House of Lords
Wednesday, 3 February 2010.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Norwich.
NHS: Bad Weather Injuries
The NHS is well versed in dealing with operational challenges such as adverse weather, and these are factored into local contingency plans, including the cost of treating patients. It appears that the system has held up in recent times. We have not made any estimate of the number of people injured as a result of the recent bad weather as this is a matter for the local NHS, and it is too soon. However, provisional hospital admissions data for autumn and winter 2009-10 will be available from the NHS information centre in spring 2010.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that Answer and fully understand why all the figures are not available. Does she agree, however, that it is almost certain that the number of people injured during the recent cold weather through slipping on snow and ice represents a much greater cost to the health service than the grit and salt that would have prevented those accidents? While I am not in any way criticising local authorities, which were faced with a sudden and unexpected winter, would it not be better in future for the Government to encourage local authorities to look at this in the round and say that more salt and grit stored in case of need would save a lot of injuries and a lot of pain and distress to people?
My noble friend will know that the recent cold weather was the most prolonged spell of freezing conditions across the UK for 29 years so, not surprisingly, all public services, including hospitals and care services, were put under pressure. I note from the Statement made by my noble friend the Secretary of State for Transport that the challenge that was faced in relation to grit and salt was actually about demand outstripping supply, rather than whether PCTs had given extra support to the local authorities to increase gritting.
My noble friend will be pleased to hear that we are working with the Local Government Association to understand the impact of gritting patterns. We are looking at where people had their accidents—which parks, pavements, corners and car parks—because that is the most sensible way of working out where we need to spread grit and salt in the future.
Is the Minister aware that you are much more likely to have a fracture if your bones are thinned by osteoporosis? Therefore, is it not important to encourage the diagnosis and prevention of osteoporosis? That would greatly reduce the cost to our health service of fractures.
My Lords, I confess that I am somewhat disappointed at the Minister’s replies so far because I expected a Bill for the abolition of bad weather in winter in the run-up to the general election. I suppose that there is still time.
Accidents happen during cold weather, but I am more concerned about the excess winter deaths where hypothermia is a main factor. That is still a great concern to me. Why has this problem not improved over the past 10 years? The figures are still roughly the same as 10 years ago. We are still among the worst European countries. Why have the measures introduced by the Government so far not brought down excess winter deaths from hypothermia?
I am not sure that I accept that nothing has changed in terms of people keeping warm and well during winter. Indeed, the name of the campaign that we launched in September was “Keep Warm Keep Well”. I point out that this Government have increased the allowance for winter weather. We have had a campaign aimed at financially disadvantaged older people, disabled people, their carers and families with young children on low incomes to give them the information that they need and advice about eating and exercise—because it is not just about keeping warm—home heating, energy efficiency and the details of grants and benefits available. It is a very important campaign, which will have helped this winter.
Undoubtedly, a great deal of pressure was put on all the public services, ambulances and hospitals. My original Answer made the point that we plan for this. I pay tribute to the staff in the health service for how they dealt with this, how they coped and how they ensured patients continued to receive care. Nurses walked miles to get to work because of the transport difficulties. Staff slept in hospitals to ensure that they could be there for duty the next day. Indeed, this was a great example of British co-operation—different organisations such as the coast-guards, Mountain Rescue and local paramedics helping people in remote areas.
What can the Government do to encourage NHS trusts to employ specialist fracture-liaison nurses? The 24 per cent of trusts that have these specialist nurses have demonstrated that the prevention of treatments and services that they provide can be very effective, including cost-effective.
My Lords, is the Minister aware of the case in Northampton where an elderly couple died in their home despite calls to the social services and, I understand, to their general practitioner? Does that not suggest that there is something wrong with the PCTs and their attentiveness to situations such as hypothermia that arise at these particularly difficult times?
The noble Lord points to something that was indeed a great tragedy and which is being looked at right now. It is safe to say that these are very rare occurrences. By and large, people’s neighbours, friends, families and the care services have put great effort into making sure that people, particularly those alone and vulnerable, are kept safe at such times.
The Government aim to ensure that we have a thriving, competitive and sustainable agri-food sector. Reforming the CAP will improve the industry’s ability to respond to consumer demand. Our Food 2030 strategy explained that we are also providing funding to increase industry competiveness through the rural development programme for England, funding scientific research into increasing food production sustainably, and working with industry to improve skills across the food chain, tackle climate change issues and reduce regulatory burdens.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. Might I refer him to his point about reducing regulatory burdens? Is he not appalled that Defra has failed to reach its target of a 25 per cent reduction in administrative burdens for farmers, and has achieved only a 16 per cent reduction this year? What is the department doing about that?
My Lords, we are pursuing this issue with considerable energy. I make the obvious point that some regulations are essential. A substantial amount of the pollutants in our water comes from farms, so regulation is necessary there. Of course, some regulations result from European directives and we seek to bring pressure to reduce their impact. I agree with the noble Baroness that we should work with the industry to reduce regulation.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a dairy farmer. Are the Government satisfied that imports coming into this country from Europe and some other places are subject to the same standards of animal health and care and conditions for farm workers as exist in this country?
My Lords, that is a challenging question because the noble Lord will know how much more limited our ability is to control issues in other countries. We certainly control the quality of imported milk, but the conditions under which it is produced and the health of the animals is a different matter. However, that is exactly the area on which we seek to bring pressure to bear within the framework of the CAP to ensure that Europe improves and reaches the standards of which we are rightly proud in terms of our own animal health.
My Lords, noble Lords make good points about food production but the other side of exactly the same coin is the amount of food that is wasted. It is estimated that up to half the food produced in developed countries is not consumed as a result of households throwing it away, supermarkets throwing it away unsold, and restaurants throwing it away. It is estimated that perhaps a third of the fruit and vegetables grown in this country never reaches consumers. Is this not an absolute scandal and would not food security in this country be dramatically improved if waste was cut down?
My Lords, food provision across the whole world would be improved if waste was reduced. The more advanced countries are more culpable in this respect. The noble Lord will know of the pressure that has been exerted on supermarkets with regard to their waste, and their response to it, one aspect of which is looking at the absurdity of sell-by dates which lead to some perfectly edible food being wasted. The noble Lord is at one with the Government in our determination to reduce food waste. In a world where some are going hungry, it is scandalous that we should have the levels of waste that we have in this country and in other advanced countries.
My Lords, Food 2030 identifies that public sector food contracts need to be made more accessible to small local businesses and social enterprises as one way of improving quality and value more generally. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that this happens in the short term?
My Lords, this is part of a longer run strategy that we outlined with regard to the progress of our industry up to 2030, but the right reverend Prelate is absolutely right that this is an area in which we continually need to exert pressure. I assure him that he is speaking along exactly the lines which the Government intend to pursue in terms of policy.
The noble Baroness is right. Bovine TB is a very serious disease and we are pursuing every strategy to deal with it. The problem, as the noble Baroness will know, is that there is no defined and clear scientific evidence on the best way of tackling this. Wales is tackling it with an experimental badger cull in restricted areas. We are watching that programme with great interest but we remain, at the moment, unconvinced that it solves the problem.
My Lords, that is a matter of consumer choice. My noble friend will know that we want to see all aspects of agriculture flourish. There is no doubt that a debate on the increased welfare and health of the nation might be aided by dietary changes being noted by a growing section of the population.
My Lords, I am a farmer and a grower so I have an interest. The Minister will be well aware that self-sufficiency in the food we produce here has shown a chronic and persistent decline over the past 10 years of roughly 1 per cent per annum. To coin a phrase, we can’t go on like this. Who does the Minister blame for this—the farmers, the weather, or the Government’s lack of interest?
My Lords, the noble Lord must not make too much of this point of self-sufficiency because there have never been, and never will be, a Conservative Administration who could make us 100 per cent self-sufficient in food. The noble Lord will have recognised that in the past decade there have been increases in self-sufficiency to the extent that we are more self-sufficient now than we were in the late 1950s and 1960s. However, our food strategy has to encompass the basic fact that Britain is in a world market for food, both in terms of what we export and what we import, and that will continue to be the case under any Administration, however distant a Conservative Administration might be.
My Lords, the Government do not have any plans for phasing out control orders.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. The House will recall the unusual circumstances in which we passed the control order legislation five years ago after an all-night sitting. Do the Government have any alternative plan—plan B, as it were—if Parliament decides not to renew the legislation when it comes up for renewal next month? If so, could the Minister let us know what that plan is?
My Lords, this House has gone over the control order issue at length and there have been numerous Questions on it. None of us likes control orders. I did not like them when I came into post and I specifically asked whether there was any way of getting round them. A detailed study into this was done by the Security Service—SO15 OSCT—and control orders were the least worst option. There are a very small number of them—12, according to the last quoted figure and fewer than that now. We use them on a carefully selected basis.
I believe that they are necessary for the security of the nation. We do not like them and we have a lot of safeguards in place. Three High Court judgments have upheld individual control orders since the House of Lords judgment. Mr Justice Wilkie said of one of the cases that there was overwhelming evidence of past involvement in terrorism-related activity and future intentions to be so involved. It would be remiss of our Government not to look after the security of our nation. Control orders are absolutely necessary and I will fight tooth and nail to keep them because there is no easy alternative at the moment.
My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, in his capacity as the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, that there is no readily available alternative to control orders? Is he also aware of the interesting document on national security published by the Conservative Party, in which it, too, acknowledge that the best that the party can offer as an alternative is to review the system with a view to reducing reliance on it—which, as I understand it, is the Government’s policy?
My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, who is the independent reviewer, stated,
“it is my view and advice that abandoning the control orders system entirely would have a damaging effect on national security”.
He went on to emphasise that he had considered the effects of the court decisions on disclosure and did not agree that the effect was to make control orders impossible.
My noble friend is absolutely right that we constantly review this issue. I am very hard on people, when they try to come up with a control order, to see that it is absolutely necessary. It is interesting that those in the party opposite, who earlier said that they were going to get rid of these things, have, amazingly, slightly changed their view—which is much more sensible, because all of us are interested in the security of our nation.
My Lords, all the time we are looking at threats, possible threats and what might happen. It would be foolhardy of me to say on the Floor of the House what we would do. Clearly, we would ensure the safety of the nation. It might cost a huge amount more, and take a great deal more effort, and it might mean we could not be quite so sure of our safety, but that is what we would do.
My Lords, is the Minister happy with the Government’s approach to legislation and to its implementation? The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, has not been uncritical of the implementation and detail of control orders. The approach seems to be to push at the boundaries and wait to see whether the courts knock them back.
My Lords, I would not accept that that is the way we go about it. We look at this all the time: we have very good methods of scrutiny of control orders and we go through many checks to make sure that they are looked at properly. I do not accept that we do it by pushing to the boundary and then waiting for a court to push it back.
My Lords, does the Minister recollect that in the earlier case, the appeal of MB, which came before the Appellate Committee, the majority of the committee, of whom I was one—I declare that as an interest—favoured an approach that would have admitted some flexibility and the application of the concept of reasonableness in the spirit of the common law; but that a subsequent decision of the European Court of Human Rights directed that a rigid rule be adopted, with the consequence that in the AF case the Appellate Committee felt compelled, although some had some reluctance, to decide as it did? Have the Government any thoughts about a way around that impasse?
My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for that interjection. He is absolutely right. The quote from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hoffmann, was very interesting. He agreed that the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in A v United Kingdom requires these appeals to be allowed, but stated:
“I do so with very considerable regret, because I think that the decision of the ECHR was wrong and that it may well destroy the system of control orders which is a significant part of this country's defences”.
Have we been able to think of a way around it? The answer is no. I am constantly meeting the control order team, because I do not like the orders. None of us in our party or in this House likes them; but I believe that they are necessary, and that is why they are there. We are constantly looking for some other way of achieving this.
Is it not a fact that the judgments from the court at Strasbourg are not binding on courts in this country—they have to be taken into account, but are not binding—and that the final court of appeal in this country is the Supreme Court? The European Convention on Human Rights cannot, and the 1998 Act did not, prevent this Parliament, if so advised, passing legislation which is incompatible with one of the convention articles, provided that the intention of Parliament is made clear by an appropriate statement of incompatibility from the promoting Minister, in which case the courts will be bound to accept the legislation as it stands. That nettle has not been grasped by the Government.
Energy: National Policy Statements
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether, in view of the comments made by the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change in an interview with the Times on 1 February, they intend either to make changes to the six draft national policy statements on energy, laid before Parliament on 9 November 2009, or to table amendments to the Energy Bill.
My Lords, as the issues covered in the Times article do not materially affect planning decisions, I do not expect them to require amendments to the national policy statements. The Government do not intend to table amendments to the current Energy Bill in relation to any of the measures outlined in this article.
My Lords, does the Minister realise that the Secretary of State made a number of very specific recommendations for change which he described in his own words as,
“very different from the current system”?
Was the interview intended to pre-empt this morning’s very disturbing report from Ofgem that we are now in serious danger of the lights going out during the course of this decade? Does the Minister recognise that Ofgem's first recommendation to encourage investment—not mentioned by the Secretary of State—is for greater certainty about the carbon price, something for which many of us have been arguing for quite a long time?
My Lords, certainly the report was published by Ofgem this morning. I am sure that we shall all look at it with interest and I am sure that it will contribute to the debate. One must go beyond the headlines, because clearly it sets out a number of scenarios, some of which I think are most unlikely, and it does not give any quantification of the probability of each scenario. The work referred to by my right honourable friend is not in relation to the energy requirements, but much more about whether, going into the future, there are enough levers in the market to ensure that we can make the transition to a low-carbon economy. On the energy crunch, I point out that a considerable amount of construction is taking place at the moment in terms of generating capacity as regards primary energy, increasing import facilities and other measures to ensure that we have the right energy strategy in place.
My Lords, on Monday the Secretary of State made a very profound statement in an interview about energy matters, calling for fundamental reform and a number of other things, and two days later we have a report from Ofgem—a regulator—which, more or less, says exactly the same thing and talks about capacity tendering and basic reform. Is that not a remarkable coincidence? Does that not bring into question the independence of the regulator and how that coincidence can take place in such detail over a period of two days?
My Lords, the fact that Ofgem has produced this report this morning shows that it is independent. It always feels to me that it is very independent. The work to which my right honourable friend referred is very important in relation to the future and ensuring that the market is fit for purpose as regards moving towards a low-carbon energy structure. However, I reaffirm that, as regards the rather alarmist statements which seem to have emanated from the Ofgem report, we are confident that the policies that we have in place will ensure energy security in the years ahead.
