Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, first, I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Peston, that the report is neither a spoof nor a wind-up. It is the work of the Liaison Committee. As noble Lords will see, the committee was not unanimous in wishing to set up an additional European Union sub-committee. It agreed to do so only with the accompanying recommendation about reducing the number of members of the committee from 12 to 10. At present, there are six European Union sub-committees. They are not all up to strength, but, if they were, they would involve 72 noble Lords. There will now be seven sub-committees of 10, adding up to 70.

The committee was conscious of the additional work of committees in train at the moment. A new statutory instruments committee is to be set up in the new Session. There are pre-legislative scrutiny committees for several Bills, and the number is likely to increase. There is also, of course, the finance sub-committee, to which the noble Lord, Lord Peston, referred, not to mention the Select Committee on the Speakership of the House that is due to be set up later this week.

The noble Lord, Lord Peston, made a second point about whether reports should be recommended for debate or information. That was answered by the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, to whom I am grateful for his intervention. I am grateful that he is happy with what the Liaison Committee has come up with.

1 Jul 2003 : Column 737

In response to the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, I must say that I have no research into attendance at committees. So far as I am aware, there has not been a problem finding a quorum, whatever that may be. We can look into it. No doubt, the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, will wish to do that in respect of the European Union sub-committees.

The noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, also, I think, largely answered the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe. The noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, referred to a membership of 700 in the House. The active membership of the House is considerably fewer than that.

The noble Lord, Lord Barnett, asked for more time for debates. I am sure that the usual channels will have heard that request. I hope that they will be able to respond to it. All the report asks is that the committee exercises restraint in the number of reports recommended for debate, does not insist that all reports should be debated and agrees that some should be only for the information of the House. I hope I have answered most of the questions. I commend the Motion to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Sunday Working (Scotland) Bill

3.30 p.m.

Lord Hogg of Cumbernauld: My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Therefore, unless any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.

Moved, That the order of commitment be discharged.—(Lord Hogg of Cumbernauld.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Marine Safety Bill

Lord Donaldson of Lymington: My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Therefore, unless any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.

Moved, That the order of commitment be discharged.—(Lord Donaldson of Lymington.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Communications Bill

3.31 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now further considered on Report.

1 Jul 2003 : Column 738

Moved, That the Bill be further considered on Report.—(Lord McIntosh of Haringey.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Viscount Astor moved Amendment No. 109:


    After Clause 195, insert the following new clause—


"DUTY OF OFCOM IN RELATION TO THE BBC'S NEW SERVICES
(1) Prior to the Secretary of State approving under the Charter or the Agreement the provision by the BBC of any new service or changes to an existing service whether or not a broadcasting or programme supply service it shall be the duty of OFCOM to prepare and publish a report commenting on whether the proposed new service or changes to the existing service will satisfy the objectives set out in subsection (2).
(2) The objectives referred to in subsection (1) are—
(a) the new service or the changes to the existing service are compatible with the BBC's primary public service role as set out in the public purposes of the BBC or any of the services it provides as set out in those documents;
(b) that the value to the public of the new service or changes to an existing service will be proportionate to the likely impact on the market;
(c) that the new service will be universally accessible within a reasonable period of time free at the point of use;
(d) that the new service or the changes to the existing service will represent value for money for licence fee payers.
(3) It shall be the duty of OFCOM—
(a) as soon as practicable after the end of the period of twelve months beginning with the commencement of this section; and
(b) as soon as practicable after the end of each subsequent period as may be selected by OFCOM for the purposes of this section,
to satisfy, for that period, the review and reporting obligations of subsection (4).
(4) The review and reporting obligations are—
(a) an obligation to carry out a review of the extent to which new services provided by the BBC and changes to existing services—
(i) comply with the terms of the approval granted by the Secretary of State for such new services or changes to existing services; and
(ii) satisfy the objectives set out in subsection (2);
(b) an obligation to prepare a report on the matters found on the review.
(5) In this section— "Charter" means the Royal Charter for the Continuance of the British Broadcasting Corporation of May 1996 and any renewal or replacement thereof; "Agreement" means any agreement made (whether before or after the coming into force of this section) between the BBC and the Secretary of State to regulate the provision of the BBC's services and the carrying on by the BBC of other activities for purposes connected with the provision of those services.
(6) In this section for the purposes of the review and reporting obligations of OFCOM "new services" shall mean all new services approved (whether before or after the coming into force of this section) by the Secretary of State under the Charter or the Agreement."

