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Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, indeed it is, but it does not have the specific duty of fulfilling that objective. The role of promoting broad access is for government action. I have already mentioned several ways in which we have begun to co-ordinate government departments to reach objectives that are shared across the House. We all recognise that we cannot have an information-rich and an information-poor section of the community. That would produce inequalities that we should not tolerate.
So we all agree that we must tackle those issues and recognise that some of them relate to the rural community. But this is exactly what the Government are doing. We have already acted in Cornwall, delivering 13 exchanges to create capacity for broadband. We have schemes to enable pilots in small communities such as Alston. The broadband aggregation project will make the most of £1 billion of public sector money to be spent on broadband for its own purposes. That is because the issue spans government departments and is a matter on which the Government as a whole must actespecially the significant allocation of resources that will be necessary in crucial areas to produce the results that we all desire.
Lord Davies of Oldham: No. My Lords, there is a range of different figures. I cannot give a particular figure at this stage. I have just indicated that we have an allocation of resources concerned with the question of the project to make the most of the money that we have available. I have indicated that a £1 billion public sector spend will be related to this area of improving capacity and access.
Of course, this is a rapidly changing circumstance, in which we all recognise that we must divert the wide resources of government to meet these needs. The amendment specifically requires Ofcom to do this. It is contended at the present time that this is not a specific objective. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, made reference to the fact that the House voted to take out that part of the clause that gave Ofcom a duty to the community as a whole, and has translated that duty into more specific terms. It is even more incumbent on the Government to recognise that a range of strategies is necessary to serve the interests of the community.
Although I share, in every respect, the objectives that have been put forward by all those in the House who supported the amendment, I am unable to accept the amendment as being a proper and specific duty upon Ofcom. I mentioned the requirement that Ofcom should get into the position of encouraging the market to respond in these terms; that looks to be an odd specific requirement to place upon a regulator.
We recognise that Ofcom will give broadband a high priority. For instance, in a speech on 5th December 2002, the noble Lord, Lord Currie of Marylebone, as chairman of Ofcom, said that Ofcom would need to address the many key policy issues in the communications sector. He then listed those priorities, and first on the list was broadband roll-out. I do not think that we should, in any way, shape or form, suggest that the Government and Ofcom are not seized with the priority that needs to be applied to the question of extending capacity for broadband.
It is not right that we translate this into a specific requirement of Ofcom, given that there is a broad range of objectives. Making resources necessary for this stimulus to sustain and develop the market would involve a much greater spread of government contribution than is identified by Ofcom.
We have had an interesting debate that has given us the chance to emphasise rural needs and the needs of all those who do not at present have access to broadband. However, because of the limitations of the amendment, and because it narrows the purpose, I suggest that this responsibility should not be placed on the regulator.
The Earl of Northesk: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, but it will come as no surprise to him that I am utterly disappointed by it. Things were going swimmingly until, as I understood it, he stated explicitly that broadband delivery should be exclusively a function of the market except, unless otherwise directed by government intervention.
I find that utterly extraordinary. We have all agreed that the market at the moment cannot alone bridge the digital divide. It cannot do the job. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, for his contribution. In discussions that I had with him after tabling the amendment, he was concerned that the amendment should include the word "widespread". I am even more pleased therefore that he feels the use of "throughout the United Kingdom" to be adequate.
I found the case of my noble friend Lord Lucas compelling, and I thank him for that. I am also grateful to my noble friend Lord Crickhowell for drawing the comparison between us and our international competitors. I found that to be a telling point.
We all know that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is particularly expert in technological matters, but for me the point at issue here is not what Ofcom is already empowered to do, but to ensure that the regulator is properly charged in statute with an understanding of its proactive role in this area. That is simply not the case at the moment. The emphasis in the Bill is utterly competitive. Albeitand I pick up on the point made by the Ministerthe irony of the House's acceptance of Amendment No. 1 is not entirely lost on me.
I continue to be convinced that the current text of the Bill does not afford Ofcom the opportunity to give broadband the prominence that it merits. This is not about anything other than Ofcom understanding its proactive role, to use the vocabulary of the moment. Ofcom needs to be a stakeholder in this issue.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Baker. I could not agree with him more that positive encouragement from government is required. Acceptance of this amendment would have been an ideal manifestation of that. On that basis, I should test the opinion of the House.
Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.
The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Cox): My Lords, before calling the next amendment, I have been asked to make the following announcement: in Division No. 1 this afternoon, the number of noble Lords voting "Not Content" should have been 74, not 75, as previously announced.
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