§ 8.49 p.m.
§ Consideration of amendments on Report resumed on Clause 3.
Lord Ashley of Stoke moved Amendment No. 12. Page 4, line 12, at end insert—
( ) the need for reasonable access to new and emerging forms of telecommunications by persons with disabilities.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I should like to speak to Amendment No. 12 and to refer also to Amendment No. 22. The purpose of Amendment No. 12 is to raise the importance to disabled people of equal access to the many developments in the telecommunications industry. Over the past 10 years developments in technology have been remarkable. A striking illustration is that mobile phone ownership has increased from one million in 1990 to 30 million in 2002.
§ Regrettably, the provision for disabled people has only limped along. When they were first established, the relay services for fixed line telephone calls were splendid. I and many others were grate rut to British Telecom and to the RNID. Years have passed and the relay services have not developed to the same extent as other services, largely through the inadequacy of funding. I am very glad that Clause 68 of the Bill gives Ofcom the option of setting up a universal service fund so that costs such as relay services can be shared and not borne solely by British Telecom. I commend that very warmly.
§ However, I understand that Oftel currently does not favour that approach. Its view should be respected, but I believe it is important that funding is adequate. Services for disabled people should not be provided at the minimum level possible. The telecoms market is becoming very competitive. Improvements would surely flow more freely if all telecommunications operators were to contribute to a fund aimed specifically at ensuring better provision for disabled and disadvantaged people.
§ I do not intend to press this amendment, but I would appreciate any assurances that the Government could give. Disabled people should be able to have a reasonable share in the exciting developments that lie ahead. I hope that the Government will give a commitment that disabled people can do so and will recognise that adequate funding is required.
I wish to say a word about Amendment No. 22 to be moved by my noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey. When I moved my amendment on universal design in Committee, my noble friend said he was somewhat dismissive about earlier amendments on disability. This is his great sense of humour on display. All those amendments were brilliant. He could not possibly be dismissive about them. But he said he was certainly not dismissive about the one on universal design and said he would look again at the issue. He has kept his word, as he always does. I warmly welcome the result. It is not quite as strong as my original amendment insofar as the
Government amendment gives Ofcom a duty of encouraging others—I emphasise "others". My amendment put more emphasis on Ofcom itself encouraging awareness, promotion and access to inclusively designed developments. Amendment No. 22 uses different words—it cannot be as eloquent as mine—and is considerably briefer. However, it carries a very similar message. Although it is more reserved, it does add that Ofcom shall have a duty,
from time to time to review
§ whether further steps are needed. That could be very important and certainly very helpful.
§ I should like to raise one important caveat. This amendment focuses on domestic consumer equipment. It excludes equipment used solely for business purposes. The design of office equipment is clearly vital to the employment of disabled people. I do hope the Government will be able to help on this. The amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord McIntosh is a considerable step forward. I thank the Government, especially my noble friend, for accepting the principle that the interests of disabled people should be a central feature of new developments in this exciting industry. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Wilcox
My Lords, we are very keen to rise and support the Government on this amendment. Amendment No. 22 gives Ofcom a duty to encourage inclusive design. I am delighted that the Government have taken on board the arguments in Committee on an amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke, and which we wholeheartedly supported. The new amendment will make a real difference to the lives not only of disabled consumers but also to all people who wish to make use of the latest technological developments but are prevented from doing so by design features that exclude a huge percentage of the population by virtue of their complexity and user unfriendliness.
As the communications regulator, it is only right that Ofcom takes on this responsibility which will enhance its ability to carry out its general duties by ensuring that a full range of communication technologies are usable by as many consumers as possible. Inclusive design is good news for everyone—consumers and, in particular, disadvantaged consumers, but also manufacturers—by opening up whole sections of the market which had previously been barred, and doing so at little additional cost. On these Benches, we are pleased that the Government have understood the potential of inclusive design set forward in Committee and have made provisions for it in the Bill.
§ Lord Addington
My Lords, I shall speak briefly. I have added my name to the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, but I missed the first few seconds of his speech. The indignity of undue haste was given to me as punishment as I belted up the corridor. This is an amendment which the Government should consider. As regards Amendment No. 22, as I said before in a moment of hyperbole 103 brought on by excessive waiting, we do not care who carries the flag in these little battles as long as we win. If it happens to the Government, good for them.
Amendment No. 53, with which these are grouped, is not so much a probing as a drawing-out amendment. Will the Government give assurances that universal service conditions would relate to affordable rental services for disabled people to obtain cheap equipment—for example, Braille phones? Would that still apply in relation to this amendment? If the answer is "yes", the amendment will be withdrawn.
§ Baroness Darcy de Knayth
My Lords, I support all that the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, said and I welcome tremendously the government amendment, about which a great deal has been said already. Importantly, the amendment talks about ensuring that usable equipment becomes readily available. I am told by disability organisations that, too often, revolutionary new products sit on the drawing board or at the prototype stage and are not brought to the market. That is very important.
I support all that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said about Amendment No. 53. We hope for a Government assurance on that. I believe that the Danish telecoms agency provides affordable rental equipment to deafblind, hearing or speech-impaired people to enable them to access telecommunications services. We hope it is the Government's understanding of EU law that if it is in the form of a rental service that is allowable too.
§ 9 p.m.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I turn to Amendment No. 22, but first, perhaps I may continue the mutual admiration society which my noble friend Lord Ashley and I like to maintain in public.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, in private we love each other to bits, but that is quite different. As my noble friend Lord Ashley made the case in Committee, with his customary eloquence, for this addition to the functions of Ofcom, I need speak briefly only on what is specific to our amendment. It is a simple but broadly framed duty. We think that, bearing in mind the length of time for which we hope this legislation will remain relevant, and the impossibility of foreseeing exactly what concerns will arise, it is right to adopt a broad approach.
So, we have not used the specific label of "inclusive design", which may go out of date or become associated with a specific design philosophy. Instead, we propose a duty on Ofcom that focuses on widening the availability of consumer equipment which is convenient for use by the widest practical range of users, including the disabled. Ofcom should take such steps and enter into such arrangements as will encourage others to secure that wide availability. I know that my noble friend Lord Ashley is concerned 104 about the encouragement of others, but it is, after all, the technology and the expertise that lies within industry and outside Ofcom, and which could not possibly be maintained within Ofcom's staff, that must be used for this purpose.
