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3 Dec 2002 : Column 781—continued

Mr. Clarke: Mr. Tomlinson was extremely clear about that, and I shall repeat his analysis. He said that three main factors contributed to the situation—first, the perceived pressure on exam boards from the QCA; secondly, the lack of guidance on the level of attainment expected for a particular grade in an individual paper; and thirdly, the lack of common understanding of the standard required to ensure that the overall A-level standard was maintained. That is a balanced judgment, and I accept it.

Mr. Mark Simmonds (Boston and Skegness): Considering the contents of the Tomlinson inquiry and the previous Tomlinson report on the same subject, and bearing in mind Tomlinson's recommendation that the QCA should report directly to the Secretary of State's Department, could he explain why Sir William Stubbs was sacked?

Mr. Clarke: I have nothing further to add to what has been said previously. It is public knowledge that Sir William has taken, or is considering, legal action, so the matter will be resolved by the usual processes.



Secretary Margaret Beckett, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary Prescott, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Blunkett, Mr. Secretary Hain and Mr. Alun Michael, presented a Bill to make provision about hunting wild mammals with dogs; to prohibit hare coursing; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed. [Bill 10].

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Orders of the Day

Communications Bill

[Relevant documents: The Report from the Joint Committee on the Draft Communications Bill, Session 2001–02, HL 169-I and HC 876-I, and the Government Response thereto, Cm 5646.]

Order for Second Reading read.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): I must announce to the House that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas), and that there is a 10-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches in the debate.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Can you confirm that the Government have set a new precedent today? Perhaps it was a Modernisation Committee proposal that we were unaware had been introduced. Can you confirm, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that in future when a Bill has its First Reading, the House can always expect a Government statement, such as we had today? I think that this is probably the first time that that has ever happened.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The Chair can make no such guarantee, but no doubt Ministers will have heard what the hon. Gentleman has said.

5.6 pm

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell) : I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

After an almost unprecedented period of scrutiny and debate, we are now proud to be able to present the Communications Bill to the House. I say we, because the Bill is very much the result of cross-departmental collaboration with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, my hon. Friend the Minister for E-Commerce and Competitiveness, and the Department of Trade and Industry.

I shall take the House through the Bill's main points and principles. To begin at the beginning, the communications industry is one of the fastest growing sectors of the UK economy, and has been growing at 10 per cent. a year for the past decade. The infrastructure of the future needs fast, efficient and affordable communication—telecommunications, the internet and broadcasting. It requires the best competitive environment, effective regulation and continued public and private investment in the technologies of the future. The communications industries are a major driver of our economy, and provide jobs for hundreds of thousands of British workers—the jobs of the future, not the past.

However, communications is about much more than economics. The Bill deals with the means by which our society speaks to itself and, as it were, hears the echo. It is the means by which we talk to the world. It is a shaper of our culture, our identity and our values. For the Government, therefore, the Bill is not simply a device to regulate or deregulate an industry; it plays a vital role in every one of our wider aspirations for Britain. It will

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give consumers choice—the variety that they demand and deserve—and will give citizens the information that they need. It will free the industry of unnecessary interference, give it freedom to grow and diversify, allow it an opportunity to change as the world of communications changes, and to gain access to new sources of investment, as well as new ideas and challenges. It prepares us for a digital era.

The Bill will preserve what has always been our proudest boast: that we have the best free broadcast media in the world. It will give public service broadcasting a new lease of life. I am sure that all hon. Members share the aims that I have outlined. Like the Bill, those aims are ambitious.

I shall take hon. Members briefly through the history of the development of our proposals.

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South): Have I understood correctly that the Bill will allow, for example, an American-owned corporation to buy ITV, while no reciprocal right exists for a British-owned corporation to buy an American company? If so, how have we got into that extraordinary position?

Tessa Jowell: I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He is a close, long-time follower of such issues. The answer is yes, the Bill would allow an American company to own ITV or our other commercial public service broadcasters. However, it would subject any American, Japanese or Australian owner to a tough content regime that is intended to maintain the public service nature of our public service broadcasting. My hon. Friend also asked about reciprocity. We are opening negotiations to secure reciprocal agreements with the Americans, but as I have said on several occasions, we do not perceive reciprocity as a precondition of lifting the current restriction on foreign ownership of our terrestrial television channels.

Pete Wishart (North Tayside): Is the Secretary of State saying that she is comfortable with the prospect of, for example, Disney or Microsoft owning and operating our ITV 3 channel?

Tessa Jowell: Given circumstances in which any Italian, French, Swedish or German media company could own our media, it would be inconsistent to preclude from the possibility of ownership American, Australian, Japanese or other markets that could provide our media with badly needed investment.

I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) is in his place. He, with the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, published the White Paper XA New Future for Communications" in December 2000. It established a vision for the future of the telecommunications, broadcasting and radio spectrum in the United Kingdom. It had several aims, which included giving the converging communications industries a modern regulatory framework, combining stability with competition, and promoting innovation, skills and enterprise.

In November last year we consulted on the proposals for the reform of media ownership rules that had not been included in the White Paper. We consulted in a

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framework on ways of promoting competition through deregulation while recognising that competition alone is not enough to safeguard the nature of the media in the UK. We consulted on methods of protecting plurality and diversity, removing outdated and inconsistent rules and providing greater flexibility and investment. Furthermore, the paving Bill for establishing the single regulator, Ofcom, received Royal Assent in March and became the Office of Communications Act 2002.

In May we published the draft Communications Bill for further public consultation and pre-legislative scrutiny by a Committee of both Houses of Parliament. Lord Puttnam, who chaired the Committee, and the other members made a tremendous contribution to improving the draft Bill. That process established the value of pre-legislative scrutiny, which enabled contributions to be made to the development of major policy proposals as well as the provision of detailed drafting comments.

In that context, I would like to thank the hon. Members for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) and for North Devon (Nick Harvey), and my hon. Friends the Members for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Paul Farrelly), for Milton Keynes, North-East (Brian White), for East Lothian (Anne Picking) and for Selby (Mr. Grogan) for their contributions to the work of the Committee.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Will the Secretary of State tell the House what explains the differential treatment of electronic networks and services in part 2 of the Bill from that of broadcasters in part 3? Will she also explain why the Bill fails to bring the BBC fully within the auspices of Ofcom, so that it could be fined for any breaches of its existing obligations to observe due impartiality in matters of political and industrial controversy and in relation to public policy?

Tessa Jowell: I know that the relationship between the BBC and the regulator will be a major focus of today's debate—

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