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Lord Rooker: My Lords, yes, in respect of my noble friend's first point, it was a privilege to be in this House in July during one of its many debates--as I was warned--on prisons. I was able to listen to Frank Longford speak in that debate and afterwards told people what a privilege that was.

As regards my noble friend's substantive point on self-inflicted wounds and self-inflicted deaths, I cannot comment on the tragedy which occurred in late September or on the previous one, save to say that full inquiries are taking place. Furthermore, there is an action plan to ensure that young people are inducted into such establishments and that there is a proper programme tailored to their individual needs. We hope to reach the point when they have telephone cards and people to speak to who will listen to what they say, and not the isolation which can build up to such tragedies.

There is still a lot to do and I make no bones about that. Nevertheless, we are working hard on Feltham and on Feltham B in particular. There is much to do between now and January when Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons will return to the prison.

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Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the mention of Sir David Ramsbotham's name in the Question will be taken by some as an opportunity to pay a real tribute to the courage, intelligence and honesty with which he performed a difficult job? If it is true that by chance some of Sir David's comments may have caused a little discomfiture in the higher realms of the Home Office, then as far as many of us are concerned he was the better for that.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I hate to quote myself but I remember that in answering a Question in the summer I made it clear that it is no good appointing an independent investigator or regulator to conduct an inquiry and to compile a report and then complain about the report. That response was made in respect of Sir David Ramsbotham and I made it clear that that was my view. Indeed, I pay tribute to his work.

I am prepared to admit that Sir David's 1996 report on Feltham B was dealt with inadequately and that his 1998 report made us move up a few gears because clearly there was much to do. Both Houses have paid tribute to his work; he has illustrated many shortcomings and we are trying to put them right.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, does the Minister accept that the success of Feltham A has been the result of more resources, a more liberal regime and the fact that standards were set by the Youth Justice Board? Has he in mind proposals whereby the Youth Justice Board or a single body can set up standards so that we can monitor progress in Feltham B where the regime is still most restrictive and poor and where to a great extent the situation has not improved as we thought it would?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, the noble Lord is right. Since being in post I have visited only one young offender institution, which is Prescoed. The difference in the treatment of under 18s and over 18s is clear. The Youth Justice Board ensured that massive resources have been directed at the younger people.

The situation is tragic in places such as Feltham where offenders move from one section to the other and where resources have not been adequate. Nevertheless, the new governor and the team are working their socks off in order to ensure success and that we complete the rest of the action plan. It is to be hoped that there will be better news to report early next year after the inspectorate has returned on 14th January. New resources have been put into Feltham B and there is the opportunity for association and education--one no longer has to choose between one and the other--but we still have a long way to go.


3.58 p.m.

Lord Carter: My Lords, at a convenient moment in the debate on the Office of Communications Bill, my noble friend Lord Rooker will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement which is being made in

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another place on anti-terrorism measures. After that, my noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey will repeat a Statement which is being made in another place on action against the funding of terrorism. After the second Statement, my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton will repeat a Statement which is being made in another place on Railtrack.

It may also be for the convenience of the House to know that the usual channels have agreed that there will be a further debate on the coalition against international terrorism on Thursday 18th October. The debate will follow the Report stages of the International Development Bill and the Travel Concessions (Eligibility) Bill.

Examiner of Petitions for Private Bills

3.59 p.m.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Tordoff): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. It is a formal Motion but it has a human side to it. We are to lose Dr Philippa Tudor to the Scotland Office. She is to be replaced as Clerk to the Private Bill Office by Mr Tom Mohan. Those who have worked with her--I see the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, nodding his head, and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Weedon, would agree--would like to thank her for her clerkship of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and wish her well in her new job. I beg to move.

Moved, That, pursuant to Private Business Standing Order 69, Mr T. V. Mohan be appointed an Examiner of Petitions for Private Bills in place of Dr F. P. Tudor.--(The Chairman of Committees.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Land Registration Bill [HL]

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the amendments for the Report stage be marshalled and considered in the following order:

Clauses 1 to 12,

Schedule 1,

Clauses 13 to 27,

Schedule 2,

Clauses 28 to 30,

Schedule 3,

Clauses 31 to 65,

Schedule 4,

Clauses 66 to 92,

Schedule 5,

Clauses 93 to 96,

Schedule 6,

Clauses 97 and 98,

Schedule 7,

Clauses 99 to 102,

Schedule 8,

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Clauses 103 to 105,

Schedule 9,

Clauses 106 to 123,

Schedule 10,

Clauses 124 to 130,

Schedule 11,

Clause 131,

Schedule 12,

Clause 132,

Schedule 13,

Clause 133.--(The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Office of Communications Bill [HL]