It would not be appropriate for Ofcom itself to become involved in design, much less in manufacture and marketing; so the focus is appropriately on encouraging actions by others. We also propose that the duty on Ofcom should require it from time to time to review the need for further action. Therefore, this is not a one-off programme to be done once and then put on the shelf. Ofcom should check occasionally the real state of affairs, and whether there is a need to do more. That is an appropriate role for Ofcom and will lead to improvements in the availability of equipment that is inherently designed for ease of use by the widest possible range of users. I shall move Amendment No. 22 in its place.
As regards my noble friend's new Amendment No. 12, I understand that behind it is the text relay service, Typetalk. That is a helpful facility for deaf persons, which allows users of text phones to send messages to ordinary phone users via a relay operator who reads the text message to the ordinary user and types the reply back to the text-phone user.
I can assure my noble friend Lord Ashley and the noble Lord, Lord Addington, that access to the text relay service for disabled users will be assured through the universal service order to be made by the Secretary of State under the provisions of the Bill, and the implementing measures to be made by Ofcom. So the amendment would not add anything to what is already in hand. We have consulted on the order, and we will publish the results and our response in due course.
In addition to ensuring that there is access to the service, we are aware of concerns about its future development and funding. That was referred to in relation to BT. These questions require careful consideration and could have fundamental implications for the way in which universal services are provided in the UK. I can assure my noble friend Lord Ashley that the Bill allows for mechanisms to be provided to share the costs of universal service provision, which is what he was suggesting, where necessary. So there is scope within the framework of the Bill to address these issues in the way that seems most equitable.
However, there are fundamental issues that need to be addressed before we introduce those funding mechanisms. We will need further consideration and consultation. I understand that Oftel will recommend that a detailed review of universal service provision is undertaken in 2004, and that it would be appropriate to consider the funding of the telephone relay service as part of that wider review. I am sure that that is the right approach.
I round off my remarks on Amendment No. 12 by noting that the issue of access for people with disabilities is included in the general provision at Clause 3(3)(i). Access is a "need" for people with disabilities, so Ofcom must take it into account.
105 On Amendment No. 53, again I understand that there is a specific concern behind the amendment, which is, whether the provision of apparatus for the disabled can be mandated within the provisions of the directives. It is our understanding that the universal service provisions of the directives, which deal with services and facilities, do not provide a basis for requiring the provision of apparatus as such—that is, to sell it outright to particular users or to provide it for no charge.
Therefore, we would not be able to accept Amendment No. 53 as it stands. However, I can assure both the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy, who raised this point, that we consider that it would be possible to require the provision of a service consisting of the rental of apparatus suitable for use by disabled persons. I believe that that is what the noble Baroness described as happening in Denmark. I shall not express a view on the merits of any particular proposal but, so far as concerns the legal framework, we are satisfied that a universal service requirement would be permissible. We understand that at least one European member state already has such a requirement. Perhaps it is Denmark. I do not know.
With those assurances I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, will feel able to withdraw his amendment and that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, will not move his.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 13 not moved.]
§ The Deputy Speaker (Lord Ampthill)
My Lords, is the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, moving Amendment No. 14? It was spoken to with Amendment No. 1.
Lord Crickhowell moved Amendment No. 14:
Page 4, line 39, at end insert—
"citizens" means all members of the public in the United Kingdom;
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 15 not moved.]
Lord McNally moved Amendment No. 16:
After Clause 3, insert the following new clause—
§ DUTY TO PROMOTE COMMUNITY MEDIA
§ (1) It shall be the duty of OFCOM to take all such steps as they consider appropriate for promoting the growth and development of community media.106
(2) In this section—
community media" means communications services provided primarily for the benefit of members of the public in a defined geographical locality or of a particular community and not operated by the BBC or for commercial purposes.
(3) In subsection (2)—
communications services" includes—
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, the amendment seeks to add another duty to Ofcom to promote community media. I can almost foretell the Minister's brief that this is another bauble to be added to the tree with which the noble Lord, Lord Currie, is already weighed down.
§ I hope that the House has noted the Government's totally irrational approach to these matters. Where the Government like the bauble—for instance, the ethnic responsibility we discussed earlier or to promote usable equipment the ladder is taken out and the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, is happy to climb it and to hang the bauble on the tree. Where equally reasonable amendments—such as those relating to gender or community media—are brought forward, there are shrieks of disapproval and demands for them to be withdrawn. There is no logic applied other than whether the bauble has the approval of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, to go on the tree. I can see the Minister warming to the idea.
§ We shall attempt to persuade him that this is a good idea. I am a little worried that unless Ofcom has responsibilities such as this it will become an organisation which knows the price of everything and the value of nothing—there is an original statement at this time of night. Ofcom will have its eyes on the big issues and the big battalions.
§ On looking at the industry I am struck by my memories of the various stages when there were great hopes that technology would supply genuine community access in a way that we had never heard before. I remember the growth of local radio, particularly local commercial radio. These stations would provide local voices and be rooted in the local community, with all the benefits that would bring. I also remember cable television, which would provide live transmissions from Greenwich council—a ratings topper if ever there was one. The whole theme was that the new technologies would allow people access to communications in a way that they had never had access before.
§ But, of course—we shall discuss this in greater detail when we reach other parts of the Bill—the conglomerates have hoovered up the local stations and we have lost that community identity. We are trying to have yet another go at keeping communications in the community.107
§ I remember the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, with his vast experience, saying in Committee that this was really an attempt to provide facilities to people who merely wanted to speak to themselves because nobody else wanted to listen to them. It was something along those lines, but I am sure he will tell us in more detail. But I think it is more than that. I have met various groups and remember in particular a young lady from one of the problem estates in London saying what an impact access radio had had on that estate in creating a sense of community and bringing people together to address its problems.
§ The community media has had the blessing of no less a person than Gordon Brown, who addressed a conference of the Community Media Association a year ago. I do not think he promised them any money but he gave them his good wishes, which is the way of the Chancellor. And some 121 MPs have signed Early-Day Motion 171 in another place, calling for the promotion of community media.