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I shall not move or speak to Amendment No. 110 in the light of our previous debate on the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Gordon. My amendment is long, but its purpose

1 Jul 2003 : Column 739

is short and simple. As currently drafted, approval for new BBC services lies solely with the Secretary of State. My amendment would ensure that before the Secretary of State can approve any new BBC service Ofcom must review, first, whether the service is compatible with the BBC's public service remit; secondly, whether it represents good value for licence fee payers; and, thirdly, its potential impact on the wider broadcasting market. That is the most important aspect of the amendment.

Ofcom is well placed to advise on those issues, and any such review would be of benefit to the Secretary of State in reaching a decision. The reason Ofcom is so suitable is that, as your Lordships are aware—and it bears repetition many times—other broadcasters also have public service remits: ITV, Channel 4, and so on. They are therefore regulated by Ofcom, so any new service from the BBC in the new area affects their channels and their public service remit.

In the past new BBC services have resulted from negotiation, or—perhaps more aptly—complicated horse trading between the BBC and the Secretary of State with the trade-off of new services, licence fee increases, and so on. Ofcom's involvement would make the process more open and accountable and the public interest would be better served by it. I must stress that nothing in my amendment would bring the BBC under Ofcom; it purely allows Ofcom to advise the Secretary of State when she makes a decision on new services for the BBC. I beg to move.

Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, we support the amendment.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the amendment is an odd hybrid between the approval of new services by the Secretary of State under the terms of the BBC's charter and agreement, and Ofcom. I am not sure that it makes a huge difference to what will happen in practice, but there are some difficulties in the way that it has been framed. It seeks to bring the process for approving new BBC services within the statutory framework, although the Secretary of State would continue to grant the approval for new BBC services or changes to existing ones under the BBC charter and agreement.

A statutory requirement would be placed on Ofcom to prepare a report on whether BBC new service proposals satisfied certain objectives. There would be a duty on Ofcom to review and report periodically on the extent to which new and changed BBC services complied with the relevant approval, and the objects mentioned in the amendment.

I am sure that, having been involved in broadcasting legislation in the past, the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, is aware that the amendment conflicts with the principle that the BBC is not, generally speaking, regulated by statute. It has a special status as a chartered body with a special relationship to Parliament. As I said, it is anomalous that the amendment leaves the grant of approval to be carried

1 Jul 2003 : Column 740

out under the charter or agreement but makes statutory provision for the process. I might understand it the other way round, but not this way round.

Let us be clear: new BBC services are already subject to rigorous assessment by the Secretary of State—anyone who has followed the process of approval of BBC3 and BBC4 will be aware of that. The guidelines provide for full public consultation. They set out the factors to which the Secretary of State has regard in taking her decision. We always take into account the views of the ITC and the OFT—the ITC, at any rate, will be subsumed within Ofcom. The guidelines are published, and the amendment draws on them. It is well drafted in the sense that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

In future, Ofcom will have an important role in the approval process for new BBC services. Ofcom will be consulted on any new BBC service proposals and on any reviews of existing BBC services. The Secretary of State is committed to an independent review of the BBC's new digital television and radio services in 2004, and she is committed to the involvement of Ofcom in those reviews. I believe that that is what the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, is looking for. We are not persuaded that formal provision is needed to ensure that Ofcom plays an appropriate role in relation to the approval of new BBC services, or changes to existing services.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page