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Mr. Ivor Caplin (Hove): Hear, hear.

Mr. Bruce: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who has just come into the Chamber.

Mr. Caplin: I have come in specially.

Mr. Bruce: I am pleased to hear that he came in specially. I am even more grateful because, obviously, all this will make the newspaper headlines.

I shall be brief. An aspect to which we drew attention by tabling the new clauses and amendments was that we felt that there was ambiguity as to which regulator did what. In Committee, I made a detailed speech about the large number of regulators. I said that, in every Bill of this nature, one regulator seems to be asked to do everything, even though it is not quite appropriate, and I said that it was difficult to choose the appropriate regulator for the purpose.

In these new clauses and amendments, we have tried to express our preferences in terms of who does what--the Office of Telecommunications or the Radiocommunications Agency. One factor is the consumer interest, which we touched on earlier. I always rely on the Director General of Telecommunications--or the two that we have had--to give us an honest answer. When he is leaving his job, no one can suggest that his comments are directed at trying to play himself in for another five years. Mr. Cruickshank's valedictory message was that the legislation should be consumer-oriented. I also think that, as well as a convergence of technology, we must ensure a convergence of regulators.

What I am saying is Labour party policy. Before the general election, Labour came to certain conclusions about reducing the number of regulators.

Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe): Can the hon. Gentleman take a little more time?

2 am

Mr. Bruce: The Whip would like me to spend a long time explaining that the Radiocommunications Agency is one agency, the Telecommunications Agency is another and they are both in new clauses 8, 13 and 14 and the amendments. I can go into more detail if the

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hon. Gentleman would like, but I would rather sit down in a couple of minutes. I hope that he will contain himself a little longer.

We must try to bring the agencies together, to ensure that we have the most appropriate agency in the short term. We have tried to draw up helpful new clauses and amendments to ensure that. In the longer term--not too long, I hope--we must try to bring the agencies together.

I should like to give a plug to a report by EURIM--I must spell that for Hansard, because I am always sent a note otherwise: E-U-R-I-M. It stands for the European Informatics Market group--I seem to be the only person who knows that. The report concluded that, instead of some 15 agencies dealing with the issues, there should be just one. That is a radical proposal, because it would require the removal of 14 director generals of other agencies. I understand the difficulties of the proposal, but I should like to flag it up in my short contribution.

We cannot look at legislation in isolation. We cannot simply say, "This is a radiocommunication; this is a telecommunication; this is broadcasting; this is satellite." They are all electromagnetic signals. They are all caught in some ways by the relevant legislation. It would be logical to bring them all together as soon as possible. That would help us to use electromagnetic spectrum in the most efficient way.

I promised to make a short speech. I hope that we can rely on the Minister to spend a bit more time telling us either that she will accept the new clauses and amendments or how she will work towards the issues that they deal with in the near future.

Mrs. Roche: I have listened carefully to the debate. It is right to have a discussion about consumers, but I hope to convince Conservative Members that the new clauses and amendments are not necessary.

New clauses 8 and 13 deal with reports by the Director General of Telecommunications. Section 55 of the Telecommunications Act 1984 requires the director general to report annually to the Secretary of State with a general survey of developments during the year, on matters falling within his functions. The Secretary of State is then required to lay the report before Parliament. Therefore, that is already laid down in the Act.

The director general also has a specific duty under section 51 to advise on licensing under the Wireless Telegraphy Act where that involves telecommunications, and to give advice to the Secretary of State on spectrum management issues. I consider, and the director general agrees, that new clause 8 is completely unnecessary, as it merely duplicates the effect of existing provisions.

New clause 13 also requires the director general to report to Parliament if he believes that the allocation of spectrum has had an anti-competitive effect, and empowers the Secretary of State to act to reallocate the spectrum, to encourage competition. The director general already has a general duty under section 3(2)(a) of the Telecommunications Act to maintain and promote effective competition in telecommunications and, under section 49, to consider any matter that relates to telecommunications services. The director general therefore already has an obligation to report to Parliament on developments in spectrum management that adversely impinge on competition.

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I understand completely where the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) is coming from; I understand his concerns, but the legislation is already in place to enable the director general to do just what the new clause would require. I consider, and the director general agrees, that the first leg of the new clause is completely unnecessary, as it merely duplicates the effect of existing provisions.