§ There are enabling powers but no firm commitments in the Bill. We believe that there is a need for stronger wording which would recognise the contribution that community media makes to neighbourhood renewal, local democracy and community access to new communications technologies.
§ Community media groups are widespread in the UK, located in both urban and rural areas. Radio Ryedale is a rural Internet-based webcast radio station and website. Tenantspin is a broadband television service run by tenants in a Liverpool tower block. Desi Radio has a pilot 12-month licence for a radio service for the west London Punjabi community. Solent TV is a new, not-for-profit community television service for the Isle of Wight. That illustrates what is on offer.
§ Thinking laterally back to a debate in the House on mutuals and co-operatives, at which the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, was present, my fear is that if access radio and community television get too popular, the media moguls and conglomerates will start stalking them again and swallowing them up. I would not mind seeing them ring-fenced by some mutual legislation that would protect them.
§ What is beyond doubt is that community media offers opportunities to get back into local communities. It benefits the community in terms of communications but also—and we shall return to this at another stage—gives talent, often raw talent, its first opportunity to broadcast and to develop. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Buscombe
My Lords, I should like to repeat what I said in Committee. We are, in principle, supportive of community media, particularly community radio. But I continue to question how Ofcom can carry out a duty to promote community media with regard to cost. Where will the money come from? That is a difficult question which may put Ofcom in an impossible position.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Lord Bragg
My Lords, I support the comments of the noble Lord, Lord McNally. Community media seems at first sight to be merely an extension of newspapers, particularly the free sheets, but I think that it could be more significant than that. Certain early experiments gained some ridicule from the chattering classes, but I think that community media has enormous potential.
I am very glad that young people are with us in the Gallery today because part of the potential of community media involves young people. It is very exciting for people to work in radio and television in local areas. We know how much information people take from radio and television—it is where they can get the news on their views of the world. But they can also get that information from local radio and television stations. It is undoubtedly silly to say so, but I would guess that community radio and television could be an enormously important factor in the attempt to reverse the disinclination to be interested in politics. It could not only inform people about politics but actually get them involved.
The set-up costs for community media can be very low indeed. Although I acknowledge the difficulties outlined by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, the difficulties are not overwhelming. Consider how many stations are set up as non-profit-making operations and how many are very localised. The noble Lord. Lord McNally, referred to a tower block station. The enterprises can be very localised and extraordinarily effective. Community media would be a great opportunity for young people to get their hands on the technology to help make their community work, to talk to each other and to talk inside the community.
There is also a democracy about radio and television that is not always present in material appearing in print, which can seem rather formidable. Much print media seems to require massive training and to be in the grip of those who are remote from the more general community.
So for all those reasons, and the reasons underlined by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, people feel that they are losing the sense of community which matters massively in these islands, as it has for a great many centuries—because of fragmentation and globalisation, because of the idea of a takeover culture everywhere, and because of a sense of rootlessness. Community radio and community television, the community talking to itself and to each other, could massively reinforce the roots of our society. That would be a great outcome for this Bill.
§ Lord Evans of Temple Guiting
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, talked about my noble friend Lord McIntosh putting baubles on the Christmas tree of the noble Lord, Lord Currie. I think that a much better image is the one that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, used in Committee—of Gulliver being tied down by 5,000 ropes. He was talking about the BBC. Putting Ofcom in the place of Gulliver, 109 however, there is a danger that at the outset we will stop it developing the very roles that the noble Lord wishes it to perform.
§ Lord McNally
My Lords, I am shocked. The noble Lord entered this House as one of the new breed of Peers unsullied and untainted by politics. To turn my argument back on me is the type of thing, that I would expect from a gnarled bruiser such as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, not from a political virgin such as the noble Lord, Lord Evans.
§ Lord Evans of Temple Guiting
My Lords, that is very kind of the noble Lord. The only difference between my noble friend Lord McIntosh and me is that I am a gnarled old bruiser from the publishing world and he is a gnarled old bruiser from the world of politics.
§ Lord Evans of Temple Guiting
I am upsetting everyone tonight, my Lords.
My noble friend Lord Bragg spoke movingly about the importance of local radio and television. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, used a very good phrase—communications in the community. In the next minute or so, I hope to convince your Lordships that that is part of Ofcom's remit and is precisely what Ofcom will do.
Community media has had a long and distinguished history. The Radio Authority has, since its inception, granted more than 4,000 short-term restricted services licences. Those can be used for a whole range of activities from rock festivals to religious festivals. This month alone, there will be about 50 services on the air under such licences. It has also granted about 100 long-term restricted services licences to schools, hospitals, forces bases, colleges and universities. Though less developed than its radio equivalent, or indeed, than it is in other countries such as Canada, the United States and Australia, local and community television has already proven its ability to attract significant audiences, to contribute to the social and cultural development of the community and to develop truly innovative programmes. Existing analogue services in Oxford, Lanarkshire, Derry, Manchester, Leicester, Southampton, the Isle of Wight and Portsmouth all do a very good job. But in the analogue world there is not much scope for the development of local services. It is only once more spectrum is made available through switchover that we might be able to offer local television entrepreneurs the opportunity to deliver more services and local audiences the benefits of services which encourage the very things the noble Lords, Lord McNally and Lord Bragg, were talking about—social inclusion and diversity, contributing to local democracy and neighbourhood renewal.
The Government are fully committed to community television and access radio having an equally distinguished future. That is why the Bill makes provision for both.
110 Amendment No. 16 would place a new duty on Ofcom to promote community media. Community media would cover not just radio but television and the Internet. As we said in Committee, we do not believe this amendment is necessary. Powers already exist to develop a licensing regime for both local TV, under Clause 241, and access radio services, under Clause 258. Moreover, we expect Ofcom to support and encourage the development of community TV and radio as part of fulfilling its duty in Clause 3(1),to further the interests of consumers and the community as a whole",and, under Clause (3)(2)(c) to secure,a wide range of television and radio services which…are both of high quality and calculated to appeal to a variety of tastes and interests".We should all agree that if we want Ofcom to be able to fulfil its remit fully and to comply with all its duties we should not try to overload it with redundant functions. I therefore ask the noble Lord to withdraw Amendment No. 16.