My Lords, is the Minister not embarrassed by this? The Government of the day should be telling Ofgem what it should be doing. It is not for the general public to have to read that the price of their electricity and heating is to go up and up to the point where poor people cannot pay it and that our lights will not stay on. How have we got to a situation where Ofgem, a regulator, can frighten the general public because the Government of the day cannot come up with the answers in the first place?
My Lords, if the noble Baroness is suggesting that Ofgem has strayed into the territory of policy by government instead of sticking to what it should be doing in regulation, that is a comment I would be happy to pass on to the regulator. But if the Government were to say to Ofgem that we did not think it should be doing this, we would be accused of interference, and we do not do that. The regulator is there to regulate.
As far as the issue of energy security is concerned, I am confident, looking at the actions that have been taken, the construction that is taking place and the consents that have already been agreed, that, although a lot of plant has to be replaced in the next few years, we can ensure energy security in the future. As far as the issue of price is concerned, there is no doubt that the cost of climate change policies will lead to an increase in bills, but as the noble Lord, Lord Stern, has shown, it is much more cost-effective to do it at the start, rather than wait for many years to come.
My Lords, is it not the case that pretty well all reputable economists have pointed out that the economics of the noble Lord, Lord Stern, are absurd? Is it not also the case that, while the Secretary of State may be understandably positioning himself for a bid for the leadership of his party after the election, what Ofgem has said is a serious problem? There is a serious problem of energy security and a lack of generating capacity lying ahead because of the Government’s absurd subordination of energy policy to a low-carbon policy focused on wholly uneconomic and impractical wind power.
My Lords, I wholly refute that comment by the noble Lord. The fact is that it is absolutely right that as part of our response to the climate change challenge we move towards a low-carbon energy structure, but we are doing this in a way which will secure our energy supplies in the future; it will secure more home-grown energy in the future, and it will be done in such a way that the technology that we will be developing in this country will stand us in good stead and will also enable us to export technology to many countries of the world.
Business of the House
Motion on Standing Orders
Local Government (Wales) Measure 2009 (Consequential Modifications) Order 2010
National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) (Environment) Order 2010
National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) (Health and Health Services and Social Welfare) Order 2010
Communications Act 2003 (Disclosure of Information) Order 2010
Motions to Approve
That the draft orders laid before the House on 24 November, 2, 8 and 10 December 2009 be approved.
Relevant documents: First, second, third and fourth reports from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, considered in Grand Committee on 26 January and 1 February.
Overhead Lines (Exempt Installations) Order 2010
Motion to Approve
My Lords, if I may detain noble Lords very briefly, I had the pleasure and indeed honour of chairing the debate on this order in Grand Committee last Monday afternoon. There were four or possibly five noble Lords present, including myself. I listened with great interest to the noble Lords, Lord Hunt, Lord Marland and Lord Teverson. The noble Lord, Lord Marland, stressed the importance of consultation with local communities. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, referred to the size of the pylons, asking whether he would know one when he saw one. No noble Lord made any comment on the way an individual’s health can be affected by a high-voltage cable. I considered passing a note to my noble friend Lord Marland, but I decided that it would not be correct procedure to become involved in any way.
The order allows the installation of certain electric lines without the consent presently required under the 2008 Act. Any legislation that removes a requirement for consent is immediately suspicious, as it is believed by many that electrical currents and magnetic fields such as those set up by 400-kilovolt, 275-kilovolt and 132-kilovolt cables may have links to various diseases, ranging from leukaemia to headaches and insomnia. Before the order is approved, can the Minister give an absolute assurance that the health of people living close to these power lines will be carefully considered?
I am sure that the House is grateful to the noble Lord for raising this subject and I confirm that, while we did not attract a very large audience, the comments made by the noble Lords, Lord Marland and Lord Teverson, were apposite and that we had a good debate. On the specific point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, the balance of scientific evidence to date suggests that exposure to electromagnetic fields below the international guideline levels set by the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection is not harmful to the health of the general population. I confirm that we maintain a precautionary approach; we have adopted those guidelines and we will keep emerging science under review.
Passengers’ Council (Non-Railway Functions) Order 2010
Motor Vehicles (International Circulation) (Amendment) Order 2010
Motions to Approve
Strategic Defence Review
My Lords, first, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the families and friends of those who were killed on operations in Afghanistan recently. They are: Captain Daniel Read of 11 Explosive Ordnance Disposal Regiment, Royal Logistic Corps; Rifleman Luke Farmer of 3rd Battalion, The Rifles; Corporal Lee Brownson of 3rd Battalion, The Rifles; Rifleman Peter Aldridge of 4th Battalion, The Rifles; Lance Corporal Daniel Cooper, of 3rd Battalion, The Rifles; Lance Corporal Graham Shaw of 3rd Battalion, The Yorkshire Regiment; and Corporal Liam Riley of 3rd Battalion, The Yorkshire Regiment. I am sure that our thoughts are with all of their families and friends and, indeed, all who are serving in Afghanistan at the moment.
With the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Defence Secretary. The Statement is as follows:
“Mr Speaker, today I am publishing a Defence Green Paper which paves the way for a Strategic Defence Review, set in the context of the national security strategy, early in the next Parliament. At the present time, Afghanistan is the main effort for the Ministry of Defence. Where choices have to be made, Afghanistan will continue to be given priority. Our forces there are fighting hard, protecting our national security by preventing Afghanistan from once again becoming a safe haven for terrorists.
Two hundred and fifty-three British service personnel have been killed in Afghanistan since 2001. Many more have suffered life-changing injuries. Their bravery in the face of a ruthless enemy has been a stark reminder to us all that conflict is difficult and dangerous. We certainly cannot assume that the conflicts of tomorrow will replicate today’s, but we must anticipate a wide range of threats and plan for the requirements necessary to counter them.
We have come a long way since our last major defence review in 1998, which gave us the platform to modernise our Armed Forces. Looking forward, we will need to make decisions about the role we want the United Kingdom to play in the world and the capabilities that the Armed Forces need to support that role. We will need to balance those considerations with the financial implications in what will inevitably be a resource-constrained environment.
This Green Paper does not attempt to answer those fundamental questions. Instead, it is intended to set out our emerging thinking on the future security environment and other key issues facing defence ahead of the review. While there is no external direct threat to the territorial integrity of the UK, there is a wide range of emerging threats for which we must be prepared. We can work to diminish the threat of international terrorism and to counter the proliferation of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. We can work to prevent emerging threats—for example, by improving our approach to cybersecurity—and to contain and resolve the threat from failing states. We can work to ensure that the impacts of climate change and resource competition are managed peacefully. But my judgment is that conflict and instability in this new age will be an ever-present risk. In the face of these threats, no nation can hope to protect all aspects of national security acting alone. We cannot simply defend from the goal line, and our defence posture must reflect this. In the coming decades, our Armed Forces must be prepared if called upon to protect our interests, often in distant places, and, most likely, as part of a coalition of international forces.
The paper therefore reaches two conclusions. First, that defence must accelerate the process of reform and be able to change swiftly to address new and unforeseen challenges as they emerge. We need to be more adaptable in how we structure, equip, train and generate our Armed Forces. We need a more agile defence organisation. We need more responsive strategic planning. So, today, I am proposing that we should legislate for regular defence reviews to ensure that the Armed Forces continue to adapt rapidly to changing trends and threats.
Secondly, the paper concludes that defence must improve its ability to work in partnership with our key allies and security institutions to make the most of our combined resources. Our alliances and partnerships will become increasingly important and define how successful we will be in meeting the challenges that we face. We strengthen our alliance with the US if we strengthen our position in Europe. We will continue to press our European allies to contribute more to our collective defence effort. But make no mistake: this is not about Europe taking precedence over the US or vice versa. The two are mutually reinforcing relationships. In the UK itself, we need to improve further our partnerships with key Whitehall departments and others to ensure the contribution of our Armed Forces is joined up with our diplomatic and development efforts.
In addition to the conclusions on adaptability and partnership, the paper poses six key strategic questions that the review will need to address. These are: where should we set the balance between focusing on our territory and region and engaging threats at a distance? How far are future conflicts likely to share the characteristics of our engagement in Afghanistan and, therefore, what approach should we take if we employ the Armed Forces to address threats at distance? What contribution should the Armed Forces make in ensuring security and contributing to resilience within the UK? How could we more effectively employ the Armed Forces in support of wider efforts to prevent conflict and strengthen international stability? Do our current international defence and security relationships require rebalancing in the longer term? Should we further integrate our forces with those of key allies and partners?
Although the defence budget has grown by more than 10 per cent in real terms since 1998 and not a penny will be cut from next year’s budget, the forward defence programme faces real financial pressure. We need to rebalance what we do in order to meet our priorities. In December, I began this process; I made a series of decisions to ensure that we found extra resources for vital equipment for Afghanistan. This included 22 new Chinook helicopters, which will provide necessary strategic lift capability for Afghanistan and for other military operations in the years ahead. However, our commitment to reduce the deficit resulting from the global financial crisis means that future resources across government will be constrained.
The report of Bernard Gray into defence acquisition set out clearly the pressures facing the defence budget. It also set out the importance of improving our procurement processes and addressing the shortfalls in our acquisition systems. The Strategy for Acquisition Reform, published alongside today’s Green Paper, sets out how we will tackle the challenges facing this major area of defence expenditure. The major reforms it proposes will deliver enduring change by introducing greater transparency. It will ensure that our equipment plans are efficient, strategically focused, affordable and achievable. But it is not just in equipment acquisition that we will need to do better. We are aiming to deliver efficiency savings of more than £3 billion over the current spending review period. We have a strong programme of work to achieve this, including an independent review into the use of civilians in defence by Gerry Grimstone.
Our biggest capability is our people. We rely on the ability of people, both military and civilian, to deliver defence. We need to attract the best people: highly motivated and highly skilled. Our people have already shown their capacity to adapt to new challenges. We must continue to ensure that the structures and training that support them are fit for purpose, including continuing to strengthen joint approaches across the services.
There has been a great deal of interest and speculation about whether any major capabilities will be confirmed in the Green Paper. This is to misunderstand its purpose. I can say that we do not plan to revisit the conclusions of the 2006 White Paper on the nuclear deterrent. We have committed to a wide range of major capability improvements over the past few years, including most recently signing contracts for two new aircraft carriers; and recent operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have demonstrated the importance of being able to deploy and sustain significant numbers of highly trained and equipped troops in a variety of roles, including providing the air and aviation support that they require.
Unless the defence review takes us in a very radical new direction, it is the Government’s position that these capabilities are likely to remain critical elements of our force structure, but we need to know first what roles and missions we expect our forces to undertake in future before we can take final decisions about the capabilities that they will need. These will be key issues for the defence review.
Let us be clear. Change is needed. There are some tough and important decisions ahead. In my view, we must, as far as possible, put aside our special interests, in politics, in industry and in the services, to take rational decisions that benefit the defence and security of the nation.
In preparing the Green Paper, I consulted widely with academia, across government and with the main opposition parties. I am grateful for the help I received. I should like to thank, in this House, the right honourable Member for North East Fife and the honourable Member for Mid Sussex, and, in the other place, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, who all sat on my Defence Advisory Forum. Where the defence of the nation is concerned, we must seek as far as possible to reach consensus on the main issues.
I hope that the Green Paper I am publishing today helps that process and leads to a mature and well-informed debate about the future structure of our Armed Forces”.
My Lords, we, too, pay tribute to the families of the 253 service personnel who have been killed in Afghanistan, particularly those service men and women whom the noble Baroness has just mentioned. Of course, our thoughts are with those who have suffered life-changing injuries in Afghanistan.
I thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement. Over the last few days, I have spoken to a number of defence correspondents and experts, and they all appear to have seen copies of the Green Paper, and a number have attended briefings at the MoD. Why are we the last to have seen the Green Paper?
We on these Benches largely agree with the findings of the Green Paper, and its related paper on acquisition reform. Both are long overdue, and they will provide a good foundation for any future defence review, regardless of who forms the next Government. The Green Paper does a good job in highlighting the types of threats that we are likely to face in the coming years, especially cyber and space-based threats, and in stressing the importance of winning today’s war in Afghanistan. However, there are a few areas of concern that I would like to address.
First is the apparent confusion inside the MoD. Last June we were told that there were no plans for a defence review. In July, the Government announced their plans to hold an SDR. Last December, the Government made cuts to the defence budget, totalling almost £1 billion. This month, we are told that the defence budget will be ring-fenced. On Monday, we learned that 10 Downing Street was briefing that the Government are committed to the two aircraft carriers, the full order of JSF, and tranche 3 of Eurofighter. But Paragraph 9 of the Green Paper clearly states:
“We cannot proceed with all the activities and programmes we currently aspire to, while simultaneously supporting our current operations and investing in the new capabilities we need. We will need to make tough decisions”.
So who is right, Downing Street or the Ministry of Defence? If anything, it sounds like the Prime Minister has finally decided to fund the 1998 SDR—which, according to Geoff Hoon, was not fully funded to begin with.
There is no doubt that some of the challenges with which our Armed Forces have had to contend have been created by the Government’s unwillingness to fund that SDR. As we have recently been hearing from various retired service chiefs and former Defence Ministers at the Chilcot inquiry—and just this morning, Sir Kevin Tebbit spoke of a permanent crisis budget at the MoD because of the Chancellor’s cutting of defence expenditure six months after the invasion of Iraq—the “constraints” to which the Green Paper refers are not all externally driven.
The Statement refers to efficiency savings over the current spending review period of some £3 billion. Can the noble Baroness give some indication of how this is to be achieved? Will these savings be directed to the front line, or clawed back by the Treasury? The Green Paper says that the MoD will aim to,
“improve the ratio of personnel who are available for deployment against overall personnel”.
An example given in the Green Paper is that the Army can only deploy 10,000 soldiers, even though its total strength is more than 100,000. What do the Government have planned to increase the readiness and deployability of our Armed Forces, and to ensure the equipment is available to sustain them on operations? This also includes the use of Reserve Forces in future operations. Does the noble Baroness agree that the Green Paper should have made much more recognition of the importance of and contribution made by the Reserve Forces?
We support the Government’s call for a more agile defence organisation. The challenges that Britain and our Armed Forces face need to be revisited from time to time, so we welcome the intention to incorporate into law the proposal for such a review in each Parliament. This is a Conservative suggestion, so it is especially welcome. We also welcome the announcement in the acquisition reform paper to publish an annual statement on the affordability of the equipment programme.
We agree with the Government that an increasingly uncertain world will require our forces to go overseas. While no one state is identified as a direct strategic threat, we know from recent history that some states see armed force as a tool to be used. Britain must not make the mistake of sending any signals that we are somehow less committed to our values and beliefs, nor that our treaty obligations are now worthless.
