Select Committee on Liaison Third Report


APPENDIX 3

Letter and memorandum from Baroness Howe of Idlicote to the Chairman of Committees (previously published in the First Report of the Liaison Committee, 2001-02, HL Paper 84)

PROPOSAL FOR THE HOUSE OF LORDS TO SET UP A COMMUNICATIONS SELECT COMMITTEE

As you suggested when we spoke last week, I am enclosing details of a proposal, which I'd be most grateful if you could put before the members of the Liaison Committee, that the House of Lords should establish a Communications Select Committee. The idea has arisen in light of the Communication industry's ever widening remit, rapidly growing economic and cultural importance to the United Kingdom, and not least because of the considerable expertise and experience of the industry that exists in this House.

As I explained, I wanted to test the amount of support that might exist amongst the 100 or so peers within that particular group before putting the suggestion formally to your Committee and, hopefully, for the idea to receive wider circulation and debate. So far I have had replies from over half of those to whom I wrote on 14th January, with the vast majority supporting both the proposal and its outlined remit. (I have, of course, been warned that resources for Select Committees are scarce, and that there may well be a queue of equally deserving suggestions ahead of this one!)

Enclosed is both a copy of the letter I wrote to each Peer [not printed], and the paper setting out a reasoned case for the establishment of a Communications' Select Committee. Perhaps, however, I might mention that although the proposal is made now, I see the ideal time to set up such a Committee, if the idea should eventually be approved, might well be when the proposed Communications Bill (due to be debated in the Spring of this year) is finally on the statute book. Up to that point their Lordships' expertise will no doubt be fully occupied with that Bill's Pre-legislative Scrutiny Committee, and with the process of the legislation itself.

I obviously hope the suggestion will gain your Committee's approval, and if so, I should be most grateful for advice as to what further steps need to be taken.

5 February 2002

PROPOSED COMMUNICATIONS SELECT COMMITTEE

REASONS FOR ESTABLISHMENT

1. Due to almost continuous technological innovation and change in the last 20 years, the whole business of communications is of increasing importance in all our lives, whether as citizens or consumers. Quite apart from its economic importance, we rely on it for information, entertainment and education. It helps mould our culture, our attitude and reaction to events, and we have a vital interest in its accuracy and impartiality — and thus in its ownership, management and control.

2. Moreover, the industry's contribution to the UK economy is considerable and growing at a faster rate than any other part of the economy. The Government White Paper on "A New Future for Communications" reported that UK creative industries generate revenue approaching £60 billion a year, contributing 4% to GDP, whilst the telecommunications industry generates revenues of £3 I billion and contributes 2% to GDP.

3. As another example of the industry's importance, the power of the media to destroy reputation — where inaccurate or biased information is used — is arguably far greater than that of the Courts to protect them. Human Rights issues for individuals or organisations have, quite rightly, a higher profile since the European Convention of Human Rights became part of UK domestic law. A reformed House of Lords, with an even greater complement of independent peers, could play an increasingly important part in assessing and advising upon the impact of such changes. Moreover, even during the last five years, communication matters have been debated in the House on no less than 21 occasions — not including the time devoted to the current OFCOM Paving Bill.

4. These issues become all the more challenging with the spread of international and multimedia ownership. So too because of the overlap between UK controls — statutory, self-regulatory and common law — and those of the European Union; and in other countries from which communications to UK citizens and consumers may increasingly originate.

5. The House of Lords already contains peers with considerable experience of, and expertise in, the Communications Industry. (96 have had either career involvement in the sector or have listed communications as a 'special interest'.) A tacit acknowledgement of this expertise is the fact that at least the last two broadcasting Acts have been introduced in the Lords.

6. The creation of a Communications Select Committee, able to require attendance of appropriate witnesses, could have particular value in informing policy development in this area. As an example of this, with the OFCOM Act (and its sister Act, expected later this year), a Lords Select Committee could be especially useful—not least in the assessment, pre and post the BBC's Charter Review—of whether the BBC's particular relationship with OFCOM is working in the public interest.

7. The Government's emphasis (in 'The House of Lords, Completing the Reform') is on using the reinforced independence, expertise and experience of a reformed Second Chamber more effectively, but without duplicating or undermining the House of Commons' primacy. Whilst rejecting the setting up of a "... nexus of departmental select committees like those in the Commons . . .", the Government sees "... the second chamber (as) better placed to examine cross-cutting issues." (P. 11 para 13 in Supporting Documents.) A Lords Select Committee of the kind here proposed, would be addressing exactly such cross-cutting issues as would fall outside the remit of any one Commons departmental select committee.

PROPOSED COMMUNICATIONS SELECT COMMITTEE — REMIT.

Possible areas of coverage suggested so far:

—  All broadcasting media and telex: radio and television — terrestrial, cable and satellite.

—  All aspects of the Internet and telecommunications (including mobile telephones.)

—  Newspaper and periodical publishing.

—  Film and video.

—  Advertising.

Coverage to include ownership, licensing, control and management.

A relatively wide remit may be thought necessary, because of the rapidly developing cross ownership and interactivity — broadband etc — between all methods of communications.


 
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