HC Deb 24 June 2002 vol 387 cc593-4
3. Pete Wishart (North Tayside)

What recent discussions she has had with the Scottish Executive regarding the establishment of an Ofcom office in Scotland. [612191

The Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting (Dr. Kim Howells)

The Scottish Executive, along with other devolved Administrations, are aware of our proposals for ensuring that the interests of the different parts of the UK are represented within Ofcom, and we have exchanged correspondence on this issue. This includes the proposal that Ofcom should have an office in Scotland.

Pete Wishart

I am grateful to the Minister for that response. I am not surprised that he is being selective in his account of his recent dealings with the Scottish Executive. Will he confirm that the Scottish First Minister has written twice recently describing his concerns about the lack of representation on the Ofcom board? It seems that there has not been a reply to the second letter for four weeks. Following what can only be described as an unseemly and embarrassing squabble between the Minister's Department and the Scottish Executive, with the Scotland Office also getting involved, we find that what we have in Scotland is some small sub-committee that goes no way to satisfying the concerns of the broadcasting community in Scotland. Will the Minister confirm that Scotland is still deprived of a place on the Ofcom board? Does he agree that this can only disadvantage the broadcasting community within Scotland?

Dr. Howells

As someone who in the right mood will cross a road for a row, I can usually pick them up when they are around, and I have noticed no squabble between the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and anyone in Scotland. The idea is that a small board for Ofcom will react quickly and with energy. The nations and regions of the country will have their interests well represented on the content board.

Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith)

Is my hon. Friend aware that at the weekend the managing director of Scottish Television said that he thought that the way the bill is written at the moment is a very, very good solution for regional broadcasting in the future", and that it clearly protects quality and diversity"? Is not that the real voice of those in Scotland who are concerned about broadcasting in Scotland? I suggest that my hon. Friend listens to that voice rather than to the negative voices that we have heard from Opposition Members this afternoon.

Dr. Howells

I could not agree more. I am glad that I did not answer the hon. Member for North Tayside (Pete Wishart) with the words, "Never believe anything you read in the press."

Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley)

Is Ofcom, whether in England or Scotland, expected in its competition mode to offer any hope to small educational software firms, such as one in my constituency, which are about to find their markets swamped by £150 million worth of BBC educational software? Can anything be done to allay their fears that unfair competition will be practised by the BBC?

Dr. Howells

Competition issues are important and fair trade, as it has come to be known in the sector, should properly be practised and policed. I believe that the Office of Comunications Bill, or at least the Communications Bill, when it becomes law, will provide the means to ensure that there is fair competition for everyone who wants to take part in the sector.

Mr. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk)

As the purpose of establishing an Ofcom office in Scotland would presumably be to serve Scottish consumers, will the Minister say whether he considers that those consumers would benefit more if digital terrestrial television offered only free-to-air channels or a mix of free-to-air and pay television channels?

Dr. Howells

That is a matter for the regulator, not for Ministers.

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