House of Commons
Session 1997-98
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Other Bills before Parliament
Arrangement of Clauses (Contents)

Wireless Telegraphy Bill [H.L.]
  The Bill amends the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1949 to change the basis for charging for licences under section 1 of that Act to install or use radio equipment. At present, fees are set by regulations by reference to the fully allocated costs of issuing licences. The Bill provides for fees, other than fees for licences for television reception, to be set by regulations having regard to various other factors or by auction. The Bill also makes provision for licensees' security to be enhanced and for selective financial assistance to promote the efficient use or management of the radio spectrum.
      Clause 1 sets out a general power of the Secretary of State to set fees by regulations or, to the extent that the regulations allow, to determine fees in particular cases, for the installation or use of radio equipment other than television receivers. The regulations may make different provision for different cases, provide for refunds and include transitional provisions.
      Clause 2 sets out particular matters to which the Secretary of State is to have regard in setting fees. These are the amount of spectrum available for particular services; the likely demand for spectrum for the service in question; and the desirability of promoting the efficient use and management of the spectrum, economic benefits, innovation and competition in the provision of telecommunication services.
      Clause 3 enables licences to be auctioned on the basis of a procedure set out either in regulations under this clause or in a notice issued under such regulations. Regulations may specify the licences to be auctioned; the manner of applicants' bids; the eligibility requirements to be met by applicants; the payment of deposits; the terms for granting a licence; or the requirements to be met by the auction procedure.
      Clause 4 enables the Secretary of State to fetter his discretion in the revocation or variation of licences. This will enable greater certainty to be given to licensees, subject to requirements of national security, Community obligations or international agreements. It replaces and extends section 3A of the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1949, which makes similar provision in relation to certain telecommunications services.
      Clause 5 authorises expenditure on research and development related to the efficient use or management of the radio spectrum and enables the Secretary of State, with the consent of the Treasury, to make grants for the purpose of promoting the efficient use or management of the radio spectrum.
      Clause 6 provides for regulations under the Bill to be made by statutory instrument subject to annulment. It requires the Secretary of State, before making any such regulations, to publish a notice stating the general effect of the regulations he proposes to make and to consider any representations he receives in response to the notice. An exception is included for cases of urgency.
      Clause 7 introduces Schedules 1 (minor and consequential amendments) and 2 (repeals and revocations).
      Clauses 8, 9 and 10 deal with definitions, extent, the short title and commencement.
 Financial effects of the Bill
      The Bill contains enabling powers to set fees or hold auctions. The financial effects of the Bill will depend on the content of the fees regulations or the outcome of the auctions and cannot at this stage be predicted with certainty. However on the basis of current proposals, the effect of the changes would be to increase the overall amounts paid by licensees by about £75m a year after a three year phasing-in period. In addition, auctions could raise about £500m-£1,500m over the next few years, although the precise amount would depend on the amounts of spectrum auctioned and the terms and conditions of the licences, as well as bidders' valuation of the spectrum.
      The amount of grants under clause 5 is not possible to estimate with any precision at this stage as it would depend on assessments of the individual applications.
      Government departments do not pay licence fees as such but amounts determined administratively on an extra-statutory basis.
 Effects of the Bill on public service manpower
      There would be no change in public service manpower as a result of the Bill. Adminstration of the new regime will be absorbed within the Radiocommunications Agency's existing complement.
 Business compliance cost assessment
      Based on current proposals, the Bill would result in higher licence fees for some users. However, these would be small compared with their turnover. Many small business users outside congested areas could benefit from fee reductions. The greater efficiency in the use of spectrum that the Bill would promote would enable more businesses in congested areas to benefit from gaining access to radio services and new services to be introduced more quickly.
      A full compliance cost assessment of the effect that this Bill would have on the costs of business is available to the public from Laurence Green, Radiocommunications Agency, Room LG.D.8, 1 Victoria Street, London SWIH OET.

© Parliamentary copyright 1997
Prepared 22 July 1997