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Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 4 [Restriction on revocation or variation of licences]:
Page 4, line 36, at end insert
("( ) The Secretary of State shall, with the consent of the Treasury, consider making a grant to licensees whenever a licence is revoked or varied under subsection (5)(b) in a frequency band where equipment has been installed within five years previous to the revocation or variation, and warning of the revocation or variation has not been given to the licensee prior to installation of the equipment.").
The noble Lord said: I move this amendment on behalf of my noble friend Lord Mottistone. In responses to both the consultative document published by the DTI and the White Paper of June last year, many respondents stressed the competitive advantage which could be gained for United Kingdom industry and operators on the global stage by rapidly "refarming" spectrum when it is allocated to a new use internationally. To encourage the heavy investment often necessary for new systems there is a need for "clean" spectrum for the incoming user. In the past the Department of Trade and Industry has attempted to clear bands for new applications by giving as much notice as possible of the change of usesometimes up to 15 years. In the dynamic information technology and communications industry which exists today the timescales currently required to change use of bands can mean that the opportunity for an innovative service is lost.
While it is reasonable to argue that the new user of spectrum should pay the incumbent to vacate a bandan approach often advocated by the Ministry of Defence and at least one large foreign administrationthere is also a strong argument in favour of the moneys paid by the industry above cost recovery being used to support refarming. In June last year the White Paper suggested in paragraph 4.17 that payments could be used to assist users to move to alternative frequencies and also that payments could be used to encourage users to re-equip
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with more spectrally efficient equipment before existing equipment is fully depreciated. During all of the debates following publication of the White Paper it was understood that this was a benefit that would result from administrative spectrum pricing and as such it should be highlighted in the primary legislation. This subsection will oblige the Secretary of State to consider the use of a grant to facilitate refarming of spectrum when band use changes unexpectedly, for example owing either to Community obligations or international treaty. I beg to move.
We understand the thinking behind the amendment and the concern that the speed of change in the radio industry may require speeding up the rate at which radio frequency bands have to be converted from one radio application to another, necessitating the clearance of existing users from those bands. However, Clause 5(2) already provides for the payment of financial assistance with the consent of the Treasury where the grant is likely to promote the efficient use or management of the radio spectrum. This power might on particular facts extend to circumstances in which it became necessary to clear a band to give effect to an international obligation or Community requirement. In the normal course of events the agency would hope to be able to give maximum notice of the change because such developments normally unfold over a period of years and involve full consultation and discussion with those affected.
Any application made to the Secretary of State would have to receive careful consideration as a matter of good administrative practice. Surely there is no need to oblige the Secretary of State to consider applications. Moreover, Clause 1(3)(c) would provide for licence fees to be refunded where this was appropriate. On a matter of detail I query the rationale for the cut-off of five years in the amendment. Differentiating in this way seems slightly arbitrary and risks creating anomalies. There is the further point that the amendment does not distinguish between equipment that has been installed for some time and is already depreciated, if not obsolete, and equipment that was installed just before the variation and revocation. Five years is a long time in a fast-moving industry such as telecommunications.
I appreciate that the amendment would not require the Secretary of State to make a grant in the circumstances postulated, but, nonetheless, it does seem excessively prescriptive. I hope the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment and consider my explanation.
Clause 4 agreed to.
Clause 5 [Promotion of efficient use and management of spectrum]:
Page 4, line 45, at end insert ("and to provide for the training and education of radio engineers in efficient spectrum management techniques").
The noble Lord said: Some may argue that the existing subsection (5)(2) of Clause 5 covers the point which is the subject of this amendment. However, it is worth highlighting the need to ensure that there is a record of the Government's intent. Several members of the Federation of Electronic Industries are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit engineers with the correct skills and are having to look abroad for staff where previously they have been able to recruit locally. As this amendment is in line with the Government's declared intention to provide education for work, I hope that they may look favourably on additional wording in support of that policy. I beg to move.
Lord Haskel: The amendment as proposed narrows the scope of Clause 5(2). I am not sure how the noble Lord can doubt our commitment to training. That was the centrepiece of the Chancellor's Budget only last week. Clause 5 of the Bill provides the Secretary of State with power to make grants to persons where, in her opinion this is likely to promote the efficient use or management of the radio spectrum. This is a broad enabling power and there are a number of ways in which we envisage that it might be used. For example, it might, in certain circumstances, be used to provide assistance to businesses to enable them to adopt more spectrum efficient technologies. It might also be used to make payments to businesses which are required to relinquish spectrum where the Radiocommunications Agency, for whatever reason, is not able to provide the period of notice which it normally aims to provide in such circumstances. The power might also be used, as was explained during our Second Reading debate, to enable the agency to support courses provided by universities for the training of radio engineers in spectrally efficient techniques.
