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35 Where a body holds an appointment for the purposes of section 31(2) of the 1990 Act immediately before the date of the commencement of section 278 of this Act—
(a) that appointment shall have effect in relation to times on and after that date as an appointment for the purposes of arrangements entered into in accordance with conditions imposed under section 278 of this Act;
(b) the arrangements under which that appointment was made shall have effect in relation to such times as arrangements so entered into; and
(c) so much of the appointment or arrangements, or of any agreement to which the body is a party, as makes provision by reference to the body's ceasing to be nominated under section 32 of the 1990 Act shall have effect in relation to such times as if references to ceasing to be so nominated were references to becoming a body falling within section (Disqualification from appointment as news provider)(2) of this Act."
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Schedule 19 [Repeals]:
moved Amendments Nos. 146 and 147:
Page 574, column 2, leave out lines 29 and 30 and insert—
|"Sections 30 to 36."|
Page 580, line 7, leave out "and 75" and insert "to 76"
On Question, amendments agreed to.
In the Title:
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.
Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord McIntosh of Haringey.)
My Lords, the hour is late. However, as I have spent two years of my life and other members of the House have spent significant periods of their lives on this Bill, it is important to make one or two small points before the Bill passes. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, did the House a favour in raising the issues that he did. I want to speak very briefly about the principle of pre-legislative scrutiny—about what I and, I am sure, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, have learned from it—and offer the Government a few observations.
I was delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, say that there was no question about the future of pre-legislative scrutiny, but that was not the story that we were being told two or three months ago, when the general word around my party was that we were seriously damaging the future of pre-legislative scrutiny by appearing to be so pernickety.
The Government would do well to look again at the report of the committee and reflect on the way in which they reacted to the initial recommendations a year ago. Hours and hours of legislative time could have been saved had the Government been more moderate and more thoughtful in their response. We have made enormous progress on the Bill, but a great deal of that progress could have been made by a more thoughtful response in the first place. I take some blame for that. It is important for me to say that I think I allowed an over-adversarial relationship to be created between the pre-legislative scrutiny committee and the Bill team. The lesson that I would offer to anyone chairing a pre-legislative scrutiny committee in future is not to allow that division to occur. It was unnecessary, but it has, I stress, caused this House many unnecessary hours of debate and dissent.
I have learnt an extraordinary lesson about the parliamentary process. It is fundamental that in any forthcoming discussions in this Chamber about the future of the House of Lords, someone must take into account who will do the job of scrutinising legislation. If one thing has been absolutely apparent, it is that no form of adequate scrutiny took place before the Bill came to this House. It has been a total disgrace. No one yet has been able to explain adequately why no proper scrutiny currently takes place in another place. That is a very serious issue. I hope that someone somewhere will read these remarks and address them in a serious way.
I would also suggest that any government tie pre-legislative scrutiny to a commitment to take Committee stage out of the Chamber. It would free up time in this Chamber; it would move government business along; and I do not believe that any damage would occur in the process. I pass that on as serious advice because, again, hours and hours of time could have been advantageously saved.
I shall leave the last word to a man I admire very much—the founder of CNN, Ted Turner. Why Ted Turner? Ted Turner is exactly the type of media entrepreneur that I think this Bill was intended to encourage into a possible interest in this country. On 30th May, he wrote in the Washington Post:
"the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is expected to adopt dramatic rule changes that will extend the market dominance of the five media corporations that control most of what Americans read, see and hear. I"—
Mr Turner, and not me, sadly—
"am a major shareholder in the largest of those five corporations, yet—speaking only for myself, and not for AOL Time Warner—I oppose these rules. They will stifle debate, inhibit new ideas and shut out smaller businesses trying to compete. . . . When the smaller businesses are gone, where will the new ideas come from? Nor does this trend bode well for new ideas in our democracy—ideas that only come from diverse news and vigorous reporting".
"Even more troubling are the warning signs that large media corporations—with massive market power—could abuse that power by slanting news coverage in ways that serve their political or financial interests. There is always the danger that news organizations can push positive stories to gain friends in government, or unleash negative stories on artists, activists or politicians who cross them, or tell their audiences only the news that confirms entrenched views. But the danger is greater when there are no competitors to air the side of the story that the corporation wishes to ignore".
Anyone looking at the news coverage of this Bill as it has gone through Parliament would have seen a marked difference between the coverage it got in certain publications and the almost complete blank it received from others. Ted Turner went on to say:
"Naturally, corporations say they would never suppress speech. That may be true. But it's not their intentions that matter. It's their capabilities. The new FCC rules would give them more power to cut important ideas out of the public debate, and it's precisely that power that rules should prevent".
