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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I shall resist the amendments, but the noble Lord, Lord McNally, cannot count that as a no, because I agree about the importance of the subject and shall suggest that there are better ways to deal with it. Of course it is enormously important to protect copyright content and to allow parents to protect children from harmful content, but there are other ways to do so that are better, for reasons that I shall give.

We have regulatory controls elsewhere. We have data protection law, copyright law, and criminal law for the protection of children. The amendments would concentrate on mandatory standards. They would not allow for either the technological change to which the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, referred or the possibility of self-regulation if it were to be the better route. We could have Ofcom in the position of deciding between different standards, giving advantage to some operators over others. New entrants to the market whose contribution could be very valuable could be excluded because of the mandatory controls.

There is another dimension, which is the framework of European directives that will govern regulation of communications networks and services. Those are matters for international bodies. Ofcom will not be able to impose purely national standards on the provision of those networks and services.

There are lots of technical and network-based solutions, such as spam filtering and parental control options, but they are not the answer in themselves. We have to look also to the education of parents and children in the technologies, and how to avoid unsuitable material in the first place. Ofcom's work on

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media literacy, which is in the Bill, will be important. The Home Secretary has a task force on the protection of children on the Internet, which has advised the Government on public awareness campaigns.

I must resist the idea that we should require all providers of services to use particular standards or conform to particular requirements. No one solution will meet everyone's needs, and it is important that we be able to reflect both the international situation and changing technological developments. In any case, any standards imposed by Ofcom would have to be consistent with the European regulatory regime for electronic communications, including the new directive on privacy and electronic communications.

It is known that the Bill introduces four European directives, but it does not introduce that on privacy and electronic communications, which will be introduced by separate regulations under European communities legislation, precisely because we do not think it an appropriate general duty of Ofcom to enforce that. At the moment, we are consulting—we have been since the end of March—on how to implement the directive. We are also considering the results of a consultation on the implementation of the copyright directive.

We are active on the subject. We think that there are ways to deal with it, but we do not think that the amendment is the right way.

Baroness Wilcox: I thank the Minister for giving me such a full answer, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord McNally, for sharing my concerns. As to whether the Bill is the right place to deal with them, I do not know. We have had a lot of pressure on the subject, and I am quite concerned about the ways of implementing the directive from the European Union to which the Minister referred. For the moment, I will withdraw the amendment and take time to consider the right place for it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote moved Amendment No. 11:

    Page 3, line 29, at end insert—

"(g) the availability of adequate means for considering and, where necessary, redressing complaints from the public about alleged lapses from the standards referred to in paragraphs (e) and (f)"

The noble Baroness said: The amendments are directed to what many of us still regard as a fundamental flaw in the structure of the Bill. That flaw is the threatened removal of a unique, and uniquely important, feature of our present system—the existence of an entirely independent lay body, which has the duty to consider independently certain complaints from members of the public, either about lapses in standards of taste and decency, or about infringements of privacy or unfair treatment by broadcasters. It is also a body which has the independent power to redress such injustices.

That is what we have now, and we have it not by accident, but as a result of changes deliberately and progressively required by Parliament during the past

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two decades. Moreover, we have in place today an experienced group of independent people, well served by an experienced staff, who have been doing this job for a number of years and who have won the respect of complainants and broadcasters alike. The amendments are designed to ensure that those qualities and achievements are not lost but are built on and maintained.

The amendment would specifically strengthen the public service aspects of the Bill by setting out in the Bill the remit and powers—neither of which is spelt out in detail—of the content board. Reference is made only to its exercising "influence" over Ofcom's decisions. That, frankly, is not enough. A more specifically defined remit is needed to reinforce the content board's public service obligations and its powers in dealing with any breaches.

As your Lordships know, the Bill seeks lighter touch regulation, with far more onus on broadcasters to self- regulate on content and fairness and privacy. It is, however, unrealistic to suppose that every complainant with a serious grievance will be any more content in the future with answers given by the broadcasters than they were in the past. History clearly points to a likely need for a more structured, independent approach to address at least some complaints when broadcasters and citizens refuse to be reconciled. That is what is proposed in the amendment.

The history of this issue, as I said, is important and speaks for itself. The principle of scrutiny by lay people, independent of broadcasters and regulators, was first enshrined in the Broadcasting Act 1980, which created the Broadcasting Complaints Commission to deal with issues of fairness and privacy. The Broadcasting Act 1990, which created the Independent Television Commission, not only retained the Broadcasting Complaints Commission but added the Broadcasting Standards Council to handle issues of violence, taste and decency.

It should be stressed that throughout that period broadcasters had their own standards codes. Those codes were required to reflect the statutory commission's own codes. Nevertheless, complaints about taste and decency and fairness and privacy have continued to keep both commissions and the ITC fairly busy.

My experience—I declare an interest as a previous chairman of the Broadcasting Standards Council and then of the commission—is that the wholly lay membership of these bodies, which were recently merged into the Broadcasting Standards Commission, introduced a new and important dimension into the resolution, where practical, of complaints. The independence of the adjudicators provided reassurance to many of those complaining. That reassurance can be attributed, at least in part, to the power of the Broadcasting Standards Commission, like its two predecessors, to order the publicising on air or in print—or, indeed, both—of its critical findings.

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The Bill currently provides for the application of standards that provide adequate protection to members of the public and other persons from unfair treatment and unwarranted infringement of privacy. Similarly, protection is to be provided from offensive and harmful material. However, in neither case is there any indication of how complaints about those matters will be handled. This is too important an issue to be entrusted to Ofcom if no specific duties or enforcement powers are provided for it in the Bill. The amendment is intended to fill that important gap. I beg to move.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: I support this amendment. I, too, was chairman of the Broadcasting Complaints Commission, which dealt with unfairness and infringements of privacy. Enormous distress was caused among many people whose privacy or fairness had been infringed. This amendment is very like the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, about public services, although it involves a more minor situation. Enormous distress has been caused to people who suffered in this regard.

We want a statement of principle like those in written constitutions, but that does not occur. If it does not occur, distress could occur. The body is very amorphous; it deals with competition and commercial matters. We must have in it something that helps individuals. In my four or five years on the commission, I saw people who were enormously distressed by a programme that had caused them trouble. I cannot understand why the Government are not prepared to place in the early part of the Bill a principle that protects individuals.

The amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, raises a point of principle, which is related to the individual. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, or the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, will not say no to this amendment; it is most innocuous and it would care for people. We should care for people. In my four or five years on the commission, I saw people whose lives were absolutely destroyed. There is nothing in the Bill that fulfils the aim of the noble Baroness's amendment. Surely the Minister can say "Hello" to this amendment.

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