The amendment tabled by the noble Lord is therefore fully in line with the way in which we envisage that the power may be used. However, his amendment covers only one possible form of assistance among the many which might be envisaged. Things change. There are also no doubt possible uses of the power which will emerge in the future which no one has yet thought of. For these reasons, therefore, I consider that it would be better not to seek to define narrowly the way in which the power is to be used. I therefore invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Mottistone: At the risk of being sent to the Tower I wish to thank my noble friend Lord Inglewood
8 Jul 1997 : Column 555
for moving these three amendments standing in my name, and indeed the Government for giving such a full answer to all three.
Lord Inglewood: In the circumstances I hope that it will have been in the best interests of the Chamber for the matters discussed in response to my amendments to have been considered by the Committee. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 5 agreed to.
Clause 6 [Regulations]:
Page 5, line 4, at end insert
("(1A) Before making regulations under any provision of this Act, the Secretary of State shall
(a) publish in the London, Edinburgh and Belfast Gazettes a notice
(i) stating that he proposes to make regulations under that provision,
(ii) setting out the general effect of the proposed regulations,
(iii) specifying an address from which copies of the proposed regulations may be obtained, and
(iv) specifying a time (not being less than 28 days from the date of publication of the notice) within which representations with respect to the proposed regulations may be made to him, and
(b) consider any representations which are made to him within that time.
(1B) Subsection (1A) does not apply in respect of any regulations if it appears to the Secretary of State that by reason of the urgency of the matter it is inexpedient to publish a notice under that subsection.").
The noble Lord said: On Second Reading I was asked by a number of noble Lords whether the Government would consider adding a duty to consult on the face of the Bill. I explained in reply that the Government believe in full consultation on spectrum pricingI have asserted that over and over againas indeed on other aspects of spectrum management. I undertook to consider that matter sympathetically. I hope the Committee will agree that I have done so. What I have decided is reflected in the amendment to Clause 6. Perhaps I may briefly explain the provisions of the amendment.
The amendment requires the Secretary of State, except in cases of urgency, to publish a notice in the London Gazette, Edinburgh Gazette and Belfast Gazette before making any regulations under the Bill. That applies both to fees regulations under Clause 2 and auction regulations under Clause 3.
The notice will state the intention to make regulations, explain the gist of such regulations, declare where copies can be obtained and set a deadline for those representations. This would have to be at least
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28 days from publication of the notice. There is then a duty imposed on the Secretary of State to consider all representations made to her.
I understand that that is a standard form of consultation procedure. I asked whether businessmen and businesswomen actually read the notices in the various gazettes; I am sure they do little else. However, there are precedents. The Telecommunications Act 1984 provides such a precedent; and there are precedents relating to the making of regulations. I shall not go into the details of that. I simply state it. But I noted the extraordinary interest in the various gazettes.
There is no intention that this form of consultation procedure will in any way supplant or detract from the importance of existing extensive non-statutory consultation. In many ways that is as important as, if not more important than, statutory forms of consultation. This the Radiocommunications Agency carries out diligently already. As I said in relation to a previous debate, the agency has an established series of consultative committees. To complement these, officials are in discussion with the industry about establishing a high level committee to maintain strategic oversight of spectrum management overall. Such a committee would provide a useful reinforcement of current consultative arrangements.
There is no doubtit is reinforced by discussions that my officials have had with the agencythat it will continue to consult very widely indeed. The agency will take appropriate steps to publicise prospective regulations more extensively, for example, by publishing consultative documents or drawing them to the attention of the trade press through press noticeswhich is a way of supplementing that which appears in the gazettes. The statutory procedure will provide a long stop to make sure that all proposals for regulations are placed firmly in the public domain.
Lord Derwent: I should like to take the opportunity of expressing the industry's gratitude to the Minister for this firm commitment for consultation over pricing. The amendment meets all the matters for which I asked at Second Reading, and we are most grateful.
I am even more grateful for the undertakings in the Minister's remarks about the wider consultation. Clearly we should not be limited to statutory consultation. The kinds of issues on which we should like to continue to consult are spectrum allocation, spectrum management and international aspects.
I wish to mention one aspect as regards the international scene. We should avoid a situation where UK operators have their access to spectrum unnecessarily restricted by the reservation of spectrum in international treaties to satellite operators based outside the United Kingdom. Such operators would pay no UK spectrum fees and no UK taxes. That kind of issue does not arise out of regulations under this or any
8 Jul 1997 : Column 557
other Bill. However, we might suddenly find ourselves limited by other negotiations outside the United Kingdom on which we would welcome the continuing consultation which we have enjoyed with the department.
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