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Lord McNally: My Lords, I support the amendment. I also associate myself with the general welcome to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, in his new role. It comes as something of a culture shock after dealing with the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone; it is a little like being invited to tea by Lady Penelope and finding Tony Soprano waiting for you when you arrive. Nevertheless, I am sure that the Minister will address himself to his new task with the open-minded flexibility for which we have come to know him in his long-standing role in the Whips' Office.
The amendment is deep in the philosophy of the Bill. The pre-legislative scrutiny committee came to the conclusion that, although many of the Bill's proposals to inject vigorous competition into the industry were welcome, there was a need for balance that did not and would not exist unless responsibilities were laid down in the specific duties of Ofcom to protect the rights of the citizen.
The amendment would take nothing away from the desired objective of the Prime Minister and the No. 10 policy unit to create a dynamic regime for the communications industry, but it would remind us that the very reason we have a Communications Bill rather than leaving matters simply to competition and enterprise legislation is that communications is different. It properly redresses the balance that makes communications different, and so would make the Bill all the better for its insertion.
Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, I support the amendment. Those of us who served on the Joint Committee tabled a considerable number of amendments in Committee that really covered all the matters we felt had not previously been dealt with adequately by the Government. I am sure that the Minister, whom I too welcome to his new position, will be glad to see that on this occasion far fewer amendments have been tabled in the names of the group that has been described as the "Gang of Four"those of us from different parts of the House serving on the Joint Committee.
The amendments that remain are those that we all feel are still important. The fact that we are narrowing our field of fire may indicate to other Members of the House who have not followed the Bill in quite so much detail that there are still a numberquite a small numberof major issues to which we attach importance. It is on that basis that I support the amendment.
I want to make a couple of other points with reference to what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, who spoke in Committee on the relevant group of amendments; at that stage, the amendment was grouped with others. She said that accepting the amendment would make "no legal difference whatever", and went on:
Bearing in mind the strongly held views of those of us who served on the Joint Committee, the widely held views expressed on the previous occasion by Members from all parts of the Committee, and the amendments that have now been made to try to deal with at least one of the points made, I hope that the Minister will feel able to accept the amendment.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, the situation is very hopeful. What stands out in my mind from Committee is that comments made in the first two debatesthe second was on an amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, on public service broadcastingwere crucial to the successindeed, I would argue the actual viabilityof the legislation.
Three issues predominated: first, the impossibility of co-equality, which is not mentioned in the Bill but is nevertheless glaringly implicit in the Government's previously revised Clause 3(1); secondly, the crucial importance of giving Ofcom a principal duty, right up front, to consider the "public (the citizen) interest"; and, thirdly, the growing recognition that what is distinctive about British broadcasting, contributing to its original and continuing pre-eminence globally, is the enshrined concept of public service broadcasting. I hope that what I have heardthat we are not able to vote on the amendmentis wrong. That would be a great disappointment to many noble Lords. We very much want Amendment No. 1 to be agreed to.
This time, the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, and his colleagues have tabled an amendment of even more compelling substance. I am sure that it will get even greater support from both sides of the House. He and his colleagues from the pre-legislative committeeI say this not as one of them, but as a groupie for that system and what it has producedare to be warmly congratulated on the considerable efforts they have put into arguing the case for this and other changes to the Bill prior to Report. I have very little doubt that we shall all have cause to be grateful to the noble Lord in the years ahead. I wholeheartedly support the amendment.
Lord Borrie: My Lords, I have a great deal of sympathy with the amendment before us today, as, indeed, I did when it was discussed in Committee. However, I did not speak on this amendment at that stage because I was not sure whether or not it was unnecessary.
The amendments have, as it were, been improved by Amendment No. 14, which is, as the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, said, meant to deal with the then Minister's objection to the use of the word "citizen". But I understand that the main argument for these amendments combined is to ensure that Ofcom will have concern not only for the economic considerations of the interests of the consumer and the way that competition can assist the consumer but also for the interests of the individualthe citizen, if one likes to call him thatin terms of the quality of what is provided and especially in terms of the public service obligations, which were emphasised by my noble friend Lord Puttnam and others elsewhere in the debates on the Committee stage.
However, I am torn between supporting the amendment and, on the other hand, feeling that perhaps it is not necessary. Clause 3(1) sets out two duties. The first comes before the second because, of course, one must come before the other if two duties are set forth. But no distinction is made between the duty to further the interests of consumers and so on, which happens to be in Clause 3(1)(a), and the duty to further the interests of the community as a whole in relation to communication matters. I do not know what the second one means unless it is to favour quality and public service obligations. Therefore, I believe that, as the Bill stands, the obligations of Ofcom go beyond that of economic concerns, and I rather doubt whether the persistence of my noble friend Lord Puttnam and others on this matter is really necessary.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, I, for one, could not disagree more strongly with what the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, has just said. Before I start my intervention, which will be very short, I want to say that I was not sure what prompted the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, to find herself in a hopeful position. If it is a hopeful position, I do not share it with her at present and I have no prospect of doing so unless or until I hear that the Government are prepared to move on this amendment.
I, for one, regard the amendment as being of paramount importance. I do not really mind about the verbiage attaching to itwhether one is talking about the "customer" or the "consumer" or about the "market" or the other word for it. I have been persuaded as to the importance of the amendment by two speakers on the far side of the House. The first is the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, who wishes to provide Ofcom with an unambiguous basis from which to address even the most complicated issues which will come within its remit. I do not believe that it can be put more clearly than that and I accept it entirely.
The other source which persuaded me to see the light was, oddly enough, the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, who explained in words that I fully understood just how difficult the position of Ofcom would be. She said:
In reality, such a balancing act, if it can be called that, by the Government is itself a slight deception. I believe the Government must be well aware that the forces of the market are such that 99 times out of 100 the real pressure of short-term demands, with the full support of the media moguls, would be more than sufficient to win the day. Supporters of the amendment fear that that position will be infinitely weakened by the pressures that the market and those who control the mediathe moguls of television and other mediawill be able to marshal against it.
The consumer and the citizen are two sides of the same coin. All of us are both from time to time, but the consumer will almost always take a short-term point of view. In our time, we badly need reinforcement for the long-term view. I submit that the amendment would give Ofcom the necessary basis from which to view its and our problems. I very much hope that the amendment will be accepted. If the Government do not accept it or move substantially towards it and if the noble Lord, Lord Puttnamonce again, I acknowledge readily our indebtedness to himis not satisfied, I hope that he will
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