We support the Government’s contention that defence must improve its ability to work in partnership with our key allies. I particularly praise the efforts of our Danish and Estonian allies who serve alongside our forces in Afghanistan and who I had the privilege to meet when I visited Afghanistan last year. We urge our fellow European members of NATO to increase their efforts in support of the alliance’s objectives in Afghanistan.
We agree with closer co-operation with France. We should view France as our most important European partner and it only makes sense that we work closely in areas where we have shared sets of interests. Although that was widely reported in the press this morning, there is little evidence of this commitment in the Green Paper. Will the Minister please expand on this commitment in her response? Finally, we look forward, as does the Statement, to seeing a more joined-up approach to defence and security across Whitehall, embracing not just the MoD but the FCO and DfID as well.
My Lords, I join these Benches in the earlier tribute to those who have fallen in Afghanistan. I also join with the noble Lord, Lord Astor, in requesting an earlier sighting of MoD documents, which would be appreciated. Today’s Statement hardly warrants the banner headline in Monday’s Times,
“Brown goes into battle with billions for defence”.
Indeed, we are in the defence overstretch that we are in today, militarily and financially, precisely because the Prime Minister, particularly when he was Chancellor, showed little interest in defence and kept the chequebook closed. We know that from the Chilcot inquiry, with the then service chiefs apparently considering resignation; from Geoff Hoon’s failure to get funding for more helicopters at that stage; and, more recently, from the comments of John Hutton. Spending on defence has steadily declined under this Government as a percentage of GDP to just over 2 per cent.
We welcome today’s Green Paper and the proposed strategic defence review. We, among others, have long been calling for one, but until recently the Government resisted, saying that it was unnecessary. We are pleased that regular defence reviews are proposed. Today’s world is increasingly menacing, not only with concerns on nuclear proliferation, but the newer threats from international terrorism, from cyber assault and piracy. Everyone recognises that we cannot go it alone in the future. We have to work with our allies. No longer have we the resources to be the world’s policeman. It has to make much greater sense to co-operate with France, which has a defence spend comparable to our own. Some of us have long argued for this, but little real progress has been made. What specific conclusions came out of the meetings apparently held in London last week by the outgoing French Chief of the Defence Staff? The semi-detached, rather Eurosceptic attitude of the Official Opposition towards mainstream Europe will hardly make serious co-operation with the French any easier, should they form the next Government.
We agree that the complex, brutal conflict in Afghanistan has to be given priority and acknowledge that thankfully most of our forces are now much better equipped. We agree also with the double-A thrust of the Green Paper that our forces need to be more adaptable and more agile. We particularly agree with the need to improve the working arrangements between our Armed Forces and our diplomatic and development activities which are so crucial in Afghanistan.
Turning to the strategy for acquisition reform, the reality, as Bernard Gray made so clear, is that we are massively overcommitted. As I have said previously, whatever the undoubted merits of the new carriers, was it sensible to go ahead with them before an SDR and when the MoD is, frankly, broke? The acquisition reform document makes the interesting point that 40 per cent of the £20 billion procurement spend is with just 10 companies. Can the noble Baroness confirm that there are severe penalty clauses in virtually all our major contracts which limit room for cancellation or manoeuvre? I support what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Astor, earlier; could she explain how the figure of £3 billion in efficiency savings has been arrived at by perhaps providing a breakdown? Not before time does the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, say in his foreword that:
“At the heart of the strategy is a radical commitment to greater public transparency by publishing annual assessments of the overall affordability of our equipment plans”.
The independent audit referred to later is a huge step forward.
Finally, I want to ask two specific questions. First, how concerned are the Government about the recent sacking by Secretary Robert Gates of the marine general in charge of the F-35 programme—the designated aircraft for our aircraft carriers—saying that the Lockheed-Martin programme had been plagued by problems, had failed to hit performance targets and that,
“key goals and benchmarks were not met”?
Secondly, will she comment on the story this lunchtime which quoted Sir Jock Stirrup, the current Chief of the Defence Staff, as saying that it was, “quite plausible that there could be a consolidation between two services within the next 10 years”? What is the current Government’s stance on service consolidation?
My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for the general welcome they have given this Statement. This is a significant opportunity to have a mature debate about the issues we will be facing in the future, and the Green Paper sets out clearly both the trends in the world that we have to cope with and the threats that we will have to take on board. While I could not possibly commit the business managers to a debate in this House, I am sure that there will be many opportunities for discussion. It is important that people from as many different backgrounds as possible take part in the debate.
I shall start with the last questions put to me. I have a piece of paper which tells me exactly what Sir Jock Stirrup said earlier. He was asked, “Do you think it is plausible that we will have three armed services?”. He said, “Certainly it is plausible”. It was the questioner who put forward the idea of only two, and as we are not pre-empting anything that the SDR might provide, we are not denying that anything is a subject for debate. But that was the only context in which the idea was put forward; it was not actively put forward by the Chief of the Defence Staff as something that he wants to see.
On the joint strike force programme, there have been difficulties with this complex programme, but it is also a very exciting one. I will not comment on any internal American decisions with regard to personnel because I do not think that that would be wise.
Many different issues have been raised. It is right that we should highlight cyber threats and the like because while it is difficult to be specific about them, and while the public may hear about them, they do not appear to be particularly tangible. We have to keep the entire range of threat in view when discussing these issues. The noble Lord, Lord Astor, mentioned that defence experts and correspondents had been talking about the Green Paper as if they had seen it. To my knowledge, it only went to the printers yesterday and late amendments were made earlier this week. But it is true that we consulted widely before finalising the Green Paper. Seminars with academics were held and the Defence Advisory Forum, of which his honourable friend in another place is a member, was involved. So while there were people who knew what our thinking was, the document was finalised very late in the day.
I take issue with one point made by the noble Lord, Lord Astor. He talked about the announcement made in December, which he described as cuts to the defence budget. That is not the case. The defence budget has not changed at all for this current year. Spending will be £35.4 billion in 2009-10 and will rise to £36.9 billion in 2010-11. That money is ring-fenced. On top of that we have the very substantial contribution the Treasury will be making to operations. What happened last December, as the Secretary of State pointed out earlier today, was actually a realignment to ensure that current priorities were met. I think that was the right decision. As has already been mentioned, the lead time for many of the procurement projects is extremely long and that sometimes makes it difficult to adapt to what we need. That is one of the issues that we are trying to face in this Green Paper.
We have said for some considerable time that our Armed Forces have to be more adaptable, flexible and responsive. It is also incumbent on industry and the MoD to be more adaptable, flexible and responsive. When we talk what I think the Green Paper calls a “spiral approach” to contracting—I would call it more an incremental approach—that is probably one of the aspects we have to bear in mind in the future.
We actually have quite a good track record in terms of making efficiency savings within the MoD. Gerry Grimstone is conducting an inquiry; we think it right to bring in external people for this occasionally. It is important that we step up to the mark. I think that we probably can be doing that.
I was very grateful for the acknowledgment that the equipment that we have on operations is so impressive. Everybody involved in operations—the military, the civilians who have been helping, the contractors and industry—has worked exceptionally well together to make sure that our record on the delivery of urgent operational requirements has been very impressive. Some of our allies are wondering how we have been able to achieve that level of flexibility; they have been looking at our procedures and the way that we do things. It is good that we recognise the changes that have been made there.
I am glad that there has been general welcome for the idea of legislation to make sure that we have timely strategic defence reviews. I also welcome what has been said about the need to make sure that all departments link in together. We hear a great deal about the comprehensive approach and it is extremely important to operations. It is also extremely important to our long-term planning. One of our objectives is conflict prevention—how we use our defence diplomacy or what might be called “soft power” before we have a problem to influence areas of the world that are extremely difficult. We do that working with our allies.
The noble Lord, Lord Astor, mentioned the Danes and the Estonians. I, too, have met people from those countries; they have been extremely good allies, working well with us on operations and, indeed, suffering significant casualties. We should be happy to recognise the closeness of that relationship and pay tribute to the work that has been done there.
The noble Lord, Lord Lee, mentioned that the outgoing French Chief of Defence staff had been over here recently. The chiefs of defence staff do meet from time to time—when they change over, when they have conferences or whatever. We have a lot of engagement with the French as we do with the Americans and many other countries—at CHOG level, but also at ministerial and other official levels. It is quite right that we should do so and that we should see how we can co-operate.
The noble Lord, Lord Astor, mentioned the discussions about working closely with the French. In the Green Paper we make it clear that we want to work within NATO, within the EU and also have bilateral arrangements. The fact that France has now rejoined the military side of NATO helps and is leading to more discussions of the kind to which we were referring earlier. It is the case, of course, that in the defence budgets that Governments have in European countries, only we and the French are big spenders. So it is right to see what we can do there, although, as we have said on previous occasions, collaboration on equipment can be very difficult, because of the alignment of so many factors. However, it is worth thinking about a long time in advance so that we know in which direction we are going.
I was asked whether it was sensible to have the carriers before the strategic defence review. You could argue that on a whole range of equipment, but we can never stand still in making those decisions. We have to make sensible decisions and try not to pre-empt the final outcome of a strategic defence review.
I am grateful to noble Lords who have spoken for their general welcome and hope we will be able to have further discussions and wider debates about the principles in the Green Paper.
It is certainly not before time to have a defence review after 12 years. I notice that the Americans are once again embarking on their four-year defence review. I welcome that change, particularly because the circumstances have changed enormously since 1998, when there was no involvement in Afghanistan or Iraq as we have now. There is no question that the current financial situation of the Ministry of Defence is the worst mess it has ever been in anybody’s recent experience. So the challenge is very great.
I agree with one thing very much. When we have our forces engaged in dangerous circumstances, they must have total priority. That is a welcome change after eight years in which they were not given the priority for the equipment. The Secretary of State’s Statement mentions the helicopters for which we have placed an order, but they will not be available for the next two years, when we urgently need them now.
On the Minister’s last comment, to say that the decision on the carriers and the fighter aircraft does not pre-empt the rest of the defence review does not make much sense. The following paragraph in the Statement to the paragraph that describes the issue of the carriers being determined appears to reopen the subject. I should be grateful if she would clarify that.
In the kindest way, may I say that, when somebody comes to consider the results of this review, it would be very helpful if we did not have an annual change in the Secretary of State for Defence, as we have had in the past five years? Whichever Government are in power, I hope that the person in charge will be someone with some real experience in defence and will be allowed to stay there for a reasonable length of time so that they can carry this thing through. It is simply not fair to our Armed Forces or to all those involved in the defence of our country to have this continual change at the top.
My Lords, it is indeed 12 years since we had a defence review. I looked at the statistics on the gaps between defence reviews in the past and that is not dramatically unusual. There has been an update as well, from time to time. When we were involved in such operations as Iraq and Afghanistan, perhaps that was not time to take a full defence review, which is why we had the updating papers on that. Certainly the circumstances are very different from 1998, although I noticed that there is a paragraph in the defence review published in July 1998 that says:
“There is an increasing danger from the proliferation of nuclear, biological and chemical technologies. As Iraq has amply demonstrated, such regimes threaten not only their neighbours but vital economic interests and even international stability”.
So there was some anticipation of some of the problems that later came to dominate, although I do not think that it was anticipated exactly how.
I am glad that the noble Lord acknowledges the priority that I referred to for equipment. We should all welcome the reports that have been made about equipment on operations. Members from this House and the Select Committee in another House have talked about the very significant movement on equipment. It is not a question of buying equipment off the shelf; it has taken a great deal of effort on the part of everyone involved, industry included, to upgrade and make the changes that have been made.
In terms of carriers and equipment, we have a dilemma. I can either stand here, take one project at a time and say, “Yes, we are going to do that after the review, no we are not going to do that”, or I can say, “I am not saying anything about any of them”. The whole point of the review is to consider what you need for the future. The statements we have made have been on the basis of our assessment at the moment. If, as I said in repeating the Statement, there was a radical change of approach as a result of that review, then it might be that other changes would be necessary.
In terms of the annual change, as the noble Lord called it, of the Secretary of State for Defence, I do think it is unfortunate that we have not had the level of continuity that perhaps would have been liked. However, the current Secretary of State for Defence has been a Minister in that department for a considerable time and has the respect of all those who work in it.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement on the Government’s Green Paper and for the sensible things she has said about co-operation, partnership and a fully joined-up security policy.
I should like to be clear on one thing. Although the Minister may be technically correct in saying, “not a penny will be cut from next year’s budget”, is it not true that because of the current Ministry of Defence overspend—caused, largely unavoidably, by overspill from operational requirements in Afghanistan and the inclusion of certain items of equipment, some for political reasons, for which proper strategic decisions on capability have not yet been made—at this very moment the Treasury is clawing back from defence’s cash flow no less than £1 billion in this first year? This money has to be found from somewhere, and usually involves considerable penalties, particularly in the longer term.
Finally, as economy of effort is one of the principles of war, how would the Minister actually measure affordability, much mentioned in the Green Paper? Presumably with defence of the realm and security, this country can afford what it believes it truly needs. Is the intention merely to leave it to the Treasury to come up with less money than the year before?
My Lords, I acknowledge the deep experience that the noble and gallant Lord brings to this debate and I am flattered that he thinks that some of my comments were sensible. He was right when he used the word security as well as defence. These days, it is extremely difficult to draw a line between defence and security, and the Green Paper makes it clear that much of what we have been thinking about looks to the national security strategy which has been drawn up recently.
However, I disagree with the noble and gallant Lord about the money. It is a straightforward fact that in 2009-10 the ring-fenced budget from the Treasury to the Ministry of Defence was £35.4 billion. The ring-fenced budget for 2010-11 is £36.9 billion. There are no cuts, and the Treasury is increasing its contribution from the reserve for operations in Afghanistan.
There is still, and there always will be, a question of affordability. That is one of the reasons why it is important that we have a discussion about the Strategic Defence Review in the context of the challenges we face throughout the world. That is also why it is important that the Green Paper sets out those changes and trends that are taking place in the international arena and refers to the specific threats we are facing. At the end of the day, we will as a country have to make decisions about affordability.
I, too, associate myself with the tributes paid by my noble friend to those who have fallen and been injured recently in Afghanistan. Their losses are not in vain. I am glad that today’s Green Paper makes it clear that success in Afghanistan remains the abiding priority of the Ministry of Defence, and indeed of the nation as a whole.
I welcome the Green Paper. In particular, I welcome the innovation of inviting members of the opposition parties to join the Defence Advisory Forum that the Secretary of State, with great enlightenment, formed in order to consult widely. I was part of that Defence Advisory Forum, but bringing in members of opposition parties sets a good long-term precedent. The non-partisan nature of the discussion and debate that will take place now is of supreme importance, not just for the forces in the field but for the future defence of this country.
