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Lord Borrie: My Lords, towards the end of her remarks on Amendment No. 41 the noble Baroness wondered how the roles of full-time chairmen of five bodies merged into one could possibly be carried out by someone who was only part-time. But, surely, this paving Bill is concerned with the Ofcom that is to be created by the Bill which has a temporary role and the other regulators continue in existence. By Amendment No. 41 the noble Baroness forces the Government from the very beginning to appoint someone who is full time when that may or may not be necessary. I do not know.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, following the observation of the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, I am very supportive of my noble friend particularly in relation to Amendment No. 41. In no sense am I the spiritual heir of Professor Parkinson, but it is my experience that when Ministers ask individuals to take on jobs which are not necessarily full-time almost always they underestimate the amount of time that those people need to put in to discharge the tasks. Although the Government may be reluctant to see a particular number of hours placed on the face of the Bill, my noble friend introduces an extraordinarily valuable precaution and in that respect I am very supportive of it.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, Amendment No. 35 represents good practice which I am sure takes place anyway. Therefore, there is no point in putting it on the face of the Bill. Amendment No. 41 raises a point of principle. Here I differ from the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville. To have a chairman of a body work full-time and, therefore, as long as the chief executive, is not totally satisfactory. There may be a conflict of roles and I am not sure that that is a desirable direction in which to proceed. In the end, it may be necessary to have a chairman who is virtually full time, but at this stage to suggest that that is the only way to proceed because five bodies are to be merged weakens the very delicate balance that one seeks to achieve between the chairman and chief executive of an organisation. The more the chairman works full-time the more difficult it is to place the two roles in the right relationship one to the other. I hope that the Government not only reject the amendment but do their best not to have a chairman for as long as five days a week.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, it is true that in Committee we said we expected the chairman of

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Ofcom to carry out his functions on a part-time basis. We want the chairman and other non-executive members to bring a range of experience relevant to the responsibilities of Ofcom and to keep that body in touch with the outside world. It is not inconceivable that the chairman could have other calls on his or her time, but that does not mean that he could have commitments or interests which affect prejudicially his ability to devote sufficient time to the undertaking, or that they should be of such a nature as would bring them into conflict with his role as chairman. There is nothing wrong with a part-time appointment. The chairmen of the BBC and ITC are part-time appointments. But clearly it is important that there should not be any conflict of interest, and the Secretary of State will ensure that that is the case.

Similarly, if the noble Baroness is worried about the prospect that the chairman might take a leave of absence which could damage the position, the Secretary of State would consider the matter and certainly would not allow a leave of absence that would render the post unoccupied when it needed to be occupied—if I may put it that way. The Bill provides flexibility in this area. If a short period of absence would not be damaging and other members could provide cover for the post, of course that would be acceptable. Otherwise, we would expect the chairman to resign.

All this will be covered by the job description. Although it is not yet ready, we aim to make it available before the Bill leaves Parliament. I hope that that will be helpful. As regards the onerous tasks of the job, I should point out that the chairman will have to assist him the experience of the board, as well as the support of a full-time chief executive and adequate staff. Provision has been made to increase the size of the board if that is considered necessary.

I hope that, on the basis of those reassurances, the amendment will not be pressed.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I am grateful to those noble Lords who contributed to our brief debate on these matters. I was intrigued by the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Borrie. He went to the heart of the issue by saying that we appear to be recruiting a person to become the chair of a body which has a limited range of operation, but which later may well evolve into a far more demanding role. However, the person recruited will need the skills of a chameleon to change the way in which he or she operates. That I believe will be a challenge for the Government in terms of advertising the post as well as a challenge for the candidate who seeks to meet the requirements.

I thank my noble friend Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville for his support. He was quite right to point out that whoever is appointed may well find, as so often happens, that no matter what is set out in the job description as regards the amount of time needed to carry out the tasks, the postholder finds that he or she has to do a great deal more work than has been provided for in the job description.

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The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, made a proper point as regards taking care not to muddle the roles of the chairman and the chief executive. I certainly would not wish to do so and that was not my intention in tabling the amendments.

