|Office of Communications Bill [Lords]
Michael Fabricant: Surely the question arises from the lack of clarity. Does my hon. Friend agree that because Ofcom naturally has expertise in the broadcasting industry and other digital media, it should deal with issues relating to cross-media ownership and other aspects of competition policy? Although some issues may relate to shares and would
Column Number: 201therefore be embraced by the FSA, such cases would be the exception rather than the rule. Questions are being asked today because of the lack of clarity and guidance from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
Mr. Robertson: I agree. The lack of clarity is the reason why the amendments were tabled. Unfortunately, I must be here tomorrow, although I know that other hon. Members may not have to be. I therefore conclude my remarks.
Dr. Howells: The hon. Member for Vale of York appears to be concerned about conflicts of interest among media employers, although the exact focus of her concern is unclear—and that is being charitable. The Secretary of State has not yet made any proposals that Ofcom should concern itself with such matters. Should my right hon. Friend choose to do so, however, Ofcom's interests in that area in so far as they relate to the regulation of communications would be adequately covered by clause 2(3)(a) and (b), which allow the Secretary of State to make proposals to confer on Ofcom any function relating to telecommunications, wireless telegraphy, broadcasting, radio and television services, or other services connected to the communications industry; and any matters that are incidental or supplemental to those proposals. Those proposals will be set out in the draft communications Bill and debated fully when the Bill enters Parliament.
I can deal with amendments Nos. 61 and 62 briefly. They are unnecessary and add nothing to the Bill. Anything that they would make permissible for Ofcom is already permissible. I ask the Committee to reject the amendments.
Miss McIntosh: The Minister started well but has gone downhill rapidly. I understand what he said about the clause as it stands. Amendment No. 39 was a probing amendment, and he has gone some way towards answering our concerns and specifying the precise role of Ofcom. The Minister says from a sedentary position that that is unnecessary, but that is not true. The Bill is not as clear as it should be, but I am grateful to him for clarifying at least part of it. I accept that that amendment may not be the best drafted, but we do not have two Departments at our disposal, as the Minister will remember only too well from his time in opposition.
The Minister's response on amendments Nos. 61 and 62 was derisory and unacceptable. I set out the position under the Competition Act 1998 and remarkably, it appears that the Minister may feel inadequate or incompetent because the Department of Trade and Industry is the lead Department in that respect.
Dr. Howells: The hon. Lady may not know this, but for three and a half years, I did the job of Competition Minister. I may not have failed my exams in Brussels, but I assure her that I know competition law in this country and will debate it with her at any time.
Miss McIntosh: I am most disappointed that the Minister will not debate it with me here and now on these two amendments. I may have omitted to say this
Column Number: 202morning—I thank the Minister giving me the opportunity to set the record straight—but I was told that I had passed the competition paper: to get through the written stage and to the oral stage, all that was required was 50 per cent, and I got 51.05 per cent. However, the pass mark was raised to 55 per cent. That was unacceptable, and I could have pursued the matter through the courts, but I chose not to do so because I imagined that another life beckoned, and here I am getting on with it.
Dr. Howells: We're all glad about that.
Miss McIntosh: Indeed, I thank the Minister for that kind remark.
I do not know where the Minister was in 1998—perhaps he was at the DTI and responsible for taking the Competition Act through Parliament—but he must be aware that concern was expressed then by not only Members on both sides of the House, but outside bodies such as NTL.
I have gone through the activities that are expected to stop under Ofcom, and only one relates to competition—even that is stretching it a bit. However, three activities are expected to start under Ofcom, and all relate to competition. I will make it really simple for the Minister and ask the question that sums up the purpose of the two amendments. Which one will be the ultimate arbiter, the primus inter pares—the Office of Fair Trading or Ofcom? That is why his response is unacceptable.
Given our strategy and tactics, and that we want to return to the matter at a later stage, 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 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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