Digital Economy Bill - Committee (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:15 pm on 8th February 2017.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Aberdare Lord Aberdare Crossbench 4:15 pm, 8th February 2017

My Lords, as I indicated at Second Reading, I am extremely uncomfortable with the proposed shift from a merits-based to a judicial review standard of appeal from Ofcom decisions, and I very much support these amendments moved by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones. Indeed, he has made the case so thoroughly and strongly that I can be extremely brief.

It is inappropriate that in a market as innovative and fast moving—indeed, fast changing—as telecommunications, it should not be possible to test decisions made by the regulator not just on their legality but on their correctness and fairness in terms of the merits of the issues raised. As the noble Lord mentioned, I have received briefings both from Ofcom and from a group representing the bulk of the telecoms industry and industry more widely, through the CBI, as well as from the technological sector through techUK.

I remain slightly baffled at the apparent contradictions between the arguments cited by the two sides. I would encourage the Minister to look very carefully at these arguments to establish as clearly as possible where the evidence points—perhaps one could describe it as the merits of the case—before proceeding towards allowing only judicial review-based appeals.

I will not go through the detailed arguments because there is not a single one on my list that the noble Lord did not cover better that I could hope to do. However, from what I have heard, I am far from convinced that the proposed narrowing of the appeals standard will benefit either consumers or investors—and we need a great deal of investment in this sector—let alone the wider national interest in fostering a fair, competitive and vigorous telecommunications marketplace. I am therefore happy to support either or both of the proposed amendments. I hope the Minister will have another careful look at this issue and consider introducing amendments of his own, designed to ensure that important issues relating to the merits of Ofcom reviews can be properly challenged.