Much will be made about resources, and none of the potential governments looking for support in the coming general election will find it comfortable to make those choices in the Ministry of Defence. But it is important to bear in mind that, since the last Strategic Defence Review that I supervised in 1998, the defence budget has increased in real terms by 10 per cent, and if one takes into account the money devoted to operations, by more than 24 per cent. Every single urgent operational requirement has been met by Her Majesty’s Treasury. That is an important component part of where we are, but where we are going to be will depend on a number of tough decisions that have yet to be made.
I want to make two points to my noble friend. First, we must re-emphasise constantly the fact that in future this nation will not be able to deploy a full spectrum of capabilities. In future, in dealing with myriad challenges and threats, we will have to do things with others, especially with our European allies in NATO and the European Union. That must be seen as part of a practical policy going forward.
Finally, I disagree with the Government in one respect in this exercise. I do not believe that we should have a Strategic Defence Review in isolation. We need a strategic security review that looks at the security of this nation and involves the Foreign Office, the Department for International Development, the Home Office and elsewhere in order to establish what the priorities really are and what important part defence will play in that overall strategy.
First, I repeat what was said in another place and thank my noble friend for his contribution to the Defence Advisory Forum. My noble friend’s credentials in this matter are well known and important. He is right when he reminds us of the priority of Afghanistan. That comes out of the Green Paper and from the Statement made in another place earlier today. The work that we have done there has been quite remarkable in terms of getting everybody to work together, including other government departments. This country probably invented the term “the comprehensive approach”, and bearing in mind my noble friend’s last point, it is important that we keep that in mind in all discussions. I agree that it has been beneficial for the Defence Advisory Forum to take a long view and act in a non-partisan way. One of the Green Paper’s strengths is that it is analytical and not partisan. That is one of the reasons why I am hopeful that we can have that kind of long-term approach. This is extremely timely because other countries are thinking about what they should be doing and NATO is undertaking its strategic review. I am sure that there will be a lot of interest in what we have been saying.
We all acknowledge that decisions about resources will not be easy. Nobody is talking about committing to increasing spending, but it is important to recognise, as my noble friend did, the significant contributions from the Treasury on top of the core defence budget. He talked about not deploying across the full spectrum of capabilities in future and always working with others. That is acknowledged in the Green Paper and is something to which a former Secretary-General of NATO would quite rightly draw attention. Again, we welcome the expertise that he brings.
My noble friend mentioned a disagreement about the actual wording and asked whether we should not have a Strategic Defence and Security Review rather than a Strategic Defence Review. That was something that we picked up on rather late in the day. As I said earlier, the distinction these days between defence and security is extremely blurred. Throughout this document we make reference to the national security strategy because we have made the psychological leap that the two are so well connected. However, we have not put it on the front of the document. I assure him that the point has been registered and is well understood by many people in the department.
I am grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement. Does she agree that, if we require our Armed Forces to protect our interests often in foreign parts—I am quoting from the Statement, and a quick look at Annex A provides graphic justification for those words—then it is imperative that we retain elite specialist amphibious troops, embarked in commando ships with carrier-borne aircraft, surface vessels and submarines in support? This sort of task force, often working with allies, provides our country with its greatest flexibility. Using that platform, we can run the gamut of operations from humanitarian to all-out combat.
My Lords, I am not surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Burnett, given his background, makes this special case. It may well be justified. There will be a lot of people who want to make points about specific groups and tasks. He chose one that is well recognised as having a world-class capability. It is something that we appreciate.
I am very pleased that the noble Lord was able to draw attention to Appendix A, which I recommend that people look at. It explains the whole range of operations that our Armed Forces have been involved in. It does not list them all but it does, as he says, go from armed conflict to humanitarian. The range is vast. People may well be surprised by the number of operations because very often they are carried out very quietly and they do not get the public acclamation that perhaps they deserve.
Well, I am asking a question. I am sorry if it did not come across as a question.
Does the noble Baroness agree—how is that?—that we are all very proud of the men and women of the Territorial Army who have served in these recent conflicts, giving up their civilian jobs to take time to train and work so hard to defend this nation? We should always make funds available for the Territorial Army. Never should it be that the soldiers of the Territorial Army should turn up to their drill halls to find that they cannot get pay or expenses when they are involved in training in this country.
I hope I have managed that, my Lady.
My Lords, I am very grateful for the question. Everybody acknowledges the work of the TA. We have seen from operations recently that it has very often been in the front line. I am afraid we have had casualties and deaths among the TA. Very often it has been able to provide niche capabilities where there might otherwise be a shortage. We acknowledge the work that goes on. We do think that if TA soldiers are to be deployed then training is absolutely essential. We welcome and have been looking at the links that the TA have with the mainstream, full-time Army. It is important that we continue to do that.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for repeating the Statement. I very much welcome the Green Paper and suggest that perhaps the most important point in it concerns bipartisanship. This is a great breakthrough and, given the contributions of the noble Lords, Lord Astor, Lord Lee, Lord King, and others, I think that she has buy-in from this House. I wonder whether my noble friend could take this a stage further. I have long felt that defence should be much more bipartisan, but I find it strange that the Executive take the decision and that legislators, who really are able to represent bipartisanship, are often excluded. In moving forward, can my noble friend think of ways in which we could involve parliamentarians in this process because the buy-in of parliamentarians would help the buy-in of citizens and would help our military forces?
My Lords, my noble friend raises a very interesting point. I know that he has been involved in defence for many years, having been our spokesman on this issue when we were in opposition. He is right to emphasise the need for bipartisanship on an issue as important as this. He asks how legislators could be more involved. I think that it is up to the House to make that decision. As I said earlier, as a former Chief Whip I would hate any Minister to make a commitment about debates, but were there to be a debate on this topic, it would be very welcome. If it cannot be in this House, perhaps we can have some elsewhere.
One of the aspects of the paper that we have produced on acquisition today is that it opens the way for greater consideration by parliamentarians as well as by anybody else because it involves a higher level of transparency given the annual publication of an assessment of the overall affordability of the defence programme. That is new and is something in which I think parliamentarians will take a great deal of interest.
Flood and Water Management Bill
The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Northern Ireland Assembly Members Bill [HL]
Clause 1 : Salaries and allowances
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 17, leave out subsection (5) and insert—
“( ) For subsection (4) substitute—
“(4) Provision under subsection (2A) must ensure that, if a salary is payable to a member of the Assembly (“M”) as a member of either House of Parliament or as a member of the European Parliament—
(a) if M does not hold an office within subsection (9A), no salary is payable to M under this section;(b) if M holds an office within subsection (9A), the salary which would otherwise be payable to M under this section is reduced by the appropriate amount.(4A) The appropriate amount is the amount of the salary payable under this section to members of the Assembly generally.””
My Lords, in moving Amendment 1, I will speak also to the other government amendment in this group. This amendment deals with the issue of dual mandates, which was clearly a matter of concern on Second Reading and in Committee. I am sure that the debate this afternoon will give another clear indication, if one were needed, that this issue remains important.
I think it would be appropriate if I briefly mention the political process before turning to the detail of the amendments before us today. The Hillsborough talks established by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach last week have now continued for eight days. With good political will, we believe that the parties should soon be able to reach a reasonable agreement.
Turning to the amendments, I listened carefully to the debate in Grand Committee and undertook to reflect on the issues raised by noble Lords. Since Grand Committee we have drafted two amendments that I believe are an appropriate way of using this Bill to address the issue of dual mandates and that offer a reasonable compromise.
The amendments tabled in my name would mean that if a salary is payable to an MLA as a Member of either House of Parliament or as a Member of the European Parliament, he or she will not receive a salary as an MLA. This would mean that politicians are unable to benefit financially purely as a result of being elected to two legislatures. The reduction in salary would take effect as soon as the Bill’s provisions are commenced: it is not predicated upon the establishment of the independent body. The amendments would also have an effect on pensions. For any period when an MLA’s salary is reduced to zero, he or she will not accrue pension benefits. The amendment would apply only to salaries, not allowances.
I believe that consensus is of particular importance today. It is important in relation to the talks that will continue this afternoon at Hillsborough and it is important in relation to the issues that we are debating in this House. As I said at the outset, the Government believe that these amendments offer a basis for consensus. Sending a message that we in this House are able to reach agreement on this sensitive issue of dual mandates would be most valuable. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that brief introduction to the Government’s amendments. She indicated in Grand Committee that she was listening to the mood of the House. The mood then, and before that at Second Reading, was clear. The issue of double mandates—or double-jobbing as it is known in the Province—is a potent one. Of the 18 MPs who Northern Ireland constituencies send to Westminster, 15 are also Members of the Assembly—16 before Strangford became vacant. The problems inherent in such a doubling-up of roles are well known, and the noble Baroness has rightly taken account of them.
In Grand Committee, the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, made the pertinent remark that far too little new political talent comes out of Northern Ireland because the seats are already occupied. I made the point in Committee that the demands of the parliamentary timetable mean that it is unlikely that an MLA can be an MP at the same time effectively. Regardless of how dedicated they might be, the positions simply demand too much to be combined in one person.
These are not new arguments and the parties here and in Stormont are all familiar with them. All parties agree that the practice should come to an end. The Kelly report, which the Government have committed themselves to implementing, strongly recommends an end to the practice of double-jobbing. We on these Benches, along with our partners in the UUP, took the view that there was no good reason to put it off until 2015. We had an opportunity in this Bill to do something about double-jobbing, so we tabled our amendments in Grand Committee. Those amendments are still on the Marshalled List today.
I thank the noble Baroness for having the courage to concede the point by bringing forward her own amendments. That is not to say that I think the Government’s proposals are perfect. My brief says that the amendments are silent on allowances. I think that is wrong and that the noble Baroness explained where allowances fitted in. However, a little clarity when she sums up would be helpful. The noble Baroness explained that if an MLA is also an MP, he still has constituents to serve, even if he is not getting both salaries, and therefore needs his allowance to be continued. Noble Lords will be aware of the view that the public take of politicians’ allowances and expenses. I wonder if the new dispensation under the Government’s proposals will escape the public’s notice or meet with a little warmth. My brief also says that the Government’s amendments do not mention pensions. However, the noble Baroness did mention pensions and I am quite clear where the Government stand on pensions. I thank her for that clarification.
Having looked at what the Government’s amendments do not deal with, I will now turn to what they do. Amendment 1 deals with MLAs who are also MPs and who are eligible to receive a Westminster salary. If a person falls into that category—and not all MPs from Northern Ireland are eligible to take a Westminster salary—his MLA salary will drop to zero, although a separate salary is still payable if he is a Minister in the Assembly. Therefore, he will receive his full Back-Bench MP’s salary, expenses and allowances for Westminster, Stormont administrative allowances, and possibly a ministerial salary. The noble Baroness expects that the disincentive of losing the Stormont MLA salary will be enough to encourage a double-jobber to step down from one legislature or the other. That, at least, is her hope. It is the intention of our amendments to make it clear that future Governments will not tolerate double-jobbing in Northern Ireland.
Our Amendment 2, which I moved in Committee, would go further. It would withhold all salary and expenses from an MLA until he stepped down as an MP. It was not—and I wish to make this clear in the light of some criticism of the amendment in Grand Committee—ever designed to dictate to the electorate who they could and could not vote for. Our amendment, like the Government’s, is an incentive. It is a firmer incentive than the Government are offering, but we are both looking to reach the same ends.
Our approach has never been to single out one party for favour or discrimination, but has been one of principle. We wish to see the constituents of Northern Ireland properly and fully represented in all the forums in which they are entitled to be. We wish to see a fair and wise use of public funds to remunerate the elected representatives. It is because we have held fast to those principles that I tabled the amendments in Grand Committee, retabled them on Report and was prepared to test the will of the House on them. I believe that the mood of the House was behind those principles. However, the Government have tabled their amendments and we must give them due consideration. I have already said that they are not perfect, and explained why; but I recognise that the noble Baroness and the Government have made an effort to meet us. She and her colleagues, here and in another place, are genuine in seeking the same ends as we do, which will benefit Northern Ireland.
I told the noble Baroness in Grand Committee that I would not relish the prospect of defeating the Government on a Northern Ireland issue. We on these Benches have at all times sought to be helpful to the Government when dealing with Northern Ireland. We have engaged with them constructively and in a spirit of bipartisanship; and over the years that I have been doing this job, I have made many friends on the government Benches, as I hope the noble Baroness will agree. I wish to continue to do so, and because I recognise the work that the noble Baroness and her officials have done, I will support her amendments and will not press those in my name. However, I will make one final short comment. I will remind the Minister's noble friend, the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, of his time in Northern Ireland, when he was one of our best Secretaries of State. I will politely ask him to cast his mind back and remember the dangers of attempting to play party politics at Westminster with Northern Ireland.
My Lords, I did not follow the gnomic utterances of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, in his last sentence or two. I thank the Leader of the House for her introduction. She mentioned the contemporary political context of the Hillsborough negotiations. The Bill may be of only academic interest if there is no agreement at those talks between the DUP and Sinn Fein. It is also ironic that we are discussing double-jobbing when the MLAs are performing so badly at single-jobbing and are not getting on with settling their outstanding differences.
According to today's Irish Times, Peter Robinson is finding extreme difficulty in getting enough support from within his own party. These intra-party differences are a microcosm of the wider splits in the ranks of unionism, and all seriously obstruct the proper workings of the devolutionary settlement, which is now in extreme jeopardy. I hope that I am proved wrong about that. When the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, suspended Stormont some years ago and everybody thought it was for a short time, I said that it would be for a very long time. It was for five years. I hope that my prognostications now will not prove as accurate as they were then.
The Government have attempted to address the problem of double-jobbing. As the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, said, they have not gone as far as we would like, or as the Kelly report advised when it said that two or more mandates were not advisable. We have seen that starkly today. So many MLAs are also MPs and they cannot concentrate their minds on the real business at hand, but one must accept it. If an electorate wants to have a representative in more than one forum, that should be its right; but it should not be encouraged.
We went along with the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, at Second Reading and in Committee, and I added my name to his amendment. We demonstrated to the Leader of the House how strongly we felt on that issue. I am extremely grateful that the Minister has gone as far as she has in proposing her amendment. I associate myself with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, and would not seek to divide the House; we will accept the government amendment.
My Lords, I support the amendment proposed by the Leader of the House for two reasons. First, as I have seen close-up, it accords strongly with the mood of the people in Northern Ireland. The parties have recognised that—some more readily than others—by their acceptance of the principle. Secondly, and perhaps even more fundamentally, it has become very clear over time and underlined by the present crisis, as the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, has said, that there is a need in Northern Ireland political life for wise heads and minds focused on the affairs of the Province. If these provisions succeed in encouraging such a focus, it will redound to the strength of the political process, which needs all the strength it can get, and the durability of the institutions.