4 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Baroness Blackstone): My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

In December of last year the Government published the White Paper A New Future for Communications which set out their vision for the future of telecommunications and broadcasting in the UK. In doing so, the White Paper recognised the enormous changes which have been taking place in telecommunications and broadcasting, both domestically and on a global scale. Rapid technological advances and a growing convergence between the two sectors are creating new opportunities which are changing the way we all communicate and interact with each other. As these changes take place, not only do they create exciting new openings; they also raise huge challenges if the UK is to take full advantage of them.

The White Paper affirmed the Government's aim to make the UK home to the most dynamic and competitive communications and media market in the world which ensures universal access to a choice of diverse, high quality services and proper safeguards to protect the interests of citizens and consumers.

Central to achieving this vision was the creation of a unified regulator which would take over the responsibilities of the five existing regulators operating in the telecommunications and broadcasting sectors: the Broadcasting Standards Commission; the Independent Television Commission; the Office of Telecommunications (Oftel); the Radio Authority; and the Radio Communications Agency. I pay tribute to the work of the current regulators and the skills, knowledge and dedication of their staff. Indeed, these same qualities will be needed in seeking to build the new regulator.

However, it was clear that the current system of regulation, with a number of separate regulators each responsible for different aspects of different sectors, was more a reflection of the way communications had developed in the 20th century than the kind of organisation that would be essential to meet the challenges of the 21st. In taking the bold step to create a completely new regulator, which will be known as the Office of Communications, or Ofcom for short, the Government intend to set up a body that will be in a

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position to take a broad view across the converging industries and make strategic decisions which take account of complex technical, economic and cultural issues.

After the White Paper was published there was a further round of consultation with key stakeholders and other interested parties. Overall, the White Paper was received warmly by almost all respondents. The vast majority welcomed the Government's overall aims and there was almost universal support for the establishment of Ofcom which many felt would serve to simplify the current complicated web of regulation. This general consensus has also been reflected in cross-party support for a unified regulator. Each of the main political parties has expressed general support for the concept of establishing Ofcom to oversee the converging sectors and have called for early action to be taken to bring about this necessary change.

As many of your Lordships will remember, in February my noble friend Lord Gordon of Strathblane introduced a timely debate in this House on the proposals in the White Paper. There were many eloquent and well informed contributions and most noble Lords gave a general welcome for the proposal to create Ofcom. I look forward to hearing what your Lordships have to say in this debate about the proposals to establish the new body which are before the House today.

Despite setbacks in recent months with the deflation of the bubble, over-capacity in telecommunications and the recent downturn in advertising, technological innovations in the communication sector continue to change lives and businesses. It is vital that we are able to compete in global markets and ensure the UK's place in providing high quality infrastructure and content. To help ensure this, we must create the right regulatory structure so that UK business can continue to develop and grow. Indeed, the more difficult the economic circumstances, the more important it becomes that the regulatory framework is right to avoid stymying business further.

The Queen's Speech announced the Government's intention to publish a draft communications Bill later this Session. That Bill will set out in detail the proposals for the new regulatory regime which Ofcom will eventually oversee. Your Lordships will appreciate that regulation in this area is very complex and we want to make sure that we have the detail in the Bill right. We shall, therefore, undertake full consultation with industry and other stakeholders on the contents of the draft communications Bill in the spring to enable them to consider the proposals properly.

If noble Lords want to speculate on the policies to be set out in the main Bill I shall of course listen carefully to what they have to say. But the time to debate those matters is when the main Bill is available. Therefore, my noble friend Lord McIntosh will not be adding to the broad principles of policy set out in the White Paper when he winds up our debate this evening. Instead, publication of the draft

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communications Bill in the spring should provide ample opportunity for Parliament to debate the new regulatory regime. Pre-legislative scrutiny would normally be undertaken by the appropriate Select Committees in another place. The possibility of a Joint Committee of both Houses has also been raised, and nearer the time we shall consider whether to invite Parliament to adopt that approach. Either method would allow us to take account of Parliament's views before finalising the communications Bill prior to its introduction when parliamentary time is available.

