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Baroness Anelay of St Johns: I did say that these were straightforward amendments because such they are. The Minister repliedas he has done on previous amendments in Committeethat we are going into too much detail. The difficulty is that there is so little detail in the Bill that we are groping in the dark to find what on earth is this beast that we are being asked to set up and let loose upon the citizens of this country. I share, as does my noble friend Lady Miller, some of the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, about how the beast will become accountable when it takes off and makes its own character even before it comes into fruition with the communications Bill.
I am tempted to make comments about whether Model Standing Orders for Constituency Labour Parties should be sent to Ofcom or any other body. Whether it will have the same record of obeying them as the Labour Party constituency committee is for someone else to comment on. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 77, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 78. Both amendments address the question of what should happen when a member declares that he or she has a financial interest.
Amendment No. 77 is a probing amendment, the effect of which would be to prevent members of Ofcom or those exercising functions delegated to them by Ofcom from taking part in decisions in which they have an interest. At the moment, the drafting of the schedule to the Bill quite correctly recognises that members of Ofcom and members of its committees will, from time to time, find that they have an interestwhether personal, financial or fiduciarythat conflicts with their involvement with the functions of the regulator. This must be expected to occur on a fairly regular basis, given the wide brief that Ofcom will have.
Paragraph 16 currently proposes that if a person has such an interest, they can not only remain present but also take part in the decision in which they have a collateral interest, provided that everyone else there says that they can. Indeed, one can say "everyone else" so far as concerns members of Ofcom because paragraph 16(3)(a) refers to unanimity. The problem is that the same cannot be said of the committees of Ofcom, the members of which will simply be making the decision in accordance with their standing orders, which may or may not require unanimity. We simply do not know at this stage.
It is surprising that this proposal is regarded as good governance. The norm would be, surely, for the person subject to the conflict of interest to leave the room, unless the others required him or her to stay to assist with their discussions. The presumption would be that they should not be there. It takes self-regulation to new extremes to suggest that the members of Ofcom can decide among themselves whether or not a conflict of interest is sufficiently important to exclude someone from the decision-making process. It is vital that the public perception of the decision-making processes of Ofcom is that they are honest and transparent.
I was intrigued to note the report of a problem which has apparently arisen at BBC Worldwide. The Committee may have noted that it was reported in the Sunday Times on 28th October this year. Rupert Gavin, the chief executive of BBC Worldwide, chaired the meeting that approved the appointment of his associate, Dan Colman, to a contract to stage pop concerts starring the children's characters the Tweenies. I believe that the Tweenies is the BBC's most commercially successful show. The turnover for last year's concerts, also staged by Colman, was £5 million. The Sunday Times reports that his appointment for the second season of concerts was approved at a meeting of the BBC Worldwide's investment committee which Rupert Gavin chaired on 5th July 2000.
So, looking at this probing amendment, it would perform a useful function to determine in what circumstances someone should be allowed to remain present when matters are discussed from which they or their friends could benefit.
Turning to Amendment No. 78, paragraph 18(1)(d) of the schedule makes it possible for the proceedings of Ofcom to be valid even when the board or any of its committees breaches the rules set out in paragraphs 15 and 16 of the schedule. The rules in those two paragraphs are as follows: paragraph 15 sets out the rules covering procedure, including the rules about quorums and the making of decisions by a majority; paragraph 16 covers the rules about the declaration of interests and the requirement that members shall thereafter not take part in decision-making on matters where that interest has been declared.
These are serious matters. It seems extraordinary that there is provision in the Bill for members of Ofcom to break their own rules and yet still be permitted to go ahead with the decisions made in breach of those rules. That means in theoryI hope it would never happen in such a prestigious bodythat a person who has a financial interest could take part in the making of a decision, and perhaps influence it to their own financial advantage, knowing that if they were found out the decision would still stand and the financial advantage which they had gained by breaking the rules would still be secure. That surely cannot be right. I hope that the Minister can reassure me that there is some way of preventing that happening. I cannot see it in the Bill at the moment.
As the Minister said earlier, huge sums could be involved in the decisions made by Ofcombillions, perhaps, if analogue is sold off. So this is a very serious matter. People who take decisions at Ofcom should not only be seen as not benefiting from them. But if, by any remote chance, Ofcom broke its own rules and someone benefited because they had not declared an interest, then surely that Ofcom decision should not stand and thereby benefit that person for breaking the rules. I beg to move.
Baroness Blackstone: Amendment No. 77 relates to declarations of interest. Ofcom and its committees will, of course, need people who have experience gained in a whole variety of different fields. It is essential that people with particular skills, interests or experience are not automatically ruled out from participating in actions and decisions where that experience would be of great benefit. I am sure the
I entirely accept the important point made by the noble Baroness about public perception: that people should be clear, and should be reassured, that there are not serious conflicts of interest. But it must be left for the members of Ofcom and its committees to take a commonsense approach in these areas.
It would perhaps be open to Ofcom to require unanimity in making decisions about this for some or all of its committees. It may not always be necessary; however, the noble Baroness has raised an interesting point. Unanimity is required for Ofcom as a whole but we should perhaps look at it in the context of committees. Therefore, I am happy to consider the point.
Turning to Amendment No. 78, many of the arrangements that Ofcom might make for regulating its own procedures and those of its committees under paragraph 15 of the schedule could relate to matters of a fairly minor nature. For argument's sake, these arrangements might refer to the publication of
Similarly, the requirements in paragraph 16 are entirely appropriate and sensible for ensuring that declarations of interest are made where they might exist. However, the fact that, for examplein relation to paragraph 16(6)(b)a declaration that was made is not read out at a meeting, again, should not make the proceedings of Ofcom or one of its committees invalid.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: I am grateful to the Minister for her response. Perhaps I may refer first to Amendment No. 78. I shall look carefully to see whether my amendments should possibly have been drawn in a different position and whether, given the way in which I have tabled them, they refer to matters of administrative oversight rather than decision-making.
Turning to Amendment No. 77, I am grateful to the Minister for saying that she might look again at the matters regarding unanimity as regards committees and how decision-making ought to be dealt with. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
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