Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Crickhowell: I am puzzled by Amendment No. 4, on financial interests. I thought that the issue was adequately covered by paragraph 1(1) of the schedule, which specifically states that, before the chairman or other non-staff members are appointed,


The noble Viscount appears simply to be drafting an alternative wording to achieve the same end, but I may be missing something.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: The two amendments are admirable justifications for having the Bill at the present time. There is a positive temptation for zealous people such as the noble Viscount to make an honourable and perfectly fair contribution. However, by the time we have gone through all the possible dimensions of the human character to make someone fit to sit on Ofcom--which, incidentally, will have almost nothing to do--it will be fairly overloaded. The noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, may well make a plea on behalf of the disabled. Everybody knows and respects his long-standing concern for the disabled and all that he has done for them, but I very much doubt that the disabled would gain much satisfaction from having a representative on Ofcom, which by that time will be in danger of being a perilously large institution.

I return to the simple point that Ofcom will have no regulatory powers, a very small membership and a very small staff, who would be overloaded by having to look after countless members. Its duties can be rather loosely summed up as doing whatever the Secretary of State thinks appropriate. What Secretaries of State think appropriate is not necessarily a first class launching pad for a new organisation. However, I let that pass.

My point is that to produce a Bill of this kind at this stage seems to me to be a classic case of buying yourself an extraordinarily expensive cart and afterwards in the years to come thinking about bringing along a horse which can contribute some animation to the process. The noble Baroness has tempted the noble Viscount--I am sympathetic towards him--and she will tempt the noble Lord, Lord Morris, and others to make all kinds of proposals about who might or might not be represented on this almost useless but certainly powerless organisation. I hope that the noble Baroness will not accept the amendments. I am happy to support her on that if on nothing else.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The speech which the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, should have made at Second Reading is now gradually unfolding before us. We are now getting the sense of a speech which has nothing at all to do with the amendments, as he knows, but comprises the points he would have liked to make if he had been present at Second Reading.

It is not the case that Ofcom as set up by the Bill has nothing to do; it has the job of facilitating the introduction of regulation when the Government and

29 Oct 2001 : Column 1216

Parliament have decided all the details of that regulation. I made my next point at the end of the Second Reading debate. I shall repeat it now and I promise not to repeat it further. When the substantive communications Bill is completed an office of communications will be in place ready to take up its task and there will not be a delay of six to 12 months while a chairman or chief executive and others are appointed. That is the point of having this Bill; namely, to save time. However, if we continue in the way we are, we shall not exactly save time.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: Will Ofcom do anything which it could not do without this Bill?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: It will establish the procedures to facilitate the regulation of telecommunications set out in Clause 2. When the telecommunications Act receives Royal Assent there will be no necessity for it to go through all of the procedures in the Bill which will be put in place over the next 12 months or so.

I turn to the amendments we are discussing. I am afraid it is not the case that paragraph 1 to the schedule sets out what Amendment No. 4 would require. Paragraph 1 to the schedule is more comprehensive. It provides not only that the chairman should have no financial or other interest as is likely to affect prejudicially the carrying out by him of his functions, but that that should apply also to any other non-staff member. For some reason Amendment No. 4 relates only to the chairman; I do not think that the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, intended that as he referred to members in his speech. I hope I can convince him that paragraph 1 to the schedule meets the point and that we in no way disagree with him in requiring that the members of Ofcom should act with due probity and propriety in carrying out their duties.

Amendment No. 7 provides for due political impartiality. That protection is provided by the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments. We shall follow the code of practice of that office. Posts are publicly advertised and the recommendations made by selection panels provide an objective basis on which Ministers are able to make appointments based on merit. The process under which such appointments are made can also be independently audited to ensure the principles of the code have been followed. I hope that in view of that explanation of the procedures which will be followed the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, will not wish to press the amendment.

Viscount Falkland: I thank the noble Lord for that reply. I also thank all those who have taken part in the debate, which I have enjoyed immensely. I do not normally enjoy proposing amendments but it is a happy day when one has the good fortune to cause the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, to speak. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 5 not moved.]

29 Oct 2001 : Column 1217

Baroness Anelay of St Johns moved Amendment No. 6:


    Page 1, line 9, after "State" insert ", following consultation with the chairman and any other members who have already been appointed,"

The noble Baroness said: This follows on from our discussions on the size of the board and is one of the series of good practice amendments I have tabled.

The Government say that Ofcom is a fledgling body, that it will sort out what it is doing later and that we should not worry as the Chamber will have the opportunity to discuss the matter at that time. However, if the Government so wished, the Ofcom which we are establishing in this Bill could remain in that form. Its membership could be left at a figure of not less than three or more than six if the Government so wished. However, I am concerned that the Government might decide to raise the maximum membership above six for reasons that have nothing to do with the necessity for Ofcom's functions to be carried out properly. Its competence may not have been called into question. A government--I do not refer to this Government, of course, who are naturally above reproach--whose party has not yet been invented may wish to increase the membership of Ofcom to confer political patronage.

I am reminded of the Second Reading of the Culture and Recreation Bill which we discussed at the beginning of the year. That measure initially included provisions to change the way in which the chairmen of the major cultural institutions of this country were appointed and provisions to change the way in which the numbers of their trustees were altered either up or down. We discussed how political patronage might be misused in that context. The Government assured us that they had never intended that. However, having heard the concerns of the Chamber, the Government tabled amendments to prevent any political patronage being brought to bear on those institutions. I do not forget those discussions lightly; nor do I forget lightly the unease in the outside world with regard to how political patronage may be abused.

My amendment is a practical piece of good practice. I apologise for that hyperbole. It seeks to ensure that if the Secretary of State decides to increase the membership of the board she should first be required to consult the chairman and the existing members of the board before making further appointments, as occurs with other appointed boards. Provided the original appointments have been made in a non-partisan and proper manner--we shall have the opportunity to debate that fully when we discuss the proposed amendments to the schedule--the fledgling body and, ultimately, the full operating body, which could comprise the same people, will be well placed to advise the Secretary of State on whether or not she should increase the size of the board and, if so, by how many according to the amount of work to be done and the skills required. I beg to move.

Lord Borrie: I share the view of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, that it must be a good idea for the Secretary of State to consult with the chairman before

29 Oct 2001 : Column 1218

appointing the other members. That seems to me good appointmentship, as it were, on the part of the Secretary of State. However, I do not believe that the amendment is necessary. I do not like the reference to consulting the other members. In the first place, if anyone is a good chairman, he or she ought to be able to represent to the Secretary of State the views of all the members and not just those of the chairman.

In the second place, the bodies will have an element of self-perpetuation if, every time appointments are made, each and every existing member appears to have albeit not a veto but a say in the appointment of the new members. I believe that that spoils the noble Baroness's amendment.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page