The Ofcom Bill which is before you today is a paving measure which will enable us to make progress on the essential practical work which is necessary to set up Ofcom. Folding three statutory organisations, one non-ministerial government department and an agency into a new statutory body is extremely complex. We have to bring together five separate groups of professional expertise based across 20 or more offices around the country, with differing pay systems, pension schemes and organisational cultures, without disrupting this important industry and while maintaining effective protection for consumers.

The Ofcom Bill will allow the preparatory work to begin so that the new regulator will be in a position to take on its regulatory functions quickly once the regime which will be set out in the main communications Bill has been fully discussed and comes into force.

The measures set out in the Ofcom Bill are straightforward. They will establish Ofcom as a statutory corporation. The new regulator will be governed by a corporate board made up of executive and non-executive members (referred to in the Bill as staff and non-staff members) who will be able to bring a range of knowledge and expertise to the organisation. Appointment of the chairman and other non-staff members will be made jointly by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. The Bill proposes that, initially, as Ofcom will have no regulatory functions, there should be a small board of 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 the 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 provides Ofcom with just one function: that of preparing to assume its other regulatory functions at a later stage. As I said earlier, bringing Ofcom into being is complex and includes preparation of schemes for the transfer of staff, property and other assets or liabilities from the existing regulators to Ofcom. The schemes themselves, however, will not be made until the communications Bill has been passed. Moreover, they will not involve the transfer of any regulatory functions. Those regulatory functions will be conferred upon Ofcom only when the main communications Bill is brought into force after Royal Assent.

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Ofcom will only be able to undertake the necessary preparatory work successfully 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.

In order to avoid regulatory uncertainty occurring during the transitional period, provision is made in the Bill preventing Ofcom interfering with the carrying out by any of the existing regulators of their current functions. It therefore remains clear that during the transition period the current regulators will continue to carry on with their day to day duties until Ofcom assumes its regulatory role.

Clause 4 of the Bill allows the Secretary of State to wind up Ofcom. In practice the Government do not anticipate that measure being required. It is included purely as a safeguard to provide assurance that should any unforeseen circumstances prevent progress in bringing forward the policies contained in the communications Bill, the Government will be able to take the necessary steps to dissolve Ofcom should the need arise. After 2003, the Secretary of State will have a duty to act if no progress is in prospect.

The Bill contains provisions to give Ofcom the power to establish committees. Ofcom will have the flexibility to determine its own internal working arrangements and establish committees which are advisory in nature or ones which will have decision-making functions delegated to them. Ofcom will be able to appoint non-board members to be included in the committees to enable them to benefit from particular expertise or the representation of particular interests. The White Paper made specific reference to the new consumer panel which would represent the concerns of consumers to Ofcom. Further details of how that panel would be constituted will be set out in the main communications Bill.

In summarising the main purpose of the Ofcom Bill, perhaps I may stress again that it is the intention to provide Ofcom with just the single function of preparation. Ofcom will have no regulatory functions until Parliament has had the opportunity to consider precisely what those functions should be. Nothing in the Ofcom Bill prejudges those substantive issues.

Your Lordships may be aware that the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee issued its report on the Bill in July with a single recommendation. It noted that in Clause 4 of the Bill--the sunset clause--that subsection (3) applied the negative procedure to the Secretary of State's power to make an order for Ofcom to be wound up and dissolved. The committee's view was that Parliament should have sufficient opportunities to discuss the fate of Ofcom before any such order was made and therefore recommended that the affirmative procedure would be more appropriate in connection with that power. I am pleased to confirm that the Government are happy to adopt that recommendation and therefore propose to put down amendments to the Bill in Committee to that effect.

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As envisaged in the White Paper, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department of Trade and Industry have worked closely with the five existing regulators to start the planning stages of the transition process needed for the eventual creation of Ofcom. I thank the boards and chief executives of the regulators and their staff for their extremely constructive and valuable contribution throughout the process. A steering group comprising the regulators and representatives from both departments has been established to oversee this planning process. The results of an initial scoping study, undertaken by independent consultants, have recently been published which assess the kind of organisation Ofcom might be and how the complex task of transition might be managed. The main management decisions relating to structure, staff appointments, human resource policies, vision, organisational culture and many others, will ultimately be for Ofcom itself to take when a chairman and board are in place. But a great deal of work needs to be done--for example, in gathering information, benchmarking against other organisations and identifying options--if we are to meet the 2003 target date. In the meantime, the work process now embarked on by the steering group provides a satisfactory basis for carrying on with the planning for the new body.