§ Lord McNally
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Temple Guiting, that the Radio Authority has had a good record in promoting access radio and I hope that some of the spirit and tradition of the Radio Authority in those promotions carries through to the work of Ofcom. In the spirit of that skilful reply, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 7 [Duty to carry out impact assessments]:
Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 17:
Page 8, line 41, at end insert—
(3A) An assessment under subsection (3)(a) must set out how, in OFCOM's opinion, the performance of their general duties (within the meaning of section 3) is secured or furthered by or in relation to what they propose.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment is in response to an amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, in Committee. There are certain principles that the Bill upholds and we have every expectation that Ofcom will be a good regulator. Indeed, the quality of the board that has been appointed suggests nothing else. The amendment requires Ofcom to include in an impact assessment how a proposal will further or secure its general duties, or how the performance of its duties would be secured or furthered in relation to the proposal. We believe that will ensure greater openness and transparency at the beginning of the policy-making process. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Buscombe
My Lords, we on these Benches very much welcome the inclusion of Amendment No. 17 in the Bill as a measure that will serve to enhance transparency. The amendment requires any impact assessment under Clause 17 to link the proposal in question to Ofcom's general duties. Thus Ofcom will explicitly state in what way its proposal will manifest its Clause 3 commitment. This will allow further scrutiny of Ofcom's proposal.
111 Government amendments such as these are rewarding and refreshing for these Benches, proof that our suggestions are listened to and from time to time accepted. We tabled a similar amendment to this in Committee, arguing that if Ofcom were to be a model of good regulation the Bill must go further to boost transparency. That is what the Government have done with this amendment and I congratulate and thank the Minister for it.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 8 [Duty to publish and meet promptness standards]:
§ [Amendments Nos. 18 to 20 not moved.]
Lord Crickhowell moved Amendment No. 21:
After Clause 8, insert the following new clause—
§ "UNDUE DELAY ON THE PART OF OFCOM
§ (1) This section applies if the court is satisfied, on the application of a person aggrieved by the failure of OFCOM to comply with the promptness standards set out in the statement for the time being in force under section 8, that there has been undue delay on the part of OFCOM in—
- (a) the carrying out of their different functions; or
- (b) the transaction of business for purposes connected with the carrying out of those functions.
§ (2) The court may give such directions to OFCOM as it considers appropriate for securing that the functions or business that are the subject of the application under subsection (1) shall be carried out or transacted without unnecessary further delay.
§ (3) In this section "the court" means—
- (a) in England and Wales, the High Court;
- (b) in Scotland. the Court of Session; and
- (c) in Northern Ireland, the High Court."
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I must apologise for the fact that, when thinking what I was going to say on the amendment, my mind was far from Amendment No. 14, to which we suddenly came back a moment ago. I am glad that it was duly moved.
§ When speaking to Amendment No. 1, I said that the members of the Joint Committee who had tabled a considerable number of amendments in Committee were now concentrating our fire on a few that we thought important. Amendment No. 21 is one of those. As I said in Committee, we thought it important because of the evidence that we had heard from many witnesses about the delays that had taken place before existing regulators. I need not dwell on that point. On that occasion, the amendment was one of a group on promptness standards. Now we are left simply with one important but single amendment on the issue.
In paragraph 85 of its report, the Joint Committee recommended that,
by analogy with the relevant provisions of the Competition Act, a party aggrieved by a failure of OFCOM to determine a matter for decision in accordance with time limits or promptness standards be enabled to seek a direction by a court to OFCOM if the court is satisfied that there has been undue delay by OFCOM".
§ On that last point, I simply say that why those provisions have not been brought into effect has been raised repeatedly in both Houses. So far, we have not had an answer.
I can deal relatively briefly with the amendment on this occasion because I simply have to deal with the arguments put against it in Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Temple Guiting. He first said:
Delays in missing some deadlines may not be very important but Amendment No. 38 would apply regardless".—[Official Report. 15/5/03; col. 320.]
§ If the matters are not very important, it seems most unlikely that parties will take them before the courts, given all the costs incurred and the likelihood that the courts are likely to take a dim view and award the costs against them if they have raised a trivial matter. Therefore, I do not take that as a very serious argument.
§ The second main argument advanced by the noble Lord was that a great deal of the time might be devoted by Ofcom to delays in the responses from stakeholders. I understand the argument, although I expressed some anxiety in Committee that we should apparently put the matter in the hands of stakeholders, who in some cases have been notably reluctant to produce the information in a timely manner. However, I again do not find the argument convincing. It hardly seems very likely to me that a stakeholder who has been slow in providing information will come to the court and say, "I've been slow, but I want you to put a bomb under the backside of Ofcom". I am sure that they would put it in rather more delicate terms than that, but the simple fact of the matter is that, if they have been delaying matters, they will not have a very compelling case to put to the courts, so the courts are likely to treat their application in a pretty summary way. Therefore, I do not believe that that can be a very serious argument.
Finally, the Minister said that, in any case, this amendment should apply only to part of the Bill. But the amendment specifies that the matter can be brought before the courts following delay on the part of Ofcom in,
the carrying out of their different functions; or … the transaction of business for purposes connected with the carrying out of those functions",
and that the court may,
give such directions to OFCOM as it considers appropriate for securing that the functions or business that are the subject of the application under subsection (1) shall be carried out or transacted without unnecessary further delay".
§ Once again, we are being asked to believe that someone with an irrelevant application will come to the courts or that the courts will take seriously a matter that should not have been brought under this section.
§ I do not believe that any of those arguments can be treated seriously. In this case, we are simply saying that if there are occasions when Ofcom delays in an unreasonable way when handling such cases and if such delays may cause severe financial loss to the parties involved, then there should be a remedy by which the party can go to the courts and obtain a suitable direction. The courts have discretion in the 113 matter. A court would be able to dismiss the application if it were irrelevant or trivial and give an appropriate order if it considered that it -tad relevance and justification.