I hope that through the amendments that we have recently attached to this genuinely excellent Bill, we have precisely addressed Ted Turner's worst fears, and as a consequence we may continue to enjoy the best and most plural broadcast environment in the world. We are handing the Bill on to the noble Lord, Lord Currie, and I am reminded very much of when my father taught me to ride a bicycle. He spent many hours running up and down the street, holding the saddle of my bike, until one day I turned around and realised that he had let go and was not there.
Tonight we have let go of the bike. The noble Lord, Lord Currie, will be asked to pedal away and all our best wishes and—speaking for myself—our dearest hopes go with him and with Ofcom. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. The Bill has been important. We have covered very interesting and important areas in a remarkably good spirit, albeit at great length.
My Lords, I know that the Minister will groan inwardly, but there are two points that I want to make. I wish that I could wish the Bill Godspeed with the same confidence as the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, but the more I have looked at the issue, the more I have seen large global forces at work that will not go away. I said that the Government have mounted a tiger, and I wonder how many in a few years' time will be making mea culpas similar to that made by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, about the 1990 Broadcasting Bill.
The other thing that I have been left with, apart from the wonderful experience of serving under the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, on the pre-legislative committee, is a determination that the next stage of this matter—the defence of the BBC and the BBC Charter—is a battle that has to be won. I send the Bill on with that in mind.
My Lords, this has been an amazing experience for all of us. I want to thank all noble Lords for the great courtesy that they have shown throughout the debates and I wish the Bill well.
My Lords, as chairman of Ofcom, I express my thanks for the enormous care and thoroughness with which your Lordships have considered this Bill. The House has lived up to its fine reputation as an effective revising chamber. In many respects, the Bill leaves the House in a much better shape than when it arrived. I pay tribute to noble Lords from all parts of the House for the care and consideration that they have given to it.
Ofcom is very much the servant of statute, and my colleagues and I have been aware that it is for Parliament to determine Ofcom's duties, responsibilities and powers and for us to make that work to best effect. That is why I have intervened sparingly in the debates. However, I have listened carefully and read all those contributions that I have been unable to hear in person. The debates that we have had will inform how Ofcom moves—or cycles—forward, and they will certainly inform the way that we set up and proceed to carry out the duties that Parliament has laid upon us.
As a result of the successful amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, on Report, Ofcom now has the word "citizen" as part of its principal general duty. I, for one, would be delighted if that word remains firmly in the principal duty of Ofcom when the Bill finally emerges from the parliamentary process, which it has not yet quite done. That would provide welcome clarity.
We have struck a good balance, giving Ofcom clear instructions but also flexibility to deal with the unforeseen—to strike the best balance for the public interest in each individual circumstance. However, there is one issue that I must flag up. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, had a second impact, which was to put the citizen's interest above that of the consumer in the area of broadcasting and spectrum, but not in that of telecoms. That creates different duties in different parts of Ofcom's activities, which will cause difficulty. It will make Ofcom subject to judicial review and may reduce the effectiveness of Ofcom. It will be the big players, not the small players, who will take advantage of that.
I hope that the Bill in its final form will cast Ofcom's general duties in terms that put the citizen and consumer interest in parity. I emphasise that point, because some noble Lords said that they were not altogether clear where I stood at Report. The citizen's interest is very much at the heart of what Ofcom wants to achieve. My fellow members are in no doubt about the deep concern that the House has for the interests of citizens.
The communications industry is not like any other industry; it is central to our society and our democracy. That is something that the Ofcom board feels with both its head and its heart. However, we believe that if Parliament defines Ofcom's general duty in terms of parity, we are confident that in all circumstances—both those we can foresee and those we cannot—we will be able to reach the best solutions in the public interest. Those solutions should properly reflect the keen concern for citizens that have been expressed in this House.
If we are able at the end of the parliamentary process to have both clarity and parity in Ofcom's general duties, we will have a truly excellent Bill that will serve the public interest and enable Ofcom to pursue it to best effect.
My Lords, I do not believe in speeches on the Motion that the Bill do now pass, and I try to avoid them, but they have been made. Therefore, the very least that I can do for the sake of courtesy is to express my gratitude to all noble Lords who have taken part in proceedings on the Bill. I hope that they listened very carefully to the wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Currie, a minute or two ago.
Above all, I want to pay tribute to the work of the members of the Bill team who have been fantastic, both in the quality of the advice that they have given and the way in which they have taken up the challenges that have been brought to the Bill in this House, which, as has been said, is rather different from the way in which matters are considered in another place. Having said that, once again I commend the Bill to the House.
On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.