Obviously, the chairman and board of Ofcom will have a crucial role to play as the transition process develops; and the timing of the appointees to these posts will be important to ensure that they are able to contribute fully. We still need to find the right mix of experience and skills to cover the range of Ofcom's responsibilities. That process will need to start soon, but it is one that cannot take place overnight. We will, of course, follow the full public appointments procedures in making the appointments. In view of that, the appointment of the chairman of Ofcom will not take place before spring 2002. Subsequently, we hope to have the full board of Ofcom in place by autumn 2002.

Following the consultation process, and pre-legislative scrutiny, of the draft communications Bill which I have already outlined and which will take place in spring next year, we aim to introduce the main communications Bill as soon as parliamentary time is available. The Government remain committed to the target of having Ofcom operational by the end of 2003.

Both broadcasting and telecommunications are vital for the cultural and economic interests of the whole country. A modern, forward-looking regulator operating a flexible, effective and proportionate regime will be crucial for creating the conditions within which these converging sectors can flourish. Through the promotion of competition, high standards and a vigorous communications sector, Ofcom will be well placed to help ensure that the expectations of consumers, citizens, viewers and listeners can be met. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.--(The Baroness Blackstone.)

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4.20 p.m.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I look forward to hearing later in the debate the maiden speeches of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, and of the noble Lord, Lord Corbett of Castle Vale.

I begin by agreeing with the Government on one basic point: the speed of development of digital technology and the convergence of communications have highlighted the inability of the regulatory framework to keep up with the pace of rapid change. After all, the current framework was designed at a time when the full implications of the digital age could not have been predicted by either politicians or the industry. It is true that we need to get right--and to get right for a generation--the proposals contained in the paving Bill before us as well as those in the communications Bill.

As a child, I can recall huddling with my parents around a seven-inch television set, watching black and white pictures and thinking that I was extremely lucky because so few people owned television sets. I listened avidly to the Home and Light stations on the radio and later, as a teenager, I struggled to find Radio Caroline on the wavelengths. Today, of course, I enjoy access to digital TV through my satellite dish, as well as to digital radio by the same means. I use my telephone line to gain access to the Internet, slow though it is, and, although I have not yet caught up with WAP technology, I hope to do so soon. I am proud of the lead taken by the industry in this country both in telecoms and broadcasting and I await impatiently the next stage of convergence of the telecoms and broadcasting sectors. But I also impatiently await the next stage of the Government's plans for the communications Bill. The Minister rightly forecasted the fact that Members participating in this debate and those involved in later stages of the Bill would refer to that matter with some angst, because so much of this Bill predicts what may or may not happen in the future.

The Minister told the House that the Government intend to publish the draft communications Bill in the spring of next year. In this country, spring can last for a long time before the cold winds finally disappear. Let us hope that on this occasion spring comes early.

The Minister was brief in her exposition of the paving Bill now before the House. Perhaps the Government are keen to avoid consideration of the issues that will necessarily form part of our deliberations on it; namely, issues raised by the Government's own inaction on the communications Bill itself. Because that Bill did not come forward in proper time, the Government have now had to take the extraordinary step of asking the House to approve a paving Bill. That in itself is a matter to which we shall have to pay close attention.

With regard to the issues raised by the paving Bill, we give our general support to the idea of a single over-arching body to serve as the regulator. The Minister was absolutely correct to point out that there is general cross-party support for the proposal. However,

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practical probing amendments will have to be tabled in Committee to ask the Government questions about the model they have chosen for Ofcom to ensure that it acts as a board and not as a dictatorial body. How can we be sure that the embryo Ofcom created by the paving Bill will be able to operate in a manner that is appropriate, fair and effective both before and after the passage of the communications Bill? Will the new super-regulator have the super flexibility required to meet the changing needs of industry and consumers? Will it owe its loyalty to politicians, to viewers and listeners, to broadcasters and to Internet service providers?

When Ofcom acquires its powers, will it provide light-touch regulation? The Government have said "Yes" to this question, but we all know that their idea of a light touch can turn out to be someone's else's idea of sticky fingers. Witness the debacle earlier this summer over Tessa Jowell's initial reaction to the "Brass Eye" programme when she wanted to step in ahead of the regulator, but then had to beat a retreat. The problem is that we do not have the answers to those questions, because today the House is being asked firmly to put the cart before the horse. Worse than that, we are being asked to approve the Government's decidedly sketchy design for a cart and we do not even know what kind of horse is to pull it. Indeed, the Government are so lacking in confidence in their design skills that, as the Minister pointed out, they have inserted into Clause 4 an option to pull the whole cart to pieces and throw it in the skip.