§ Therefore, the proposed new clause would not impose an impossible burden on Ofcom. Past experience suggests that such a fallback or safeguard is necessary if individual organisations are to be protected. Therefore, I hope that, confronted by this eminently reasonable proposal—one that, after all, is included in existing legislation because past governments have considered it to be eminently reasonable—on this occasion the Government will think that it is sensible to accept this modest and reasonable proposition. I beg to move.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Lord Puttnam
My Lords, I rise briefly to support the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, in the amendment. We on the Joint Scrutiny Committee did not make up this matter; it emerged from evidence. Time and time again we were presented with scenarios and organisations which made it clear to us that incumbent or dominant organisations had become past masters at utilising delay to achieve their ends over other organisations less well versed and less skilled. For that reason, we plumped for this issue as a recommendation; for that reason, this amendment has made its way to the Report stage of the Bill; and, for that reason, I commend it to the Government.
§ Lord Davies of Oldham
My Lords, before I begin to respond in detail to the points raised by the noble Lord. Lord Crickhowell, in moving his amendment and in direct response to my noble friend Lord Puttnam, I have one observation to make. Neither in this Chamber nor in another place during detailed debates on the Bill has there been much acknowledgement of Clause 9. Yet Clause 9 gives powers to the Secretary of State to direct Ofcom to issue a new or revised statement of promptness standards if she does not believe that what exists already is adequate for securing satisfactory promptness standards.
Those powers were introduced specifically in response to concerns raised by the Joint Scrutiny Committee, which my noble friend chaired. Therefore, it seems a little ungracious that it has not been noticed that the Government sought to take on board those arguments and set out to address them in Clause 9 as well as we could. Clause 9 is not about interfering in the running of Ofcom, but is an assurance to stakeholders that the regulator will need to take its promptness standards seriously, or the Secretary of State might act. I suggest that as I run through my response to the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, he bears in mind the operation of this clause.
The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, identified the reasons why he felt moved to bring back this amendment despite a clear and careful explanation of our concerns by my noble friend Lord Evans of Temple Guiting from the Front Bench. The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, has not clanged his amendment—and we have not changed our position 114 since the Committee stage. Ofcom's statement of promptness standards will refer to its different functions and to the transaction of its business in carrying out those functions. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, would apply to an incredibly broad range of matters, and that is why we have good reason not to accept it.
I listened very carefully to the noble Lord's arguments. He suggested that it would be unlikely that trivial matters would be taken before the courts. Unfortunately, we have all had experience of the trivial being taken to court by individuals who are inclined to make mischief.
The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, is open to considerable abuse. We sought to deploy these arguments in Committee. We stressed the fact that we bore in mind exactly what the Joint Scrutiny Committee—to which he made such a significant contribution—recommended, and we have a clause in the Bill which substantially addresses those concerns. It is on that basis that I hope the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord Crickhowell
My Lords, I find the arguments advanced by the Minister no more convincing than on the last occasion on which they were advanced. I acknowledge freely that the Government have moved; that they have introduced Clause 9; that there is to be a statement of promptness standards; and that those standards have to be taken seriously. I am sure that they will be taken seriously.
The fact also remains that plenty of cases in the past have evidenced that unnecessary delays have taken place. I find it odd that the Minister should believe that the individual should not have the ultimate protection of the courts if matters are not properly handled by Ofcom. The Minister says that he finds it surprising that we should move such an amendment. This is a clause and a form of wording that was thought perfectly reasonable in the Competition Act 1998, so I cannot see why it should be considered so unreasonable when it is pressed in the context of this Bill.
However, I am slightly comforted by the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Currie, is in his place. He will have heard all that has been said about the importance that the Joint Committee and others attach to promptness; he will have heard what has been said by the Minister about the views to be taken by the Secretary of State and the carrying out of matters in a prompt and expeditious way—and knowing Lord Currie as I do, he will take them seriously and take appropriate action. If he does not, we will all be able to ask him why not. Perhaps ultimately I may have to rely on the firm management and prompt and effective action that I know will be taken by the noble Lord, Lord Currie, and his colleagues when they come to deal with their responsibilities. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.115
Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 22:
After Clause 9, insert the following new clause—
§ "DUTY TO ENCOURAGE AVAILABILITY OF EASILY USABLE APPARATUS
§ (1) It shall be the duty of OFCOM to take such steps, and to enter into such arrangements, as appear to them calculated to encourage others to secure—
- (a) that domestic electronic communications apparatus is developed which is capable of being used with ease and without modification by the widest possible range of individuals (including those with disabilities); and
- (b) that domestic electronic communications apparatus which is capable of being so used is as widely available as possible for acquisition by those wishing to use it.
§ (2) It shall be the duty of OFCOM from time to time to review whether they need to take further steps, or to enter into further arrangements, for the purpose of performing their duty under this section.
§ (3) OFCOM must not do anything under this section that would be inconsistent with the Community requirements set out in section 4.
§ (4) In this section "electronic communications apparatus" means apparatus that is designed or adapted for a use which consists of or includes the sending or receiving of communications or other signals that are transmitted by means of an electronic communications network.
§ (5) For the purposes of this section electronic communications apparatus is domestic electronic communications apparatus except to the extent that it is designed or adapted for use solely for the purposes of, or in connection with, a business.
§ (6) In this section "signal" includes—
- (a) anything comprising speech, music, sounds, visual images or communications or data of any description; and
- (b) signals serving for the impartation of anything between persons, between a person and a thing or between things, or for the actuation or control of apparatus."
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 11 [Duty to establish and maintain Content Board]:
Lord Davies of Oldham moved Amendment No. 23:
Page 11, line 35, at end insert—
( ) At least one of the other members of the Content Board must also be a non-executive member of OFCOM other than the chairman of OFCOM.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 23, I shall speak to the Government's Amendment No. 24 and to the other amendments in the group. Amendment No. 23 will be recognised by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, because during Committee the Government agreed to bring forward an amendment to ensure that Ofcom appoints two non-executive members of the main Ofcom board to the content board. Amendment No. 23 fulfils that commitment.
§ Amendment No. 24 is a purely technical amendment which removes a possible ambiguity in the original drafting. With the Ofcom Act, it might have already been taken to imply the appointment of two Ofcom members to the content board. That is the basis for the Government's Amendment No. 24.
