Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Gordon of Strathblane: Before the Minister sits down, can he address the issue of the clause's parentage—bearing in mind that it was not in the Bill when it was introduced in another place?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Bills change as time goes on. When we introduced the Bill to another place, we considered in the first instance that the ownership rules would guarantee plurality within and between media markets. We thought that would be enough. We amended the Bill to be certain that in any future decisions when Ofcom is not bound to apply certain rules it can maintain plurality. I have no doubt that the noble, Lord Brooke, is right to say that provision was introduced at Report stage. It may be that it was not debated on the Floor in another place.

Lord Bragg: Before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may seek further clarification. I want to make it quite clear that I am all in favour of plurality, but I gave a particular instance of where it would be very difficult to achieve and would do an existing local station great harm and—the only thing that matters—give viewers a worse service. When such occasions arise—we were given a wonderful supplementary example—may we be reassured that there will be no imposition, no "You must", or rule that what must be national must be local? That could do a disservice to many local communities.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, answered that point. We do not intend to impose plurality where it does not exist. I take very seriously my noble friend's point about Border Television and the risk of seeking to impose plurality. ITV licences were always allocated on a regional basis. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, that at one stage there was an attempt to make sub-regions for licence purposes. That did not work then and I cannot imagine that it would work now.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, for pressing the point that I was trying to make. I am not seeking to argue against the Minister because there is a meeting of minds between us. The problem with the procedure in another place—I am making a plea for change in the procedure—is that when the guillotine falls any outstanding government amendments are immediately read into the Bill. Unfortunately, Hansard does not record their wording. It therefore requires a great deal of research to discover what is new to a Bill—provisions that were not spoken to but were added silently. It would be easier for those of us trying to follow the progress of a Bill in another place if the wording of such amendments were shown. My reading of the Bill's Report stage in another place is that selections consisted entirely of new clauses. Some

29 Apr 2003 : Column 629

amendments were added in groupings. If the next group had not been reached when the guillotine fell, Government amendments were added to the Bill willy nilly, without their wording being published.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I cannot take responsibility for the procedures of another place.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: I made it perfectly clear that I was not complaining of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. I am simply saying that in relations between the two Houses, it would be helpful if another place indicated the text of changes.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: That exchange is on the record.

Baroness Buscombe: I made clear in my introductory remarks that one of the reasons for tabling the amendment was to identify the source and purpose of the new clause—which, to be fair, was briefly debated in another place.

Her Majesty's Opposition are not against plurality. We are trying to understand why the Government chose to add this particular clause at this particular place. We asked whether the clause relates solely to mergers and acquisitions—the review of ownership rules. The Minister replied that one of the reasons for inserting the clause at this point in the Bill is that plurality need not always relate to ownership rules but may potentially have wider applications. The Minister referred to Schedule 14 and I shall certainly consider the clause's wider application.

This debate has been extremely helpful because it was notable that noble Lords spoke about the desirability and objective of maintaining plurality of providers. We have no argument with maintaining plurality but have difficulty with ensuring that Ofcom shall be required to secure the maintenance of the plurality of providers. The noble Lord, Lord Borrie, made it clear that in the case of mergers and acquisitions it may be for the Office of Fair Trading to decide whether or not plurality should be maintained—in which case, it will be out of Ofcom's hands.

We made specific reference to Clause 384, which deals with the review of ownership rule. I repeat, with deference to my noble friend Lord Renton, that the review is an important provision and we place equal importance on that part of the Bill in respect of that specific subject.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy and the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, for articulating real examples of where maintaining plurality of providers is not viable and does not make common sense.

I reiterate that we are not agin plurality. Far from it. Perhaps I should return to this issue on Report, by suggesting that paragraph (d) should be inserted instead in Clause 3(3)—depending on the wording that we may devise. That allows Ofcom to take a broader, more flexible and sensible approach in the circumstances. At

29 Apr 2003 : Column 630

the moment, there is ambiguity. Speaking to Amendment No. 1 the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, said that we should do all that we can to negate ambiguity in respect of Ofcom's general duties. The noble Lord the Minister said that there is no question but that Clause 3(2)(d) would require the maintenance of plurality providers where plurality does not already exist. The fact that we are being extensively lobbied and ourselves question the subsection's parameters tells me that ambiguity exists.

Given that the Minister is not inclined to accept our amendment, which would bracket the provision with the review of ownership rules, I ask him to think about the positioning of paragraph (d)—perhaps reintroducing it in Clause 3(3). I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.30 p.m.

Baroness Wilcox moved Amendment No. 10:

    Page 3, line 29, at end insert—

"( ) so far as practicable and in the manner that best takes account of the need to protect personal data, in order to protect copyrighted content, and to empower parents to protect children from harmful content, that open standards for technical security systems are established and implemented"

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 23. The amendments consider security, and the need for Ofcom to be involved in promoting open standards for technological security systems, in order to prevent unauthorised use of personal data and copyright content.

Technology is developing rapidly, and with it comes the potential to access sensitive information in both the business and personal spheres; hence the importance of security cannot be underestimated. Personal privacy must be protected, as individuals have the right to ensure that data concerning themselves and their families are not made available to others.

Equally important is the need to prevent children from being exposed to harmful content. Parents struggle to keep their children away from indecent material that is proliferating exponentially, and Ofcom could make their struggle a lot easier if it were to involve itself in security.

Business also has a lot at stake, most obviously the music industry, but increasingly the film industry is threatened by unlawful downloading from Internet sites. That is flagrant violation of copyright law and will, if serious action is not taken soon, lead to the decline of those thriving British creative industries.

Computer crime does not stop there, but threatens all business with widespread incidence of hacking into private systems, spreading viruses and the like. I realise that no one will deny that security is an issue of great importance that must be tackled, but why give Ofcom the responsibility?

We suggest that Ofcom should have the responsibility because the changing nature of technology means that what is currently primarily an

29 Apr 2003 : Column 631

Internet-based issue—and hence outside the scope of the Bill—will soon be faced by other communications sectors, as services available online will increasingly be accessible via other means. It is naive to ignore security in the Bill because that is an Internet issue, when it clearly will not remain within those strict confines for long. I beg to move.

Lord McNally: I will be interested to hear what the Minister says. The noble Baroness raises very real issues. I am not convinced that Ofcom is the right body to deal with them, but I might be convinced in the process. She is right on the issues covering access to pornography and other such material with convergence. Let us remember that, when we started, this was the Bill that was going to accommodate convergence. The capacity to access something on mobile phones, personal computers and televisions is converging, and some of the material will be accessible. I am not sure who should handle that.

The other issue to which the noble Baroness referred—the capacity of the new technologies to be used basically to steal music, films and so on—is one in which I have taken an interest in the past. It is a real problem. I am not sure whether it is yet another problem that we should give to the noble Lord, Lord Currie, and his colleagues, but it is a definite problem and I would be very interested to hear the Minister's response to it.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page