The second leg of the new clause is also unnecessary. The Secretary of State already has inherent power to allocate and reallocate spectrum and has wide discretion in the granting of licences. She may already pursue the promotion of competition in the exercise of spectrum management power. I hope that that provides some reassurance for the hon. Member for Daventry.

Amendments Nos. 4 and 11 also refer to reports from the Director General of Telecommunications. In supporting them, Conservative Members raised important issues about consumers. I emphasise, as I did in Committee, when we had a lengthy debate on a similar amendment, that the Government attach considerable importance to consumer interests both generally and in the context of spectrum pricing.

Ms Linda Perham (Ilford, North): As my hon. Friend knows, I represent a constituency where there are many licensed taxi drivers. Is she aware of how much members of the National Federation of Taxicab Associations appreciate the open, fair and constructive way in which the Government have consulted consumers and how much they appreciate the reassurances that have been given?

Mrs. Roche: I thank my hon. Friend very much for that important intervention. The Government are extremely grateful for the continuing contact that we have had with the federation and the contribution that it has made.

Mr. Lansley: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Roche: No, I want to make some progress.

The House will no doubt agree that effective spectrum management and the promotion of innovation and competition are powerful forces acting on the consumer's behalf. Effective spectrum management enables more service providers to access the spectrum. That promotes competition and innovation, which increase consumer choice and drive prices down. It is no coincidence that competition and innovation are listed in clause 2(2) as matters to which my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade is required to have particular regard. In addition, clause 2 requires the Secretary of State to have regard to economic benefit. That includes benefits for consumers. There can be no doubt, therefore, that clause 2 already provides for consumers' interest to be taken into account and will work to the benefit of consumers.

As part of the consultation process, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I would welcome the views of the Director General of Telecommunications on any aspects of proposed licence fees. We regard that as very important. When we seek that consultation, it will include the effects on consumers and other users. We shall give them the most serious consideration.

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It is appropriate to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the distinguished record of the present director general in promoting consumers' interests. Don Cruickshank has done an excellent job, and I am sure that all hon. Members wish to express their warm appreciation of his great contribution. That contribution is also recognised internationally--the director general is held in extremely high regard. However, there is no need to amend the Bill as proposed, as it already effectively requires that the director general's views be taken into account.

Because we place such weight on consumers' views, we consulted bodies representative of consumers at an earlier stage of the Bill. The National Consumer Council advised:


The Consumers Association said that it was


    "not aware of anything contained therein that we would object to".

We have also consulted, and listened to, other groups. There was mention in Committee of the views of the Joint Radio Company of the energy companies. I am pleased to say that the chairman of the JRC wrote to me afterwards, and said:


    "I am writing to express our appreciation for the extent to which the Government expressed its commitment to issues of importance to the utilities during the Committee stage of the Wireless Telegraphy Bill . . . The debate showed a very full and comprehensive understanding of our concerns and we are grateful for the assurances given."

The Telecommunications Advisory Council of the water industry also wrote confirming that it has been


    "fully supportive of the spectrum pricing process".

We are very grateful for those comments. I hope that I have provided the assurances on those points that Conservative Members were seeking.

Amendment No. 11 suffers from the serious defect that it would place an implicit duty on the director general to submit observations on the implications of all fee proposals for all consumers. If the director general decided, for whatever reason, not to express views, the Secretary of State would be prevented from making the regulations, even if they involved fee reductions. It is not acceptable that the Secretary of State should be subordinate to the director general in the way that amendment No. 11 would provide. I am sure that Opposition Members did not intend that to occur. It would place the director general in a very difficult position, and I do not believe that it is appropriate.

In summary, amendments Nos. 4 and 11 could distort the operation of spectrum pricing. As to new clause 14, I note the interest on the part of Opposition Members to put the spectrum management duties of the agency on a statutory basis. However, I cannot help but observe that the Conservative Government established the agency in 1990 under the next steps programme. The agency's aims and objectives are set out in its framework document, which is agreed by Ministers. It specifies that its mission is to facilitate access to radio spectrum of the appropriate quality, for the widest range of services, and so promote the creation of wealth, competition, quality and choice. Therefore, there is no need to have further statutory powers to define the agency's duties--and indeed to do so in the way that the new clause seeks would unnecessarily restrict the future range of operations.

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I hope that I have answered the points raised by Opposition Members, and I invite them not to press the proposed new clauses and amendments.


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