§ Amendment No. 25, tabled by my noble friend Lord Gordon, and Amendment No. 26, tabled by my noble friend Lord Dubs, concern conflicts of interest among 116 members of the content board. We discussed Amendment No. 25 in Committee and we subsequently wrote to my noble friend Lord Gordon, who had sought this amendment in the spirit of tidying up the Bill. Copies of that letter were sent to other noble Lords who had supported the amendment on that occasion and they were also placed in the Library of the House.
§ There is, I believe, no difference of principle between us. The question is the practicality of what we are seeking to achieve. It appears to the Government that all those listed in subsection (8) would be ruled out of membership of the content board under subsection (9). However, subsection (9) requires a process of analysis to be undertaken by Ofcom to assess the potential risks. Our view is that the conflict of interest in relation to the BBC, to S4C and Channel 4 is sufficiently clear-cut to make what is known as a "bright-line" distinction, one which we used in the letter to my noble friend, whereby those persons listed in subsection (8) can be statutorily excluded at the outset, without setting Ofcom the task of analysis on a case-by-case basis.
§ The distinction is in the current legislation in relation to the ITC, the Radio Authority and the Broadcasting Standards Commission, as I am sure my noble friend is aware. He has not convinced me that there is any material disadvantage in retaining the clarity of subsection (8) and I hope that he will withdraw his amendment.
§ Amendment No. 26, tabled by my noble friend Lord Dubs, calls for Ofcom to publish the criteria it will apply in ensuring that those appointed by Ofcom to the content board do not have a prejudicial conflict of interest. It is of course important that Ofcom complies with the very highest standards of corporate governance. I welcome the fact that Ofcom has established that as its clear policy, as detailed in its members' code of conduct. I also welcome the fact that it has made that code and indeed its register of members' interests publicly available on its website. That is the kind of transparency which I believe demonstrates Ofcom's commitment to the principles of good regulatory practice, as provided for in Clause 3 of the Bill. That code will of course apply to Ofcom in carrying out its job of appointing members of the content board.
§ The content board has developed and agreed its own code of conduct, which has also been published on the Ofcom website, and has committed to publicising its own register of interests. The question is whether one should go beyond that and require in primary legislation that Ofcom publish detailed criteria of how it will assess potential conflicts of interest. I am wary of that suggestion, not least because there has to be a balance between absolute bars, of the kind provided for in subsection (8), and administrative processes. For example, it is possible that members may have expertise which is necessary for the board to make properly informed decisions, but there may be individual decisions where a member must step aside from any involvement because of a potential conflict, or even the risk of a perception of a conflict of interest.117
§ The content board needs to have access to relevant sectoral expertise, so I particularly welcome its commitment to making open and transparent any real or potential conflicts of interest. That seems a good way of resolving the problem. I recognise the real concerns raised by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and I have no doubt that he will contribute to the debate and express those further. However, Ofcom now has in place policies and systems to deal with those issues that we examined in Committee. No doubt the noble Lord, Lord Currie, and the chairman of the content board, Richard Hooper, will read the debate and consider carefully the extent to which any further reassurance could be provided on this matter. Nevertheless, I hope that I have established the basis for the reservations on the amendment.
§ Amendments Nos. 28 and 29 would require the content board to evaluate the impact of its functions on business competitiveness, and make Ofcom aware of that. Amendment No. 30 requires the content board to produce its annual report. The amendments take us back to the territory of viewing the content board as somehow outwith the duties laid on Ofcom. The Bill establishes the duties of a single, converged communications regulator. Those duties, which we have elaborated and discussed at some length, apply to all of Ofcom's work, including any contributions to that work by the content board—for example, as well as the general duties, the need to review regulatory burdens, to undertake impact assessments, to consider self-regulation, and to publish and meet promptness standards.
§ So I recognise the difficulty in having to move the government amendments and the grouping with them of amendments which have not, thus far, been moved. I am hesitant about presenting the Government's arguments against amendments to which my noble friends and other noble Lords are due to speak. It is difficult for me to do anything other than present the Government's arguments at this point. Therefore, I crave the forgiveness of my noble friends and the other proposers of amendments to follow, and hope that I have at least cleared their minds over the Government's position. We shall see the nature of their arguments. I beg to move.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Lord Gordon of Strathblane
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment No. 25. My heart leaped when the Minister offered to speak to all the amendments in the group. I thought that perhaps at last the Government had decided to adopt them even before one had spoken to them. The Minister is correct in that there is little difference between our points of view on this matter.
In Committee, I raised the question of why, uniquely, we were singling out the BBC and Channel 4. I recall the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, asking, during the Minister's reply, what about a director of Sky? Should we not be listing that company? In the letter that I received from the Minister, for which I am grateful, the first half agreed that everybody in subsection (8) was caught by subsection (9) anyway. Therefore, in my view—and. I am sure, that of the 118 noble Lord, Lord Peyton, if he were in his place—subsection (8) is totally unnecessary. But the letter continued by justifying the necessity for subsection (8) by saying that in the commercial sector, they did not know quite who was in charge.
Frankly, the people in charge of the commercial sector would take issue with that statement. The provision is wholly unnecessary. There is no reason to single out the BBC from the others. A simple conflict of interest test is sufficient. That would not put Ofcom to a great deal of bother. It will not be appointing members of the content board every day of the week and it is the simplest thing in the world to rule them out prima facie as having a conflict of interest. At this hour of night, I shall obviously not press the amendment; to be honest, I probably would not even on Third Reading, but I hope that the Minister will reconsider and withdraw subsection (8).
§ Lord Dubs
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment No. 26. In doing so, I declare an interest as chair of the Broadcasting Standards Commission; previously, I have been deputy chair of the Independent Television Commission. When accepting those posts, I had to sign a pretty tough declaration that I had no financial or other interest in any broadcasting organisation.
I should make clear that there is absolutely nothing personal in what I say. I am dealing simply with a point of principle. In so far as it may or may not affect any individuals, I cast no aspersions on anyone. I have simply tabled what I consider to be the gentlest possible amendment that I could devise to put the issue before the House.
I had a helpful discussion earlier today with Richard Hooper, who is the chair of the content board and the deputy chair of Ofcom. We discussed the issues and he was extremely helpful. I understand that Ofcom must achieve a balance between, on the one hand, including people with broadcasting experience useful to its work and, on the other hand, setting that against any excessive financial or other interest that might prejudice those individuals' functioning in Ofcom.
