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Lord Judd: My Lords—

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords—

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, there is time for both noble Lords to ask a question.

Lord Judd: My Lords, accepting the assurance of my noble friend that reconstruction is a matrix, as of course it is, nevertheless can she tell the House exactly what resources are being put into the redevelopment of the system of justice and of civil policing?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I cannot quantify what is going in, in terms of money being spent, but I can tell your Lordships that the security situation is being controlled by coalition troops. The number of coalition patrols has increased and there are now around 2,500 patrols a day across Iraq, and I can tell my noble friend that 200 of those are jointly conducted with the Iraqi police. As of 24th June, Iraqi police were conducting their first patrols on their own, which is a major step in helping Iraqis to return to a self-policed environment. It is important that we are talking here not only about what the coalition is able to bring to security on the ground, but also increasingly about what Iraqi policemen are bringing to the security on the ground.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, given that the Government fought the war because they believed that there were weapons of mass destruction that may fall into the hands of extremist groups through Saddam Hussein's regime, why are the Government so calm, and indeed almost complacent, about the failure to enforce law and order which has resulted in looting and in all kinds of materials possibly falling into the wrong hands? What are the Government doing to ensure that we are not at risk of that happening if they believe that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, if by the use of the word "calm" the noble Lord is trying to imply that the Government are complacent on this issue, I reject that entirely. I have just explained to your Lordships what is happening, with increased patrolling from coalition forces—some 2,500 patrols, as I have indicated, every day—and the increased provision for Iraqi policemen also to be involved.

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Of course, the issue of finding weapons of mass destruction is very important, but I am bound to say to your Lordships that I think it has greater importance in the United Kingdom, perhaps in both Houses of Parliament and perhaps also in our press, than necessarily it does on the ground in Iraq. The majority of Iraqi people want to ensure that they are living in an environment where they can send their children to school, where they can be sure about their health, where they have secure policing and where they have access to food and water. I point your Lordships to the fact that yesterday, for example, there was the first meeting of the new Baghdad city council, a not unimportant issue. The noble Lord may shake his head and look exasperated. If the noble Lord does not believe that it is important that democracy is being established in the city of Baghdad then I beg to disagree with him.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords—

Lord Alderdice: My Lords, the noble Baroness refers to the situation—

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lords; we are well over time.

Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise: Treasury Review

3.10 p.m.

Lord Freeman asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What purpose is intended to be achieved by the Treasury review of the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Lord McIntosh of Haringey): My Lords, the primary focus of the review will be to make public service delivery more effective and efficient. It will examine the best organisational arrangements for delivering the Government's tax objectives. It will consider the case for changes in the law where necessary to allow the full benefits of particular arrangements to be realised, and it will pay particular attention to the need to ensure the continued effectiveness of the core business of revenue collection and administration.

Lord Freeman: My Lords, if it is confirmed by this review or otherwise that financial loss has been suffered by those who have applied for tax credits and not yet received payments due to inefficiencies in the system, will the Minister confirm that the Inland Revenue code of practice will definitely permit compensation?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, there has been a great deal of misrepresentation on this issue, although I can give the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, the

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assurance that he seeks. It has been claimed that there has been a great deal of loss. There has certainly been delay in dealing with telephone calls and with correspondence. Anyone who has applied for tax credits and has shown his or her eligibility for tax credits will get the money which is due.

Lord Newby: My Lords, can the noble Lord confirm that one option being considered by the review is whether the Inland Revenue and HM Customs and Excise might merge? Within that context, will the review be considering whether the extensive powers which are currently held by Customs officers might be extended to Inland Revenue officials?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am glad to be answering a supplementary question which is about the original Question on the Order Paper. Yes, I can confirm that that is one of the options being considered. The matter of the potential merger of the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise has been on the public agenda since a parliamentary committee of inquiry in 1862. It was last considered by the Government in 1993 and by the Treasury Select Committee in 1999. So this is not a new proposal, if indeed that is what emerges from the current review. But the question of the powers of Customs and Excise and Inland Revenue officials will undoubtedly be a part of the review.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: My Lords, can my noble friend say who is to undertake the review and when it will report?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the review will be conducted by the Treasury and it will report in due course.

Lord Saatchi: My Lords, in the discussion of this merger, has there not been an unattractive tendency lately to blame Inland Revenue officials for faults which really lie with Ministers—for example, the Chancellor landed the Inland Revenue with the task of administering tax credits, which have nothing to do with tax at all? As the Minister is aware, it was in your Lordships' House that it emerged that 90 per cent of all tax credit payments totalling 15 billion a year actually exceed the total tax liability of the recipient. In other words, they are not tax credits at all.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, if there has been criticism of officials in the Inland Revenue, it has not come from the Government. The Chancellor has explicitly praised the Inland Revenue for the way in which it has taken on the very substantial additional tasks imposed on it by the tax credit regime.

The Earl of Northesk: My Lords, in reviewing the administration of tax, will this review also investigate the issue of fraud, particularly in respect of tax credits?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, there are continuing reviews on the issue of fraud, just as there are continuing reviews on, for example, failures of

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prosecution for fraud, if that is to what the noble Earl, Lord Northesk, is referring. One such review being conducted by Mr Justice Butterfield will be reporting very shortly, probably next week. We shall be interested to see the findings.

Communications Bill

3.15 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales to acquaint the House that they, having been informed of the purport of the Communications Bill, have consented to place their prerogative and interests, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament, for the purposes of the Bill.

Read a third time.