What will be our guiding principle when considering the Bill? The test that we shall apply throughout is that we believe it is vital that the initial functions of the paving Ofcom body, the embryonic Ofcom, should not pre-empt or prejudice any matters on which Parliament may wish to legislate in the main communications Bill--whenever it is brought forward. Clauses 2(5) and 3(4) try to give a reassurance that nothing will be done by Ofcom which would supersede or circumvent decisions that properly should be taken by Parliament. But the fact remains that the provisions contained in the Bill raise significant questions as regards structure and function which may undermine Parliament's ability to approach the communications Bill unfettered.

I propose to cite only four examples in my remarks. My noble friend Lady Miller will address further examples. I shall refer to issues regarding structure, appointments, finance and the regulators themselves.

With regard to structure, it is important that the existing regulators are not simply Sellotaped together. The Bill provides an ideal opportunity to rethink the way in which regulation should take place. We need to bring to this a fresh mind, unencumbered by the policies of the existing regulators. The Bill needs to make that clear. However, the underlying question here is: what are the Government really asking us to debate? Is it what the Minister proposed; namely, the constitution of Ofcom for the purposes of its present function, as set out in clause 2(1), "to facilitate implementation", or are we being asked to debate the anticipated future functions of Ofcom as an industry

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regulator? The noble Baroness stated firmly that we should not do so. Unfortunately, although logic states that it cannot be the latter (because we cannot yet determine whether Ofcom's structure will be suitable for functions which Parliament has not yet decided that it should have), if it is the former, I fear that the Explanatory Notes to the Bill are misleading. The notes suggest that certain provisions are being included in the Bill due to their relevance to Ofcom's operations after the future communications Bill has come into force. I refer to paragraph 12 of the Explanatory Notes, which outlines the establishment of committees by Ofcom.

In her remarks, the Minister referred to the Towers Perrin report, published only three days ago. Although I have had the opportunity only to look at the executive summary, it makes it clear that the report was prepared,

    "on the understanding that final decisions on structure will rest with the paving Ofcom board",

that is, not the full board. That means that, as the Minister said, we are being presented with something of a fait accompli with regard to the structure of Ofcom. However, even without that report, the reality of the Bill before us is this: once an organisational structure has been created, however skeletal--even before a chairman has been appointed--those people who staff it will have to make decisions and plan for the future. The organisation will begin to take on a life of its own.

I turn briefly to the matter of appointments. The Minister was most helpful in outlining when the Government hope to make some of the key appointments to the board. It is true that the board will need a membership that has the support of both consumers and the industry. It is also important that there is transparency in the appointments process. However, I have to say that that process is not made clear in the Bill. The noble Baroness will not be surprised if we probe a little further on it when we debate the Bill in Committee.

A time will come when the preparatory work is so advanced that the key decisions on how Ofcom is to work will have to be taken by those who will be ultimately responsible. After the Government have made the appointments of the chairman and members, there will be a key period when those members will be making decisions which may undermine what Parliament wishes to achieve in the communications Bill.

As regards the size of the board, I understand much of what was said by the noble Baroness with regard to the need to start small and then perhaps to grow. However, I believe that there may be inherent problems in that approach, although I recognise the tension between, on the one hand, establishing a board that is small enough in number to respond rapidly with regard to economic regulation where swift decisions must be reached, and, on the other hand, balancing the need to appoint enough people to the board fairly to represent the broad swathe of abilities that will be needed in order that the super-regulator will be able to do its job well. Furthermore, there is the moot question

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of how the Government will cope with their relationship with the devolved administrations. Will each administration nominate a member to the board? If not, will another way be found for them to feed in their views on appointments?

As regards finance, I believe that we need further clarification on the budget and funding of Ofcom during the transitional period. Ofcom is being asked by the Government to conduct an expensive guessing game, which the Bill itself acknowledges may have become pointless by 2003. The Explanatory Notes put the risk at about £5 million--my noble friend Lady Miller will have something further to say about this later--but the question is who should carry that risk. The Explanatory Notes state that,

    "the Government will share with industry the cost of initial establishment",

but what will happen if Clause 4 is invoked and Ofcom is abandoned? Who will pick up the bill then? I would hope the Government.

