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Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, I strongly support what the noble Baroness said. The role of the consumer panel as proposed in the Bill is a very important one. Under this clause, it has a range of responsibilities that are of great importance. It is vital that the line should be absolutely clear-cut between the responsibilities of the content board and the consumer panel.

This affects advertising in one respect, but even more importantly it affects the whole function of the content board in ensuring the quality and diversity of programmes and their separation from matters of an economic character.

On the advertising side, the noble Baroness is absolutely right. The idea of misleading advertising being one of the dimensions on which the consumer panel might be entitled to have a view was perhaps an unfortunate slip of the tongue. The arrangements within the television industry for regulating advertising have worked admirably over many years. They are under active and constructive consideration at present. I listened to an interesting speech delivered recently by the noble Lord, Lord Currie, at an Advertising Association luncheon in which he referred to looking for a means of marrying the self-regulatory principle of the Advertising Standards Authority to the statutory backing that is inevitable in terms of television advertising.

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All that works admirably, but to work admirably it is important that the borderline between the responsibilities of the consumer panel and those of the content board should be absolutely clear cut. It is equally important that the content board should be distinctively separate from all the other many responsibilities in the field of economic competition that lie within the responsibilities of Ofcom.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, it has always been our policy that Ofcom should be able to seek advice from the consumer panel on matters of content where there is a high consumer dimension. We made that clear in paragraph 7.5.2 of the White Paper, A new Future for Communications, and in paragraph 4.3.2 of the policy document published alongside the draft Communications Bill. The Joint Scrutiny Committee supported this position when it examined the draft Bill, in paragraph 48 of its report.

The amendment that we made in Committee, which this amendment seeks to reverse, does not extend the panel's mandate to content. It merely clarifies what has been our intention from the start and resolves any apparent inconsistency that existed between Clause 15(5) and Clause 15(6).

I understand that there is some concern in the advertising industry that this will lead to double jeopardy. Although the consumer panel will be a powerful voice for consumers, it has no regulatory functions. Its function is to provide advice to Ofcom and other bodies as it sees fit. It is simply not possible for the panel's advice on a content matter referred to it by Ofcom to present some form of double jeopardy for industry or overlap with the work of the content board. Regulatory functions rest with Ofcom, and, where conferred on it, the content board.

The consumer panel will be able to advise on content issues only where specifically requested by Ofcom. I do not agree that this is the thin end of the wedge. The panel is a statutory body and will not be able to go beyond the boundaries laid down in statute. In the content board, Ofcom has already begun to develop the proper structure and expertise to handle content matters, and the board will be best placed, within the regulatory framework, to do that job.

I will not speculate or try to give examples of what Ofcom might or might not refer to the panel. The example of misleading advertising, which we used at Committee Stage when explaining the amendment, was used purely for illustrative purposes, and not singled out for special treatment. There is no perception in government that this is a problem area.

It is Ofcom that will decide when a matter has a "high consumer dimension", and Ofcom that will decide whether, if it needs advice on that matter, the consumer panel would be best placed to provide it. I hope that my answer provides the reassurance that the noble Baroness was looking for and persuades her to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Thomson,

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for his support of the amendment. As the noble Lord, Lord Thomson said, it is important to clarify this crucial borderline between the responsibilities of the consumer panel and the content board. It is important to address this borderline, because there is tremendous concern in the industry that this clause, as it stands, muddies the water, not least because there is no question but that self-regulation really works in the advertising industry. We on these Benches want to be sure that nothing in the Bill will undermine the advertising industry's ability to regulate itself successfully.

The Minister says that it is in Ofcom's hands to decide whether to seek advice from the consumer panel on matters with a high consumer dimension. I am grateful that the Minister has made that clear. I am also grateful that the Minister has explained that the term "misleading advertising" was used as an example purely for illustrative purposes and that he explained that there is no perception in government that this is a problem area.

I should have much preferred the Minister to have accepted our amendment to clarify the situation once and for all and to assure the industry, because I still think that this wording is unnecessary. I do not think that it helps the process. I do not think that it helps Ofcom. I will not press this today. I will go back to people in the advertising industry and ask them. They are the experts—they know. I will consult the Advertising Association in particular about whether it is happy about what the Minister said today.

