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Mr. Ian Bruce: I thank the Minister for announcing the reduction. I am sure that my fishermen will be pleased. My hon. Friends may have prayed against the order so that it would come to the Floor of the House, or at least into a Committee, so that we could congratulate her and, perhaps, press her a bit further.

Mrs. Roche: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his ingenuity and look forward to the congratulations. I hope that I have succeeded in my attempt to persuade hon. Members of our good faith, as shown by our actions, and I remind them that the Bill contains vital safeguards against excessive fees.

Amendment No. 12 is similar to new clause 18. For exactly the reasons that I have already outlined, I advise the House not to proceed with it.

Amendments Nos. 14 and 15 concern auctions. I ask the House not to proceed with them as they would not serve a useful purpose. Hon. Members have explained them by saying that the requirement for substantial cash payments for licences would weaken licensees' financial position and ability to roll out services. I cannot accept that idea. Businesses must be the best judges of what they can afford to pay for a licence. In deciding whether to bid in an auction and determining the level of their bids, they will naturally undertake their own financial projections. They will need to balance the capital cost of setting up and rolling out a service against the expected revenue from the provision of that service. Such calculations are an essential part of the business world, and will be well understood.

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2.45 am

I must also ask the House to reject amendments Nos. 16, 17 and 18 which, as Opposition Members may intend, would emasculate the auction provisions. Perhaps I shall give hon. Members the benefit of the doubt and trust that they did not intend their amendments to have that effect, but that is what would happen. The amendments would eliminate the possibility of the most common kind of auction, in which bids are expressed as a simple cash sum, but leave open the possibility of the so-called royalty auction in which a bidder undertakes to pay a proportion of anticipated revenue.

I can see no merit in the amendments. The straightforward cash auction has been favoured in the great majority of wireless telegraphy auctions throughout the world. I accept that in some circumstances the royalty auction may have value, but the precise level of payment appropriate under a royalty auction depends on the circumstances of each individual case and to seek to specify a maximum level of payment in the Bill, as amendment No. 18 proposes, is pointless and would deprive the Secretary of State of the flexibility that will be crucial in considering which auction designs might be appropriate for the wide range of potential auction candidates.

Amendment No. 7 suffers from similar defects, and I find it hard to see the logic behind it. It would serve no useful purpose. A properly designed auction will achieve a price that balances supply and demand and, as I hope Opposition Members will agree, it would be wrong to put an artificial ceiling on that process.

It must also be borne in mind that amendment No. 7 would apply to all future auctions held on the basis of the power in clause 3. The financial ceiling would be reached sooner or later and the amendment would then rule out any further auction in the absence of amending legislation. The amendment is both unnecessary and unworkable, and I invite the House to reject it.

As for amendment No. 10, the arguments in favour of auctions as a method of assigning licences should be well understood by Opposition Members. After all, it was their own party's White Paper that proclaimed the importance of using the method.

Legislating at Community level on such a detailed technical matter as auction procedures would be unwise and inconsistent with the principles of subsidiarity. The licensing directive already provides a sufficient Community framework for auctions, and I urge the House not to proceed with the amendment.

Finally, I was asked about radio fixed access. Those services are relatively new entrants to the telecommunications market and we recognise their pioneering work in increasing competition and choice in telecommunications. To avoid disrupting their business plans, and in the interests of promoting competition, we do not at present intend to increase their spectrum fees.

I hope that I have now convinced Opposition Members not to press their new clauses and amendments.

Mr. Boswell: I do not accept every line of argument that the Minister has deployed, but in view of the helpful assurances that she has been able to offer us, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Order for Third Reading read.

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2.50 am

Mrs. Roche: I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The House will be relieved to know that I do not intend to detain it for any great time. I feel the presence of the Deputy Chief Whip beside me and I know how anxious hon. Members are for this important Bill to complete its passage through the House.

It is impressive how far radiocommunications have come since the first wireless messages were sent around the world 100 years ago. We all know about the great contribution that radio makes to our economic and social life.

The radio spectrum is a finite resource and, unless we can continue to create spectrum headroom for future growth, we will not realise the full economic benefits and competitiveness gains from this dynamic and successful sector of the economy. The importance of the Bill is that it will provide new tools to manage the spectrum resource more effectively.

The Bill is important. It was introduced in the other place and I gladly acknowledge their Lordships' contribution and commitment to its development. The Bill is about Britain's economic well being and it will provide wealth, jobs and economic opportunities for the British people. I commend it to the House.

2.51 am

Mr. Boswell: I recall, as I was growing up, an elderly friend of our family--a Cornishman--who, as a very little boy, used to meet Mr. Marconi on the beach. As a result of that connection, he went to work for Marconi in Chelmsford for his whole life.

Despite the huge technical changes that have taken place in the radio industry, there is a certain stability in the legislative framework. We legislated in 1904 and in 1949. We are legislating again now, and it is important that we get it right.

Our debates have helped to test the Government's intentions, for which they are particularly welcome. To the Minister's thanks to all those who have participated--I add my thanks to the Minister for some of the explanations that she has been able to give us--I add my personal thanks to my colleagues, many of great expertise, who have participated in and adorned the discussions and helped to get assurances on the record.

I also single out, although she is not now with us, the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan), who has sat through almost all our deliberations this evening and has supported me in my first excursion into wireless telegraphy at the Dispatch Box.

Inevitably, there are areas of unfinished business in the Bill. One is the way in which, in practice, the pricing structure of the licences will develop and, related to that, how the management of the spectrum will develop. We have had assurances on those points tonight; we shall need to test them in the event.

Secondly, we heard the Minister's interesting forward look on the possibility of further legislation, possibly on secondary pricing, for example. We welcome that in principle and hope that she will bring it forward in this Parliament. We should like to be part of the process of taking that matter forward.

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For tonight, the Minister has given assurances and, in the light of those and the earlier discussions that we have had, I shall not seek to divide the House on Third Reading.

2.54 am

Mr. Ian Bruce: Earlier, I was asked whether I had anything left in my carafe. It is half full or half empty, depending on whether one is an optimist or a pessimist.

I want to set hon. Members' minds at rest by saying that I rise only to congratulate the Minister on the way she has brought this Bill to its conclusion. It is interesting that a Minister can, despite being pressed in all sorts of different directions, keep her cool and continue to be charming at almost 3 o'clock in the morning. She has shown that despite the blandishments of the Whips around her, we were able to complete our business in sensible time.

I remind the House that the full Report stage and Third Reading of a major Bill which has major implications, have been completed in four and a half hours. That is four and a half hours at a very late hour not because of Back Benchers and not because of the Opposition, but because the Whips decided to put on a major Bill after other business. I am not, therefore, in any way apologetic. I never go to bed before 3 am anyway, so this is an ideal time for me.

I thank the Minister for her contribution to my fishermen. They will be very pleased at the reduction that is coming, even before the Bill reaches the statute book. I congratulate her on what I think is the first Bill that she has taken through all its stages to the statute book.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed, with an amendment.


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