Report (1st Day)

Part of Digital Economy Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 6:00 pm on 1 March 2010.

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Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords) , Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (and Deputy Chief Whip) 6:00, 1 March 2010

These are the seductions of office, my Lords. The last three contributors invited me to range widely as a result of this amendment. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is asking me to define in a few succinct phrases over the course of an hour and half the purposes of this section of the Bill. I shall resist such blandishments and opportunities because noble Lords who contributed to this debate will recognise that I am concerned to allay the anxieties that the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, voiced when we discussed these issues in Committee. When we subsequently met to clarify them, she spoke on behalf of the Press Complaints Commission to express its anxieties. That is a significant enough body for me to address it formally to give the assurances that I can give. I hope that I will obtain the withdrawal of this amendment, despite the fact that my reply will fall somewhat short of the expectations, and even perhaps the hopes, of my noble friend Lord Puttnam. It will certainly fall short of the expectations of my noble friend Lord Maxton and, by a country mile, of the hopes of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. I shall not go over this ground again, nor will I engage in the kind of debate where, if we were not careful, we could be here for many a long hour.

In her amendment, the noble Baroness makes it clear that she is concerned that Clause 1 grants Ofcom new powers to regulate newspaper websites. I reassure her that Clause 1 does not grant Ofcom any powers to regulate newspaper websites, including audiovisual content. I should also make it clear that the definition of "media services" in subsection (5) covers newspaper websites. As ever with government Bills, this is quite deliberate and constructive. It may benefit newspaper websites to the extent that, in carrying out its functions, Ofcom will be required under Clause 1 to have regard to the need to promote investment in content included in newspaper websites that contributes or may contribute to the public service objectives at the heart of the obligation on Ofcom. Ofcom has advised us that such instances will be rare, but I hope that noble Lords will agree that including online newspapers in the definition of "media services" would be advantageous.

I want to emphasise an additional point. The AVMS regulations 2009 require Ofcom to regulate on-demand programme services. The regulations define an on-demand programme service as having as its principal purpose the provision of programmes of form and content comparable to programmes normally included in television programme services. The principal purpose of newspaper websites is not to provide on-demand programme services, even where they currently provide some audiovisual content. It is theoretically possible that newspaper websites could provide such on-demand programme services in future. In such a case, the regulations would not-I emphasise this again, as it is the main cause of the anxiety of the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe-require Ofcom to regulate the entire newspaper website, just the on-demand service that it is obliged to regulate.

That is the response to the amendment. There may be-I hope not-occasions on later amendments when I can deliberate a little further as I have been invited to do on this amendment, but this amendment was tabled with the specific objective in mind that we should clarify the matter. I have sought to do so and I hope that noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.