§ 3.17 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Baroness Blackstone)
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Baroness Blackstone.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [THE CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES in the Chair.]
§ Clause I [The Office of Communications]:
§ Baroness Anelay of St Johns moved Amendment No. 1:
§ Page 1, line 3, at end insert "which shall be constituted in accordance with and have functions conferred by this Act"
§ The noble Baroness said: This is a probing amendment that raises two issues. One is technical—I shall come to that in a little while—but the other is a matter of principle that underlies the whole Bill. The question, quite simply, is whether it is right to have a single, overarching model of regulator for both broadcast and telecom sectors. What other models did the Government consider and why were they rejected? I am asking the Government to put on the record their reasons for choosing this model for Ofcom. I agree with the Government that this model should be the right way forward, but on these occasions I always have regard to the Bassingthaighte principle that the more that the Opposition agree with the Government, the more careful we have to be that we are agreeing for the right reasons, not the wrong ones. That means that we have to scrutinise properly any legislation before us. As it was not obvious from the amendment that I would ask the Minister that question, I gave prior warning to her office earlier today.1177
§ If we accept this model for the regulator in this paving Bill, we are pre-empting the scope of action by Parliament when it comes to debate the provisions of the communications Bill itself. We ought to be aware of that before we consider the Bill and this amendment.
§ When I discussed the Bill briefly with the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, earlier this summer, I said that I believed that it would be necessary for me to put down several probing amendments. One of those is the technical amendment before the Committee today.
§ Will the Minister confirm that Ofcom will be a statutory corporation, an entity separate from the Government; in other words, an individual? The Bill does not state that clearly despite the reference at page one, line two to Ofcom as "a body corporate". I agree with the Government that it would be appropriate for Ofcom to be constituted as a statutory corporation. As I understand it, all existing regulators, save for the Radio Authority, are bodies corporate. In many ways the structure of Ofcom proposed in the Bill resembles a company with a board made up of executive and non-executive members with objectives and aims to pursue. It is intriguing to note that in drafting the Bill the Government have used another phrase for non-executive directors; that is, "non-staff members". Further amendments seek to elicit the reason for that.
§ Ofcom will not resemble anything like the existing regulators; nor is it a government department. With a changing communications industry the regulator needs of all things to be up-to-date, efficient and perhaps even revolutionary in the way it is organised. We need to come to it afresh, not just simply absorb the old regulators into Ofcom as pieces of a jigsaw. Ofcom must be more than the sum of its component parts.
§ If Ofcom resembles a modern day company, should it be set up as a company and established in accordance with the Companies Act? That is a technical question to which I seek a government response on the record. Of course, I appreciate that Ofcom will not have share capital and its liabilities should remain with the Government in the event of its dissolution. The danger is that it may resemble an old-style nationalised company which is indirectly controlled by the Government, or, indeed, perhaps even a quango. There are implications here for the perceived independence of Ofcom as a powerful regulator.
§ The industry has repeatedly pointed out to myself and my noble friends that it is concerned that the new body should not operate as a quango with the great and the good running it but should be very much a business-like body. That is the industry's perception of quangos. There is something worrying about the way in which we use non-departmental government bodies.
§ We should keep in mind the point that statutory corporations, by virtue of their legal status, have limited capacity. They can only do what their governing legislation authorises them to do. That places greater emphasis on the need to ensure that this particular regulator has the necessary flexibility that is 1178 intended for it while at the same time avoiding the adoption of functions, and later of powers, under the terms of the communications Bill, that may be so sweeping as to alarm the sectors which Ofcom is intended to regulate.
§ The amendment seeks to ensure simply that Ofcom is properly constituted in accordance with the Bill and will only have functions that relate to the regulatory powers it will receive when the main communications Bill becomes law. I beg to move.
§ Lord Crickhowell
At the outset I declare an interest as I am chairman of HTV, a wholly owned subsidiary of Carlton Television. I wish to take the matter slightly further than my noble friend and consider the approach of the Government to the setting up of this important organisation. I speak with a certain amount of experience in that for about eight years I had ministerial responsibility for a number of quangos and, indeed, set up at least one. For the following eight years as the only chairman of the National Rivers Authority advisory committee and then of the National Rivers Authority, I had the job of advising the Government on how to set up that important regulatory organisation and then chaired the organisation through its entire life before its functions were absorbed by the newly created Environment Agency. I had a role in making certain fairly strong comments about the way in which the Environment Agency should be structured, although I do not think that that advice was accepted and later I shall mention the consequences of that.
