Office of Communications Bill [Lords]

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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

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amendment. 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.

Schedule 1

Qualification for membership of

non-executive members

Miss McIntosh: I beg to move amendment No. 28, in page 7, line 8, at end insert-

    ', and shall have regard to the principles of public life set out at page 14 of the First Report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life (Cm 2850-I).'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 31, in page 9, line 18, at end insert-

    '(1A) In appointing the Chief Executive and other executive members, the Chairman and other non-executive members shall have regard to the principles of public life set out at page 14 of the First Report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life (Cm 2850-I).'.

No. 37, in page 7, line 11, at end insert-

    '(2A) The Chairman and other non-executive members of OFCOM shall declare their financial and pecuniary interests in full in a publicly accessible Register of Interests.'.

No. 38, in page 9, line 18, at end insert-

    '(1AA) The chief executive and other executive members of OFCOM shall declare their financial and pecuniary interests in full in a publicly accessible Register of Interests.'.

4.45 pm

The Chairman: Before we start the debate, and in view of the Government Whip's decision to continue, I remind the Committee that in the interests of the well-being of the officers and servants of the House, it is customary to suspend the sittings for an hour and a half at 5 pm.

Miss McIntosh: I hope that the amendments encounter as lively a debate as the previous group. I shall deal with each amendment in turn, and share their aims with the Committee. Amendment No. 28, following on from the Minister's earlier comments, would ensure that in making the appointments set out in paragraph 1 regard should be taken to the principles of public life set out in the first report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life.

Michael Fabricant: I hope that I am not being difficult. The amendment refers to page 14 of the report. As I do not have that with me, will my hon. Friend explain what was so important on page 14 that it should be included?

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Miss McIntosh: Not being armed with page 14, I assure my hon. Friend that it sets out the normal practices.

Dr. Howells: On a point of information, it sets out the seven principles of public life. I will briefly read them out-

The Chairman: Order. That might take longer than a standard intervention. The Minister is long enough in the tooth to know that we do not have points of information in the House of Commons.

Miss McIntosh: Thank you, Mr. Gale. Amendment No. 31 also refers to the schedule. In appointing the chief executive and other executive members, the chairman would have regard to those principles of public life.

Amendment No. 37 deals with pecuniary interests. The chairman and other non-executive members of Ofcom should declare pecuniary interests in full in a publicly accessible register.

Amendment No. 38 proposes that

    ''The chief executive and other executive members of OFCOM shall declare their financial and pecuniary interests in full in a publicly accessible Register of Interests''.

I shall elaborate on and link amendments Nos. 28 and 31 and Nos. 37 and 38.

Mr. Thomas: I was under the impression that the Nolan standards apply to all public appointments anyway. Can the hon. Lady explain why we need a specific amendment for this purpose? Is she afraid that the standards will not apply to the appointments made by the Secretary of State?

Miss McIntosh: I hope that the Secretary of State-I mean the Minister, I must not promote him too soon-will be able to confirm that. I refer to two recent cases where, arguably, the Nolan standards setting out the seven principles that should guide our public standards may not have been immediately followed. They are discussed in a recent article in The Times. The two cases that have caused such interest in the press are, first, the appointment of the vice-chairman of the ITC-until the paving Bill has gone through, such appointments will continue to be made. There were three well-qualified candidates. Curiously, at a late stage of the proceedings, the candidate with the most impeccable new Labour crony credentials leapfrogged, it is alleged, into the position.

It is perhaps unfair to name the candidate, but it was Baroness Whitaker. Arguably, what swung the balance in her favour, all other things being equal, was that she had the most overt party political allegiance of the three candidates. That is why I ask the Minister to support the amendments to write into the Bill a stricter interpretation of the Nolan rules.

 
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