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Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: My Lords, I would like to speak briefly in support of this amendment this afternoon and to welcome it. The amendment recognises the unique nature of each part of the United Kingdom. It is in the spirit of devolution and it allows Ofcom to ensure it meets the special needs of individual areas instead of trying to cater for the whole of the UK in a blanket way.
While I am on my feet, I would also like to welcome Amendment No. 21, which recognises that elderly and disabled people have special needs. We have an increasingly elderly population. I am glad that the Government have recognised that the needs of elderly and disabled people may be quite different and that Ofcom must take this into account.
Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, I compliment the noble Lord and the Government on introducing the new clause represented by Amendment No. 20. I also compliment the chairman of Ofcom on the wisdom he displayed when he addressed your Lordships' House during Report stage. I also compliment the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, on her persistence, which gave the noble Lord, Lord Currie of Marylebone, his opportunity. The Government have given us all we asked for and more. The function and scope of the advisory committees is not confined to devolved areas of government in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland but ranges over all communication matters as defined in Clause 3(11), and I am sure that that is right.
I am slightly mystified as to why the consumer panel is specifically mentioned in subsection (5) but not the content board. It did beg the question of whether the committees could advise the content board with or without the consent of Ofcom. But the noble Lord, in speaking to the clause, made it quite clear that the content board could also be advised. He might just wish to clarify why the consent of Ofcom is required by the committees before they advise the consumer panel. Of course Ofcom should be kept informed, but consent to advise is something different. It smacks of potential prohibition. I shall not belabour the point, but this also applies to Amendment No. 21, of which I approve, which gives powers of advice to the committee for the elderly and disabled. But again I ask why the consent of Ofcom has to be obtained by that committee before it advises the consumer panel?
Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, I also welcome this amendment. We are very grateful to the Government for listening to the arguments that were put forward. I should like to pay tribute to the leadership of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, on this topic. She has done a brilliant job. The only criticism I have of this amendment is that I would have wished to see a closer link with the National Assembly for Wales when it comes to the Welsh committee. I hope that the committee membership will be formed with proper consultation
The Lord Bishop of Manchester: My Lords, much congratulation for persistence is being spread around your Lordships' House. I look at Amendment No. 21 and take the opportunity to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ashleynot in his place todayand also the noble Lord, Lord Addington, on their persistence on behalf of the elderly and the disabled. I welcome particularly this amendment. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Addington does. I congratulate the Government on listening.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, there must be some disturbing dissident note here and I propose to sound it. The Minister gave me some pleasure when he said that the Government did not want to get embroiled in the intestinal arrangements of Ofcom. That is very satisfactory. It is much better than just having a committee appointed by the Government. I am tempted to ask whether Ofcom really welcomes all these duties. I suspect, from an earlier stage in the Bill when we were talking about appointing a committee to represent the needs of the elderly and disabled, that Ofcom will be reasonably happy with this arrangement.
I always rail against the pathetic faith we have that the appointment of a committee will actually achieve something. Very often committees have too many people on them. Half the people there ought to be doing something more important and the other half ought never to be let loose at all. The National Health Service is festooned with them. They are a nuisance, they take up the time of busy people. Committees very often need themselves to be scrutinised. It would be very healthy if every committee were compelled to examine what they did last year and then decide whether they have any excuse for remaining in existence.
Lord Carter: My Lords, I welcome particularly Amendment No. 21. There are two amendments in later groups with which the Government have come a long way towards the views of those of us who have spoken on issues concerning disability. I would like to thank all my noble friends on the Front Bench and my noble friend Lady Blackstone for the way in which they have responded to our concerns.
I have one point on the two amendments, which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy. Under subsections (5) and (6) the consent of the consumer panel is required before these committees can give advice. They have to ask for it. Then Ofcom has to consent to it. This means that the advisory committee will tend to be reactive rather than proactive on behalf of the nations and the elderly and disabled. I await an answer on this.
Baroness Darcy de Knayth: My Lords, perhaps I may very briefly intervene on the side of the accolades. This is an amendment we have wanted very much. It is an important amendment. I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil, that one disabled person or someone with knowledge of disability is no substitute for an advisory committee whose members know exactly what they are talking about and can explore all the issues. We have discussed this at length and Ofcom is perfectly happy. I very much appreciate the Minister having done this.
Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, we are pleased that the Government have listened and responded to the arguments that, along with the noble Lords, Lord Addington, Lord Carter, and others, we made on Report. They have added to the Bill a commitment to establish and maintain an advisory committee on elderly and disabled people. We thank the Government.
Lord Addington: My Lords, I thank everyone who helped to have the amendment tabled. No matter whose name appeared on the amendment, it was definitely a team effort to bring it here. Taking on the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, slightly, I think that we should have a committee to consider the functioning of committees. We should always bear in mind that the entire House often sits as a Committee. Another committee to give advice might be a suitable present from us to the whole process.
Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, I am most grateful for the general welcome that the two government amendments have received. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, and my noble friend Lord Carter, I said earlier that we did not want to get embroiled in the detail of Ofcom's organisational structure. We tried to make the committee system in relation to these amendments as flexible as possible. There is neither a hidden agenda nor anything sinister related to the points that the noble Lords raised. Given Ofcom's interpretation of the amendments, and having listened to the debatewe will also read HansardI am absolutely sure that any concerns noble Lords may have will be allayed.
The noble Lord, Lord Peyton, a man after my own heart, hates bureaucracy and talked about "intestinal arrangements". I am sure that we have all taken on board his points. He ridiculed the wording concerned with
Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, he should promise to consider further the point that the noble Lord, Lord Carter, and I have made. In proposed subsections (5) and (6) in Amendment No. 20, and similarly in Amendment No. 21, it is curious that the consumer panel should request advice from the appropriate committees and then have to gain the consent of Ofcom before that advice is given. It seems a somewhat strangulated approach. I should be grateful if the Minister would agree to consider the point.
Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, I have just received a note on the matter. If the following explanation does not satisfy the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, I shall write to him. The content board is part of Ofcom; the consumer panel is not. That is why special arrangements must be made. Consent is needed because this is part of Ofcom.