(VIII) PARLIAMENTARY CONTROL OVER LEGISLATIVE
281. The provisions of the draft Bill relating to
media ownership give the Secretary of State extensive powers to
amend the law on media ownership by means of secondary legislation
subject to affirmative resolution.
Secondary legislation may be initiated both to give effect to
a recommendation of the triennial review by OFCOM and at any other
time, although the Secretary of State must consult OFCOM in the
latter case. The purpose of these powers is to ensure that future
provision for media ownership can maintain the flexibility that
the Government considers previous legislation has lacked.
282. The Government itself has previously acknowledged
that "some would argue
that the issues involved [in
media ownership] are too important to be left to secondary legislation
and deserve the more thorough scrutiny that primary legislation
In the last Parliament the Culture, Media and Sport Committee
considered that "matters of such Parliamentary and public
importance as media ownership and control should not be open to
significant amendment by means of secondary legislation".
The Radio Authority thought that the powers of review and revision
would result in "endless lobbying by special groups"
and create commercial uncertainty.
BECTU saw the powers as a recipe for "creeping consolidation".
283. Flexibility is a merit in legislation, but in
this context it appears to be perceived as an economic tool, when
the primary aim of media ownership rules is to protect plurality.
This is a matter which is central to the democratic process and
is deserving of the full parliamentary process of primary legislation
to establish whether change is justified, whether the mechanism
of change is correctly drafted or could be improved by amendments
and whether the full legislative consequences have been considered.
In due course, if the additional plurality test for the OFT and
the Competition Commission that we have recommended can be demonstrated
to be working effectively, Parliament may be willing to delegate
almost all decisions on media ownership to those competition authorities,
providing the "future-proofing" that the Government
seeks. We do not believe this time has yet come. General powers
to revise almost all primary legislation on media ownership by
means of secondary legislation provide "future-proofing"
at an unacceptable cost in terms of effective parliamentary control.
We recommend that the provisions of the final Bill on media
ownership should not include any powers for the Secretary of State
to revise primary legislation by means of secondary legislation
other than in the limited case of the Channel 3 nominated news
537 Policy, para 9.8; Clauses 262, 263 and 264(5),
Schedule 14, paras 6, 10, 11-13, 15. Back
Policy, p 4 and paras 9.2.3, 9.8. Back
Media Ownership Rules, para 6.6.3. Back
HC (2000-01) 161-I, para 45. Back
Memorandum submitted by Radio Authority. Back
Ev 332, para 9; Q 835. Back