I am grateful to the Minister for making two points. First, he believes that the Bill already provides sufficient flexibility in these matters. I hope that is the case and I wait to see whether his assurances are borne out in reality. Secondly, I welcome in particular the fact that he has been able to put on the record the Government's intention to make available the job description for the chairman before the Bill leaves Parliament. I wonder if, by that comment, the noble Lord means that it will be published before the Bill leaves another place. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendments Nos. 36 and 37:

    Page 7, line 13, leave out "non-staff" and insert "non-executive"

    Page 7, line 14, leave out "non-staff" and insert "non-executive"

On Question, amendments agreed to.

6.45 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Hendon moved Amendment No. 38:

    Page 7, line 27, at end insert—

"( ) Before appointing members of OFCOM the Secretary of State shall ensure that at all times, where possible, at least two members of OFCOM are qualified lawyers or economists and who have appropriate experience and knowledge of competition law and practice.
( ) A lawyer will be qualified for these purposes only if—
(a) he has a seven year general qualification within the meaning of section 71 of the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990 (c. 41),
(b) he is an advocate or solicitor in Scotland of at least seven years' standing, or
(c) he is—
(i) a member of the Bar of Northern Ireland of at least seven years' standing, or
(ii) a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Northern Ireland of at least seven years' standing."

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this probing amendment seeks to drive home the critically important point that Ofcom should be, above all else, an effective competition authority. In particular, it is clear that the Government intend that Ofcom should inherit the concurrent powers under the Competition Act 1998 which at present are held by Oftel. But it also seems likely that concurrent powers will be extended to cover the full, "converged" area of Ofcom's operations, including broadcasting, where at present competition cases are handled by the OFT, not the ITC. Ofcom may therefore end up handling some of the most strategically important competition cases within the United Kingdom, not only in telecoms but also in broadcasting.

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In our view it is entirely appropriate to ask the Government to make explicit that they will appoint to the core of Ofcom a number of persons with experience and expertise in that particular area. That does not simply mean appointing those who have general experience either in telecoms or broadcasting circles, but rather people who are expert in the specific field of competition law, in particular as it is applied to telecoms and broadcasting.

As was recognised in the Competition Act, the provisions of the Bill indicate a role for qualified competition lawyers and economists. Indeed, much of the wording of the amendment is lifted directly from the Competition Act—specifically paragraph 26 of Schedule 7—which deals with the qualification of persons for the panel of tribunal chairmen. I beg to move.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I should like to make a brief intervention. The amendment is interesting in terms of what it reveals about the views of the Conservative Front Bench. The amendment seeks qualified lawyers, but any old economist will do. Noble Lords on the Opposition Front Bench decided not to define, or perhaps could not define, what was meant by suitable economists. A certain weakness lies in the amendment, quite apart from the basic principle being addressed. On second thoughts, I know why the qualifications of the economists were not specified. It could not be done because it was far too difficult. Members on the Conservative Front Bench have left it well alone, thereby exposing a weakness.

More seriously, to define in terms of specialist qualifications what will be required of the members of the Ofcom board is, I believe, to misunderstand the nature of what the Ofcom board ought to be. The legal skills prescribed here strike me as the kind of skills that the board of Ofcom ought to have at its disposal; namely, it describes the kind of advice that should be provided by members of the Ofcom staff. Such expertise should not necessarily be prescribed as skills to be held by individual members of the board. The normal and healthy tradition of government Ministers taking advice from expert civil servants, which acknowledges that the individuals themselves do not have the same level of technical expertise as staff in their departments, serves very well. The same would hold good for Ofcom and similar bodies.

We need individuals for the Ofcom board who prove themselves able to master the technical and skilled advice that they are given, rather than those who are so qualified. After all, many other qualifications could also be listed. I cite, for example, knowledge of broadcasting and of the Internet. Those skills are not listed in the amendment. In fact, the amendment exposes some weaknesses of approach, even though it is only a probing amendment, as the noble Baroness pointed out. Perhaps it has exposed more weaknesses in her thinking than she may have wanted to reveal.

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