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Mr. Lansley: As Lord Puttnam kindly referred to me in another place as the architect of the concept, I am grateful for two minutes in which to speak about it. My hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) mentioned a problem with the title of a clause. I understand that the crossheads are not part of the measure; they derive from the subject matter of the clause, but they do not dictate it. The title of the clause will change automatically.
I am grateful to the Government for acceding to the arguments for the plurality test. Members of the Joint Scrutiny Committee will recall my argument that its purpose was never to create another hurdle for media mergers that would be the subject of ex ante ownership rules. The intention was for a structure that is designed for long-term future proofing. Ofcom, which is intended to help deregulation, should be able to remove the ownership rules that currently apply, consider subsequent ownership rules, and remove ex ante ownership rules as it can. As my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) pointed out, the merger regime should recognise that broadcasting, like newspapers, has characteristics that relate to the health of our democracy. We unanimously accept that the principal duty is to consumers and citizens. Any merger consideration should also be about consumer interest, as expressed through competition, and the health of our democracy, as expressed through the plurality test. I therefore support amendment No. 155.
Tessa Jowell: I shall be brief. The arguments have been expressed clearly and well. The debate has continued for approximately 18 months since the Bill's scrutiny began. The consideration has focused essentially on the best way in which to secure deregulation, future proofing of the provisions and protection of the public interest in recognition of the specific role that the media play in our society. By
Mr. Timms: Throughout the passage of the Bill, we have made clear our commitment to broadband. We have a target of achieving the most competitive and extensive broadband market in the G7 by 2005, and we have backed that up with a variety of actions and with funding. We now have well over 2 million broadband connections in the United Kingdom, and the rate of growth of more than 100,000 a month is one of the fastest in the world.
We had reservations about whether to include a reference to broadband in the Bill, but we are strongly committed to broadband and we also agree that Ofcom will have a role in encouraging the fair development of the broadband market and in contributing to its competitiveness. As we are giving Ofcom a duty to secure the availability of a wide range of electronic communications servicesincluding broadband serviceswe questioned whether it was necessary specifically to include the term "broadband" on the face of the legislation. However, given the importance that we attach to broadband, and the widespread support in both Houses for giving Ofcom an obligation to encourage its roll-out and take-up, we have accepted the principle of including a specific reference to it in the general duties. Amendment (a) does no more than ensure that that fits properly within the structure of clause 3 by requiring Ofcom to have regard to the desirability of encouraging the roll-out and take-up of broadband.
I have used the term "broadband" because it is easier to use than "high-speed data transfer" servicesthe term used in the amendment. The two terms are probably interchangeable in everyday usage, but we have taken the view that "high-speed data transfer services" is preferable as a term for legislation.
Mr. Bryant: Is not this one of the problems with the language involved? Whether we use "broadband" or "high-speed data transfer services", each is a relative term, depending on whether we are talking about 512 kilobytes per second, or 1,000, 1,500, or whatever. This illustrates one of the problems involved in writing this particular element into the Bill.
Mr. Timms: Ofcom will need to take a view on what this duty entails. It will do that in the light of what is happening in the data communications market in relation to those services that one could fairly regard as high speed, given the current state of the market. Of course, that will change as time goes on.
Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): Well, we had a high speed debate there from the Minister. He has rightly seen the light on the road to Damascus, or certainly on the road to the other place. It was the noble Lord, Lord Northesk who raised this issue in the House of Lords. Yet a rather rocky path has been trod with regard to getting this measure recognised in the Bill.
The Minister rightly mentioned what the Government have done to promote broadband, but I believe that he protests too much. According to data published as recently as August 2002, South Korea has 9.2 broadband connections per 100 inhabitants, while Britain lags way behind in 20th place. I know that the Minister will say that that information is out of datehe has said such things in the pastand that Britain is now performing well in comparison with its neighbours. But that all comes down to the definition of broadband, as the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Bryant) pointed out earlier.
Mr. Bryant: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. It is a delight to see him speaking from the Front Bench, I think for the first time. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear!"] In Committee, he made the point that many rural parts of the countryand mining constituencies such as my ownwill find it difficult to get broadband rolled out. I would like to point out that my office in Porth is now broadbanded at 512 kilobytes per second, and that Treorchy and Tonypandy will be done later next month.
Michael Fabricant: I am delighted to hear that, although I wonder whether it will really be 512 kilobytes per second. The hon. Gentleman will know that when a number of people are online at the same time, the 512 kilobytes are shared.
That brings me to another point that I wanted to raise. We must acknowledge the value of British Telecom's decision to reduce the trigger level at which it will install broadband, according to the number of people who have expressed an interest in having it. Previously, BT had said that 600 people had to register their interest, but in many areasincluding my own constituency of Lichfieldit has now reduced that number, making broadband far more accessible. We welcome that.
The hon. Member for Rhondda asked a very good question earlier about what actually constituted broadband. That was echoed by the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Brian White). What is broadband? One of the problems is that both BT and the Government define it as being as slownot fastas 112 kilobytes per second. That is slow! Those of us who have integrated services digital network connectionsperhaps to access Citrix, which is the method that we use to access the House of Commons server when we are not in our offices on the parliamentary estatewill know that we need ISDN to provide a reasonably fast connection for that purpose. Those of us who broadcast from our homes need ISDN for that, too. A double ISDN circuit, provided by packages such as BT Home Highway, operates at 112 kilobytes per second. Nobody would say that that was broadband, however; it is merely ISDN2. I give way to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Anniesland (John Robertson), who used to work for British Telecom.