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It is important when we have before us that rare thing--a Bill which enables us to look at telecommunications licences--to consider how we intend to allow for the provision of ASDL throughout the country. This must be done in a way which does not result in the social exclusion of large parts of the countryside, as it may if we are to rely on the current system of telecommunications licences. Again, amending this Bill may not be the best way to achieve that, but we ought at least to know, while we have this opportunity in front of us, that this is not the occasion on which we should be trying to do so because the Government have other plans for making sure that ASDL will be available at distances greater than three miles from BT main exchanges.
The obvious way of doing this is to carry it on the masts which already litter the countryside to provide mobile communications. If the ASDL reached them through what are mainly radio links, it could run out from them to neighbouring households who wish to pay for it. It is important, particularly as farming declines and probably will continue to decline over the long term as an employer, that we enable employment in the countryside and in remote areas which are reliant at the moment on hill farming. A crucial factor in being able to run a modern business, from Aberystwyth or the hills above, is communications. If you cannot get ASDL because you are ten miles from the nearest BT exchange, that part of the countryside is effectively going to be sterilised for business development. We need to understand now how the Government are planning to tackle this problem.
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: This is a matter which the Government take very seriously indeed, coming as it does at the heart of our plans to give everyone in the country access to these new technologies. The subject is vital, though not a matter for this particular Bill and there will be opportunities to come back to the subject over the next year. We hope then to be able to put forward some concrete ideas to deal with the issue. I should like to put on record that I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising it.
Baroness Buscombe had given notice of her intention to move Amendment No. 33:
Page 15, line 11, after ("appoint;") insert ("; that day being not less than six months after the publication of the statutory instrument, during which period the Secretary of State shall consult businesses, bodies and persons likely to be interested in it").
The noble Baroness said: The Minister has already spoken this afternoon in relation to his intention to bring forward, on Report, an amendment which deals on the face of the Bill with the need for a broad, consultative approach to the provision of a register of approved providers of cryptographic services. In the light of his comments, I shall not move this amendment.
Lord Sainsbury of Turville moved Amendment No. 34:
Page 15, line 12, at end insert--
("( ) An order shall not be made for bringing any of Part I of this Act into force for any purpose unless a draft of the order has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House.").
The noble Baroness said: I rise to speak to Amendment No. 35. Because the technology and the marketplace are moving so rapidly, any regulations should be subject to an annual review. If the Government are unable effectively to oversee implementation of Part I and with the right safeguards in place on a voluntary basis, well within a three year period, they will have failed the industry and all who are interested in it. We should like to see the Government demonstrate their confidence in the sound and exciting development of the electronic communications environment and the ability of the e-commerce industry to self-regulate by reducing the prospect of a statutory scheme from five years to three. I beg to move.
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for setting out the reasoning behind her amendment. This issue is of course not new. It was raised during our Second Reading debate and in Committee in another place. I note the arguments for
The market is immature and it is only right that we keep the possibility of introducing a statutory scheme in reserve at least for the medium term. The question is for how long the option should be retained for introducing a statutory scheme. We have good reason to choose five years as the sunset period. It is not a figure plucked at random. The AEB has estimated that the T Scheme will be operational in the third-quarter of this year. Allowing for some slippage, this could mean that the scheme is not fully operational until almost a year after Royal Assent. It may well take a year or so after that for the scheme to bed down, for sufficient service providers to seek and gain approval, for approved services providers to have sufficient customers and for any initial problems to have been ironed out.
The amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, would mean that we would have to take a decision on whether to implement a statutory scheme before we had given the T Scheme a chance to iron out any teething troubles. If there were initial problems the Government may come under pressure to introduce the statutory scheme, whereas with a longer period on which to assess the situation the problems may be satisfactorily addressed. On the other hand, if we ignore the early problems and, despite them, let the statutory powers lapse, then we may come to regret such a decision.
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