HC Deb 29 March 1983 vol 40 cc217-8
Mr. Kenneth Baker

I beg to move amendment No. 11 in page 13, line 37, at end insert— '( ) it appears to him that the modification should be made, if at all, under section 13 below;'. This is a more significant amendment. In Committee, the proposals for the amendment of telecommunication licences came under detailed scrutiny. We spent a considerable time debating them. As a result, we promised to make a few changes in the Bill.

It may be helpful if I remind hon. Members that telecommunication licences can be amended in two ways. First, if the Director General and the licensee agree that an amendment is desirable, the director can amend the licence under clause 10, after publishing his intention and taking account of representations. Second, if the licensee does not agree to an amendment proposed by the director, or if the director wants a second opinion, the director can make a reference to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission under clause 11. If the MMC concludes that a matter specified in the reference operates against the public interest, the director is obliged to amend the licence under clause 13 so as to remedy the adverse effects.

Hon. Members will have noted that, in general, the director alone has responsibility for amending licences, without reference to the Secretary of State. We have argued throughout that that is one of the Bill's strong advantages, because we do not want successive Ministers, of whichever Administration may come to power, to change the basic licence conditions. However, the Secretary of State can give a direction to stop the amendment of a licence in limited circumstances—in the interests of national security or relations with overseas Governments, or when the amendment concerns conditions in the telecommunications code that are likely to be about environmental matters. The House will remember the various examples that were given in Committee.

In Committee, some hon. Members expressed concern that the director would come to associate himself too closely with the objectives of a licensee, and not take sufficient account of the interests of others, such as the customers of the licensee in question. I do not regard that as at all likely, as the director whom my right hon. Friend will appoint will be a person of integrity accustomed to taking decisions after weighing up all the relevant interests. I should also point out that, in amending a licence, the director will have to pay regard to the duties in clause 3, which restrict what he may do.

Nevertheless, I accept that it is not unreasonable to seek extra protection. I therefore propose to amend the Bill so as to permit the Secretary of State to direct the director not to amend a licence under clause 10 if the Secretary of State considers that the amendment should only be made after the issue has been considered by the MMC. I emphasise that this change does not permit the Secretary of State to block a licence amendment. It simply brings in the MMC. That is quite consistent with our approach throughout the Bill of providing stability in policy towards telecommunications and removing the possibility of interference for reasons of short-term political expediency.

Amendment agreed to.

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