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Lord Roberts of Conwy: It is clear that under this part of the schedule Ofcom can establish executive and advisory committees. Perhaps this is the appropriate point to reiterate the concern I expressed on the first day of Committee about national and regional interests within the United Kingdom. Those national and regional interests will not be directly represented on the board. But Ofcom will need to have regard to them, bearing in mind what is said in the White Paper and what was said at Second Reading by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey.
The importance of national and regional aspects of television and broadcasting were today re-affirmed to me by an article in the Western Mail by the chairman of the Independent Television Commission, Sir Robin Biggam. I am delighted to see the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, in her place. I understand that the noble Baroness has just been appointed as his deputy.
In that article Sir Robin referred to a series of public consultations that the ITC undertook last year. Towards the end of the article he referred to the Government's new communications legislation, including the creation of a new regulatorOfcom. He said that,
Of course I am particularly interested in Wales. There we have the unique phenomenon of S4C. As I understand it, S4C's Welsh language output is supervised by the S4C authority. I can understand the Government's reluctance to change that. The programmes are drawn from BBC, HTV and independent producers.
The S4C English language programmes are drawn from Channel 4 and are subject to the same regulation as that channel. I imagine that its advertising, which is predominantly in Englishalthough I am delighted to say that they do advertise in Welsh for Aspro and Aspirin from time to timeis similarly regulated. S4C also has two digital channels which broadcast Welsh language programmes and National Assembly proceedings. So clearly there will need to be liaison and co-operation between the S4C authority and Ofcom. I cannot imagine that that will be difficult as they are both statutory bodies.
Lord Crickhowell: Despite the fact that Sir Robin Biggam, in the admirable article to which my noble friend referred, praised the company of which I am chairman and about which I have already declared an interest, I must say that I thought that both my noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, took us down a road which the Government might be justified in saying was for a later Bill. But that perhaps bears out the difficulty that we have about the Bill, which is that we are dealing with legislation that covers functions which the Government have not yet defined and policies which the Government have not yet decided. Therefore, to that extent at least, I sympathise with the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, because he is really making that point.
I hope that the noble Viscount will not press the amendments as they seem to be almost bizarre. Surely the board of any organisation should have freedom to establish such committees as it needs. Even on the most practical measure, anyone who has sat on a board of any organisation or company will know that there are moments when it is necessary to set up a small committee to see that documents are signed by a given date when it is impossible to get the whole board together. There are a great many practical situations like that with which a board has to deal. Surely to goodness, when we are dealing with radical structural changes that are taking place, both in the regulatory regime and in the industries that they regulate, the new organisation would be wise to take advice and to set up advisory committees. To inhibit that freedom would be a great mistake. Therefore, like my noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy, I shall support the Government on this occasion if they resist these amendments.
Lord Dubs: I agree very much with what the noble Lord has just said. Of course this is essentially a matter for the communications Bill. But even if we were discussing that Bill, I doubt very much whether it would be proper for the Bill to go into such detail about the committee structure to be followed.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Far be it for me to be so foolhardy as to swim against the tide of committees. After all, we are in a committee now, although not a committee that many other committees would recognise. If there is one thing that the 20th century has left us as an inheritance, it is the spawning at frogspawn speed of committees. Of course Ofcom will have to work through committees. There cannot be any doubt about that.
Ofcom, as set out in the Bill, has only one purposeto prepare for regulation when it is given regulatory powers by the substantive Bill. In that context, we can only debate the kind of committees that Ofcom might need to establish. To begin with, Ofcom might want committees to deal with pay, information technology and accommodation. It might want to start thinking about spectrum issues in advance of the decisions that it or the Government will have to take. Those committees may be temporary or permanent but they should not be required on the face of the Bill. That is the trivial answer to Amendment No. 69 but it is true.
This debate has produced some valuable contributions but mine has to be the "dusty answer" to those "hot for certainties"for those who remember their Merediththat we must wait to see what the draft Bill states, then debate it in Parliament when we consider the main Bill. I say that with particular regret because the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, made a particularly penetrating contributionperhaps freed from the constraints of her maiden speech. I agreed with so much that she said about citizens and consumers not being identical and about the need for independence and authority in the panels or committees that will be examining the issueswhich are not the same as each otherof standards, privacy, taste and decency. I commend the noble Baroness's remarks as a notable contribution to the debate that we will be having next year.
All that we say nowas we did in the White Paperis that there should be a consumer panel. I acknowledge that there will be more, as did Towers Perrinwhich, in addition to proposing a committee structure for Ofcom, suggested a content board. That interesting idea will, again, be debated next year. All those issues are properly for consideration when we consider the main Bill. Meanwhile, even at the level of the amendment we should not dictate to Ofcomcertainly not that it should establish committees on the lines of the existing demarcations or boundaries between regulators.
Viscount Falkland: I thank all noble Lords who have taken part. I must reassure the noble Lord, Crickhowell, that I have no intention of pressing the amendment. I view the Committee stage of a paving Bill as an excellent opportunity to probe and open up subjects to debate. It has been a valuable discussion and, to echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, will become required reading as we progress with the legislation proper. I dare say that we shall hear the noble Baroness speak in detail on these subjects, which are central to the operation of the new regulatory body. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.