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Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam): Will the Minister clarify his proposals for a Joint Committee, especially whether he is considering Select Committee or Standing Committee procedure? There is a crucial difference: in the House of Commons, members of Select Committees do not normally serve on Standing Committees. If membership of a Joint Committee is confined to those who serve on the Select Committee, Standing Committee members, who need expertise, do not have it when they scrutinise measures in detail.
The Office of Communications Bill is a paving measure, which will enable us to make progress on the essential practical work that is necessary to create Ofcom. The work needed for the new statutory body to evolve out of five existing regulators is complex. We must bring
The Ofcom Bill will allow the essential preparatory work to begin so that the new regulator will be in a position to take on regulatory functions quickly once the regime that is set out in the main communications Bill has been fully discussed and come into force. The Ofcom Bill is straightforward. It establishes Ofcom as a statutory corporation. The new regulator will be a corporate board comprising executive and non-executive members, who will bring a range of knowledge and expertise to the organisation.
Appointment of the chairman and other non-executive members will be made jointly by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. The Bill proposes that initially there should be a small board of between three and six members, including the chairman and the chief executive.
Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton): My hon. Friend has set out the procedure for appointing Ofcom. The Select Committee report to which the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) referred proposed a body that is similar to the organisation that the Government are establishing. It stated that all appointments would be subject to "the Nolan procedures". Will my hon. Friend confirm that that will apply to appointments to Ofcom?
The Bill proposes that Ofcom will initially have between three and six members, including the chairman and the chief executive. However, the Bill also provides the Secretary of State with the power to change the size of that board. It is envisaged that that power might be used at a later stage to widen the range of expertise available to the board, once Ofcom takes on its regulatory functions.
The Bill will provide Ofcom with just one functionthat of preparing to assume its regulatory functions at a later stage. These preparations will include schemes for the transfer of staff, property and other assets and liabilities from the existing regulators to Ofcom. The schemes themselves, however, will not be made until the main communications Bill has been passed. Regulatory functions will be conferred on Ofcom only when the communications Bill is brought into force after receiving Royal Assent.
This necessary preparatory work can be undertaken successfully only with the full co-operation of the existing regulators. The Bill therefore contains provisions to ensure that Ofcom has a duty to co-operate effectively with the existing regulators during the transitional period. Similarly, the Bill places an additional duty on the existing regulators to do everything necessary for Ofcom to make its preparations.
Mr. Alexander: As I have said, there is an expectation that the present regulators will work effectively with the body being constituted by the Bill. We were keen to avoid any regulatory uncertainty, and the present regulators will retain their full regulatory powers to perform their functions until the point, following the passage of the main communications Bill, at which those powers are transferred.
The Bill contains provisions to give Ofcom the power to establish committees, and to govern how they operate. Ofcom will have the flexibility to determine its own internal working arrangements and to establish committees that are advisory in nature, as well as ones that will have decision-making functions delegated to them. Ofcom will be able to appoint members to the committees from outside, to benefit from their particular expertise or from the representation of particular interests.
Mr. Alexander: I hear the hon. Gentleman's point. The single purpose of the Bill is to equip Ofcom with the means of assuming the powers provided by the communications Bill. The issue of the appropriate relationships between Ofcom and the nations and regions of the United Kingdom would be better dealt with during pre-legislative and legislative scrutiny of the communications Bill, when there will be provision for exactly that kind of discussion to take place.
Michael Fabricant: I am grateful for the Minister's generosity in giving way a second time. My question follows on from the point raised by the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson). It is not so much about regional or national interests as about the interests of the different aspects within Ofcom. I recall from my previous career how radio was very much the poor sector of the old Independent Broadcasting Authority. In my opinion, it was only when the Radio Authority came out of the IBA that commercial radio thrived in this country. How does the Minister envisage the separate committees
Mr. Alexander: The hon. Gentleman makes a serious point, and the Towers Perrin report suggests a cross-cutting structure to address specifically the needs of radio. There is interest in that proposal, although it is merely one based on the work of the existing regulators and consultants to date. I affirm the view that radio should not and will not be regarded by Ofcom as a Friday afternoon job. There is a determination to ensure that all the current regulator's interests are appropriately reflected in the work of the organisation and interesting proposals in the Towers Perrin report speak specifically to the hon. Gentleman's point.
Clause 5 allows the Secretary of State to wind up Ofcom. That, on the face of it, may appear to be a surprising commitmentindeed, the Government do not anticipate the measure being requiredbut it has been included purely as a safeguard to provide assurance that should any unforeseen circumstances prevent progress in introducing the policies in the main communications Bill, the Government may take the necessary steps to dissolve Ofcom should the need arise. After 2003, the Secretary of State would have a duty to act if no progress were in prospect.
The Bill will give Ofcom the power to establish committees and to govern how they operate. It will have the flexibility to determine its internal working arrangements and to establish committees that are both advisory and have decision-making functions. We expect Ofcom to operate according to the highest standards. Therefore, following debate in another place, we have included a new provision in clause 3 to ensure that Ofcom has regard to the principles of good governance in managing its affairs. We have also included provisions to introduce transparency to Ofcom's proceedings by requiring it to publish the regulations and procedures under which it and its committees will operate.
In summarising the main purpose of the Ofcom Bill, it is important to stress to the House that it will provide Ofcom with a single functionthat of preparing itself. Ofcom will have no regulatory functions until Parliament considers precisely what those functions should be when the draft communications Bill is available. Nothing in the Ofcom Bill prejudges Parliament's consideration of those substantive issues.