Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Blackstone: That is exactly what I said and I was therefore extremely surprised to hear the noble

29 Oct 2001 : Column 1236

Baroness, Lady Anelay, suggest that the Committee should divide. Perhaps I can put it to her again. We would be extremely happy to ask the Delegated Powers Committee to look at this and to see whether it wishes to confirm its original view or whether it wishes to take into account the different view of the noble Baroness.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for making that offer even clearer than she did before. I certainly accept it in the way that she has now put it. I repeat that the Committee may still wish to consider whether or not an affirmative resolution is more appropriate. As always, it will take the views of the Delegated Powers Committee as being definitive in this matter. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 12 not moved.]

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 [Initial function of OFCOM]:

Lord Lipsey moved Amendment No. 13:

    Page 2, line 24, at end insert--

"( ) It shall be the duty of OFCOM to promote the case for an examination of such proposals by a joint committee of both Houses of Parliament."

The noble Lord said: I wish to move Amendment No. 13 and, with it, Amendments Nos. 29 and 30. These amendments are designed to make even more likely that the final Bill should be considered, as I and many other noble Lords have argued, by a committee of both Houses of Parliament before it proceeds.

In one sense, I do not think that is a very controversial proposition even with the Government. Privately I receive quite warm noises on the proposal and even publicly, when we had the Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said,

    "... if there is time to do it and if both Houses of Parliament ask for it, I cannot imagine that the Government would wish to resist it."--[Official Report, 15/10/01; col.467.]

Those are not what I would call warm words, but they are encouraging words.

I want to get rid of the wriggle room in this. I believe that there are some reasons why the Government do not want to commit to this. I do not believe that the Bill should be allowed to pass until they have committed to it, and I wish to make my reasons very plain to the Committee.

The first attempt they use, in the formulation of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, is to say that this is a matter for both Houses of Parliament. That is of course true. That is why the third of my amendments, and the strongest of them, merely says that they must allow time for both Houses of Parliament to do it. This is a "wriggle" argument, however, because we now have a very good sense of what both Houses of Parliament want. The amendment is signed in this House by representatives of all three parties. In the Commons it was recommended to the Secretary of State by the all-party Media Committee. I am sure that the Minister will be able to confirm in reply that the Secretary of State has been written to in the last few days by both the spokesman for the Liberal Democrats

29 Oct 2001 : Column 1237

in the House of Commons, Nick Harvey, and by the spokesman for the Conservatives, Tim Yeo, strongly supporting a Joint Committee.

From reading the press, I know that this Government have an attitude to Parliament rather like that of the famous editor of The Times who was once approached by one of his junior staff with a suggestion for a leader that might appear in the paper, and who shot back, "Laddie, when I want your opinion, I'll give it to you". Some people accuse my party of taking the same view of Parliament. An assiduousness for Parliament's view is entirely right and I am glad to see that the Government now embrace it by giving that as the reason that they do not want to accept this amendment. We now know what Parliament's view will be, and I do not think that wriggle room therefore gets them out of making the commitment.

I now come to the reason they do not want to do it. It is because they are frightened that the Bill will slip; that they will not get it done by the spring; that they will get it out only in July. They want to introduce it at the beginning of the next Session, which would give us a whole Session in which to deal with it--and we shall certainly need it. They are therefore frightened that the timetable will slip and that a Joint Committee would hold things up. That is why they want the chance to get out of it.

I wish to make three points. The first is that they have had long enough to draft this Bill. We have had two consultation papers: the last of them last December. They were drawing up clauses for the Bill at the time of the general election and yet, even on their own timetable, we still have to wait until the spring before we see it in draft. They should get this Bill together by the spring, which would allow plenty of time for a Joint Committee. If they do not, the consequences will rest on their head, not on anybody else's.

The second point I make is that a Joint Committee of both Houses need not take long. I dug out the timetable for the analogous committee on the Financial Services and Markets Bill. Many noble Lords have said in our debate that, without that Joint Committee, the Bill would have been a disaster. It was set up and started taking evidence in March 1999. Its first evidence day was 16th March and on 27th April it reported: less than two months. It is no excuse, therefore, to say that we cannot find two months to look at a piece of legislation of this importance.

I would go further, however. It is not that having a Joint Committee will cost us time; it will save us time. Even with a Joint Committee, the Committee stage of that incredibly complicated Financial Services and Markets Bill took five or six days, but that was mainly because it was possible to get through. All of us who sat through it had had the arguments spelt out to us by the Joint Committee. Supposing that had not been so. We would not have been talking for six, eight or 10 days in this House. We might have been talking for 12, 14 or 16 days before that Bill had been properly examined. We know that it can be guillotined in the

29 Oct 2001 : Column 1238

House of Commons, and no doubt they would be willing to do so. However, it cannot be guillotined in this House.

I say to the Minister in great friendship--because I know that there is a great deal of sympathy for having such a committee on our Front Bench--if there is no examination by a Joint Committee of the final proposals, this House will have a duty to go through them paragraph by paragraph, clause by clause, line by line, comma by comma, full stop by full stop, until ministers scream for mercy at the detailed examination that is required.

In all seriousness, this game has gone on long enough. Commit to the means necessary to get the Joint Committee, as provided for in my amendments. If the Houses continue to show the enthusiasm for it that they have shown so far, commit to a Joint Committee. Ministers will not only be doing the right thing but will be saving themselves a lot of pain and a lot of time. I beg to move.

7.15 p.m.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: I rise to support the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey. I can be fairly brief, because I believe that his argument cannot be countered.

It is certainly right for this amendment to be before the Committee because, as the noble Lord said, this will be a very complex, technical Bill and, ultimately, I believe that pre-legislative scrutiny will save your Lordships time on the Floor of the House.

There has been a White Paper after the usual Green Paper. The disappointment was that the White Paper, published at the end of last year, was very green at the edges. Even the Secretary of State in another place referred to it as being green at the edges, and I think it also went a good deal further into the centre of the paper.

Given the experience of the utilities Bill, we have already seen how the Government's attempt to try to frame legislation with regard to the telecoms industry came to grief and had to be withdrawn. We are therefore aware that this is a very difficult and complex matter--a non-party political matter--where Joint Committees can work so effectively.

From my discussions with the industry at the end of last year, they believed that they had been given the very firm impression by the Government that there would be such prelegislative scrutiny. They would be extremely disappointed if the Government felt unable to keep to what appeared to be an offer. It may be that that was simply their misconception, but they certainly believed that this would take place.

I can confirm what the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, said with regard to support being given to his request by my honourable friend in another place, the shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Tim Yeo. He has written to confirm that the Conservative Party in the House of Commons would like to use the procedure involving a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament to examine the draft Bill, due to be introduced next year to establish Ofcom. He says

29 Oct 2001 : Column 1239

that the matters with which the Bill will deal are complex and important and he believes that the use of the procedure will assist in achieving the best possible outcome.

He also recognises that there are concerns about the timetable for the Bill, but he believes it is important that the best parliamentary scrutiny should take place. I confirm that we on the Conservative Benches in this Chamber agree with that view. I hope that the Government are able to accede to the request of the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page