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
PROPOSAL FOR THE HOUSE OF LORDS TO SET UP A COMMUNICATIONS
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
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
3. As another example of the industry's importance,
the power of the media to destroy reputation
where inaccurate or biased information 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
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
usefulnot least in the assessment, pre and post the BBC's
Charter Reviewof 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
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.
Coverage to include ownership, licensing, control
A relatively wide remit may be thought necessary,
because of the rapidly developing cross ownership and interactivity
all methods of communications.