The question is: how easy or difficult is it to arrive at such a balance? Ofcom is an extremely powerful body. It has absolute powers over the licences and about aspects affecting broadcasters and other bodies in the telecommunications industry. Because it is so powerful, it must be entirely beyond suspicion. It was put to me that if any individuals have an interest—it would be a moderately small one—it would be appropriate for them to declare it and, furthermore, to absent themselves from meetings where a decision was being made about a broadcaster in whom they had an interest—a sort of Chinese wall practice.
I wonder whether that is sufficient. Given Ofcom's wide-ranging responsibilities, it would be pretty difficult for anyone with a financial or other interest in a broadcaster to have that interest limited to a narrow aspect of that broadcaster's work, so that they were not in difficulty with regard to other aspects of that broadcaster's work. So I suppose that Ofcom must resort to saying that the interest is relatively small and therefore does not matter.
119 I did not know that it existed until this morning, but I managed to get hold of a copy of the content board members' code of conduct, which I read with interest. I shall cite a couple of paragraphs. First, under the heading of, "Public service values", paragraph 2 states:Members must avoid any suspicion that their decisions might be influenced in the hope or expectation of future employment with any particular firm or organisation. Accordingly, during their term of office, content board members must not seek any consultancy contracts, directorships or other employment or acquire a direct financial interestin the BBC or other television or radio company, and so on.If offers of employment are received from such a company, including the BBC, content board members may exceptionally accept, but only with the prior agreement of the chair of the content board…Accepting money from a stakeholder or regulated industry should not be permissible where this opens Ofcom to the risk of perceived bias and/or malign comment. For example, significant earnings from the regulated industries would not be acceptable.However, it later says,Similarly, a limited amount of freelance television or radio presentation may be acceptable.Ofcom is saying that if the interest is small, that is all right; but if the interest is large, that is not all right. I understand the logic of that, but I am not totally happy about it. It would be much better if those people who make key decisions that affect broadcasting, television and radio companies or, by inference, the telecommunications world, did not have any financial interest in the work that they do by appearing on or producing for a television company. I take a fairly pure view of this, partly because it could create a public perception that might be adverse to Ofcom.
That public perception is referred to in the Ofcom board members' code of conduct, although not directly. Clause 11(9) says that Ofcom has satisfied itself that a board member will not have any financial or other interest that would be likely to affect prejudicially the carrying out by him of any of his functions as chairman or member of the content board. However, of course, if there was to be public criticism of any member's conflict of interest, that would prejudicially affect their work. Therefore, the outside view of this is important.
My amendment is mild. I wanted to expose this issue, about which there are different points of view, to some discussion. It is helpful to do so. My noble friend on the Front Bench has already answered the debate; perhaps he will do so in more detail later.
§ Baroness Wilcox
My Lords, I support government Amendments Nos. 23 and 24, and shall speak to Amendments Nos. 28 and 29, which would place in the Bill a guarantee that the content board will evaluate the impact of its actions on business competitiveness. The reasons for proposing this go to the heart of why Ofcom is being formed as a regulator.
One of the main considerations in the formation of Ofcom was to improve the competitive position of UK users and suppliers of electronic communication networks and services. I listened to the Minister 120 present his arguments against my amendments, but I am not yet reassured. With his patience, I will present my arguments and hear his further response.
Users of electronic communications and network services—whether internet or digital television—increasingly depend for their commercial success on how well they can differentiate their products through combining textual and audio-visual content in innovative ways. While traditional content regulation has largely revolved around big issues of decency and taste, regulatory disputes in future may well focus on more technical and less dramatic issues that are more fundamental to creating dynamic and growing content markets.
The players affected might well also be different from and more diverse than just the major broadcasters of today, ranging from a company in Scotland offering a range of special malt whiskies, through an online animated chronology, to a Soho-based design business posting examples of partners' work on a website.
In this new and fast-changing environment, it would be all too easy for the content board, and the Ofcom board, to overlook some important business issue or set of factors, unless there was a conscious effort not to do so. This is simply because we are entering a new, unexplored realm, which will make our traditional compasses less effective than continuous attention to the terrain that is being traversed.
The Bill as it stands provides little protection to business users of new electronic communication networks and services. There are few checks on the impact that the new regulator could have on competitiveness. The large, traditional suppliers will be familiar to the regulators and able to make their views well known; new and perhaps specialised business suppliers and users may be overlooked in the new environment. The amendments would remedy the situation by providing a statutory guarantee that, in making its decisions, the content board will have given comprehensive and balanced consideration to business issues.
We tabled the amendments in Committee, and we were told that they would distort the relationship between Ofcom and the content board. That is certainly not our intention. We simply seek further assurances from the Minister that the content board will give full consideration to the impact on business that many of its decisions will have.
Finally, I turn to the government amendments to Clause 11, which we support. The amendments will determine the constituency of the content board, reflecting the recommendation made by the Joint Scrutiny Committee. The amendments will provide the requisite structural formality, ensuring that Ofcom's executive arm is permanently represented on the content board.
§ 10 p.m.
§ Baroness Howe of Idlicote
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment No. 30, which is in my name. Your Lordships, particularly the Minister, may recognise 121 the wording of the amendment. It arose because I saw the amendment that had been tabled by the Government, which will make it possible for the consumer panel to produce an annual report. By way of parity, my amendment seeks a parallel requirement for the content board.
Although I readily agree that all of us—citizens and consumers—should be interested in the work, the priorities and the success of the consumer panel during the year in question, I am certain that there will be at least as much, if not more, interest in the work, priorities and success of the content board. Judging by my experience at the Broadcasting Standards Commission, there will be particular interest in how far it has been able to satisfy people who have complained about programmes and/or personal fairness and privacy issues. I hope that the Minister will see that I am asking only for a natural balance in what the Government have decided is a necessary requirement of the consumer panel.
§ Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville
My Lords, I shall speak briefly to Amendment No. 26, in tile name of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs.