Clause 3 [General duties of OFCOM]:

Lord McNally moved Amendment No. 1:

    Page 3, line 8, at end insert "with due regard to the qualifications and limitations contained in paragraph 6A of Schedule 14"

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 1 paves the way for Amendment No. 131 that is grouped with it, which I hope will provide the core of the debate that we are about to have. That amendment stands in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, and is identical to an amendment which has being tabled at different stages of the Bill in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Hussey and Lord Puttnam. The name of the noble Lord, Lord Hussey, does not appear on this amendment. As he is unwell, I did not think it right to disturb him to ask whether he would put his name to it. The name of the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, is not on the amendment for reasons which I fully understand and accept.

The Puttnam committee report had a tripod of recommendations, which it believed would immensely strengthen the Bill in providing essential protection for our communications industry against the predatory instincts of the global multi-media conglomerates. The first recommendation was that Ofcom should be able to test the totally unproven assertion that ITV would benefit from American ownership and American money before opening up our markets without any reciprocation on the part of the Americans.

Last week the Government were able to resist the amendment by 11 votes, with only half of Labour Peers supporting the Government and helped over the line by a three-line Whip from the Conservative Front Bench.

The second leg of the Puttnam tripod was the inclusion of a tough plurality public interest test. Thanks to the persuasive powers of the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, the Government will be bringing forward amendments to insert such a test later today.

That brings us to the third leg of the tripod which is contained in this grouping before the House. The amendment seeks to put specific restrictions on the ownership of Channel 5 in terms of cross-media

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ownership between print media, satellite and terrestrial television, which would—as did happen—as I said at Second Reading, create a grotesque concentration of power in any industry and in the communications industry would constitute a threat to our democracy.

I can already hear the Minister arguing that this amendment is no longer needed thanks to the tough new plurality clause which we are about to receive. But is that so? Not according to the Financial Times. On 3rd July, the day after the Puttnam plurality amendment was accepted, it quoted an unnamed senior DCMS official as saying that the amendment would not hamper the principle of allowing US media groups to bid for ITV or enabling newspaper publishers to seek control of Channel 5.

The media expert, Owen Gibson, in the Guardian said:

    "Competition lawyers believe that the new test will be a significant hurdle to media owners wanting to branch out into other sectors. A lot will depend on how Ofcom, which under Lord Currie has promised to retain a 'light touch', chooses to interpret the public interest test".

So, there we have it: after today we are in the hands of the media lawyers and an untried regulator and an untested piece of legislation. That is why the House should take this final opportunity to have its say on the matter.

The plurality test provides Ofcom with a big and powerful gun. These amendments give a clear direction as to which way it should be pointed. Some people say that this is aimed at the ambitions of Mr Rupert Murdoch, but Tessa Jowell has told us at great length that this is not a Bill tailored to Mr Murdoch's ambitions. Furthermore, Mr Murdoch has said that he has no interest in Channel 5. So let us have no more about this being an anti-Murdoch amendment. It is aimed at thwarting any Australian/American multi-media conglomerate with significant press and satellite holdings taking such a stranglehold on the British media.

I know that asking Labour Members to vote with us today puts great strains on their loyalty. The Whips are very persuasive. I am a great fan of "24" on BBC2, which is an example of good American television. As devotees may know, in Sunday's episode the hero, Jack Bauer, was left in the hands of the world's most cruel and sadistic torturer, who, I understand, was on loan from the Government Whips' Office.

I ask Members on all Benches to ask themselves what they will answer in the future when asked about what they did to make sure that the right safeguards were in place. What if the plurality test does not prove as strong as we think it is? What if the noble Lord, Lord Currie, proves less robust in his interpretation than we would like? What if Mr Murdoch changes his mind and comes calling for Channel 5?

We all remember the impressive mea culpa of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, about the 1990 Act. What will noble Lords who today vote "Not-Content" say? "David Puttnam asked me not to vote"; "I thought the plurality tests would be enough"; "I was bullied by the Whips"; or will they say, "I used the one personal

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power I had—my vote in the Lobby—to send a message to government, Ofcom and to the media moguls that we expect diversity and choice to be defended with vigour and this legislation to be interpreted robustly"?

As the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, reminded us on Report, the media moguls have a record of challenging rather than complying with regulation.

Shortly before I entered the Chamber, I received an e-mail from a senior person in the television industry who asked me to put the following questions to the Minister. He said:

    "If, as the Government is implying, the plurality test is the solution, that begs the question why the 20/20 rules are being retained for ITV. If the test is not enough for ITV—where the competition and plurality hurdles to Murdoch takeover would anyway be immense—it is disingenuous for Government to imply that the plurality test alone is enough for C5—where actually the competition and (as defined) plurality concerns may be surmountable.

    Furthermore, the Government extending the 20/20 rule to ITN at the same time as introducing the plurality test. Again this suggests that the plurality test is not enough and gives a lie to the argument that it is too late in the day for extending the scope of 20/20".

Those points were made by an expert within the industry and it will be interesting to know what the Minister says about them.

Essentially, this amendment had its origin in the recommendation of the Puttnam committee, which said that if the Government believed that it is unacceptable for a major terrestrial channel, a major newspaper group and the dominant satellite network to be open to shared ownership, then the clearest and most straightforward way to achieve that was to maintain the prohibition on ownership of Channel 5 which presently exists.

The questions to be answered today are clear-cut and simple. Do the Government consider such a concentration of media power to be unacceptable? If so, why do they resist the most unambiguous and clear-cut way of preventing such an accumulation of cross-media power?

Listen carefully, my Lords, and if the answers are not convincing, I hope noble Lords from all Benches will join me in the "Content" Lobby today. I beg to move.

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