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Lord McNally: I had a lump in my throat, as I am sure did most of the rest of the Committee, when I listened to the Minister's opening declaration. But I should tell him that the three specific criticisms to which he alluded were all made by me. I stand by them.

I wish to say only this. So far we have considered seven amendments, all seven of which have been rejected. If Peter Snow were commentating on election night, he would already be predicting a landslide. When are we going to see flexibility?

Viscount Astor: Before the Minister responds—

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I should like to respond first to the noble Lord, Lord McNally. What the noble Lord should recognise—I know that my noble friend Lord Puttnam would do so—is that this Bill is profoundly different as a result of the changes made to it by the joint scrutiny committee. We have made huge changes—I shall not say "concessions"; they would be concessions only if we did not agree with them—in response to informed criticism. We have done so after proper debate and discussion and we will continue to do so.

However, as is the case with these amendments, if we think that it would not serve any valuable purpose to include them in the Bill, then we will resist them.

Lord Gordon of Strathblane: At a later stage of the Bill, perhaps my noble friend on the Front Bench will

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reconsider his judgment on the two amendments tabled in my name. I should remind him that their effect would not be to require high quality from all services. It would simply ensure that one of the obligations of Ofcom would be to secure a wide range of television and radio services that are of high quality. If Ofcom is not in place to do that, why bother with it? If it is to aim at mediocrity, then we can do without it.

Viscount Astor: I have listened with care to the debate and I wish to put one question to the Minister. I think it is important that the general duties of Ofcom should be set out clearly in Clause 3(1), as is the case with regard to the interests of consumers and the community. However, the details of those interests are spelt out only later in the legislation. Therefore I fail to understand the Minister's argument why it is not possible to include a phrase such as the "principles of public service broadcasting" which are then detailed later in the Bill.

The duties of Ofcom are not spelt out in Clause 3(1), but the basic principles are. If you can have one, then I do not see why it is not possible to have the other.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Clause 3(1) sets out the general duties across the range of responsibilities of Ofcom, whether it be broadcast or other telecommunications services. Public service broadcasting is enormously important, but it is a specific element of that and thus is best covered in the part of the Bill dealing with radio and television services.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: I am immensely grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this penetrating and stirring mini-debate. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hussey, who has come from his sickbed to make his contribution. That is greatly appreciated. Turning to the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, at least I can give him this 1924 quotation from Lord Reith, in which he described the responsibility of public service broadcasting as the need to,


    "carry into the greatest possible number of homes everything that is best in every department of human knowledge, endeavour and achievement".

The reason I did not use the quotation earlier was that it lacks "entertainment" as an important element of what today would be part of anyone's definition of public service broadcasting.

I am also grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, for pinning the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, to his Bench where he should be pinned on his principal objection to the amendment; namely, that it lacks definition. If the Minister could tell me how much less defined it is than the phrase contained in the Bill—


    "to further the interests of the community as a whole in relation to communications matters"—

I would be deeply obliged. But, of course, he cannot do so. The reason he cannot do so—and the reason I did not—is that this is a general duty clause.

My second point is that Clause 260 is not part of the general duty clause on the obligations of Ofcom. The point made by every single speaker bar none is that public service broadcasting standards must be at

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the flag, at the head, at the heart of the Bill. However admirable Clause 260 may be on its own, it is not part of the general duties. The mood of the Committee, as I apprehend it, is that public service broadcasting standards should be a general requirement to which the Director General of Ofcom should have regard.

Having gone that far, this is not the moment to vote on these issues. I am sure that a great deal of talking will take place before Report, when the Government can be assured that we will be back. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.30 p.m.

Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 6:


    Page 3, line 7, at end insert—


"( ) In conducting their duties under subsection (1), OFCOM shall have a primary responsibility to ensure that their actions are, at all times, governed by the principles under which regulatory activities should be transparent, accountable, proportionate, consistent and targeted only at cases in which action is needed."

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 6, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 15, 18 and 19. The amendments focus on the general duties of Ofcom and the need, in our view, to have on the face of the Bill an increased emphasis on the principles of better regulation.

In setting out the key principles of the Bill, the Government have expressed their aim to create the most dynamic and competitive communications industry in the world. To that end, they have highlighted the need for deregulation to promote competitiveness and investment, together with self-regulation where appropriate. We support the Government in these aims.

However, we want to be sure that in practice Ofcom will, as it becomes established, adhere to the principles of better regulation; that the regulatory activities of Ofcom will be transparent, accountable, proportionate, consistent and targeted. To that end, it should be a primary duty on the face of the Bill and not only something to which Ofcom should have regard when it appears to be relevant in the circumstances.

The Bill grants extensive powers to Ofcom as a regulator to intervene right across the economy. In that case it is essential that it should not only have regard to, but adhere to at all times the principles of better regulation that are consistently championed by the Government's Better Regulation Task Force.

The chairman of the task force, David Arculus, when appointed last year, was reported in the Financial Times as having warned that civil servants are drowning small businesses in a wave of regulation because they have little understanding of business. He went on to say that,


    "Some of the problem lies with independent regulators who are keen to make the most of the new powers they have been given".

While we are confident that the noble Lord, Lord Currie, will not fall into this trap, we nevertheless wish to protect the future and thereby make adherence to better regulation principles a primary duty for Ofcom. I can assure the Committee

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that we are supported in large part across the broadcasting and telecommunications industries in this aim.

We are disappointed therefore that the Government have seen fit to place a less than wholehearted commitment to the principles on the face of the Bill. I recognise that, like the remainder of Clause 3, these principles are to be disapplied when Ofcom carries out its concurrent competition powers. I have no dispute with that. Similarly, there may be instances where it is not appropriate for Ofcom to behave in accordance with all the better regulation principles but with only some of them. Someone has suggested, for example, that Ofcom cannot be too transparent in advance when it is carrying out a raid on a pirate broadcaster. That kind of situation must of course be respected.

We have tabled two alternative amendments for the Government's consideration, both of which would achieve this aim. The first would simply delete the provisions in Clause 3(3) and amend Clause 3(1) to ensure that in conducting its duties under the subsection Ofcom has a primary responsibility to ensure that its actions are at all times governed by the principles.

The second amendment would amend Clause 3(2) to provide Ofcom with a duty in carrying out its functions and in performing its duties under Clause 3(1) to act impartially and transparently and to comply with the other principles of good regulation.

The issue was raised briefly in another place. Amendments seeking this increased emphasis were rejected by the Government, even though they failed to provide much reasoning for doing so. It was an insubstantial and unsatisfactory debate. The Government's refusal to adopt these amendments is even more difficult to understand given the importance that they appeared to attach to the principles of better regulation during the consideration of the Bill in another place. The Committee stage debates recorded in Hansard illustrate how often the principles were prayed in aid by the Government as a reason for rejecting amendments that went to the heart of many of the most important debates.

I ask the Government to think again on this issue. In their exposition of the Bill in Committee they have shown how important the principles will be in underpinning and informing Ofcom in the way that it goes about its work. This sits very uncomfortably with the less than wholehearted commitment to the principles currently given in Clause 3. I beg to move.


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