We are at the beginning of a rather extraordinary process. The Bill will not become an Act for some considerable time. The board we shall appoint will not be fully in place until about this time next year. At Second Reading the Minister told us that it was hoped that the first chairman would be appointed in the spring and that the non-staff members—I am not allowed to call them non-executive members—would be in place in the autumn. A number of people are involved in the process. I hope that I may be forgiven for describing them as warlords as they are all engaged in a battle for their own interests or the interests of the organisations they represent.
I turn to the departments, of which two are involved on this occasion, not just one. No one has a greater respect for civil servants, their skills and the impartiality with which they provide advice, but in the course of my experience I have learnt one or two lessons about the attitudes of civil servants. Ministers and civil servants always talk about having strong and independent regulators but they are often uncomfortable if those regulators prove to be strong and independent. If departments are able to do so, they try to make sure right from the outset that that independence is curtailed. If they do not entirely succeed, they have a number of mechanisms they can use such as mechanisms of financial control and financial regulation. Certainly, they like to attempt to curtail that independence. If a regulator proves to be very independent, they are often anxious to claw back authority.
1179 Therefore, I believe that I know what the department will want to do at this stage; namely, to set up an organisation, with perhaps at the back of its mind the thought that it needs to make sure that that powerful body will not get totally out of control. There is a further, perhaps even stronger, set of opinions among senior civil servants; namely, if there is one thing they dislike more than anything else in the world it is being criticised by the Auditor General and, worse, being torn apart by the Public Accounts Committee.
One immediate reaction, therefore, is to appoint consultants. When things go wrong at least if you are a civil servant you are able to say, "We appointed experienced consultants and we took their advice". I have a great many successful friends who have been distinguished consultants. Many of their firms carry out important work. But there is one characteristic of all firms of consultants that we always have to bear in mind; that is, they produce their splendid reports and recommendations but are never responsible for implementing them. By the time they are implemented they have moved on to other things. If anything goes wrong, they are in the happy position of hoping that no one will remember exactly what they recommended.
I turn to a further group. I believe that I am fair in describing them as warlords as they will fight for each of their organisations with great force and with the worthiest of motives. The five existing regulators will all want to make sure that they have a key role—perhaps the key role—in the new organisation and that their senior staff will play the major management role in running that organisation. Equally, they will want to defend all their employees to ensure that their positions are adequately secure. Indeed, as Towers Perrin emphasised in its report, one of the most important jobs to be done in the coming weeks and months will be to consider key issues. Those include developing a co-ordinated communications strategy, progressing the key human resource management issues, clarifying the issues that bear on the size of Ofcom and developing the transitional management structure. It states that all those matters should be tidied up and dealt with as soon as a chairman and chief executive are in place. However, they cannot really be dealt with until a board is in place.
Therefore, we now have the extraordinary situation of a process being started in which the body that will eventually be responsible does not exist. Again, Towers Perrin has some wise things to say about what should be done. Among them is working out the major policy objectives and setting the whole tone under which the organisation will operate. It is very difficult to see how, under the present arrangements, a group of people who will not eventually have responsibility will be able to do that.
When the National Rivers Authority was being planned, our former, much lamented colleague, Lord (Nick) Ridley, took two very wise decisions. One was taken before the general election during which I retired from the other place and from government. His first decision was to take the original proposals put forward 1180 by my noble friend Lord Baker and to say that the regulatory functions must be separated from the other functions of the water authority.
The second decision that he made soon after that election was to set up an advisory committee. Whether he was quite so wise in deciding to appoint me as the chairman was for others to judge. However, that is what he did. The advisory committee was in place by the spring—or certainly by the early summer—of 1988. It would probably have been in place two or three months earlier if it had not been for a strange but characteristic intervention by the Treasury, which was prepared to spend approximately three months on an absurd little argument about the exact number of minutes or hours to which I should be committed. That was the type of issue that in the private sector would have been settled in an hour or two or, at the most, in a couple of days.
