Joint Committee on The Draft Communications Bill Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 440 - 447)



  440. Change the treaties?
  (Mr Forrest) Yes.

  441. So if, in order to implement this, you have to change the treaties, how are you going to implement this in the satellite area, without changing the treaties?
  (Mr Forrest) My Lord Chairman, the proposal, for which we have not yet seen the details, is for this scheme of recognised spectrum access. The understanding of the way that this operates is that it is a kind of protection to those using that spectrum against interference if they join the scheme and indeed pay to become members of the scheme. The big question is whether that would be challenged in European law or international law. I am not a lawyer and I cannot really comment on that. I think the danger perhaps of immediately saying that this is a proposal that can be taken forward is as to whether that will come up against an international legal challenge.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

  442. Do you envisage OFCOM being the government agency for negotiating these treaties? Do you think that we ought to put in this Bill that OFCOM has this role? Or can we even dictate to the Government? Obviously this emerges as a very complex issue.
  (Mr Langsdale) My Lord, I think the Bill already does give the authority to OFCOM to negotiate the ITU treaties on behalf of the UK Government.

  443. Is it subject to the permission of the Secretary of State? I cannot remember.
  (Mr Forrest) From memory, according to a clause in the Bill, I think it is, as directed by him.
  (Mr Susman) Clause 9, duties of OFCOM, when required by the Secretary of State to "provide representation" or to "serve as a member of any international or other body", things like that.

  444. Could I rephrase my question. Would you urge the Secretary of State to allow OFCOM to do this and stop interfering? Would your idea be that OFCOM, with the technicalities my colleague raised, would be best fitted to negotiate? In other words, should our advice as a pre-legislative scrutiny committee be to say, "Leave it to OFCOM" and not allow all the negotiations with the Foreign Office, etcetera, etcetera? What would your view be?
  (Mr Langsdale) My Lord Chairman, I think we have said give the power to OFCOM to provide the leadership on that negotiation.

Brian White

  445. I have one final question on this whole area . What are the implications if OFCOM wanted to put the RSA into licence conditions rather than simply allowing it to emerge?
  (Mr Sleigh) I am not sure what you mean by "RSA".

  446. Recognised spectrum access.
  (Mr Forrest) It is described in the Bill, my Lord Chairman, as I understand it, in a very similar way to a licence. My understanding is that it is a kind of agreement, as I was saying, which gives a certain degree of protection, in a similar way to a licence, to a satellite broadcaster against terrestrial interference; they are given some kind of guarantee for the usage of that spectrum, for paying a price and for being documented in that particular way as a spectrum user.


  447. Before we move on, can I ask the Bill team if they would like to make any points or ask any questions by way of clarification on anything we have heard?
  (Mr Susman) I have three points it might be worth mentioning. The first point is about technical expertise. The Office of Communications Act, enacted this year, provides for OFCOM to have such advisory committees as it thinks fit, so the provision will not be expected to be in this Bill. The second point is that one of the first points that was made was about the distinction between the Secretary of State's policy role and OFCOM's executive role. The distinction is not drawn in the Bill in quite that way. Clause 112 provides for the Secretary of State to give directions, so the Secretary of State does have a policy role, but subject to the giving of those directions OFCOM has the function of an inspector of policy, and if no directions are given then OFCOM decides on policy. So the sharp distinction does not exist as was suggested. The third matter which might be worth clarifying is on resolution of interference disputes. There is nothing in the Bill which would cause OFCOM to operate differently from the way in which the Radiocommunications Agency operates already. The existing regime would continue.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed. Thank you, gentlemen.

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