Schedule 1 - Qualification for membership of
Office of Communications Bill [Lords]
4:30 pm

Photo of Mrs Anne McIntosh

Mrs Anne McIntosh (Vale of York, Conservative)

I beg to move amendment No. 28, in page 7, line 8, at end insert-

', and shall have regard to the principles of public life set out at page 14 of the First Report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life (Cm 2850-I).'.

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Mr Roger Gale (North Thanet, Conservative)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 31, in page 9, line 18, at end insert-

'(1A) In appointing the Chief Executive and other executive members, the Chairman and other non-executive members shall have regard to the principles of public life set out at page 14 of the First Report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life (Cm 2850-I).'.

No. 37, in page 7, line 11, at end insert-

'(2A) The Chairman and other non-executive members of OFCOM shall declare their financial and pecuniary interests in full in a publicly accessible Register of Interests.'.

No. 38, in page 9, line 18, at end insert-

'(1AA) The chief executive and other executive members of OFCOM shall declare their financial and pecuniary interests in full in a publicly accessible Register of Interests.'.

4:45 pm
Photo of Mr Roger Gale

Mr Roger Gale (North Thanet, Conservative)

Before we start the debate, and in view of the Government Whip's decision to continue, I remind the Committee that in the interests of the well-being of the officers and servants of the House, it is customary to suspend the sittings for an hour and a half at 5 pm.

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Mrs Anne McIntosh (Vale of York, Conservative)

I hope that the amendments encounter as lively a debate as the previous group. I shall deal with each amendment in turn, and share their aims with the Committee. Amendment No. 28, following on from the Minister's earlier comments, would ensure that in making the appointments set out in paragraph 1 regard should be taken to the principles of public life set out in the first report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life.

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Mr Michael Fabricant (Lichfield, Conservative)

I hope that I am not being difficult. The amendment refers to page 14 of the report. As I do not have that with me, will my hon. Friend explain what was so important on page 14 that it should be included?

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Mrs Anne McIntosh (Vale of York, Conservative)

Not being armed with page 14, I assure my hon. Friend that it sets out the normal practices.

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Dr Kim Howells (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Culture, Media & Sport; Pontypridd, Labour)

On a point of information, it sets out the seven principles of public life. I will briefly read them out-

Photo of Mr Roger Gale

Mr Roger Gale (North Thanet, Conservative)

Order. That might take longer than a standard intervention. The Minister is long enough in the tooth to know that we do not have points of information in the House of Commons.

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Mrs Anne McIntosh (Vale of York, Conservative)

Thank you, Mr. Gale. Amendment No. 31 also refers to the schedule. In appointing the chief executive and other executive members, the chairman would have regard to those principles of public life.

Amendment No. 37 deals with pecuniary interests. The chairman and other non-executive members of Ofcom should declare pecuniary interests in full in a publicly accessible register.

Amendment No. 38 proposes that

''The chief executive and other executive members of OFCOM shall declare their financial and pecuniary interests in full in a publicly accessible Register of Interests''.

I shall elaborate on and link amendments Nos. 28 and 31 and Nos. 37 and 38.

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Mr Simon Thomas (Ceredigion, Plaid Cymru)

I was under the impression that the Nolan standards apply to all public appointments anyway. Can the hon. Lady explain why we need a specific amendment for this purpose? Is she afraid that the standards will not apply to the appointments made by the Secretary of State?

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Mrs Anne McIntosh (Vale of York, Conservative)

I hope that the Secretary of State-I mean the Minister, I must not promote him too soon-will be able to confirm that. I refer to two recent cases where, arguably, the Nolan standards setting out the seven principles that should guide our public standards may not have been immediately followed. They are discussed in a recent article in The Times. The two cases that have caused such interest in the press are, first, the appointment of the vice-chairman of the ITC-until the paving Bill has gone through, such appointments will continue to be made. There were three well-qualified candidates. Curiously, at a late stage of the proceedings, the candidate with the most impeccable new Labour crony credentials leapfrogged, it is alleged, into the position.

It is perhaps unfair to name the candidate, but it was Baroness Whitaker. Arguably, what swung the balance in her favour, all other things being equal, was that she had the most overt party political allegiance of the three candidates. That is why I ask the Minister to support the amendments to write into the Bill a stricter interpretation of the Nolan rules.

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Mr Roger Gale (North Thanet, Conservative)

Order. I have been listening carefully to the hon. Lady's comments. I understand that she wishes to illustrate her point and I do not want to prevent her from so doing. However, I am obliged to remind her that she has named a Member of Parliament. The noble Lady is a Member of another House. If an hon. Member intends to refer to another Member in that way, the courtesy is always to notify

that Member first. I should like to reassure myself that the hon. Lady has done so.

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Mrs Anne McIntosh (Vale of York, Conservative)

On that basis, I withdraw the reference and apologise for any discourtesy.

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Mr Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme, Labour)

I repeat my previous question. Is this now official Conservative party policy, extending to all similar public appointments, even perhaps the panel that appoints the Archbishop of Canterbury, or is it an ad hoc proposal for the Bill?

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Mrs Anne McIntosh (Vale of York, Conservative)

I assure the Committee that the amendment relates only to this Bill. Depending on its success, we may wish to extend its principle at a subsequent stage. I take your cautionary remarks seriously, Mr. Gale, and thank you for them. Similar concerns have been raised about an appointment to the BBC. For that reason, without going any further, it is incumbent on us to ensure that the strictest interpretation of the Nolan rules will be read into the Bill. That is the purpose of amendments Nos. 28 and 31.

I have referred to amendments Nos. 37 and 38, and concern has been expressed in several representations to us that while Members of both Houses of Parliament are increasingly subjected, rightly, to the most detailed disclosures of our financial interests, the

Bill may enter us into a situation in which an ordinary member, executive member, chairman, deputy chairman or chief executive of Ofcom who did not have to make such a disclosure on a public register enters into a potential conflict of interests. That would be regrettable, and that is the background to these amendments.

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Mr Michael Fabricant (Lichfield, Conservative)

I notice that amendment No. 38 talks about the register of interests being publicly accessible. Does my hon. Friend mean that in the old sense-in that a book will be made available for so many hours each day-or does she see the list being published on the internet? Would that in itself be controlled by Ofcom?

Photo of Mrs Anne McIntosh

Mrs Anne McIntosh (Vale of York, Conservative)

I am open to suggestions on that point, and the Committee may want to consider that. I hope that hon. Members can see the general thrust and purpose of the amendments. One would make the Nolan rules as open and written into the Bill as possible; the other would include a register whereby any pecuniary interests would be open to reference.

Debate adjourned.-[Mr. Pearson.]

Adjourned accordingly at three minutes to Five o'clock till Tuesday 29 January at half-past Ten o'clock.