Lord McNally: My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, is she aware that had she pressed the amendment, we would have supported her in it? We would gladly join her in any further consultations with the advertising industry.

Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord McNally, for his strong support. I will take on board his assistance in this matter. Together we will consult the advertising industry, and, on that basis, we will perhaps return to this matter and press it at Third Reading. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 34:

    Page 17, line 46, at end insert—

"( ) The Consumer Panel must—
(a) as soon as practicable after the end of the period of twelve months beginning with the commencement of this section, and
(b) as soon as practicable after the end of each subsequent period of twelve months,
prepare a report on the carrying out of their functions in that period.
( ) The Consumer Panel must publish each report—
(a) as soon as practicable after its preparation is complete; and
(b) in such manner as they consider appropriate."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 35 not moved.]

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11.45 a.m.

Clause 16 [Membership etc. of the Consumer Panel]:

[Amendments Nos. 36 to 42 not moved.]

Clause 17 [Committees and other procedure of the Consumer Panel]:

[Amendments Nos. 43 to 46 not moved.]

Clause 24 [Training and equality of opportunity]:

Lord Gordon of Strathblane moved Amendment No. 47:

    Page 23, line 6, leave out "television and radio" and insert "broadcasting and telecommunications"

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I raised this matter at the Committee stage. If the object of this Bill is to bring together telecommunications and broadcasting, it seems a little lopsided, to say the least, that the training provision applies solely to broadcasting. To be fair, the Minister said that she was sympathetic to the aims of the amendments, but Ofcom cannot be given any power under the regulatory regime permitted by EC communications directives to impose any obligations in this area on communications providers.

That seems a little strange, but, not being particularly knowledgeable in the field of European directives, I consulted the Communication Workers Union. I said that this could not be right, and asked it to provide me with some ammunition. It furnished a couple of documents, including a Green Paper from some time ago, which said:

    "Consideration in this context must also be given to the need for retraining and redeployment of employees as the traditional telecommunications sector adapts to a competitive environment".

It may be that there is scope for doing that under European directives, in which case perhaps my amendment could be accepted. If, on the other hand, I am wrong, and the Communication Workers Union is wrong, if the Government accept that it is a good idea that communications workers are trained, how will they find a way around the problem? I beg to move.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Gordon for giving us sight of the European documents that he mentioned. I have no doubt that they are representative of the views of the European Commission and the European Information Society at that time. Indeed, no-one doubts the importance of training, nor that companies have an important role to play in the teaching and learning process.

In the UK, a new set of sector skills councils is being created to lead the skills and productivity drive in industry and the business sectors recognised by employers. I am pleased to say that the sector skills councils of relevance to the communications sector are among the first to be fully licensed by the Government: eskills UK, with a sector coverage of IT, telecommunications and contact centres, and Science, Engineering, and Manufacturing Technologies Alliance, covering engineering, manufacture and some science occupations, received their licences on 8th

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April. The audio-visual industries are represented by the existing Trailblazer sector skills council. It may be that the Commission's thinking may have developed further since 1996. In any event, the directives which we have now implemented and work within, were agreed last year, following a comprehensive review of Community regulation of the telecommunications sector, which commenced in 1991. As we explained earlier, it would not be compatible with that framework to place any training-related obligations on communications providers as such.

We are bound by the limitations of the directives, and the simple fact is that Ofcom will not be permitted to impose any obligations of that type on communications providers. The directives limit the type of obligations that can be imposed on providers of electronic communications. The scope of the general obligations, which apply to any provider, is set out in Clause 48. In very broad terms, it covers such matters as consumer protection, service, interoperability, network access, availability of service in the event of a disaster, protection of health and compliance with international standards.

There is no provision for any kind of obligation in relation to training, and member states have no discretion to add other kinds of conditions that go beyond those allowed by the directives. Thus, any duty on Ofcom to promote training in those industries would be legally ineffective. I hope that in light of my remarks, the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

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