Lady might be pleased to hear that. I pray in aid two recent appointments. The next set of amendments raises a number of questions in that regard.
Glenda Jackson: I am still not clear on the hon. Lady's point. What happens if the Committee does not like the individual who has been appointed? Can it tell the Secretary of State, ''You cannot appoint this individual''?
Miss McIntosh: I do not seek that power. I do not know whether that is a relief or a disappointment.
Glenda Jackson: Then why do it?
Miss McIntosh: For the simple reason that I think that, if anything, it should strengthen the Secretary of State's power of appointment. Currently, there is no appeal against a decision. For two recent appointments-one to the BBC board of governors and the other to the ITC-the procedures set out in the first report on standards in public life, to which the Minister referred, were followed to the letter, but an expectation that a particular appointment would be made in each case was not met.
When I discussed the content of the amendments, the Minister had the opportunity to say what the role of the Joint Committee or pre-legislative scrutiny committee should be. It would not take a huge amount of time to be consulted.
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Dr. Howells: I assume that a Joint Committee that considered draft legislation that we had published for consultation would scrutinise it. It is that simple.
Miss McIntosh: That was most helpful. I believe that a Joint Committee should have the power to scrutinise the appointment, although not to veto it. I do not think that the House would agree to such a power.
Glenda Jackson: In that case, what on earth is the point of the scrutiny? If members of the Committee do not have a veto power, what are they? Are they a rubber stamp or just whingers, who will buttonhole journalists in the Corridor to say, ''Well, we wouldn't have had this person if there'd been an alternative, but there wasn't, so we're stuck with him''? What a marvellous way that would be for an individual to take on a new job.
Miss McIntosh: Perhaps I should try to insert a veto power at a later stage.
Brian White: What about other candidates or existing chairs of commissions who feel that they should have been the appointee? Will they have the power to say to the Committee, ''Why was it not me? I don't like the person who's got the job.''
Miss McIntosh: With the communications Bill still being drafted, its contents and the remit of members of the Committee are not known. It is therefore impossible to say whether the name would be appropriate, but the debate has given me food for thought, and I may want to return to the matter.
Mr. Allan: I suspect that the pre-legislative Joint Committee may get a chance to see the individual anyway. My understanding is that it will talk to industry experts, and if the person who is to be the chair of Ofcom is not a likely candidate for such a discussion, I will be most surprised. We have said, ''You should go the whole way. Either you have the veto power or you don't'', but I suspect that consultation will take place in any case.
Miss McIntosh: The hon. Gentleman has made his point. There are major differences between the two amendments.
Paul Farrelly: I would hate the hon. Lady to think that she was being picked on. I hang my head in shame as a newly elected Member of Parliament who still carries a National Union of Journalists card-I must be the most despised person here.
The Chairman: Order. The Chairman carries a National Union of Journalists card.
Paul Farrelly: In that case, I am the second most despised person in the Room.
Almost uniquely in my experience, the Liberal Democrats have been quite clear on the issue. However, it is not clear whether the hon. Lady's proposal of a fuzzy consultation or consideration exercise is now official Conservative party policy across all Departments and appointments or an ad hoc proposal only for the Bill.
Miss McIntosh: The hon. Gentleman can take it as read that as this is a paving Bill, it is a paving
Column Number: 69amendment. I would not read into it that we wish to extend the power to other areas.
In view of the comments made by many hon. Members and subject to refinement at a later date, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
The Chairman, being of the opinion that the principle of the clause and any matters arising thereon had been adequately discussed in the course of debate on the amendments proposed thereto, forthwith put the Question, pursuant to Standing Orders Nos. 68 and 89, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Question agreed to.
Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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