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Mr. Smith: The maintenance of regional strength will be a matter for the second, not the third, tier of regulation. It will not be a matter for self-regulation; it will be regulated directly by Ofcom. Commitments will be expected, and commitments will be held to.
As we spelled out specifically in the White Paper, we will ensure that the needs and interests of viewers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and in the regions of England, are taken fully into account by Ofcom. That will undoubtedly mean its having a regional presence.
Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon): Will the legislation be flexible enough to enable a Welsh broadcasting regulatory authority to be established? If not, how will the specific interests of Wales--particularly with regard to S4C--be taken on board? Will Ofcom have an office in Wales? Will the Secretary of State guarantee the operating freedom of S4C? Will he assure us that it will not be compromised by bureaucracy and that it will continue to be adequately funded?
Mr. Smith: We do not intend to make any change in the format of S4C, its statutory responsibilities or its funding system. We want membership of the consumers' panel to be drawn from all parts of the United Kingdom, and to include specific representation from Wales. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, Central (Mr. Doran), we intend to ensure that Ofcom takes particular account of the views, needs and wishes of people in both Scotland and Wales. Ofcom will undoubtedly have a place in the nations and regions of the United Kingdom.
Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): I welcome the unity of purpose between my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Trade and Industry and for Culture, Media and Sport. Notwithstanding what was said by the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor), it contrasts starkly with what occurred under the last Administration. In April 1996, the right hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Mrs. Bottomley) said that
May I ask my right hon. Friend what the relationship will be between Ofcom and the other regulatory bodies in relation to dominant players, especially when one of those dominant players is a large newspaper owner? Why should newspapers not be included in Ofcom's remit? May I also ask what relationship my right hon. Friend expects to develop between spectrum allocation under Ofcom, and the role of the Ministry of Defence? In peacetime, one would expect Ofcom to play a significant part.
Mr. Smith: The Ministry of Defence has its allocated spectrum. It would not be sensible to seek to take back some of that allocation on a purely temporary basis and yield it up at a time of conflict; such a system would be a nonsense. We have no intention of removing the MOD's responsibility in relation to its portion of spectrum.
The regulation of competition affairs in respect of newspapers will be governed by the pretty tough competition rules introduced by the Competition Act 1998. The role of Ofcom will be as adviser to the OFT and to the competition authorities. There is no proposal that competition policy should be relaxed in any way.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) asked the Secretary of State--he did not reply; perhaps he would like to now--who Ofcom would be answerable to and what independent powers it would have. Is it independent or is it a Ministry of truth?
Mr. Smith: The hon. Gentleman clearly has not read chapter 3, where we set out in some detail our approach to e-commerce and to the development of the internet. I hope that, as he is reading it now, he will see that that is indeed the case. He obviously was not listening when I answered the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) precisely. Ofcom will be answerable jointly to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.
Mrs. Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton): I welcome the White Paper, but is my right hon. Friend is aware that equipment that could legally describe itself as digital is being sold for as much as £2,000? What consideration has he given to some kitemark, or perhaps to bringing, through early regulation, the signal transparency to consumers that what they are buying will be able to receive the new digital communications?
Mr. Smith: My hon. Friend makes an important point. Many advertisements for televisions and for other equipment label them as digital in some shape or another although they do not receive digital television signals. We want to ensure that there is greater clarity for the consumer and that the consumer can have greater trust in the claims by manufacturers and retailers. I am in discussion with the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to find out what steps we can take to tackle that problem.
Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham): Can the Minister explain how cross-border regulation will develop as in paragraph 8.3, bearing in mind not only that many companies in satellite television, internet service provision and the rest are global rather than British, but that the Government agreed in Nice that the French should continue their national veto blocking international progress in that key area?
Mr. Smith: Basic requirements are already in place that have been agreed through the European Union. They include the television without frontiers directive and apply across the board to any Europe-based broadcaster or provider. The provisions that will apply specifically to Britain will apply to any broadcaster that is based in the United Kingdom.
Mr. Smith: It will not be for me or for government to dictate to broadcasters the precise nature of scheduling or programme content. However, what we can do, and what we do in the White Paper, is to make it very clear that, in our view, public service broadcasters--and that means not only the BBC but ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5--must be in the business of providing high-quality, varied, mixed and challenging programme schedules. They should not be going simply for the lowest common denominator of popular entertainment. Although that must of course be part of what they provide, it must not be the sole content. That principle, which is what public service broadcasting is all about, is fundamentally enshrined in the White Paper. It will be up to the BBC governors, the boards of the other public service broadcasters and Ofcom to ensure that that occurs.
Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): On behalf of the European informatics market group and the all-party parliamentary and industry information society group, of which I am chairman, I thank both the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry for their officials' co-operation with the groups. I hope that that co-operation will continue. However, I have yet to meet an official or a regulator--and I think that I have spoken to most of them--who believes that Ofcom should report to two Departments. Could both Secretaries of State please resolve the matter once and for all? The move will not be successful unless it involves only one Department.
I hope that the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport will also commit himself at least to introducing a draft Bill on the matter in this Session. Clearly, all three main parties agree on what has to be done. If we at least had a draft Bill, when the Conservatives come to power, most of the work would be done and we could move quickly to implementing the provisions.
Mr. Smith: I certainly assure the hon. Gentleman that co-operation with EURIM will continue. I also tell him that co-operation between the two Departments has been extremely good and has produced a very constructive White Paper. I see no reason why that co-operation should not continue. As for the hon. Gentleman's final point, I certainly hope that we shall be legislating much sooner than the Conservatives ever getting back into power-- a remote prospect indeed.