Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-22)
ALEXANDER MP, MR
WEDNESDAY 15 MAY 2002
20. I would accept that. In the letter, can
you explain why content should be treated any differently from
any other competition matter and why OFT and OFCOM should have
a duopoly over competition?
(Mr Alexander) My sense is that some of that will
stray into the issues relating to the establishment of OFCOM and
the draft Communications Bill. I am certainly happy to narrate
both the terms of the accompanying narrative which goes with the
draft Bill and the relevant clauses of the draft Bill.
21. Going back to the issue of regulation, I
think what you said, Minister, and also Mr Conway, was eminently
sensible, but there are some concerns about whether things will
actually work like that in practice. I was wondering if you are
aware of any concerns which have been expressed by the UK telecoms
sector as to the abilities of the regulators, whether in this
country or in other European countries, in their role of enforcement
and also in terms of their ability effectively to identify those
companies which have significant market power?
(Mr Alexander) I have a couple of observations in
response to your question. One is that there is a requirement
in terms of the package that the regulators of other Member States
have the resources in order to allow them actually to do their
job. One of the reasons that we have established leadership in
the field of telecoms regulation has been the fact not just of
the individual expertise of members of staff but the fact that
there is a willingness to support the regulator in terms of highly
complex regulatory issues. When I meet with BT to discuss matters
of regulation, they are able to provide batteries of lawyers armed
with documentation. I think that it is very important, given the
scale and ability of commercial operators in this field, to provide
that volume of information and that we equip our regulators to
be able to respond in kind. The other point I would make is that
there is also specific provision in terms of the package to ensure
that there is a means by which the costs that the regulator will
incur in many of these issues can actually be recouped. In that
sense, that is an added strength and foundation we provide to
the national regulators, specifically in relation to the new powers
that are being assumed. The final point that I would make would
be that the ability of the regulator to recover costs means that
there is a differentiation between the support provided, in this
case by the Treasury but in other cases by the equivalent finance
ministry at a European Member State level, from the regulators'
power to make decisions. I think, consistent with some of the
concerns that have been expressed in the Committee, that might
also be a helpful counterweight to the suggestion that the independence
was not real.
22. Minister, I would like to thank you very
much for coming along this morning. It has been a very quick hour.
I suspect we would like to go on for another hour. I thank you
for your candour and particularly for your reassurances and your
assurances in your earlier comments that things will get better
in the relationships with the Committee in keeping us informed
of what you are doing and when you are doing it with particular
attention to scrutiny reserves.
(Mr Alexander) Thank you. I am sorry that it was in
such inauspicious circumstances that I had the opportunity to
speak to the Committee but I am genuinely seeing a big interest
from senior colleagues in discussions in terms of how we can better
facilitate the scrutiny position, which I can assure you, from
my point of view, we regard as extremely important. I will ensure
that the undertakings I have given to the Committee in terms of
how we take that forward within my own Department reflect the
undertakings I have given to you today.