Many have criticised the Assembly structure as being seriously and fundamentally flawed. I understand those criticisms very clearly and share many of them myself. However, I quote the old saying that the best is the enemy of the good. I have no doubt that stability in Northern Ireland is assisted by the existence of a functioning and durable Assembly with all its flaws. Even a poor Assembly is better than no Assembly. If this Bill achieves that, it will be for the public benefit.
It is right that the provision should be put into effect without delay. There has been some foot-dragging in the process and those who would like to have deferred it coming into effect for quite a long time—indeed, a number of years—should be resisted. Those who dragged their feet are perhaps like St Augustine, who in his famous prayer said:
“Lord, makes me chaste and continent, but not yet”.
I support the amendment and I hope to see the provisions operating soon.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness for listening to the mood of the House, as expressed at Second Reading and in Grand Committee. In effect, she has moved, in substance, to deal with the issues which were raised—there could be a quarrel about some detail but very little. It is a substantial shift and we are very grateful indeed.
I want to say why this government amendment is so necessary. On Monday this week in the other place, there was a debate on Afghanistan. In that debate, you could hear the accents of every region of the United Kingdom—Scottish, Welsh, Midlands, south of England and north of England—but no Northern Irish voice. That is not the fault of the Members of Parliament, most of whom, as the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, has said, are also Members of the Assembly. That is why the issue of double-jobbing is so crucial. We in this House all accept that they had important business in Belfast and at Hillsborough which required their attention. Indeed, the double-jobbing situation is an accident of a complicated peace process and no reflection on any individual, but it is now time to move away from that system.
None the less, it reveals a fundamental point, because the people of Northern Ireland contribute to the war in Afghanistan, as do all the other regions of the United Kingdom. Young men from Northern Ireland fall in that conflict, as do young men from Scotland, Wales and England. It is a fundamental issue that the opinions and the tones of their Members of Parliament are heard when these issues come up.
This problem relates not only to defence issues, but to broader United Kingdom policy issues—economic, social and national security—on which in recent times, because of the domestic pressures that exist in Northern Ireland, we have not heard Northern Irish voices at Westminster. We need to make a break from that—we need to make a break quickly—and the provisions that the noble Baroness is advancing today are part of that work.
For the health of democracy throughout the United Kingdom, we need to create a condition in which the voices of all the regions are heard in our Parliament on matters that affect all the regions of the United Kingdom. I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for doing that. We have had a situation that the mastery of two or three themes of the current sectarian debate in Northern Ireland could put an individual into the Assembly and into the Westminster Parliament. No mastery of any other political issue is required. That again is something we have to make a break from.
We need to move forward in the context of Northern Ireland, and I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for her proposals which will help to do that and to bring new people into politics.
My Lords, I did not intend to speak. However, I declare at the outset that I am a Member of that much-maligned Northern Ireland Assembly which, in the opinion of some, is not doing its single job very well. That criticism is ill founded. This House should just stop and take stock.
The Northern Ireland Assembly has delivered much good for Northern Ireland, despite the criticism that easily falls from the lips of some today. Those who stand in this House today and criticise have very little knowledge of the past 35 years that Northern Ireland has come through. I emphasise that we needed the experience of parliamentarians from the House of Commons to give guidance in the early years of the Northern Ireland Assembly, and I hope and pray that the Northern Ireland Assembly will continue to exist.
There is no doubt that there are difficulties, but I believe that with good will those difficulties can and will be overcome, despite the scepticism of some here today. I suspect, unfortunately, that there are those who would like to see the demise of the Northern Ireland Assembly. I do not have a lot of problems with what the Minister has said today. They are all noble targets and my party has already put forward very constructive ways of taking this issue forward. We will not be making any issue that the Government are trying to, for instance, short-change the people of Northern Ireland.
Let us not forget that those who are double-mandated went to the people and were elected. I do not accept for a moment that there are seats in Northern Ireland that are continually filled. Those seats, at any election, are declared vacant for each and every person who wishes to put their names forward. The people declare, they make their decision and return whom they will on the ballot paper. I ask noble Lords to take that into consideration. Having said that, I understand the comments from around this House today; I understand where the Minister is coming from and I do not have a lot of problems with anything that has been proposed here.
My Lords, it seems to me that the amendments are very sensible indeed. If a Member has two positions, he should only get the salary for one. It is an indication that we should move on and allow other people to take the reins. The only way that they will get experience is if they are elected, make mistakes and move on.
I rose to my feet, however, to say that it was beneficial to the other place to have those who were Members of both the House of Commons and the Assembly. It was a two-way situation; sometimes, having listened to a case the Floor of the other place, they could convey the argument to the Assembly, and vice versa. However, I accept now that we must move on.
Sometimes in Scotland and Wales, at a general election an Assembly Member is elected to the Westminster Parliament. Those who are in opposition to that Member’s party might then say, “We want a by-election”. Sometimes, a by-election can cost the taxpayers a great deal. Also, all sorts of people can come out of the woodwork and say that they have a great affiliation to a certain community when they do not, but are just trying to win a by-election. Therefore, if an Assembly Member wins a seat at a general election, there is a case for keeping both posts but not necessarily both salaries. I would certainly support the amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords for their contributions today and for their warm welcome for the Government’s amendments. Before I turn to the amendments tabled by other noble Lords, perhaps I might answer some of the points that have been made in this short but interesting and useful debate.
The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, was absolutely right when he outlined the situation on allowances and ministerial pay. Allowances will continue to be paid because we believe that while double-jobbing continues—and some people may still wish to represent two constituencies—people should be able to serve both of their constituencies while they are the Member for them, and should therefore receive the requisite allowances. However, as the noble Lord said, we hope that ensuring that politicians are not able to benefit financially, purely as a result of being elected to two legislatures, will act as a sort of a catalyst for them ultimately to choose which constituency they wish to serve. As the noble Lords, Lord Smith of Clifton and Lord Morrow, said, the electorate clearly have a role to play in whether they wish people to serve in two constituencies.
The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, mentioned party politics and asked me to take a message to my noble friend. I believe that we must remain non-partisan on issues pertaining to Northern Ireland, as do all of my honourable and noble friends. We believe that it should continue as it always has continued.
Excellent, my Lords. I completely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton; we hope that progress continues to be made in the talks at Hillsborough. I also hope that his earlier prognostications do not come to pass now because, like the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, I am sure we would all agree that we want the talks to continue and succeed. Yes, we want to finish the job of devolution, but we also believe that the Assembly itself is doing a good job and want it to continue for the benefit of the people of Northern Ireland.
I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Carswell, for pointing out that the amendments accord with the mood of politics and the parties in Northern Ireland, and I am glad that he believes that the amendments will assist in strengthening the political process and the institutions in Northern Ireland. I assure him that there will be no more foot-dragging because, as I mentioned earlier, the reduction in salary will take effect as soon as the Bill’s provisions are commenced.
The noble Lord, Lord Bew, as ever, makes a very persuasive case for getting rid of double-jobbing. He is right to say that the voice of the elected representatives of Northern Ireland must be heard in both Chambers of our Parliament on matters that affect all regions and nations of the United Kingdom.
The noble Lord, Lord Morrow, was right to point out why we have double-jobbing and why it was necessary. The noble Lord, Lord Martin of Springburn, who has great experience, explained how we have benefited from it in the past.
The effect of the amendments tabled in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Glentoran and Lord Smith of Clifton, would be that any new provision on salaries and allowances made by the independent body must ensure that MLAs who were paid allowances or a salary as an MP or MEP would be unable to claim their MLA salary or allowances. The Assembly would also be under a duty to amend its existing determinations dealing with salary and allowances to make such provision. I believe that the intention would be to prevent people performing both roles. Without the office costs allowance, which pays for constituency offices, MLAs would not be able to represent their constituents effectively. Therefore, the Government are concerned about the amendments because, as I said in Committee, it is our view that the best way forward is for the political parties in Northern Ireland to come to an agreement about how to bring dual mandates to a close.
The Government also have practical concerns about how these amendments would work. They are drafted in such a way as to be somewhat ambiguous as to their effect. Furthermore, there is a prospect of MLAs with a dual mandate being returned to the Assembly at the next election, which is scheduled for 2011, but finding early in the new mandate that they are unable to represent their constituents properly because they may become unable to claim the office costs allowance. We believe that there is an inherent risk in these amendments. As our compromise solution indicates, we have a large degree of sympathy with the principle behind the opposition amendments, but the manner in which they attempt to achieve their objective is unacceptable. However, I am delighted that both noble Lords have signalled their intention to agree with the Government’s amendments.
Amendment 1 agreed.
Amendment 2 not moved.
3: Clause 1, page 2, line 30, at end insert “; and if the determination does not make the provision required by section 47(4) (as substituted by this section) it has effect as if it made that provision.”
Amendment 3 agreed.
Clause 2 : Pensions etc.
Amendment 4 not moved.
Digital Economy Bill [HL]
Committee (6th Day)
Clause 19 : Appointment of manager of internet domain registry
225C: Clause 19, page 20, line 17, leave out “an” and insert “a qualifying”
Amendment 225C agreed.
225D: Clause 19, page 20, line 21, leave out “and any consequences of the failure”
This is a probing amendment that is designed to highlight the concern that these words might open up the registry to a high level of liability. Remedying a serious failure by means of financial compensation could lead to claims for millions of pounds. Is this the Government’s intention? If not, what sort of steps does the Minister consider might be appropriate for remedying the consequences of a failure that could have had an impact on the availability of the service to companies throughout the United Kingdom? I beg to move.
My Lords, I start on a positive note by bringing noble Lords good news. I have listened carefully to what the noble Lord has said and I sympathise with his reason for tabling the amendment. The Government will consider this further, perhaps with a view to coming back with a proposal on Report. I hope, in the light of this, that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
Amendment 225D withdrawn.
225E: Clause 19, page 20, line 34, at end insert—
“( ) The Secretary of State must discharge the order no more than six months after its commencement.”
My Lords, this is a probing amendment. The period of six months that it specifies is not set in stone. The important point is to establish for how long the Minister envisages these orders being in effect. It would make sense for there to be a statutory time limit. If the appointed manager cannot remedy the failure in, say, six months or a year, it may well be impossible to solve the problem. This gives rise to the question of what the core role of the manager will be. The six or 12-month period should be adequate if the main role is to ensure the proper running of the registration of domain names and to ensure that abuses in registering names are stopped, rather than to look after the financial health of the registry. This amendment, or a similar one, would reassure those who are concerned that these powers should not allow a Government to step in permanently via the back door, using the excuse of a serious failure to carry out, in essence, nationalisation. I beg to move.
My Lords, the Bill could last a long time. The order could still be running after a registry changes its constitution and could be made up in very many different ways—it could be quite difficult for any directors who are left in place if the manager is foisted on them for a very long time. There may be issues of corporate governance and other company law, which may have to be complied with and which the manager may not be specifically tasked with, so there could be conflicts of interest in running the company. Section 450 of the Companies Act, the duties of directors, stakeholders and other interests all have to be taken into account, so there should be some sort of time limit to sharpen people’s minds.
My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot grant the earnest wish of the noble Lord, Lord Howard, in relation to the Government’s attitude. The amendment would artificially limit to six months the time that is available to the manager to remedy the failure of a registry. I assure the noble Lord that the Secretary of State would have no interest whatever in keeping the manager in place any longer than was strictly necessary to complete this task, but there might be circumstances in which more than six months were required. I also assure the noble Lord that we have had our fill of nationalisation with the banks. We are certainly not into that concept with domain name registries.
The clear intention of the Government is to remove the manager at the earliest possible date in all cases. That is specifically our intention; with regard to in extremis situations, we felt that it was in the national interest. The legislation already makes sure that this will not happen. I cannot resist observing that when the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, said that this Bill could last a long time, I felt that it already had. I hope that the noble Lord will feel capable of withdrawing his amendment in the light of my assurance.
I thank the Minister for his remarks. If he genuinely means that there is no intention to allow any form of nationalisation, then it would be perfectly feasible to put in a time limit, even if it was a matter of, say, two years. Perhaps he could look at that before we come to the next stage of this Bill. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 225E withdrawn.
226: Clause 19, page 21, line 10, leave out “may” and insert “must”
My Lords, the two amendments in this group are tabled to probe the remuneration of the manager. Will the Minister take into consideration the pay of the manager—or indeed, possibly managers—whom the person will be replacing, or will the new manager be paid on public servant scales? The power to reclaim the remuneration from the registry makes the sum which is decided potentially more controversial than it might otherwise be. This in turn raises again the issue of what the Government see as the function of the new manager, which I referred to when we discussed the previous amendment. Will his role be more one of ensuring that domain registry ceases to abuse its position, or more that of the traditional company doctor? This will have a bearing on the remuneration package, on which the shareholders or beneficiaries of the registry might have strong views. I beg to move.
My Lords, as I understand it, the purpose of this amendment is to ensure that the order appointing the manager details the steps that the Secretary of State considers appropriate for the registry to take to remedy its failure, or the consequences of its failure, being those that the registry should have taken, and which the manager must ensure are taken. The clause allows for the order to include these steps. Further, the Bill is clear that the purpose of the manager’s appointment is to secure that the steps identified by the Secretary of State are taken. We want the shortest possible intervention necessary to restore the efficient and effective functioning of the domain name and organisation. That is our clear intention, and I hope that in the light of this assurance, the noble Lord will feel capable of withdrawing the amendment.
Amendment 228A would make it a requirement in the Bill to ensure that the manager limited his actions to ensuring that the registry remedied the failure, and any consequences of the failure, which have been set out in the order appointing the manager. Those are the two explicit circumstances in relation to the role—ensuring that the registry remedies the failure, and any consequences of the failure. I can further assure the Committee that the Secretary of State would have no interest whatever in the manager doing anything other than correcting the failure of the registry. The clause already makes it clear that the manager is being appointed solely for the purpose of securing that the registry takes the steps that the Secretary of State considers appropriate to remedy the failure.
Furthermore, new Section 124O of the 2003 Act introduced in Clause 19(1) restrains the manager from doing anything more than is necessary to comply with the order, and we feel under the circumstances that this amendment is not necessary. There was a comment about pay; perhaps I should come back to the Committee on that, but I share the concern that we keep the pay to a reasonable and acceptable level.
Amendment 226 withdrawn.
226A: Clause 19, page 21, line 11, at end insert—
“( ) An order under section 124O must make provision about the steps that the Secretary of State considers appropriate for remedying the failure and any consequences of the failure.”
