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Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I apologise. Certainly I was in disagreement with the line taken by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton. My disagreement with my noble friend Lord Currie was not on the intention of Ofcom, which is highly desirablewe have heard it
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, I am not altogether disturbed by the disagreement of the noble Baroness with me. I am glad to know that Ofcom will appoint a body that it considers necessary, but for us to do so seems absurd. She is not doing herself justice in supporting that.
Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, I shall start on a positive note. We will consider the principle of stating in the Bill a requirement for Ofcom to establish a committee for the disabled and elderly with a statutory base. Of course, the Bill already provides that Ofcom will be bound by statute to establish an advisory body to advise it on the consumer interests of, among others, disabled people, the elderly and those on low incomes. That is a key function of the consumer panel.
What noble Lords see in the Bill is a sturdy framework on which the consumer panel can build and which Ofcom must provide. The top level is the membership of the panel, representing the diversity of consumers across the UK. As a whole, the panel will be responsible for giving informed advice on, among other matters, the interests of the disadvantaged, the disabled and the elderly. The top level is supported by five important pillars.
The first pillar is the list of matters on which the panel must be able to advise, set out in Clause 15(3)(a) to (k). That includes the cost of services, their provision and availability, apparatustelevisions, set-top boxes and remote controlsstandards of service, information about service standards and so on. The second pillar is the power to carry out and publish independent research, in Clause 15(6)(b). The third pillar is the panel's freedom to advise other bodies as it sees fit, in Clause 15(2). Fourthly, the panel has a duty to have regard to the interests of a diverse range of consumers including the disabled and the elderly, who are named constituents of the panel, in Clause 15(6). Finally, the panel must have the power to organise itself and set up its own committees, under Clause 17(1) and (2).
I shall now move Amendment No. 34. In Committee, we considered an amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, to require the consumer panel to produce an annual report. It will add the vital elements of accountability and transparency to the work of the panel
As I said, the Bill is a sturdy framework on which the consumer panel can build, and I do not think it necessary or desirable to add further detail to the legislation, as required by Amendment No. 46. The panel has all the powers that it needs, and has the duty to provide informed advice about the interests of disabled and elderly people across a broad range of issues. Having heard the debate, we will consider the composition of the panel, as raised by several noble Lords this morning, when we consider Amendment No. 31.
I have already signalled our intention to consider the principle behind Amendment No. 31, but I cannot accept it outright, and I must resist Amendment No. 32 for a number of reasons. Principally, both amendments risk creating duplication of the work of the consumer panel and the content board, and they seek to do in legislation what Ofcom would itself have to do as a matter of operational necessity.
It is incredibly difficult for a regulator, bogged down in the detail set out in statute, to serve its true constituentscitizens and consumers. It is the very people whose interests we are trying to champion who will suffer from an inflexible regulator that cannot move and respond to changing needs and circumstances. The needs of people with disabilities and those of the elderly will always have to be addressed and their interests taken into account. The Bill provides for that. Ofcom will be able to serve the interests of those groups better if it is not tied into inflexible legislation.
However, as I have signalled, we will consider Amendment No. 31, given the strength of feeling expressed about it today. But the practicalities of setting up committees should not be for the parliamentary draftsman or the lobby group to try to translate into legislation. That is why we must resist Amendment No. 32. The chairman and his board of experts, with a finger on the pulse of the new organisation, are best placed to decide how to structure their organisation. As was mentioned earlier today, Stephen Carter has done just that, announcing on 12th June his intention to set up a standing committee on disability issues.
We have set clear objectives. Ofcom must have regard to the needs of persons with disabilities, of the elderly and of people on low incomes. We have placed many provisions throughout the Bill to support these objectives. We have appointed a respected chairman, acting in the public interest, and we should let him and his board get on with the job.
Lord Addington: My Lords, we always, of course, prefer the words that we seek to include in a Bill to be accepted outright. However, the Minister's response has been one of the more positive responses I have received.
I thank everyone who has taken part in the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Currie, however, denied me the opportunity of catching the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, on the hip. I was quite looking forward to that, as the opportunity does not often arise. However, I am sure that we shall be able to fence again at another point.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, before making substantive points on the amendment, perhaps I may clarify exactly what we want to see deleted from the Bill as I am slightly concerned about the wording of the amendment. I have no doubt that, in terms of drafting, the wording is correctalthough I shall check on that, or perhaps the Minister will be able to assure me that I am correct. I hope that the wording gives effect to our intention, which is to delete the words in brackets:
The House will recall that in Committee on 15th May, in a debate about the consumer panel, we discussed my Amendment No. 66 which sought to avoid overlaps between the content board and the consumer panel by making it clear that the consumer panel had no remit over content. That reflected widespread concerns expressed to me by content providers about the potential double jeopardy between the content board and the consumer panel and the need for clearly defined boundaries between the two.
The Minister said that the purpose of the amendment was to give the consumer panel the power to consider matters of content referred to it by Ofcom and that these could be matters which had a "high consumer dimension". He gave the example of "misleading advertising".
The Advertising Association is very concerned that misleading advertising was specifically cited as an example of an issue which could be referred to the consumer panel for advice, as it also foresees overlaps between different bodies on advertising. It had previously understood that, as thinking on the content board developed, government policy had moved on from the White Paper in which that was originally proposed.
Although the Advertising Association recognises that it is important to consumers that misleading advertising is prevented, the instances of upheld complaints about misleading advertising are very limited because of the stringent controls and pre-vetting procedures which are in place. It therefore questions why misleading advertising should have been singled out for attention by the consumer panel.
My Amendment No. 33 would restore Clause 15(5) to the clarity it achieved prior to the government amendment in Committee. The advertising industry and broadcasters who have supported the move to a single regulator did so because they believed it would reduce the regulatory overlaps and duplication that currently exist between various regulatory bodies. We should not recreate that problem in the new regulatory regime. I beg to move.
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