By the spring, I had taken up my responsibilities and proceeded to interview prospective board members. The Secretary of State appointed members to the committee in the knowledge that they would comprise the first board of the National Rivers Authority, as it came to be known. In other words, all the discussions that were under way, out of the control of the people who eventually would be responsible, were directed, spearheaded and organised by the advisory committee which would be responsible when it had emerged as a butterfly, as the National Rivers Authority might be described, from the original chrysalis.
That method appears to have enormous advantages over what is proposed in this case. It is hard to see how the people—the warlords—who at present are fighting the battles can get very far; rather, perhaps I should say that there is a danger that they can get all too far and that the board, when eventually appointed, will not in practical terms be able to reverse many of the decisions that have been taken.
Towers Perrin, perfectly fairly, points out that none of those decisions can be turned into concrete facts until the board has approved them. But, of course, time will be moving on and one hopes—my goodness, one hopes—that by November next year we shall begin to have an idea as to what this body will do. The fact that the Government have not yet decided what it should do presents a further difficulty for those who are preparing the plans at the moment. We are setting up an organisation whose eventual role has not yet been decided. I want to say one more word about that before I conclude.
Towers Perrin rightly says that a number of those issues—for example, some of the management issues—cannot be decided until the chief executive is in place and able to take decisions. In the chart contained in its report, Towers Perrin rather optimistically suggests that the appointment of the chief executive, which it apparently believes will be made by the chairman alone, will take place in the early summer. Of course, that is not possible because Clause 5 of the schedule makes clear that the appointment—I do not criticise this at all; it is absolutely appropriate—must be made by the chairman and the other non-staff members.
1181 The Minister was right to tell the House at Second Reading that the non-staff members would not be in place until the autumn of next year. It also follows that the chief executive cannot be in place until the autumn of next year. Therefore, there is a whole year to go in which a totally unmanaged, uncontrolled operation will be in place and in which the warlords will secure their ground and ensure that others will not later be able to regain it.
I can hardly think of a more bizarre and unsatisfactory way in which to set up an important organisation of this kind—one more fraught with hazard or one that is more unnecessary. We have precedents for such a situation. We know that in the case of the National Rivers Authority the then Secretary of State found it perfectly possible to establish an advisory committee. Indeed, the Government are always appointing committees for one task or another. If they can appoint a whole raft of special advisers, surely they must be able to appoint an advisory committee and indicate to its members that they will eventually have responsibility for running the organisation that they set up. Therefore, there is a good precedent to guide them.
There is also a precedent that should give them warning. When the time came to set up the Environment Agency, I suggested to the then Secretary of State, John Gummer, that it would be sensible to make the process as speedy as possible. I suggested that it would be sensible to take the large, already established and rather successful organisation—the National Rivers Authority—to make such changes as were necessary and to bring in the other bodies as quickly as possible. I suggested avoiding the employment of a raft of consultants and engaging in a prolonged negotiation in which the then warlords could do battle.
I am not surprised that my advice was rejected. I had already won one major battle with the Secretary of State when he was Minister of Agriculture about what the Environment Agency should do. I did not believe that he would take my advice on this matter when he became Secretary of State for the Environment. By then, I was tired of the whole matter and rather fed up with engaging in battles of that kind. Therefore, what I suggested did not happen.
However, what did happen was something rather like the process contained in this Bill. A prolonged negotiation took place in which all employees of the existing bodies were able to put in their bids and make their claim. I believe that the consequence was that for at least two years the Environment Agency, when it came into being, suffered. I believe that I can claim with some reason that the National Rivers Authority was very effective in making its powers and authority known when it was first set up. Indeed, if no one else had discovered it, the Shell oil company certainly did when it was fined £1 million as a result of action taken about six weeks after we came into being.
I believe that it is also fair to say that, for a couple of years, the Environment Agency was much less well known and was not seen to be so effective. I believe 1182 that that was because it had to spend a quite unnecessary amount of management time in sorting out the conflicts that had arisen because of the methods that had been adopted.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
I hope that the noble Lord will allow me to intervene. I apologise for not being here at the beginning of his remarks. I believe that he has been speaking for more than 15 minutes. I know that we do not have quite the same rules in Committee, but I hope that the noble Lord can bring his remarks to a close.