I turn now to the question of the regulators covered by the Bill. The clearest way in which the Bill may be seen as defective--by "defective", I mean pre-empting what may be Parliament's will in the communications Bill--is the omission of the BBC governors' regulatory remit from the remit of Ofcom during this preparatory phase. It is surely illogical to establish what the Government call a single converged regulator and then to exclude from its remit services which represent a major part of broadcast television and radio. As the National Consumer Council points out:

    "Excluding the BBC from the full remit of OFCOM limits the potential benefits to consumers of a much improved regulatory system".

It is important to have a significant debate on the nature and structure of the BBC's regulation. It is important to have that debate now simply because the way in which the Government have introduced this paving Bill makes it vital that we should have such a debate. If Parliament decides that the BBC governors' regulatory role should be transferred to Ofcom, we need to prepare for that in the Bill.

Clause 2(1) gives Ofcom the function to do just about anything it considers appropriate for implementing or modifying proposals covering regulation, but it is limited by subsection (2) to working only with the Secretary of State and existing regulators--and, of course, the definition of "existing regulator" at Clause 5 excludes the BBC. If the BBC is left out of the loop, it will surely be too late when we come to the communications Bill to bring BBC regulation fully within Ofcom, if that is Parliament's wish. Ofcom will have worked throughout the transitional period without building up its relationship with the BBC governors in the proper manner.

It is important to bring the regulatory functions of the BBC governors into the loop now in order that we are able to ask the industry to move forward as a whole. In Committee, we shall ask the House to do the right thing by the BBC, the industry and consumers--that is, to ensure that the BBC works with the paving

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Ofcom in such a way that it is ready for the regulatory powers of the BBC governors to be transferred to Ofcom, if that is what Parliament decides in the communications Bill.

Finally, the Government will have a duty in Committee to prove that the provisions of the Bill will enable Ofcom to do a job which has not yet even been defined in a draft Bill, let alone in statute, and to exercise powers which have not yet been debated, let alone agreed by Parliament. The Government must satisfy the House that nothing in the Bill will pre-empt or prejudice our debates on proposals in the communications Bill. This is a paving Bill which may, if we are not careful, trip up both the Government and the industry. I am sure that the Minister and the Government are perfectly capable of looking after themselves, but we have a duty of care to both the industry and consumers. I look forward to trying to fulfil that duty of care in later stages of the Bill.

4.33 p.m.

Viscount Falkland: My Lords, I, too, am looking forward to the maiden speeches of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, and the noble Lord, Lord Corbett of Castle Vale. They have chosen a difficult debate but I know that their expertise will add great value to our deliberations.

I say that it is a difficult debate because we have had so much time to consider how to address this paving Bill, as it is rather loosely called, and now none of us will be making the same speech today as we would have made a month or six weeks ago. Inevitably, whether consciously or subconsciously, we have in the back of our minds the terrible events which took place at the twin towers in New York and ensuing events.

Britain has a great reputation in communications and broadcasting and the Government are now looking to take that forward into a new age of technology. From my experience--I express my own view; I am sure that at Second Reading noble Lords will forgive me this indulgence--of listening to many broadcasts of the BBC's World Service, I am struck by the very high quality of its broadcasting. I get extremely angry when I am riding around on my bicycle or my motor-cycle--which is extremely dangerous--when I think of the number of times we in this House have pressed, and others have pressed the Front Bench in another place, for some reassurance about the continuance of funding for the World Service of the BBC. There is always the possibility of the cutting down of vital services.

In Afghanistan there has always been a very high percentage of people who listen to the World Service of the BBC. I believe it is some 60 to 70 per cent in both the major language groups, Pashto and Persian. Noble Lords will be aware that during the unfortunate disagreement we had with the Taliban over the Buddhist statues, the World Service spokesman in Afghanistan had to be removed. It is interesting that now, at the wish of the Afghan authorities, the spokesman has been recalled and the level of listening to the World Service is as high as ever.

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There is even an Afghan version of "The Archers" programme, which deals with two villages. I do not know what the programme is called in the Afghan language, but it shows the ingenuity and creativity of the British. There is a lot of high-flown talk about the new Bill releasing or unlocking creativity. There is no shortage of creativity--it does not need to be unlocked in this country because there is plenty of it--but there needs to be an opportunity for people to recognise it. Management is required, and it is management that we shall be looking to in the new arrangements.