I understand the principle of Chinese walls, and I understand that there are circumstances in which they are desirable, if one seeks to achieve a particular purpose that only they can facilitate. They should not he used as a facilitator for other exceptions at the margin. I am a profound believer in the principle that Caesar's wife should be beyond suspicion—"Calpurnia pure", in shorthand.
In 1970, my family and I had a holiday in Negril Bay in Jamaica. Some of your Lordships may recall it. There was a narrow road that ran behind Negril Bay, which had not, at that stage, been developed in any way, although it has been developed since. It was the bay in which Nelson used to assemble the British fleet when crossing the Atlantic during the relevant naval period. The narrow road had, on its hinterland, a large area of marsh, which, rather in the way of Treasure Island, was recorded on the map as "The Great Morass". I shall not go into other aspects of the terrain. The River Styx crossed the road a little further down on the way to Savanna-la-Mar, which appears in one of the Ian Fleming novels.
I cannot help thinking of the circumstances—to take a single example—that led to the removal of Mr Rod Liddle from the "Today" programme because of his outside work, the appropriateness of which was then argued about endlessly in the press. That is a classic case of the great morass into which one can get. I do not seek to use the analogy in the context of the present issue, but the point about the great morass stands. "Calpurnia pure" is a much better guide.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
My Lords, before the Minister replies, I should like to ask a question about the amendments moved by the noble Baroness. I hope the Minister can reassure me that I have misunderstood the substance of these amendments. They seem to lay on the content board some obligation to review the content of broadcast television 122 programmes as to whether or not they may he critical or affect the competitiveness of various companies. It is important to have a careful separation between the role of the content board in relation to the content and standards of programmes and the other economic responsibilities of Ofcom—the competitiveness of the telecommunications and broadcasting industry.
§ Lord Davies of Oldham
My Lords, not for the first time, I am grateful to the noble Lord for having introduced that note. I shall not reverse the order of the amendments. I shall bear it in mind when I come to Amendment No. 30. I agree with him that that is an important point.
Although I had a prior strike, I did not succeed in convincing my noble friend Lord Gordon of Strathblane. My noble friend Lady Blackstone has also written a clear letter to him on the position of the Government. I entirely respect his reservations. We are united in principle and divided on practice in this matter. My noble friend Lord Dubs deployed his case with his customary skill. He mentioned the fact that he had been obliged to sign a declaration of potential conflict of interest. That is entirely proper. The only point I would make to my noble friend is that it was not the Broadcasting Acts which required this, it was administrative action, exactly the parallel that we are seeking to establish for Ofcom with regard to this Bill.
§ Lord Davies of Oldham
My Lords, I am not sure that I can comment on that in detail. I was trying to establish the distinction in principle between that which is statutory and required under the Act and that which is administrative practice of the body established by the Act. I am just trying to meet his point on that.
With regard to the Ofcom code of conduct, it goes quite a long way in its detail and openness and further than present arrangements. I hear what my noble friend says but I do not believe that his amendment takes the position that we are seeking to establish for Ofcom a great deal further. I am grateful for what he said, but we do not believe that it should be in primary legislation. We believe it should be a question of administrative action. He will be aware that this debate will be read carefully by Ofcom, as all our debates are. I see in his place the chairman of Ofcom. He will have noted what my noble friend said about this important area.
Turning again to Amendments Nos. 28 and 29 moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, I sought to establish the contours of the Government's differences on these matters. She pressed me further and I shall do my best to respond. As I indicated, in the Bill we seek to establish the duties of a single converged communications regulator. The duties, which we have elaborated and discussed at some length, apply to all Ofcom's work, including any contributions to that 123 work by the content board. For example, as well as the need to review regulatory burdens—I mentioned this earlier—to undertake impact assessments and so forth, it needs to publish and meet promptness standards.
It is up to Ofcom to ensure that the content board has no impact on business competitiveness, which I think was the point that the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, was seeking to clarify—but in his intervention I think that he clarified it for me—and that there must be a clear distinction in such roles. How Ofcom manages this must be a matter for it and its relationship with the content board. But the principle adumbrated by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson—rather more effectively than I did in my attempt to rebut an amendment which still had not been moved when I spoke first—is exactly the position to which the Government subscribe. That is why we are hopeful that the noble Baroness will be prepared to withdraw her amendment.
On the amendment to which the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, spoke, the distinction that we seek to make is that the consumer panel is independent of Ofcom. Therefore, the content board is a part of Ofcom. The issues referred to by the noble Baroness would probably be included in the main Ofcom annual report. As she will recognise from earlier debates, Ofcom is under very strict requirements with regard to its annual report. It has also given every indication of its determination to be open and transparent in its transactions and the report will be full. Therefore, the content board operation would be contained in the annual report, whereas the consumer panel is independent of Ofcom and its work surveyed in a different manner. That is the nature of that distinction. On that basis, I ask noble Lords not to press their amendments.
§ Lord McNally
My Lords, before the Minister sits down, it would be churlish of me not to acknowledge that Amendment No. 23 was in response to an amendment that I moved in Committee. For that I am very grateful. However, I heard the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, say that not only would 124 he withdraw his amendment, but he may not bring it back again. I shall use all my powers of persuasion to ask the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, to bring it back to save the Government from themselves. Leaving subsection (8) in is just plain daft.
§ Lord Davies of Oldham
My Lords, as ever I am grateful to the noble Lord and I have no doubt that the power of his persuasion will be so much greater than mine that we shall revisit this quarter. All I can promise is that we shall probably respond with the same degree of courteous but nevertheless robust argument that we sought to maintain this evening. However—
§ Lord Davies of Oldham
My Lords, my temper is even longer and my tolerance even greater at other times of the day than it is at a quarter past 10 in the evening. I have no doubt that I shall be as overjoyed to see the amendment back in its place thanks to the ministrations of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and we shall debate that issue when we come to it. In the mean time, I ask the House to agree to Amendment No. 23.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 24:
Page 12, line 6, leave out from beginning to second "to" in line 8.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendments Nos. 25 and 26 not moved.]
§ Clause 12 [Functions of the Content Board]:
§ [Amendments Nos. 27 to 30 not moved.]
§ Lord Evans of Temple Guiting
My Lords, I beg to move that consideration on Report be now adjourned.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
House adjourned at fifteen minutes past ten o'clock.