§ Lord Crickhowell
I am happy to do so because I have almost concluded what I want to say. I have one further remark to make. Apart from getting the structure right, there is a great deal of urgency about the task. In a sense the Environment Agency was dealing with a situation which was not going to change all that much. But in the world of broadcasting and communications things are changing at a terrifying speed. They are changing for the broadcasting industry. As regards broadband, the Government have set ambitious targets to be world leaders whereas we are already dropping to the bottom of the league table and doing very badly. We need decisions to be taken and an effective organisation to be put in place very quickly. We also need to know what eventually it will do. I believe that the Government are setting about it in the wrong way. I have not moved an amendment because if I did so it would not become effective until the Bill was implemented. I want to avoid a statutory body of this kind. I want the Government to think about it. I beg them to consider the precedent that has been set, appoint an advisory committee and let it get on with the job of leading this organisation into a strong and effective future rather than one established by the warlords.
§ Viscount Astor
My noble friend Lord Crickhowell has made some important points about the structure and definition of Ofcom. I shall restrict myself to two questions. But before doing so, perhaps I may say that I declared an interest at Second Reading. I hope that that will suffice for the rest of the Bill. Secondly, I thank the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, for kindly writing to me after the Second Reading and answering some points with which he did not have time to deal.
My first question concerns the setting up of a body corporate. If the noble Baroness is to answer this amendment, can she confirm whether this body will have a similar structure to the normal regulatory bodies which we have come to recognise so often in Government—whether it be Oflot, or whatever—or will it be something different? I apologise to the noble Baroness; if I had had time this morning I would have looked it up myself. I would welcome a brief comment from her on that point.
My second question relates to the letter which the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, wrote after the Second Reading as regards Ofcom. In this Bill we are setting up a body corporate and if that is the right way to go I shall accept the Government's 1183 recommendation on it, depending on the noble Baroness's answer. However, the noble Lord said that its revenue will consist of fees charged on those whom it regulates,for which provision will be made in the main communications Bill".That is rather strange. We are here setting up a body corporate, which is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. However, according to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, its revenue stream will not be set up until we have the main communications Bill. I may have got that wrong but, as I understand it, it is the Government's intention to set up this body before the main communications Bill comes into effect. Therefore, how will it sustain or rely on any revenue when its revenue, which we know it will receive from the industry, will not be validated until we have the next Bill? Will it be necessary to borrow the money from the Treasury or send a statement to the industry in lieu of an invoice which is to follow later? I do not understand and I find the situation somewhat contradictory. The noble Lord may offer me a simple answer. He is nodding his head. I shall be grateful for that. It seems to me that we should not be setting up a body corporate at this stage unless we state in this Bill how the revenue is to be derived. We know that the provision is to come into effect before the next communications Bill is looked at by your Lordships, let alone passed by this House.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Lord Dubs
Perhaps I may repeat the interest that I declared at Second Reading. I am chairman of the Broadcasting Standards Commission. I wish to comment very briefly on the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. If I understood him correctly, I am one of the warlords to which he referred. He suggested in, I think, a flight of fancy to the Committee that we were all at loggerheads, fighting it out in some medieval battle. That is absolutely not the case. The five regulatory bodies identified in the Bill have been co-operating through the chief executives for many months, if not years. We have been working closely together. There will be a smooth transition when the day comes, from the five bodies to the new Ofcom. I assure the noble Lord that battles are not taking place. We are all co-operating happily. If he does not believe that, I invite the noble Lord to have a chat with me when I shall convince him of what I am saying.
§ The Earl of Northesk
For reasons beyond my control, I was unable to participate in the Second Reading of the Bill and I apologise for that. That being so, perhaps I may say for the record that, like so many who have contributed to this debate over recent months, I have long nurtured the hope that the fact of convergence between the communications and broadcasting sectors would be reflected in Government policy. To that extent I welcome the principle on which the Bill before us is based.
But, like my noble friend Lord Crickhowell, I have serious reservations as regards the approach being adopted by the Government. To my untutored eye, it 1184 has about it a whiff of contrivance. I therefore hope that, with the leave of your Lordships, and as regards the first amendment by my two noble friends on the Front Bench concerned with the overall shape of Ofcom, it might be for the convenience of the Committee if I make a contribution at this time.
