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Mr. Boswell: I suspect that my hon. Friend has in mind--although I may be wrong--the transition from analogue to digital signals. I notice him nodding. He has added a valuable point.

It is all very well to validate existing licences. There were some exchanges in Committee on this matter, and I understand the Government's argument that they do not want to destabilise people who have to invest quite a lot without giving them some assurance of reasonable security of tenure. It does not seem right that a licence should constitute what might be termed a life tenancy of a bit of the spectrum, regardless of how well it has been used or of whether it can be used more efficiently or moved elsewhere.

That is a difficult balance to strike. Given that there is congestion in some areas, we have come across a very valuable resource that is available naturally through the operation of the spectrum and the electromagnetic waves. We must use the whole of it to best effect. It may not be such a good idea to rely simply on incremental changes when additional parts of the spectrum become due.

I shall rehearse the new clauses in this group--although, as they are clear, they speak for themselves. New clause 2 gives the Secretary of State the power to reallocate any part of the electromagnetic spectrum that he considers is not used efficiently. That is a rather generous power--as the Minister knows, we are extremely generous with our offers to Ministers when we think that is appropriate. In this case, we are offering Ministers a significant power of reallocation.

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The House will not be surprised to learn that the other new clauses are slightly more qualifying. They are designed to stimulate debate and discover whichbits tickle the Government's fancy--metaphorically speaking--and about which they might be disposed to provide some assurances. New clause 3 states:


which is consistent with the broad approach of the Bill--


    "in return for that licence holder relinquishing that part of the spectrum that they have previously been allocated."

That is an attempt to produce a better grouping or a more efficient use of the total spectrum. It offers a power to swap between one user and another.

New clause 4 gives the Secretary of State the power to buy back spectrum from a licence holder. At this point, I remind the House--because I failed to mention it a moment ago--that all licences are not absolute and as of right, in the sense that they could be revoked tomorrow. I think that that would be an unreasonable act--to use the lawyers' term--in the present circumstances. However, it would certainly be much more reasonable if the Secretary of State were given the power to say, "We really want you out of this bit of the spectrum, and we are prepared to pay for you to move"--in the same way that a landlord may reach an agreement with a tenant to move.

Dr. Palmer: I am puzzled by the fact that the new clauses give considerable power to the Secretary of State to act pretty arbitrarily--although the hon. Gentleman said that he thought that that would be unreasonable. There is no reference to any need to provide adequate notice, in contrast with the provisions of an amendment that we shall discuss later. It appears that new clause 6, in particular, would allow the Secretary of State to reallocate the spectrum for quite subjective reasons without compensation or notice. I wonder whether that is what the Opposition intend. If so, it seems to be a rather Marxist policy from the new Conservative party.

Mr. Boswell: I will not say that the hon. Gentleman is beavering away like a terrier, because that would be a mixed metaphor. However, he is working like a terrier in an attempt to create distinctions without difference and difficulties where none exists. The fact is, as will be fairly familiar to the House--I am now at least modestly familiar with Committee work, although I would not like to make too great a claim--Oppositions propose many things to tickle a Government's fancy. It is the groundbait rather than the single fly that is being cast over the Government. The hon. Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer), who served on the Standing Committee, has technical expertise and a real interest in this subject. I hope that he will feel able to contribute to the debate and will respond appropriately to particular points.

Mr. Ian Bruce rose--

Mr. Boswell: I shall give way to my hon. Friend in a moment, but I was concluding my remarks on the intervention of the hon. Member for Broxtowe. The hon. Gentleman does not have to follow every last word that we have put in our new clauses. If he is producing a corrective measure in the interests of civil liberties or

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natural justice--not that I would expect Ministers by definition to behave unreasonably--he would have my support in amending our new clauses.

Mr. Bruce: The argument of the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer) is valid and I put my hand up to being the person who did the sketchy drafting. I was congratulated on its clear language and the fact that it was not beset by regulation and all the rest. If I had thought for a moment that we could get the Government to do something about that, I would have taken much more care with the new clause. I assure my hon. Friend that I would certainly support the Government if they said that they wanted a little more time, in order to adjourn the House and produce better clauses, to make an even better Bill than the one that we suggest.

Mr. Boswell: I congratulate my hon. Friend on his intervention, because he has killed two birds with one stone. He has managed to provide an explanation for the hon. Member for Broxtowe and to support my argument--that is welcome because of the consensus about the way in which we approach this matter.

