|Back to Table of Contents
|Lords Hansard Home Page
Lord Prys-Davies: I support all the amendments in the group. As the Bill impinges on some of the major functions devolved to the Assembly, it is extraordinary that there is no provision in Clause 3 that requires Ofcom to consult the Welsh Assembly. There is no provision anywhere in the Bill about the relationship between the Assembly and Ofcom.
As the Bill stands, there is the inevitable risk that specific Welsh interests, such as those relating to the bilingual nature of broadcasting in Wales and television reception in Wales, will not receive the attention that they merit. On 3rd April, the then Welsh Minister for Culture, Sport and Welsh Language wrote to Members of your Lordships' House with an interest in Welsh affairs to alert us to the fact that the Assembly was not satisfied with the Bill. The Assembly wanted changes, and it wanted the changes that are proposed in the amendments. I cannot understand why the UK Government should refuse the reasonable requests made by the Assembly. How could the Government
There is a memorandum of understanding between the UK Government and the devolved administrations in being. It was presented to Parliament in July last year, and I shall ask the Minister a question about it. As there appears to be a disagreementto use that termbetween the devolved Government in Wales, on the one hand, and the DTI and DCMS, on the other, on the matters that we are discussing, should not the matter be referred to the joint ministerial council, under paragraph A1.7 of the supplementary agreement? We require clarification of that issue.
My first point is that this matter is the first evidence of real discord between the United Kingdom Government and the Assembly Government in Cardiff over legislative proposals. That discord is evident in the difference between the position taken by the Government and that taken by the Assembly Minister, Miss Jenny Randerson. Amendment No. 27, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, rightly highlights the inadequacy of the Bill's provision for the national regions. The National Assembly appears to have had no role in the appointment of Professor Ian Hargreaves of Cardiff to the Ofcom board. It will have no role in the appointment of Wales-designated members of the content board and consumer panel. That is a dreadful slight to the Assembly.
Lord Crickhowell: If there is an implication that the noble Lord did not approve of the appointment of Professor Hargreaves, I must say that I cannot think of a more suitable candidate. I am sure that, given the chance, the Assembly would have endorsed him.
Lord Roberts of Conwy: Yes, but the point is that it was not given the chance. I believe that the Government's proposed concordat between Ofcom and the Assembly adds insult to injury. Concordats are normally between the Assembly and departments of state. As the Assembly Government Minister, Jenny Randerson, put it,
Having considered all that, I am not at all sure that the requirement of Amendment No. 27 for consultation with the national representative bodies is enough. It is less than half a loaf; it is only a crumb of comfort. We should take the much more positive line that my noble friend represented as a member of the Joint Committee. I am of course delighted that under Clause 1 Ofcom will have separate offices in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England and that presumably Ofcom will appoint people to run them. But in Wales, for example, with all its distinctiveness, including the Welsh language, who will advise the officers?
My noble friend is on the right lines with Amendment No. 61 which lays a duty on the content board to establish consultative councils. But is there not much to be said for more general advisory councils to correspond to the BBC's councils and other advisory bodies in the Ofcom field? Of course, that is true of Scotland and Northern Ireland as well as Wales.
Quite frankly, I must tell the Government that there is a head of steam behind this demand for a council in Wales and I believe that it makes a lot of sense. As we have already heard, there was a group set up to advise the National Assembly for Wales under the chairmanship of Geraint Talfan Davies, a former controller of the BBC. The group has certainly made the case and the Assembly has accepted it.
I shall not deploy the arguments; they are all there in the group's report. But I shall take a slight dig at the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, because he has always saidI am sure that many of us have heard himthat we should give the National Assembly what it wants. Are we going to give it what it wants or are we going to deny it, which is the case here?
Lord Roberts of Conwy: I do not think that even she, at the distance between us, can alter the argument or the case which I put. The noble Lord is aware of the advice that he has given this Committee on a number of occasions and the situation that I highlight now. Are we to concede what the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, has frequently pressed upon us and give the National Assembly what it wants or are we to deny it? I believe that it is right on this occasion.
Its broadband policy has shown that it has a degree of expertise that justifies its proactive involvement, a point acknowledged by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, on the first day in Committee on the Bill, at col. 668 of the Official Report on 29th April 2003. Therefore, I shall consider tabling an amendment on Report outlining the proposition that there should be councils advising Ofcom in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.
Lord Thomson of Monifieth: I have added my name to Amendment No. 78 and I wish to add a Scottish voice to what has been predominantly a Welsh argument. I want to make two points. Amendment No. 78 proposes that Ofcom should create committees for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We urge that from these Benches. However, I urge an additional point to those previously made.
As regards the quality of public service broadcasting in this country and the manner in which it has grown, its strength has lain in its arm's length relationship with the parliament and government of the day. What is good enough for the United Kingdom Parliament should be good enough for the National Assembly for Walesif I may say so, with all deferenceand for the Scottish Parliament. Therefore, while there is a need for Ofcom to ensure that it has the necessary committees to enable it to collect the views and interests of people throughout the United Kingdom, I regard public service broadcasting in this country as being one of the great cements that holds the whole United Kingdom together and creates a common climate of opinion, for all the diversities of geography and language. I would be very resistant to seeing the tradition established from the founding of the BBC that broadcasting organisations serve the public interest best by being kept at reasonable arm's length from the elected politicians, whether in the United Kingdom Parliament or in the Assembly or parliaments of other parts of the United Kingdom.
Lord Alderdice: Having added my name to Amendments Nos. 59 and 78, I am gratified to hear the case for them put so eloquently by my noble friends Lord Thomas of Gresford and Lord Thomson of Monifieth. In respect of Northern Ireland, there is a further important issue. The borderwhich stops many things, although not everything, as has been frequently noteddoes not stop radio broadcasting, telecommunications, cell telephones or television. Indeed, a number of our broadcasters, particularly in the commercial sector, now receive a great deal of their advertising and their viewing from the other side of the border.
That is very important in terms of content. There are a number of people in Northern Ireland who, because of their sporting interests, their cultural interests or their wider intellectual and political interests, want to receive content which is not exclusively United Kingdom content. This is something that has been understood and achieved by broadcasters and broadcasting organisations because there are people from within Northern Ireland right across the communities making interventions and bringing to the attention of broadcasting organisations and regulators the needs of the people.
There are also technical matters which are of great importance because people go backwards and forwards across the border. There are very real issues in terms of telecommunications. For example, as regards telephone numbers, frequently, those north of the border have found it more congenial and sometimes more effective to contact their colleagues in Dublin for an outcome rather than their colleagues in London, and frequently, through Dublin, London is more co-operative. Therefore, the idea of having something in Northern Ireland is very important for the people there.
This has been recognised in an international binding agreement. In the Good Friday agreement the question of broadcasting was included as one of the issues on which there would be co-operation. Therefore, I seek a response from the Minister as to whether the implications of that agreement have been understood and implemented in the conduct of the legislation and, in that sense, whether there have been consultations outside the United Kingdomas evidenced by the activities of the Prime Minister todaywhich are a very important part of relationships with my part of the UK. That is not the only argument in respect of Northern Ireland, but it is in addition to the arguments already made by noble Lords in respect of Scotland, Wales and, indeed, the English regions.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page