Although I have heard the noble Lord’s response, I will still make my points and hope to hear what he has to say again, or perhaps a varied version of it. This amendment seeks to limit the authority of the appointed manager to deal with the rectification of a specific problem or problems. It would not be desirable or justifiable for the appointed manager to involve himself in matters which are not related to the task for which he was appointed to carry out.
As the Bill is drafted it could be interpreted that once the manager is appointed, he could extend his activities into all sorts of areas which might have nothing to do with the problem he had been appointed to deal with. Since the Secretary of State will already have identified the matters for concern, there should be no need for the manager to have discretion to wander into areas that were not intended. If, on carrying out his appointed role, the manager finds that he needs to extend his activities, there is nothing to stop the Secretary of State from issuing a further order or orders to extend the remit of the manager.
My apologies for being a bit previous on this group. To reiterate the assurance in relation to Amendment 226A, we share the view that in taking over the registry at this stage, the role of the manager will be to remedy the failure and the consequences of the failure, and not go beyond that remit. The clause allows for the order to include these steps. Furthermore, the Bill is clear that the purpose of the appointment of the manager is to secure that the steps identified by the Secretary of State are taken. With that assurance, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
Perhaps I may suggest to the Minister where he might find comfort. Subsection (2) of new Section 124O to be inserted in the Communications Act 2003 under Clause 19 states:
“The Secretary of State may by order appoint a manager in respect of the property and affairs of the internet domain registry for the purpose of securing that the registry takes the steps described in subsection (1)(c)”.
That clearly limits the power.
It is not often that I would disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, on a point of law. It is with the greatest temerity that I can even think of it. Equally, I do not think that it is as he says. The provision is far too broad and needs to be narrowed as we have suggested. I would therefore like to test the opinion of the Committee.
227: Clause 19, page 21, line 17, after “for” insert “any of”
My Lords, I have tabled this terribly simple amendment to help the Minister have more flexibility. As it reads at the moment, should the manager have to go in and sort things out, there is provision for the registry’s directors to be prevented from exercising any of those functions. One can rightly see why one might want to restrain them from interfering, but it would seem to be all or nothing. I should like to insert the words “any of” the registry’s directors so that they can select, because one or two of the directors may have expertise in a particular area that could assist and not obstruct the manager. Giving the Minister the discretion to pick and choose among the directors, although he can still restrain all of them if he wishes to, gives much more flexibility to this clause. I beg to move.
Amendment 227 would introduce a sensible amount of flexibility. In many, perhaps even most organisations, each director, especially the executive ones, carries out a different role. It is possible that some of the directors may still be of value to the appointed person in his role in the registry when the others are no longer required. It would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater to insist that they, too, must be excluded because of their less helpful colleagues. There is also the matter of continuity. Getting rid of everyone at the top without a proper handover period might create problems.
The wording of the Bill without this amendment is unnecessarily inflexible, while at the same time the insertion of the words in the amendment would still allow the prevention of all the directors exercising the functions in question, if that was necessary.
My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for his offer of help. The Government recognise that it may not be appropriate in every case for all the directors to be deprived of their functions and, taking that into account, we are prepared to accept the amendment.
Amendment 227 agreed.
Amendments 228 and 228A not moved.
229: Clause 19, page 21, line 33, leave out “or a county court”
This is another amendment where I hope I am being helpful in order that something inadvertent does not happen. It was pointed out to me that should there be an appeal and the courts end up taking an interest, the issue will probably have got quite complex and could be tricky—there could be points of law and all sorts of things involved. If this then involves the removal of the powers of the directors or even the directors themselves, they would not be able to appeal as members of the company any more, and there could be difficulties. It was therefore felt that it would be wiser to have such an appeal or whatever held at High Court level, where there is the expertise to consider things properly, rather than at county court level. A county court judgment might still be good but might be less considered; I am given to understand that there would be a problem appealing from it. Again, this amendment seeks to help the Minister so that, if things come to these dire straits, there is a better outcome overall.
My Lords, as I understand it, the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, is concerned that the instances where the Secretary of State may have to apply to the court for directions are too serious to fall within the jurisdiction of the county court.
First, I should point out that the amendment will create an anomaly between England and Scotland, where in the case of the latter the sheriff—the equivalent of a county court—will retain jurisdiction. This definition of the court is derived from the Companies Act 2006. In that case, Parliament chose to give jurisdiction to both the High Court and the county court. An effect of this amendment would be to appear to put domain registries in a different category from all other companies.
I assure the noble Earl that no prejudice to registries would occur were the Secretary of State to apply for directions to the county court rather than to the High Court. Indeed, as he is no doubt aware, the Civil Procedure Rules give a wide discretion for a case to be transferred from the county court to the High Court if necessary. Furthermore, it may be considered a waste of resources to require every application to be made to the High Court.
I hope that in the light of this explanation the noble Earl will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
I thank the Minister very much for that extremely comprehensive reply, which answers most of the questions. I see his point about the anomaly; that could be tidied up at Third Reading, should it be necessary. That is exactly what Third Reading is for, and I am sorry we missed the point. I hear what he says; he is probably right; I should like to go back, confer and make sure. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 229 withdrawn.
Clause 19, as amended, agreed.
Clause 20 : Application to court to alter constitution of internet domain registry
229A: Clause 20, page 22, line 6, leave out “an” and insert “a qualifying”
Amendment 229A agreed.
Amendment 230 not moved.
Clause 20, as amended, agreed.
Clause 21 : Functions of C4C in relation to media content
230A: Clause 21, page 22, line 38, leave out “, taken as a whole,”
My Lords, Amendment 230A probes the relationship between Channel 4’s existing remit and the new one which is being debated today. Channel 4’s existing remit is set out in Section 265 of the Communications Act which, as it is unamended by this Bill, will therefore remain in force.
Subsection (3) of Clause 265 states that Channel 4 programming will be that which,
“appeals to the tastes and interests of a culturally diverse society”.
The new remit, however, says that, “taken as a whole”, Channel Four Television Corporation must appeal to a culturally diverse society. I should be grateful if the Minister could explain how these two slightly different definitions will work in practice. Does it mean that Channel 4, the licensed channel, will continue to do this type of programming, but other output on digital channels or the internet would be released from this possibly expensive obligation?
Amendment 233ZA would ensure that, under this new remit, Channel 4 will continue to meet its existing public service obligations on its core channel. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure the Committee that the new remit will not give licence to the downgrading of Channel 4 public service programming. Various commentators have already questioned the quality of some Channel 4 programmes. While not seeking to dictate what is and is not appropriate, it is important to remember that Channel 4 is a public service broadcaster and any further downgrading would be unacceptable. I beg to move.
My Lords, I start by reassuring the noble Lord that there is no intention at all of downgrading the quality of programmes for which Channel 4 is responsible. The amendment, which deletes the phrase “taken as a whole”, arguably requires all such content to appeal to the tastes and interests of a culturally diverse society. We consider the crucial question is whether Channel 4C’s content viewed in the round meets the test. Requiring every single programme to meet the test is surely unduly restrictive.
For example, the new functions include a specific requirement for Channel 4C to provide,
“relevant media content that appeals to the tastes and interests of older children and young adults”.
Such content might well not appeal to older audiences. I heard what the noble Lord was suggesting and I want to disavow entirely any suggestion that this is about downgrading. It is recognising that certain programmes cannot meet the universal test when they are directed at particular audiences.
On Amendment 233ZA, the Bill contains no provisions affecting the existing statutory requirements for the Channel 4 television service, nor will it alter any of Channel 4’s licence obligations. Subsection (a) of Amendment 233ZA is therefore redundant. We are not about the businesses of changing the remit—the legislation under which Channel 4 meets its obligations.
As for subsection (b) of Amendment 233ZA, the Government recognise the concerns expressed at Second Reading largely on the Liberal Benches that the new Channel 4C functions should not lead to any dilution of public service provision on the Channel 4 television service. The noble Lord has echoed that today. I want to give reassurances on that. This legislation is not about downgrading the output of Channel 4.
Channel 4, like the other commercial public service broadcasters, is largely dependent on advertising revenue to fund its public service content. As all Members of the Committee will know, that revenue has been under significant pressure in recent years as a result of structural changes in the communications market aggravated by the economic downturn. Throughout this period, Channel 4 has continued to meet its public service obligations, though with a reduced content budget.
Is it the case that the PSB that the new Channel 4 remit is being asked to provide on the non-linear channels can be produced in-house, which goes against the spirit of the whole concept of Channel 4, which is that it is a publishing house that supports independent production companies making its PSB?
The noble Baroness is right that that is how Channel 4 operates, but I am trying to emphasise that we are not about the business of changing Channel 4’s position at all. I want to meet the anxiety on the Lib Dem Benches and those of the Official Opposition. That is not our purpose. However, to require Channel 4 to ensure current levels of provision, irrespective of any future developments, is not reasonable or practical. Both Ofcom’s review of public service broadcasting and the Digital Britain White Paper made clear that, if Channel 4 is to continue to play a significant public service role in the future, it will need to do so beyond the narrow confines of a single, linear television channel. I am sure that the noble Baroness is at one with the Government on that concern. In straitened circumstances, and, given the changes in technology, for the foreseeable future, Channel 4 has to have a different outlet apart from just the television channel.
The Government do not believe that the longer term interests of audiences, or of Channel 4 as an institution, are best served by seeking to freeze the manner in which their public service content is delivered. However, I emphasise that the Government expect Channel 4 to fulfill its public service obligation, taken in the round and as a whole. That is the basis of our expectation that—
Before the Minister sits down, I offer some reassurance to the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, and give an example to the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Rising, of why the Government are creating a useful situation.
I declare an interest as deputy chairman of Channel 4. During the four years I have been on the board, there has never been any discussion about production being brought in-house. Whether or not the existing terms of trade will be debated and discussed over the coming years is an issue that has all sorts of ramifications. However, none of the discussions of the Channel 4 board have even suggested bringing production in-house. I want to reassure the noble Baroness on that.
I think I am being helpful in raising the broader issue—I was waiting for the Minister to raise this. One of the biggest decisions we made on the Channel 4 board was a decision to take Channel 4’s PSB obligations for education online. In hindsight, it was one of the best decisions that we ever made. It was made after a lot of discussion. The truth was that audiences for Channel 4 education were diminishing. Frankly, the young people who the programmes were aimed at were increasingly not around at the time that they were available. It has been an unalloyed success. It is that type of flexibility, and that opportunity, to deliver the best possible programming to audiences when they are there, and in the means that they may have access to, that has made the channel a much more significant player in the education space than was previously the case.
My Lords, one of the most comfortable factors about speaking for the Government at the Dispatch Box is that one always knows that there will be some noble Lord who knows a great deal more about the issues than one does oneself, speaks with greater authority and is likely to be listened to by the House with even greater attention than is managed for Ministers at the Dispatch Box. I am grateful to my noble friend for illustrating that.
I thank the noble Lord for his remarks and the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, for his reassurance that there will be no downgrading.
This was a probing amendment. It was not there for any other purpose. There was just one small inconsistency by the Minister. If it is correct to include “taken as a whole” in this Bill, then presumably it should have been in the original Act and should apply to Section 265. Having pointed out that small inconsistency, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 230A withdrawn.
231: Clause 21, page 23, leave out lines 5 to 8
My Lords, again, these are probing amendments to clarify Channel 4’s updated remit with regard to film. Clause 21 establishes that Channel 4 must participate in distributing films by means of electronic communications networks. Does this mean that it is compulsory for Channel 4 to invest in streaming films over the internet? I can appreciate why it should be allowed to, but is it right that this should be a compulsory requirement?
As is widely acknowledged, Channel 4, like any other commercially funded broadcaster, has seen its revenues decline in the past year or so, meaning that it has less money to invest in content. Requiring Channel 4 to spend money on films, as set out in the Bill, is adding a further burden on top of the many others this Bill introduces. I am sure the Minister will argue that this clause simply enables Channel 4 to invest in new ways of distribution. If that is the case, it is welcome. However, I am concerned that the language, as drafted, is creating an obligation which might be difficult or impossible for Channel 4 to comply with.
As drafted, Clause 21 appears to require Channel 4 to spend money not only on programmes in which it is already investing, such as Film 4, which does indeed make high-quality British films, but in the broadcasting and distribution of films made by other people. I think that is the UK Film Council’s job. Is the duplication necessary? Again, it could add a lot of expense to a depleted budget. I beg to move.
My Lords, I hope that I am not suffering under any illusion as regards this being a probing amendment to identify the position relating to C4C and Channel 4. I make the obvious point that C4C can, and already does, provide a wide range of films, on Channel 4 and on its digital channels, in particular on its dedicated film channel, Film 4, and on-demand. I think that noble Lords widely appreciate the value of a great deal of that work. Proposed new subsection 198A(2)(c) does not give C4C any new powers to broadcast or distribute films, but seeks to ensure that it includes in its services films that reflect UK culture. I am sure that I take the whole Committee with me on that objective.
Concerns are sometimes expressed that new-media ventures by the BBC and C4C risk crowding out commercial competition and stifling innovation. I leave the BBC out of the argument for the moment, as I have no wish to prolong this debate or to get hares running. It is important to bear in mind that C4C receives no public funding and competes with other providers on a commercial basis.
With regard to UK films, there is little evidence that leaving provision to the market will ensure that they receive the kind of exposure that we want to see. The C4C brand will help to raise their profile and to build the audience for UK films, which will benefit the wider industry. Again, I hope that all noble Lords share that objective. There have been glories in the British film industry in the past, but we all know the extent to which the industry has been under pressure. Channel 4 has a role to play in building up the audience for UK films. We can all recall one or two of its outstanding successes.
We believe that enshrining in statute C4C’s commitment to showcasing films that reflect cultural activity in the United Kingdom on various platforms—television as well as online—is very significant. Making it one of C4C’s priorities emphasises the contribution that C4C plays in this economically and culturally important sector. The Government believe it is important that C4C’s duty should extend to third-party films; that is, films which C4C has not participated in making. This will ensure that C4C showcases the widest range of films that reflect the UK’s cultural activity, and not just C4C productions. This will undoubtedly enhance the value of its contribution.
We all recognise the sheer weight of the economic, financial and, to a degree, cultural domination of the American industries when it comes to these issues. If I were addressing a French audience about the necessity of advancing French interests with regard to films, I would have nothing but universal applause. I am not seeking applause this evening, merely the recognition from the Opposition that they have probed and that the Government’s position is a proper one.