I confine myself to asking the Minister a few questions, all of which I am sure she will be able to field with consummate ease, given her command of her brief. Does the noble Baroness concede that in terms this Bill is concerned with the regulation of communication? If yes—and I shall be extremely surprised if the answer were to be no—does she further concede that, of necessity, the Bill is also concerned with the regulation of information society services? To put it in a slightly different way: is it the Government's intention that the setting up of Ofcom is a requirement of a general nature relating to the taking up and pursuit of information service activities? To the extent that it may be, is the justification, content and purpose of the Bill devoted in whole or in part to controlling information society services?
§ Lord Peyton of Yeovil
I only made acquaintance with this Bill today. I was interested to read the first amendment tabled in the name of my noble friend, which states,which shall be constituted in accordance with and have functions conferred by this Act".At the moment it has no functions and it is not ruled by this Bill. It may be a flippant thing to say, and I do not wish to be unkind or to revive painful memories, but it seems to me that it runs very much in parallel with the Dome. There we had a vast edifice and no one had any clear idea about what was to go into it for a very long time. Without being unduly unpleasant, there were then only very poor and inadequate thoughts. Are we doing the same thing here? It is a very simple question. Are we setting up an organisation which will have nothing at all to do but which, one suspects, will be getting into mischief?
§ Baroness Blackstone
I begin by saying how much I appreciate the fact that the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, let my department know exactly what lay behind the amendment. I have to admit that we were not altogether clear that it was a probing amendment with a particular purpose. Although I appreciate that, I make it absolutely clear that we do not think that the proposed wording is needed—I suspect that the noble Baroness will agree, because it is not her purpose to do anything other than probe.
The noble Baroness's first question was about the nature of Ofcom. In answering her question I can also respond to the noble Viscount, Lord Astor. Ofcom will be like a normal regulator; it will be a statutory corporation such as, for example, the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets. I hope that that is clear to all Members of the Committee. Ofcom will not be like the FSA, which is a company limited by guarantee and established under private law, and upon which statutory functions were subsequently conferred by the Financial Services and Markets Act. The FSA is 1185 somewhat different from other regulators. Ofcom will be similar to most other regulators rather than similar to the FSA. As a statutory corporation, it will be wholly incapable of doing anything that is not set out in the Bill or in any subsequent legislation that is passed by Parliament. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, that it will not be able to get up to mischief in the way in which he suggested.
§ Lord Peyton of Yeovil
The noble Baroness will be aware of the old adage that the devil finds work for idle hands. That is the basis of my suspicions.
§ Baroness Blackstone
I am sure that the noble Lord is right to suggest that the devil can find work for idle hands. However, I assure him that the Bill, in setting out the embryonic Ofcom, will not create a body with idle hands. It will have one simple function, which is conferred on it in Clause 2(1); namely, that of preparing itself to take on later its other regulatory functions. That is well understood by all those who are involved in the regulation of the functions; in other words, the existing regulators. As my noble friend Lord Dubs said, they operate—I say this to the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell—not like warlords but like a group of highly co-operative people, who work together and with the Government to plan for a more sensible, more flexible and more efficient system of regulation that is consistent with the changes that have been taking place.
I make it absolutely clear that the White Paper, A New Future for Communications, explained why the Government believe that we need a single regulator to cover the increasingly converging markets of the communications industry. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, that that is set out pretty clearly in chapter 8 of the White Paper. However, I am sure that I do not need to draw her attention to that chapter because she will be as familiar with it as I am; perhaps more so.
As technologies converge, consumers neither know nor care whether the services that they use involve the telecoms or broadcasting services, or a combination of the two. There is a need for one regulator to take a strategic approach to the regulation of the whole sector. All of that will be covered in the main communications Bill, which will be published, as Members of the Committee are fully aware, in draft in the spring of next year. It will set out the details of Ofcom's regulatory functions and it may cover other consequential matters, such as the way in which Ofcom will be constituted as a result. As I keep saying, Parliament will have ample opportunity to discuss all of those issues when the communications Bill is before it. We accept that that is the case. I make a plea to noble Lords not to waste a lot of time today and during our second Committee day discussing issues that are irrelevant to this Bill.
