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The Lord Bishop of Manchester: My Lords, before the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, sits down, perhaps I may be allowed to add to the CBI, which she mentioned. The Churches are also deeply concerned about this matter. I am very sorry that I was not here for the beginning of the debate. I was enjoying a Lancashire hotpot as befits the Bishop of Manchester.

Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, I am very grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester. Indeed, I was upstairs on the telephone to my children and almost missed the amendment altogether because time and the business are moving on.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 355 [Interpretation of Part 3]:

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendments Nos. 218 to 221:

    Page 311, line 14, at end insert—

""the BBC Charter and Agreement" means the following documents, or any one or more of them, so far as they are for the time being in force—

(a) a Royal Charter for the continuance of the BBC;
(b) supplemental Charters obtained by the BBC under such a Royal Charter;
(c) an agreement between the BBC and the Secretary of State entered into (whether before or after the passing of this Act) for purposes that include the regulation of activities carried on by the BBC."
Page 314, line 13, leave out "or"

    Page 314, line 14, at end insert—

"(g) a digital additional television service or a digital additional sound service,"

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord McNally moved Amendment No. 222:

    After Clause 365, insert the following new clause—

(1) It shall be the duty of OFCOM, in accordance with the following provisions of this section, to exercise their powers under paragraph 14 of the Schedule to the Office of Communications Act 2002 (c. 11) (committees of OFCOM) to establish and maintain a committee to be known as "the Competition Panel".

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(2) The Competition Panel shall have such functions as OFCOM, in exercise of their powers under the Schedule to the Office of Communications Act 2002, may confer on the Panel.
(3) The functions conferred on the Panel must include, to such extent and subject to such restrictions and approvals as OFCOM may determine—
(a) to advise OFCOM on the exercise of its functions under section 364,
(b) to give an opinion to OFCOM on guidelines and decisions which OFCOM propose to adopt in the exercise of OFCOM's functions under section 364, including as to whether OFCOM or the Office of Fair Trading should investigate.
(4) The Competition Panel shall as soon as practicable after the end of each calendar year make to the chairman of OFCOM a report on its activities during that year which shall be published by OFCOM.
(5) The Competition Panel shall consist of—
(a) a chairman appointed by OFCOM; and
(b) such number of other members appointed by OFCOM as OFCOM think fit.
(6) The chairman of the Competition Panel must be a non-executive member of OFCOM but is not to be the chairman of OFCOM.
(7) In appointing a person for the purposes of subsection (2)(b), OFCOM must have regard to their expertise in the area of competition law or economics (or both).
(8) The Competition Panel must include at least one member who is a member of the Board of the Office of Fair Trading.
(9) Before appointing a person to be the chairman or another member of the Competition Panel, OFCOM must satisfy themselves that he will not have any financial or other interest which would be likely prejudicially to affect the carrying out by him of any of his functions as chairman or member of the Competition Panel.
(10) A person is not to be taken to have such an interest by reason only that he is or will be a member or employee of OFCOM.
(11) Every person whom OFCOM propose to appoint to be the chairman or another member of the Competition Panel, shall, whenever requested to do so by OFCOM, furnish OFCOM with any information they consider necessary for the performance of their duty under subsection (9)."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Razzall was approached by Freeserve, which is the UK's largest Internet service provider with close to 2.7 million customers. It is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Wanadoo, the Internet services division of France Telecom.

It felt hard done by by Oftel, which it believed had not been particularly robust in applying competition law in the telecoms and related industries. Therefore, Freeserve lobbied my noble friend who, rather than staying to put the amendment to the Minister, has gone off to a delicious dinner.

This is a probing amendment. It would not add another bauble to the Ofcom tree or any more expense to Ofcom's operation. However, there is a serious point here: that large and important company felt that Oftel had failed to apply its powers under the Competition Act and therefore argued strongly that Ofcom should be much more on the ball in such matters. One of the reasons why it felt that Oftel had been slack was that it had failed to generate sufficient

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knowledge and expertise among its own staff. Freeserve therefore put forward the idea of a competition panel for Ofcom, furnishing it with both the internal expertise and the external advice it needed to act in those areas in a way that it felt that its previous regulator, Oftel, had failed to do. I beg to move.

Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, there is a real risk that, without due care and attention, the interests of the business community, without whom we would not have televisions, mobile phones or radios, will be overlooked by Ofcom, which will have to juggle and prioritise a large number of voices competing to have their case heard. Many of those voices have institutionalised representation in Ofcom, on the consumer panel or content board, but the same cannot be said of business.

However, I am not convinced that creating a whole new tier of bureaucracy is the answer. Will the Minister assure us that that will not be necessary? What guarantees are there that, when push comes to shove and Ofcom must make a decision that will have an impact on business competitiveness, it will not be swayed by the overwhelming presence of non-business points of view within its own walls? What hope can we give to the business community that Ofcom will do what it can to promote competition for its own sake, and not just when the consumer panel deems it necessary?

We on these Benches have tabled a number of amendments in Committee and on Report that would ensure that business—the providers of our services—will not be overlooked. Measures can be taken to reach a compromise that will be just as effective in ensuring that the voice of business is heard, without having to go to the length of building a new arm of Ofcom.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I have no wish to intervene in any dispute between Oftel and Freeserve, still less one between Oftel and Wannado.

I start by reminding the House that the Joint Committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, considered in great detail the need for Ofcom to have additional panels or boards to deal with the various issues that have been raised. The committee concluded that there was no rationale for an economic or competition board with executive functions. It also concluded, in the context of the question of an economic advisory panel, that it did not favour a further fettering of Ofcom's internal structures by placing a requirement for such an advisory body in the Bill. We accepted that advice wholeheartedly. It is just as relevant to the question of whether the Bill should require Ofcom to have a competition panel of the kind specified in the amendment or at all.

The aim of the amendment appears to be to ensure that Ofcom gives due priority to competition in its decisions. The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, confirmed that that was an important consideration, as it is for us. It aims also to ensure that Ofcom obtains appropriate specialised economic and legal advice on competition matters and that it liaises closely with the

2 Jul 2003 : Column 972

OFT over the exercise of concurrent powers under the Competition Act 1998. We agree with all of that; that is what will happen.

Arrangements that we have laid down in the Bill and which Ofcom is already making in its preparatory activities provide fully for that, without adding unnecessary complication to the structure and operation of Ofcom by requiring the creation of additional formal components, as proposed in the amendment. In any case, the main board consists of people such as the noble Lord, Lord Currie, who is an economist, and David Edmonds, the Director General of Telecommunications. For such people, competition issues have been meat and drink for much of their working life. They have a proper, independent and well informed perspective on the issues, as does the executive team that has been appointed.

There is no shortage of external specialist advice. Existing regulators such as Ofcom can and do obtain specialist advice from academic and other authorities, and they carry out research. There is no need for what is proposed in the amendment.

I hope that, with the admirable aim—recognised by the noble Lord—of not adding more baubles to the Christmas tree, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, will not press the amendment.

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