Joint Committee on the Draft Communications Bill Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 360-368)



  360. You would not like to be on the inside of the tent?
  (Mr Collins) We would like a representative inside the tent.

  361. There is no point in you having a representative.
  (Mr Collins) I do not think we say in our submission that we would like a representative if the board has no remit for Internet content.

  362. I am trying to get to whether you would prefer to have a representative and the board to have a remit for Internet content?
  (Mr Collins) No.

  363. You would rather not have a representative?
  (Mr Collins) At this stage if it pans out as I have suggested and the content board has only promotional and complementary powers with regard to Internet content, then we would not require a representative on the content board.

Lord Crickhowell

  364. This is a question I nearly asked an earlier witness. All these people talking about the content board see it as interfering busy bodies controlling content, but it has got a rather important role in telling the main board what the consequences of financial economic regulation are going to be in terms of content. Surely you have a keen interest in making sure that the decisions taken on financial and economic matters are not going to have damaging effects for others on likely content usage? Without getting into "let's regulate content", the board has got to be informed about what the consequences of economic decisions may be. We have already seen in previous history that the decisions taken on financial and economic affairs may have very profound effects for the industry so surely you want to have some input on that?
  (Mr Collins) We are trying to be reasonable. You were mentioning earlier that one company was trying to have its cake and eat three others. I am not sure it is appropriate but we would be very happy to be represented on the board and for the board to have no remit over Internet content. If that is what you are suggesting then we will be very pleased to be on the content board. Thank you.

Brian White

  365. The E-Commerce Directive explicitly absolves intermediaries from liability and you have suggested in your evidence that ISPs ought to be exempt from sanctions over broadcast content under this Bill for which they did not have editorial control. Explain the reasons and why you are saying that?
  (Mr Collins) This was not a very major point of the submission but it is a point to note. If the definitions in clauses 154, 155 and 238 for "electronic visual programme guide", "relevant ancillary services","two-way service", "general public" and "broadcasting distribution", etcetera, are not 100 per cent clear then some Internet content which is hosted or cashed or transmitted through a conduit could be covered, which is why we would like an explicit reference to the provisions in Articles 12 to 14 of the E-Commerce Directive. It need not be in the Bill; it could equally be in the Explanatory Notes.

Paul Farrelly

  366. With convergence there has been quite some concern over the phrase "licensable content and services" in the Bill. The Bill provides a mechanism for the Secretary of State by means of statutory instrument to change that definition according to circumstance. There is a good reason for the Secretary of State to do it that way because there is an accountability then to Parliament and there would not be if OFCOM itself did it. In your submission you have said rather than having a common sense duty to consult the industry both the Secretary of State and OFCOM should have a statutory duty to consult you. Given this framework that has been proposed in the Bill and that you are proposing, we would like to get a feel for how often or how frequently you expect this one of many definitions to have to change to reflect technology in particular. Also are the procedures in the Bill as it stands practical to put those amendments into practice given their potential frequency?
  (Mr Collins) The key point really is that initial definitions are clear. That is the first point. Of course, they will need updating at some point. Who knows how often they will need to be revised. What we ask is that there is an obligation placed upon the Secretary of State to consult with all stakeholders really so that the revised definitions are acceptable to all. I do not think this is a particularly controversial part of our submission.
  (Mr Lansman) Your question almost poses the question can we predict what will happen in the future and the answer is that it is extremely difficult to do this. All the people who give evidence before this scrutiny committee would find that sort of question very difficult to answer. While we accept that the Secretary of State must be able to make changes to adapt to changes in what is happening in broadcasting and media and new communications and so forth, we feel it should be done in a way that allows the appropriate level of consultation of the industry. There are certain issues there that relate to changes that might be more speedy in the Internet sector than other sectors and that is where we would like as an industry to be able to properly give our opinions and views before legislation changes.

  367. My concern over the way you are proposing to do this, which is through a statutory instrument, is that it is quite an onerous procedure. If you are proposing that the Secretary of State has a legal duty to consult and come up with a well-balanced and so on and so forth change you are making the process more onerous but the Secretary of State would be as daft as a brush if he or she did not consult the industry before putting changes through anyway.
  (Mr Lansman) It is a fair point. It may be that OFCOM is the body (as the Oftel of today) which appropriately consults. OFCOM might well have that role and co-ordinate that response. You are quite right, if they did not consult widely it would not be very constructive.

Lord McNally

  368. You would also agree that leaving a lot of discretionary loose ends in the Bill to the wisdom of the Secretary of State of the day could be very dangerous indeed. If we are going to create a regulator with the spread of OFCOM, the amount of discretion that should be left, even in the cause of future-proofing is minimal. I think Opposition parties would think that it would be a good idea to leave as few discretionary powers to future Secretaries of State as possible and therefore I think your advice is well taken.
  (Mr Lansman) We would not want to cast doubts on the wisdom of any Secretaries of State, but this is a complex area with complex issues and I think an open consultation would be appropriate.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed.

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