I say to the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, that a later amendment—I believe that it is Amendment No. 28—deals with the noble Viscount's second question, which 1186 was about revenue streams. Perhaps it would be better if we dealt with his question when we reach that amendment.
The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, made a range of very interesting points, although, to be frank, I wondered what many of them had to do with the amendment. However, I assure him that we chose the statutory corporation model—the same as that associated with the ITC—because it enjoys rather more independence than some other models in relation to such matters as staff pay. It is not the case that the Government want a weak and dependent body; we are keen to have a strong and independent Ofcom.
On the other hand, we of course want a proper degree of accountability. The majority of board members will be appointed by the Secretary of State. Ofcom will of course be subject to the National Audit Office. It would be irresponsible to set up a body that was not responsible and accountable in that sense. That is not to suggest that when Ofcom undertakes its regulatory duties it should not do so with strength, commitment and independence.
§ Viscount Astor
The noble Baroness said that she would deal with my points in relation to Amendment No. 28. With respect, I am not sure that that amendment is relevant. It relates to Clause 3(3), which is about the duties that are under the direction of the Secretary of State and which relate to this Bill. My point was somewhat different. It derived entirely from the letter from the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, in which he said that provision for the charging of fees,will be made in the main Communications Bill".That point is entirely different from that which was alluded to by the noble Baroness. Amendment No. 28 is to do with directions that the Secretary of State may make under this Bill. I hope that the noble Baroness will clarify the situation. When Ofcom gets its revenue, will it do so because of the contents of this Bill or will we have to wait for the main communications Bill? The latter was implied in the letter that I received from the Government, and from which I have quoted. I hope that I am not being pedantic. The relevant power comes either from Clause 3 or from a clause that will be enacted in the communications Bill. It is important for the noble Baroness to clarify the situation if she can.
§ The Earl of Northesk
Perhaps I should invite the noble Baroness to write to me in reply to my question, which she has singularly failed to address.
§ Baroness Blackstone
I shall respond first to the noble Viscount, Lord Astor. I think that we shall come to his point on Amendment No. 58. It would help the Committee if we were to raise questions under the appropriate clauses and the appropriate group of amendments that we are discussing. Otherwise we shall get into a dreadful muddle and will spend all afternoon dealing with Clause 1.
Revenues will be drawn from those who will be regulated. Meanwhile, the paving Bill will enable borrowing from the Secretary of State to be paid back later. Those who are regulated will eventually bear the cost of that regulation.
1187 I am sorry if the noble Earl, Lord Northesk, did not think that I had responded to his question. Perhaps it was partly because I could not see what it had to do with Amendment No. 1. On information services, the White Paper sets out clearly what Ofcom should cover. Broadly speaking, coverage is the same as that for existing legislation on broadcasting, telecommunications and the management of the spectrum, so there is no change.
§ Viscount Astor
I do not wish to delay the Committee. The noble Baroness has finally answered my question, which she could perhaps have answered earlier. It is clear that this Bill does not provide powers to charge those who will be regulated. There will be a borrowing requirement, in effect, and the power to charge those who are regulated will be part of the main communications Bill. That is where the confusion arose. I hope that I have got it right and I am grateful to the noble Baroness for confirming that.
§ Baroness Anelay of St Johns
I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the discussion on Amendment No. 1. It forms a back-cloth for our debates on the remainder of the Bill. I always admire the contributions of my noble friend Lord Peyton of Yeovil, but even more so today, as he managed again to introduce the Dome in a way that is relevant to our debate. One day I shall escape from discussions on the Dome, but riot quite yet.
I was intrigued by some of the points made by my noble friend Lord Crickhowell about the deficiencies in the way in which this model will work. I need to consider carefully what he has said with regard to the setting up of the National Rivers Authority.
I was interested to hear some of the Minister's answers, and I am sure that we shall explore later some of the points. I was particularly intrigued by the questions posed by my noble friend Lord Northesk. I know that his questions usually have a particular technical content, and I shall have to consider them carefully.
I said from the start that it was a probing amendment, and in that spirit, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Moved, accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House resumed.