I thank the Minister. As he said, it is a probing amendment. The point of it is that Channel 4 should be allowed, and not compelled, to show these films. If they are compelled, it may put too great a burden on them. I am not sure whether the Minister answered that point. Perhaps he could confirm that it is meant to be voluntary, rather than a compulsory obligation.
The noble Lord knows that Channel 4 operates under public service obligations already enshrined in legislation. I said with regard to the previous amendment that that is entirely secure. We are not changing that in any way, shape or form. We are simply indicating that we want to see part of that remit fulfilled by a support for films and products which reflect British cultural backgrounds and interests. That is the basis for us standing by the framework of the Bill as it stands.
That is all very well, but the Minister has still not answered what I asked. I suggest that he reads my remarks in Hansard and looks at the Bill to see whether I am correct in the interpretation that this could be a compulsory activity by Channel 4. If he agrees with me, perhaps he might adjust it for the sake of Channel 4, if for nobody else.
What is compulsory is that Channel 4 fulfils its public service obligations, and the provisions in the Bill that we have identified here form part of those obligations. I am recoiling a little from the element of compulsion. We see Channel 4, over its history, as having fulfilled its remit with regard to public service broadcasting. It has established a reputation and had very significant successes. This issue is not about compelling Channel 4 but about guaranteeing that we are doing nothing to alter the obligation which it already fulfils and has fulfilled over the years.
Amendment 231 withdrawn.
Amendment 231ZA not moved.
231A: Clause 21, page 23, line 26, leave out “in particular” and insert “including by providing access to information and views from around the world and”
My Lords, despite the growth of the internet, television remains the main source of information about the wider world for most people in the UK. The aim of this amendment, in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury, and myself, is to insert a simple and uncontroversial amendment into the Bill with the aim of preserving the future of international and global content on Channel 4. I believe this will strengthen its remit and be of benefit to UK citizens.
Since its early days, Channel 4 has had a strong track record in international content across a range of genres. Some would say this is a defining feature of its output. Notable examples include: “Channel 4 News”, which has a higher quotient of international stories than most other news programmes and has a tradition of widening the international news agenda; “Dispatches”, Channel 4’s current affairs strand which has a good record of consistently covering, and returning to, difficult international stories, especially on Iraq and Afghanistan; and “Unreported World”, which covers stories from around the world which do not feature on the usual news/current affairs agenda. Some recent programmes have looked at child widows in Nepal and child rape in Liberia.
It is significant that Channel 4 has recognised that non-news and current affairs content is equally important. “True Stories”, More4’s award-winning documentary strand showcases the best documentaries from around the world, many of which give a real insight into the lives of people in other countries. Recent programmes include: “Afghan Star”, an entertaining and insightful film about a “Pop Idol”-style contest in Afghanistan, and “The Glass House”, a powerful film about women and girls in Iran who have been the victims of domestic violence or cruelty.
Channel 4, to its credit, has a knack of approaching global issues with a popular and innovative touch which enables a range of audiences to connect with stories and people from around the world. This is particularly evident in its drama output. Highlights include “Sex Traffic”, a pioneering drama highlighting the issue of trafficking women for prostitution, and “Slumdog Millionaire”, the multi Oscar award-winning film from Film4, which documented the lives of children in the slums of Mumbai and was one of the most popular films in British cinemas last year.
The central importance of international content was recognised by Channel 4 when it launched its Next on 4 mission statement which identified four core public purposes: to nurture new talent; to champion alternative voices and perspectives; to challenge people to see the world differently; and to inspire positive change in people’s lives. No fewer than three of these purposes have been incorporated into the Digital Economy Bill. However, it is both surprising and disappointing that the original wording of the third purpose,
“To challenge people to see the world differently”,
has not been kept in the Bill. No one has explained satisfactorily why this purpose has been dropped. In comparison, the BBC charter has as one of its six purposes:
“To bring the world to the UK”.
Making this ambition explicit in the charter has had a huge impact. It is true that Channel 4’s new functions will also include a requirement to contribute towards the fulfilment of the public service objectives, as defined in new Section 264A of the Communications Act 2003, but we must be clear that this refers only to news and current affairs.
This short amendment will preserve the international content in other genres—drama, film, documentary, and specialist factual. While I appreciate that the current Channel 4 regime recognises that international content is a key part of its output, and I am reassured that it has no intention of cutting back on it, I fear that, if a duty towards internationalism is not specifically included in the Bill and enshrined in legislation, a future Channel 4 regime may see this as an area ripe for cuts. So I urge the Government to support this simple amendment and strengthen Channel 4’s remit for the future.
Amendment 231A agreed.
Amendment 232 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
232A: Clause 21, page 23, line 37, at end insert—
““older children” means children between the ages of 10 and 15;”
I declare an interest as an associate of an independent production company. We on these Benches welcome the Government’s clear commitment in the Bill to Channel 4. The recognition in this clause and the next of the need to update Channel 4's public service remit will help to secure its essential role as a robust competitor to the BBC.
I have tabled this probing amendment because of concern on these Benches about the situation that children's television finds itself in. A gap in the market has opened up as a result of ITV withdrawing from this area, which has meant that £30 million a year is no longer being invested in UK-made children's TV. It particularly affects those children in the age group that has left behind the likes of CBeebies, but does not want to watch repeat programmes such as “Come Dine with Me” and “Escape to the Country”, which are not part of the 10 to 15 year-old diet. We know them as the “Grange Hill generation”.
With only “Newsround” on CBBC delivering current affairs, there is hardly public service plurality. Ofcom, when giving evidence to the Communications Committee, on which I sit, for our recent report into the health of the British film and TV industries, said that the fall in first-run, originated children's programming is particularly acute for older school-age children. This group needs to be identified in the Bill, in order that it does not, as now, fall below the radar. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have considerable sympathy with the amendment, but also a query about it. It has been very good news to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, that some of the material for children that has gone online has proved a great success. I should like to see more children's programming in general and therefore am concerned that this might be a slight restriction if it is put in the Bill. I hope that I am wrong in my interpretation, but it is something to bear in mind, because the more that Channel 4 can do in this direction, the happier we would all be.
The noble Baroness will have a chance to answer that. It is a difficulty that the Government also have. We are not against the broad thrust of the amendment. There is clear agreement about the problem that has been identified and which C4C has a duty to address. Pre-school and young children are, as Ofcom's review of public service broadcasting noted, broadly well served. Those of us who are grandparents can testify to that. Grandchildren invite grandparents to watch television with them. The trouble is, in my experience, that once they get beyond the age of 10, they do not want grandparents watching with them, and therefore we know a great deal less about those children's programmes, such as they are, than about CBeebies and others.
Although there is broad agreement about the problem, there are different views about how we solve the issue of definition. Ofcom's review referred to children of primary school age and above, whereas its 2007 research report The Future of Children’s Television Programming looked at nine to 12 year-olds. We are all wrestling with definitions. We know the broad target group that we want to see programmes provided for, but the problem with legislation is that excessive provision could be restrictive. C4C’s report Next on 4, published in March 2008, proposed a new public service role for the corporation in relation to children's content, targeting 10 to 15 year-olds. The Digital Britain White Paper identified as a priority the plurality of public service content for children, especially the over-10s. We are all thinking very much along the same lines in seeking to address the problem. While 10 to 15 is broadly the age range that the Government have in mind, we would not want to be too prescriptive in defining older children. Focusing C4C’s remit on 10 to 15 year-olds could limit its flexibility to provide content for children outside this age range or content for more narrowly targeted age groups. Within its duty to provide content for older children, we would also want C4C to refocus its output if developments in the wider provision of content for children were to make this appropriate.
I say to the noble Baroness that we all share her anxiety about programmes for children. We have debated these issues often in the House over recent years and we know that children in the junior age groups are well provided for. However, we are genuinely anxious about putting in the Bill something that is as specifically defined as the 10 to 15 group. I hope that the noble Baroness will feel that she has aired the subject. She has ascertained that the Government are at one with her in terms of the objectives of the amendment and we hope that she will withdraw it.
I will explain why I added the 10 to 15 age category: the remit refers specifically to older children. That is the group Channel 4 is being asked to cater for. Obviously, 10 to 15 is a problematic age group. I hope that my two nephews and one godson who are about to be 15 do not read this debate, because they would be extremely upset to be grouped with 10 year-olds. We feel that the Government are right to add the category of older children, which is a natural fit with the channel. We would prefer the details that have been suggested, but I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 232A withdrawn.
232B: Clause 21, page 23, leave out lines 46 to 48 and insert—
“( ) content that is broadcast over electronic communications networks;”
My Lords, the amendment returns to an issue that was raised in the early days of our debates on the Bill: the amount by which the Bill appears to be extending regulation into new areas of broadcasting. If this paragraph is removed, Channel 4 will be limited to investing in television programmes, digital television channels and on-demand services. That is to say, internet-based services would not be part of Channel 4's duties, except in so far as to ensure that their content was available online through catch-up services.
The amendment highlights the fact that the clause would require Channel 4 to invest in services provided by the internet where there is a person who exercises editorial control. The most obvious type of internet service where someone exercises editorial control is a newspaper website. Is it the wish or the intention that Channel 4 should invest in these, because that is what this definition would appear to allow for? It is questionable whether some of the projects that Channel 4 currently invests in through its 4iP project are appropriate or relevant for a broadcaster. Recent projects include a Facebook application to show users how their lifestyle will change the way they look over time, and an iPhone application that helps people to exercise more. Both projects could be described as having a public service role, but are they the sort of things that Channel 4 should be investing in? I should be interested to hear the Minister's views on these types of investments and whether he thinks that the current drafting of the Bill allows Channel 4 to go beyond the limits of what most of the public would consider reasonable for a public service broadcaster. I beg to move.
I declare my interest as deputy chairman of Channel 4. I hope to help the noble Lord, Lord Howard, get his head around the challenges to Channel 4. First, no public funds come into Channel 4; it exists entirely within the commercial marketplace, which presents its own challenges. More important than that is what has happened with the explosion of digital opportunities that the channel is attempting to take advantage of. We are discovering that by putting programming together with the opportunities that that programming allows online we are getting a dramatically increased impact in terms of our public service obligations. That is so particularly in the area of health. The noble Lord mentioned the iPhone application linked to exercise.
We are beginning to understand dozens of things about the way in which behaviours can be influenced by a programme. A programme can generate the initial interest but behaviours, ironically, are generated more by the online opportunity that a programme creates. We think we may have a tool which is of enormous public service interest and public service benefit. It is very early days and we are very much in the experimental phase, but I sincerely believe that some of the experimental work being done, by 4iP in particular, may end up being of enormous national importance and of real interest in helping us to navigate through some of the social problems that we, as a nation, are trying to address.
The Government hope that the noble Lord, Lord Howard, will withdraw his amendment when he has probed further on this issue, although I think we have covered these issues under previous amendments.
In the Digital Britain White Paper, we made it clear that C4C’s current public service remit, limited as it is to the Channel 4 television service, is now too television-centric for the role that C4C should play in Britain’s digital media. We consider it has a role to play subject to the obligations which it enjoys as regards its television production. The Government believe that C4C has a vital role to play in offering public service competition to the BBC. I want to emphasise that fact, as my noble friend Lord Puttnam re-emphasised that Channel 4 does not receive public money and so it is in a proper position to compete with the BBC, which receives the licence fee.
As the wider content market evolves, with changing technology and audience expectations, C4C needs to exploit new media to maximise its public service contribution. My noble friend Lord Puttnam gave an illustration of that. If C4C does not offer content to viewers in the formats and on the platforms that best suit them, its ability to contribute to the overall public service offering will inevitably diminish and the organisation itself will be increasingly marginalised. C4C has the right to expect the opportunity to participate in the new digital age.
It has been suggested that encouraging C4C to engage in new media operations will inhibit the development of commercial alternatives. Surely, those are displaced. First, C4C will be in the marketplace like the other competitors and will have to compete on an equal footing with them, with the fully commercial alternatives. Secondly, as my noble friend Lord Puttnam emphasised in the debate on the previous amendment, C4C does not have its own in-house production, so in new media, as in television, its business model relies on partnership with independent producers. So we have a model of participation in the market which is fair and square.
The amendment would not prevent C4C providing online or other new media content under its existing powers. However, it would affect C4C’s new media activities by exempting it from the public service focus provided by the clause as drafted. That would diminish the public value of C4C’s new media initiatives. I am quite sure that the public would regard it as such. I hope the noble Lord will appreciate that no advantages are being given to C4C. It does not receive public funds; it is in the marketplace like others; but it would be governed by its remit. That ought to commend it to all parts of the House and I hope it commends it to the noble Lord, Lord Howard.
I thank the Minister for his remarks and the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam for his pertinent comments. It is of great benefit to the House to hear what he has said about Channel 4. I still think that there should be some form of limit on the activities of Channel 4. An example of limits being overstepped is the BBC and “Planet Earth”. Although I understand the point of an activity such as the education programme, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, during an earlier debate, nevertheless, I think there should be some form of brake on how far the activities on the internet are extended. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 232B withdrawn.
Clause 21, as amended, agreed.
232C: After Clause 21, insert the following new Clause—
“Monitoring and enforcing C4C’s media content duties
After section 198A of the Communications Act 2003 insert—
“Monitoring and enforcing C4C’s media content duties
(1) C4C must report on the duties under section 198A in their annual report.
(2) In this section “annual report” is the annual report prescribed under paragraph 13 of Schedule 3 to the Broadcasting Act 1990.””
Amendments 232C and 233 and Clause 22 stand part work together to help us all to escape from yet another inexorable layer of bureaucracy. Channel 4 is already obliged to produce an annual report that sets out in detail its financial position and how it has met its public service obligations. The annual report also includes a public impact report which sets out in further detail how Channel 4 delivered on its core public service purposes over the previous year.
Channel 4's chairman and chief executive have also recently started appearing before the relevant Select Committee, giving Parliament the opportunity to ask for further information as well as scrutinising the documents. Finally, the Communications Act 2003 sets out a detailed process that allows Ofcom to vary the Channel 4 licence should it feel that Channel 4 is not meeting its public service requirements.
So Ofcom, Parliament and the Government already have considerable regulatory oversight of Channel 4. Why are the Government proposing to introduce the bureaucratic and unwieldy mechanism set out in Clause 22 rather than just incorporating any new requirements into the existing scrutiny system? Section 266 of the Communications Act 2003 is redundant. It requires every licensed public service broadcaster to produce statements of programme policy which take a great deal of time to prepare and therefore cost each channel a great many man hours. These reports, I respectfully suggest, have a limited readership: those who produce the statements, a couple of officials in Ofcom, members of the relevant committees, and I struggle to think of anyone else. The reports contain information that is duplicated in each channel's annual report and they add precisely nothing to the viewing public's experience of each channel. They are a very good example of regulation for regulation's sake. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am not wholly persuaded by what the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Rising, has just said. An old leadership maxim runs:
“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”.