Having said that, the noble Baroness described exactly how the next few months will proceed. Some of us will be more sceptical than others about the timetable she has given for the arrangements because convergence will take place at differing rates. The solutions to the problems of staffing, staff welfare and property disposal that the Minister told us about will take a good deal of time and complex negotiation.

As the noble Baroness said, the purpose is to provide an efficient structure for our communications industry. That is quite normal because of the way in which we are all aware of broadcasting in this country. However, the majority of provisions in the Bill, when we come to it, will not concern broadcasting matters but the Internet, fixed and mobile telephones, increasing the choice available to consumers, the quality and cost of equipment and so on.

The public service environment in this country requires not only parliamentary debate--I was interested that the Baroness indicated that there may be a joint committee of both Houses to examine many of the issues leading up to the Bill proper--but the future of public service broadcasting in the new digital age has not been properly debated in the nation as a whole. People are not yet aware of the complexities entailed. There are so many difficulties in the new environment that special interests will be extremely fearful unless they are assured in short order. The poor, those who live in rural areas, the disabled, the blind and the deaf all have a vested interest in seeing that their needs are catered for in the new environment.

As the noble Baroness acknowledged, we have no objection in principle to the combining of the functions of the existing regulators into a new regulatory body, at the same time acknowledging the difficulties that that entails. The existing bodies have served us well. There have been hiccups, and there is an overlap between them. Taken together, the regulators employ a much larger number of people than is widely realised. The possible uncertainty for staff if delays occur and the danger of losing good people must be borne in mind.

The fact that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, will not address issues other than those set out in the Bill makes this a difficult and unusual debate. Our concern will be with the content of broadcasting, which has undergone great changes. There are many distinguished broadcasters in this Chamber and I meet many others. My assessment as a radio listener--an assessment that is probably shared by a large

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proportion of the population--is that radio broadcasting in this country has maintained its quality to an extent that many of us would not have thought possible as we entered an age when the race for television audiences became evident. As one who has listened to the radio every day over a long period of time, I take the view that 70 per cent of the programmes are of an extremely high quality; indeed, they are probably unmatched in the world. My comments relate to education, entertainment, information and many other areas.

However, public service television broadcasts--I see noble Lords opposite making a "thumbs down" sign. I would not go quite so far as that, but a higher and higher proportion of broadcasts on public service television are meretricious rubbish. That is sad, given the great traditions of broadcasting in this country. We looked on the old BBC rather like a schoolmaster for whom we had affection: we thanked him for teaching us well but did not want to spend too much time with him in private; we did not want too many of the moral strictures that the old nanny gave us. The BBC set a standard in broadcasting which has been maintained on radio but which has not been maintained on television. Competition from the new satellite channels and from other areas has made matters difficult. There has also been pressure from government in regard to ratings, although that is denied by the BBC.

These matters will need to be discussed in some detail. Standards of decency will also need to be discussed. They are part of the content of programmes and they have changed enormously. That change presents great difficulty for the older generation, in which I happily include myself. I sometimes ask my children and grandchildren whether the programme they are watching is suitable, and receive looks of kindly derision. Those of us who are over 50 are hopelessly out of date as regards what young people want, like and accept in terms of pornographic material, language and so on. All these points will have to be dealt with as we move towards the forthcoming Bill.

Returning to the importance of radio, I realised only when we were briefed by the Radio Authority that there are 100 million radios in this country. The average household has five radios. Some may not be in use; for all we know they may be submerged in bath water, but the number is enormous. Twenty per cent of radio listening takes place during people's car journeys to and from work--long periods of time for many people. Large numbers of young people listen to music programmes, which are a wonderful medium. All this relates to the comments of the noble Baroness; she wishes to create a dynamic, effective and well-structured communications industry continuing into the digital age.

Carrying out the proposals will be an extremely difficult job. The Bill before the House is simple. I admit that I have paid scant attention to it, but we do not disagree with its terms. We see the difficulties and

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we shall co-operate as much as possible in the run-up to the Bill proper, whenever that is, in trying to arrive at a decent result.

The legislation will create one of the biggest ever quangos. The word "quango" has certain pejorative tones and people do not like it, but this body will be a quango. We shall examine the terms of the proposals very carefully in order to ensure that it has the flexibility, the capability and the standards that are required, consistent with British traditions and at the forefront of their thinking. I wish the noble Baroness great good fortune in the run-up to the final legislation.

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