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Baroness Blackstone: The Bill simply makes clear what the procedure will be. This is a typical example where, if it were not on the face of the Bill, someone, probably from the Opposition Benches, would be asking why not. It clarifies the position and reassures everyone who has an interest that this is what will happen.

Lord Crickhowell: Perhaps the noble Baroness will at least agree with me that, on the timetable set out by Ministers so far, none of this is likely to happen before early 2003.

Baroness Blackstone: I meant to return to that point. It is important that the position should be clarified and that any misunderstandings should be corrected. It is the Government's intention to make sure that the chief executive is appointed way before early 2003. That is one of the reasons for introducing this paving Bill; that is, to make it possible to set up an embryonic Ofcom to do just that.

Lord Crickhowell: I am sorry to pursue this matter but we now have an extraordinary situation. The noble Baroness herself said at Second Reading that the non-staff members would not be in place before the autumn. I am simply basing my remarks on the information given to the House by the noble Baroness.

As I observed earlier, anyone who has been involved in the process of appointing a chief executive will know that it is a complex procedure and usually involves interviews and a period of consideration. The person who is selected may then not be available immediately. I am simply at a loss to understand how the Minister can possibly give the Committee the undertaking she gave when the timetable she herself described makes it an extremely improbable scenario.

Baroness Blackstone: At Second Reading I said that the full board would be appointed by the autumn. That does not preclude the chairman being involved in the selection of the chief executive, possibly with one or two other members who might have been appointed by that time. That is what is intended. The chairman will be appointed in the spring with a small number of other members.

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Lord Crickhowell: Again, I am sorry to rise but I am tempted by the use of the word "possibly". It is not a question of "possibly" with the involvement of one or two other members; it is clearly and specifically laid down in paragraph 5(2) of the schedule that the non-staff members "shall" be involved. Therefore it cannot be done, as is suggested in the consultant's report, simply by the chairman. Now we are being told that if there are one or two they can get on with appointing the chief executive.

That is a highly unsatisfactory way of appointing a board; that is, to appoint one additional non-staff member and then the two people can get on with selecting the chief executive. The more I hear about the way this matter is being handled, the more extraordinary it seems to be.

Baroness Blackstone: There is nothing extraordinary about what is proposed. I am surprised by the language used by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. The matter is absolutely clear, and I shall set it out. In the spring, the chairman and the non-staff members of the small board of three to six members will be appointed. They will then appoint the chief executive, so he or she will be able to be in post some time in the autumn.

Lord Crickhowell: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for changing the advice she gave to the House at Second Reading and for telling Members of the Committee that it is hoped that the process will start in the spring. If I misread the situation, I apologise. From the information I read previously I believed that the job was to be done by the autumn. It is at least a relief to know that there is likely to be a speedier process. We shall have to watch what happens in practice.

Lord Luke: That question certainly provoked a debate. I am grateful to my noble friends Lord Peyton and Lord Crickhowell for their support. One matter which results from that is that one is not necessarily happy with what is happening as regards selection of members of the board and, indeed, the question of there being a part-time chairman. I was not aware that the chairman would be part-time. However, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. I believe that we shall probably return to the subject. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Miller of Hendon moved Amendment No. 10:

    Page 1, line 22, at end insert "; and

(c) with the objective of reducing the current level of regulation wherever possible to nominate one member to have particular responsibility to oversee and report to OFCOM on the effect of relevant proposals about the regulation of communications."

The noble Baroness said: In the White Paper the Government promised that the new regulator would operate with a light touch. In the real world, with the amalgamation of several regulatory bodies, especially

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when there will inevitably be a degree of rival empire building between the differing segments of the new, all-embracing regulator, it is likely that regulation may tend to increase. That will happen because each segment might wish to prove itself more assiduous than thou in relation to the others.

I do not normally quote verbatim from briefing notes that I receive, but NTL, the cable operator, put the point far more eloquently than I could. It states:

    "The environment that OFCOM creates will be critically important for giving the UK the sort of regulatory regime that it needs to retain its position as the most attractive place for global business and internationally mobile investment".

It goes on to say, most tellingly,

    "OFCOM will be a failure if it becomes a glorified landlord with five new tenants under one roof but not benefiting from living together".

There will also be the temptation for this new-broom, Ofcom, to sweep clean and to establish a reputation for the effectiveness of its regulatory activities. For the sake of argument, let us assume that I am being unduly pessimistic. Nevertheless, it is surely desirable to ensure that temptation is put out of the way of Ofcom and its separate departments. This moderate proposal does not inhibit the activities of Ofcom in any way; it simply ensures that one of the members has the responsibility of overseeing its regulations and ensuring that it fully considers the effect of any new regulation it proposes or existing one which it intends to retain in effect.

That is not a novel concept. This place enjoys the advice of a committee to advise it on the effect of secondary legislation before it is passed. Furthermore, Ofcom will regulate an industry whose technology is growing by leaps and bounds in a bewildering way that many of us would not have envisaged a few years ago. The White Paper promised that,

    "[Regulation] must ... be flexible so that it can respond to ... change and allow the benefits of new technologies to flow through to society".

Competition in the industry is growing fiercely, especially as the differing technologies overlap. There will surely be occasions when costs can be saved by withdrawing or reducing regulation in areas where competition in the market justifies that course to be taken. All the amendment does is require Ofcom to appoint an overseer of regulation and a proponent of the laudable and uncontroversial need to deregulate wherever possible. I do not ask for his or her recommendations to be binding on Ofcom, rather only to take on the task of reporting to Ofcom for it to make whatever decision is appropriate in the light of a dispassionate second opinion.

The reason for the amendment is that we require reassurance that, when it becomes fully operational, Ofcom will deliver what the White Paper promised and what I quoted it as stating at the beginning of my remarks; that is, a light regulatory touch. We shall listen carefully to what the Minister has to say to us on that point. I beg to move.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham: I have some problem with the amendment. I can see the point of what the

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noble Baroness is trying to achieve in calling for an internal monitor of light-touch regulation. Perhaps I may say that the role that she describes is surely one that should be played by the chairman and chief executive. The sort of regulation with which Ofcom will come up--like the noble Baroness, I hope that it will be light touch as the White Paper says--is a central task of the chairman and chief executive of Ofcom. The idea of an internal policeman who taps the chairman on the shoulder and says, "By the way, you were a bit heavy touch today" seems misplaced in terms of good corporate governance.

Baroness Blackstone: We agree with the comments of the noble Baroness and those of the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, that it is important to ensure that the level of regulation is kept to a minimum. That is an important aim which we all share. However, I also have a great deal of sympathy with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Holme. This must be a matter for the chairman and the chief executive.

The communications Bill will set out our proposals for ensuring that Ofcom takes into account the need to reduce the level of regulation when appropriate. Perhaps I may elaborate a little on that. It will not be possible for each of the sectors, interests or areas for which Ofcom will have responsibilities to be represented on the board without it becoming unnecessarily unwieldy and bureaucratic, as the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, well understands. Indeed, she made that point earlier.

The board has to be able to set the overall strategic vision for Ofcom and be able to balance the wide-ranging economic and cultural interests for which it will have responsibility. In making appointments to the board we shall be searching for a balance of people with that kind of wide experience and appropriate skills. Ofcom will be charged with the need to have regard to a number of matters in making its decision. The communications Bill will set out the detail of how that will be done. In the light of my comments, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

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