I am anxious to get on and not to interrupt the flow of the argument. We are rehearsing the various possibilities that the Minister will have been considering in papers put to her, or on which she might commission papers. It would always be possible to do a number of things--if not in this legislation, then subsequently. It would be difficult to do so in the Bill, because it has already been considered by another place.

New clause 3 would give the power to reallocate by exchange or buying in, and new clause 4 would provide the buying-in power. New clause 5--I am going through the new clauses seriatim for convenience--is radically different because it does not involve the intervention of the Secretary of State, although I suspect that some legislative facility would have to be provided. The new clause provides for a secondary market in the spectrum; that is an attractive and interesting concept. One does not necessarily need to get into the agonising issues of auction which we discussed earlier. However, if one wants to use the market modestly to move spectrum about between a willing buyer and a willing seller, the Secretary of State should not frustrate that.

Mr. Ian Taylor: This new clause is important. It takes us back to the principle of the Bill, which is to promote greater efficiency of use of a scarce resource. One matter that needs further consideration is how that can best be achieved. As long as there are rules against hoarding, the secondary market could be a useful way to promote the very efficiency gain for which we are looking in the sector.

Mr. Boswell: I am grateful for my hon. Friend's support. The Government should think about this matter with the caveat that he rightly introduced, because we do not want people to hoard capacity. Indeed, a straight buying-in or confiscatory power might be necessary in cases of hoarding.

To continue my tour through the new clauses selected--of course, I shall not advert to the others, Mr. Deputy Speaker--I come to new clause 9, which is the more authoritarian version of the reallocation point.

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New clause 11 concerns the promotion of the free market and is based on the Bill's principle, as my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor) rightly said. It proposes an administrative, rather than a market solution--reallocation by the Secretary of State.

New clause 12 raises an interesting consideration, as it relates to whether particular wavelengths are appropriate for particular services. I am advised that some wavelengths require a specific electromagnetic wavelength, whereas others are much more flexible, so to speak. As we want the spectrum to be used to best effect, it would be sensible to be able to reallocate. We do not specify how that should be done, but we do specify that the aim should be


I have a feeling that my hon. Friends who have expertise in this matter will want to speak further on that matter.

New clause 15 represents an interesting deregulatory concept--or, to use the Government's current terminology, a better regulatory concept. If low-power transmitters are not likely, or in any way disposed, to upset other users, why are they required to have a licence at all? I do not know whether specific exceptions exist, but the Government should consider whether some would be appropriate.

New clause 19--I have almost reached the end of my list--would provide for a power to police those who pinch a bit of spectrum without authorisation, or those who have a bit of spectrum but operate in breach of the licence conditions for that spectrum. That may be rather authoritarian, in that it could lead to punishments, one of which could be the withdrawal of the spectrum that was abused--of course, if access had not been authorised, it could not be withdrawn, in which case other punishments would be appropriate.

The new clause begins to address how we should deal with people who intrude on other people's frequencies. It does not provide for an absolute power, because, even under our rather restrictive drafting, it prescribes the need for regulations, which would be debatable in the House. That would be a safeguard.

New clause 19 is also designed to probe the Government's intentions if there is some market perspective, rather than only an allocation of licences. We want to know whether the Government believe that, where money and value are at stake and people have paid for their piece of the spectrum, there could be better safeguards to ensure that the market worked properly.

New clause 20, the final one in the group, is again somewhat different. It would provide the Secretary of State with a regulatory power to


We could hardly be less specific or prescriptive about what those delivery systems might be--they could be anything from optical fibres to carrier pigeons. There might be cases in which people could be prevented from using the spectrum, if access is scarce, because they could communicate in other perfectly sensible ways. That would be flexible, rather than prescriptive.

This is a rather extended group of new clauses, but they are different from one another. I readily concede to the hon. Member for Broxtowe that they are not perfectly

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drafted; they are designed to raise a series of issues relating to the broad objective which we all share--better use of the spectrum--and to elicit a Government response.

Our concern is that this exercise cannot operate only by the allocation of additional portions of the spectrum, however lucrative or attractive that may be to Government. The Government must consider whether the spectrum is used to best effect--indeed, the advisory group must encourage them to do so. That may be achieved through a more controlled use ofmarket mechanisms, supported, where appropriate, by Government intervention either to take in bits of spectrum that are not properly used or to move the spectrum about. If I were to identify the new clause of the greatest salience, new clause 5, which establishes the principle of a secondary market is perhaps the most productive for the future. Given what is now a welcome acceptance of the market economy by the Labour party--we need to see how that works in practice--I hope that the Minister will think long and hard about ways in which she can assure us of her interest. Perhaps we can move towards future legislation that will establish that principle.


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