I believe that removing the need for broadcasters to publish their statements would be a retrograde step at a time when public service content is under serious threat. In the debates leading to the Communications Act 2003, in which I took part, your Lordships were at pains to create a mechanism that provided the public with the opportunity of seeing what their television channels intended to do over the coming year to fulfil their public service remits and how they performed against what they had said they would do in the previous year.
Looking back over the past few years of programme policy statements, we can chart the decline that many viewers are noting. They may not help us to do a huge amount to halt the decline, but they provide something of an automatic braking system on the more savage cuts that might befall public service content if such an annual check were not in place. The statements include information on how channels are providing public service content in non-linear ways, most obviously through their websites and on-demand services; how they are promoting media literacy; how they are engaging with public input and feedback. These policy statements are evolving as the communications landscape changes. I do not believe they are redundant.
We need to be clear that we are not expecting legions of highly paid executives to pore over output figures for days on end to produce reports. In fact, a check on these last statements suggests that most are well under 10,000 words long. The 2003 Act did not demand rigid calculations, it looked for self-assessment—a reflective look back on how the channel had delivered on core purposes. The statements should, at their best, speak in a way from the heart of the channel about its aspirations for serving the public—its consumers.
We cannot afford to forget, just because times are tight, that we hand a huge privilege to our licensed public service channels. The marketplace for the commercial public service broadcasters is undeniably a challenging one, but the economic context does not devalue the privilege of being a licensed broadcaster on a channel received by the vast majority of the population. With that privilege comes responsibilities, not just to your Lordships or to another place, but to the public as a whole. The simple measurement tool of how the channels are measuring up against those responsibilities is, in my view, not too much to ask.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords who have indicated why these amendments should not be accepted, because the Government are also hoping to persuade the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, to withdraw the amendment.
I have of course to defend Clause 22, which the noble Lord is suggesting should be withdrawn from the Bill, because it introduces an accountability and enforcement framework to ensure the fulfilment of the C4C duties introduced by Clause 21. These are based on the existing accountability and enforcement arrangements for the licensed public service channels under the Communications Act 2003. This is a very important clause as far as the Government are concerned.
Amendment 233 would have repealed Section 266 of the Communications Act. Section 266 establishes a framework of annual statements of programme policy for the licensed public service broadcasters. Ofcom has powers of direction to enforce the public service remits and powers to sanction licensees for any breaches of any licence condition. However, the statements of programme policy reinforce the public service broadcasting system by focusing licensees’ attention on an overall strategy for delivering their public service remits, rather than concentrating narrowly on the quantitative targets attached to their licences. If the repeal of the statement of programme policy provisions were considered necessary, it would be preferable to do so by secondary legislation. Clause 37 of this Bill amends the Communications Act 2003 so as to permit such a provision to be reversed, also by order. I hope therefore that the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, will see that we have made provision for that eventuality, if in due course that is the wisest position to adopt.
Amendment 232C would introduce a new clause requiring C4C to report on its media content duties in its own annual report and accounts. One of the intentions of the amendment appears to be to exclude Ofcom from this exercise. Although C4C needs to provide the first line of accountability, Ofcom certainly has an important role to play, offering both guidance and oversight. That position has obtained for a number of years.
Clause 22 therefore creates a requirement for C4C to prepare and publish annual accounts of media content policy, setting out how it proposes to discharge its new duties over the coming year and reviewing its previous year’s performance. It also creates corresponding duties and powers for Ofcom, which ought to be an additional reassurance.
Concerns have been expressed about the creation of additional regulatory burdens, but Ofcom has indicated that the new arrangements will have minimal start-up and ongoing resource implications. C4C likewise has indicated that the new arrangements will not have material cost implications for it, so we can discount that element.
The Government also believe that it would be unduly restrictive to require C4C reports on the fulfilment of its new content duties to be produced to the same timetable as the annual reports. No such requirement applies to statements of programme policy in relation to the Channel 4 service. I hope noble Lords will see that Amendment 232C is not necessary.
The proposed new Section 198B of the Communications Act 2003, as I have indicated, requires C4C to prepare and publish annual statements of media content policy. Like the statements of programme policy under Section 266, the aim is to focus C4C’s attention on an overall strategy for fulfilling its duty. The requirement to publish the statement, which will include reviews of the channel’s performance against its previous statement, will help to ensure accountability and transparency. I am sure noble Lords opposite will respond positively to this.
New Section 198C will require Ofcom to review and report on C4C’s discharge of its duties under Section 198A. These reviews are to coincide with the reviews that Clause 3 of the Bill introduces, under proposed new Section 264A of the Communications Act 2003, on the fulfilment of the public service objectives by other media services.
New Section 198D creates a power of direction for Ofcom if it considers that C4C has failed to perform one or more of its duties under Section 198A or to prepare and publish a statement of media content policy.
In some cases, increasing the obligations on the licensed Channel 4 service, may be an effective remedy for a failure by C4C to fulfil its functions under Section 198A. Clause 22(2) therefore introduces a proposed new Section 271A of the Communications Act 2003. This provides that if C4C fails to comply with a direction relating to a failure to perform one or more of its duties under Section 198A, and Ofcom is satisfied that it is reasonable and proportionate, it can vary the Channel 4 licence by making or adding such conditions as it considers appropriate to remedy C4C’s failure. Ofcom will have the power to vary the licence again if it concludes that any of the new conditions are no longer necessary.
That is the significance of Clause 22, and is why we regard it as absolutely essential that it should remain in the Bill. I emphasise that these issues have been carefully thought through by the Government, as there are advantages in having a position where both C4C and Ofcom have regard in their reports to the obligation of C4C. I hope that noble Lords will therefore consider that the Government’s package of provisions is sufficient to meet any anxieties about C4C’s discharge of its duties.
I am disappointed that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester and the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, do not agree with me. I respectfully contend that the information which the right reverend Prelate seeks is already adequately provided. I am afraid that the response of the Minister was what we have come to expect from a Government who have passed two Acts allowing for deregulation, but have hardly used them at all. Just as excessive red tape is strangling our private sector it is also, in our view, placing unnecessary burdens on the public sector. It does not sound as though I am going to get a great deal of support around the Committee, but I strongly want to lodge an objection to what we regard as excessive bureaucracy, so I beg leave to seek the opinion of the Committee.
Clause 22 agreed.
Amendments 233 and 233ZA not moved.
Clauses 23 to 25 agreed.
Clause 26 : Report by OFCOM on public teletext service
233ZB: Clause 26, page 30, line 6, at end insert “, and
(c) an assessment of the impact that ending the public teletext service would have on the provision of subtitles”
My Lords, this amendment would ensure that Ofcom reports on the provision of a public teletext service, including a report on the availability of subtitles. It is a probing amendment to seek assurances on the issue.
The Royal National Institute for Deaf People told us that around 1 million people use subtitles frequently and 5 million people use them whenever possible. Subtitles are therefore a key tool to help to ensure that millions of people who would not otherwise be able to do so are able to enjoy television programmes. Before digital television arrived, access to subtitles was through teletext page 888. I appreciate that when the digital switchover is completed in 2012, users will be able to access subtitles through their digital services. However, until that process has happened, it would be very reassuring if the Minister could tell the Committee that any move to stop the teletext service will not mean the absence of subtitles. I beg to move.
My Lords, under their digital replacement licences, commercial public service broadcasting licensees—Channels 3, 4 and 5—not the public teletext service licensee, are required to ensure that the provisions of the Ofcom broadcasting code on subtitling, signing and audio description are met. The code requires commercial public service broadcasters to provide and promote relevant access services for the understanding and enjoyment of persons of sensory impairment. The provision of subtitling is therefore a matter separate from the provision of the public teletext service.
I accept that, because subtitles are provided on the same platform as teletext on analogue, the public may assume that the existence of analogue subtitles relies on the continuing provision of teletext. Although this is certainly not the case, I assure the noble Lord that Ofcom has been working with public service broadcasters to ensure that viewers have a seamless transition to using analogue subtitles, even where the teletext service is not provided. This will ensure that public service broadcasters continue to fulfil their regulatory obligations. I trust that with that assurance the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 233ZB withdrawn.
Amendment 233ZC not moved.
Clause 26 agreed.
Clause 27 agreed.
Clause 28 : Appointed providers of regional or local news
233ZD: Clause 28, page 31, line 13, leave out from “area” to end of line 15
My Lords, this amendment would remove Ofcom's ability to pay the appointed person for the provision of regional and local news. This amendment goes to the heart of the opposition from these Benches to this clause. We do not believe that public subsidy should be used to prop up the current system of regional news. It grew up in the analogue age of broadcasting, and it seems to us on these Benches that when going into the digital age, it is a mistake to seek to maintain what is there, simply because it is there. There may be better, and possibly more radical, solutions. We should be looking at regulatory changes to enable improved models of regional and local news to grow up. In the internet era, people get their news from a wide variety of sources, so it seems strange to make the public pay to keep a half-hour slot on one particular channel.
There are a number of questions about this particular section of Clause 28, which allows the Government to pay independently financed news consortia, the so-called IFNCs. Is it still the Government's intention to use licence fee money to pay these consortia? I appreciate that the Bill makes no mention of the licence fee, but in the Digital Britain report, and in subsequent statements from Ministers, it seems to be the case that it will be the source of funding. If this is so, can the Minister confirm whether this clause allows the Government to top-slice the licence fee at some point in the future without any further parliamentary scrutiny? Alternatively, if there is some other source of funding in mind, it would be helpful if the Minister could highlight where the funding will come from.
One further aspect relating to the funding of these consortia makes little sense. If they are to be funded by the licence fee or from general taxation, then surely they are not “independently financed” but completely dependent on the Government. We do not believe that using public subsidy in this way will create a long-term, financially sustainable model. I beg to move.
My Lords, the noble Lord maintains that public funding is not needed to support a plurality of sources of local and regional news, and that purely commercial models can thrive. I do not know where the evidence is for that, but that is not the view of the Government or of many other well informed people in this country on the future of local and regional news.
I heard the noble Lord indicate that we might be inhibiting radical new news concepts. I have an awful feeling that by radical we mean a British version of Fox, or something like it, which would be under no obligation to be impartial and which would not attempt to provide news on the basis that we have expected from our broadcast media in the past. Of course we want the providers of local and regional news to attract commercial revenues and to maintain a plurality of content with the reach and impact that are required, but that will require public support. Impartiality and independence are crucial for the news, so surely it is appropriate that this is procured and paid for via an independent body that appoints these providers. That is the Government’s intention.
The noble Lord pressed me, as I might well have anticipated that he would, on how we intend to pay for these consortia. He is all too well aware that the Government indicated some time ago that we thought that there might be an option for various sources, but we have taken no decision on this and have indicated that we have not. We are aware that some public funding will be needed, and perhaps part of the licence fee could fulfil this role, but we know that there are objections on many sides. There are those who want no support at all for local and regional news but who somehow think that the market will provide it, against all the evidence, and there are those who are anxious that this might be an onslaught on the BBC and its licence fee. The Government have not reached a definitive position on where the money is to come from at this stage, but we are prepared to canvass options. We are, however, certain of the principle, which is where we disagree with the noble Lord and why I hope he will recognise that the Government cannot accept this amendment.
The noble Lord knows that we have canvassed on the issue and that it looks as though we will be able to effect the digital switchover with fewer resources than we used from the licence fee for this provision. That looks to be a distinctly possible and appropriate resource that has no implications of top-slicing the BBC. After all, the whole concept of the switchover funds is additional to and separate from the licence fee. I know that they are part of the settlement for the BBC, but the BBC has a specific purpose that it will fulfil at a predictable cost, and we are gratified that it looks as though the resources that we had in mind for that may not be used entirely for the digital switchover.
As I said, we have not reached a conclusion on long-term funding. We carried out a consultation on the matter, and it was fairly clear that regional and local news services were considered to be necessary. The noble Lord mentioned his radical proposals. If the major drive behind the Opposition’s amendment is the belief in a commercial market for local and regional news, to say nothing of national news eventually, and a belief in the commercial strategies that are pursued in the United States, all I can say is that the Government—and, we believe, the British public—are very concerned that the independence of news broadcasters should be maintained, and public resources have a role to play in that.
Amendment 233ZD withdrawn.
233ZE: Clause 28, page 31, line 13, after “area” insert “(subject to subsection (1A))”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 233ZE, I shall also speak to Amendments 233ZF, 233B and 233C, which touch on very similar issues.
Amendments 233ZE and 233ZF, which are in the name of my noble friend Lord Lucas, seek to provide that Ofcom prevents a person who is disqualified under the stated paragraph in the 1990 Act from being appointed under Clause 28. That is absolutely right.
Our Amendment 233B raises an important point about the impact that public subsidy could have on the quality and independence of our regional and local journalism. If these consortia are dependent on public subsidy, is it too sceptical to suggest that the most important people for them to please will be in the organisation that provides them with their subsidy? There is surely a real concern that there is a risk—whether it is perceived or real is, to some extent, immaterial—that their focus will be diluted from unbiased journalism into pursuing subsidy. Instead of concentrating on providing impartial news, there is at least a danger that the consortia will become too focused on doing what the provider of their livelihood wants or what the consortia think the provider wants. Nothing needs to be said, but there is always pressure not to bite the hand that feeds you. Surely it is vital that the Secretary of State is satisfied that the best traditions of our press—namely, its freedom to report entirely independently on public figures and public bodies—will be preserved, before any public subsidy is given.
Amendment 233C is a probing amendment to ask the Minister whether the Government have taken advice on whether there are any state aid issues with the provision of public funds to regional news organisations. I remind your Lordships that the Government ran into problems when they tried to pay Channel 4’s digital switchover infrastructure costs using the licence fee. If the EU managed to prevent this £14 million transfer of funding, surely it would show a similar interest in any spending of state money, which could total around £130 million a year, on regional news. Have the Government resolved such problems with the EU? I beg to move.
My Lords, we are clear that IFNCs are about securing a plurality of independent local news sources, and plurality of independent journalism is necessary to ensure, for example, that local authorities are held to account. Allowing local authorities, therefore, to join IFNCs would automatically defeat this objective. It is against that background that I am entirely happy to agree with the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and accept that the disqualifications that he suggests are appropriate. I will therefore be accepting Amendment 233ZF, which the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, spoke to on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas.
Amendment 233ZE is therefore unnecessary. By accepting the drafting under Amendment 233ZF, Ofcom would automatically be obliged to apply those disqualifications when making an appointment under Section 287A(1). As for Amendment 233B, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, I hope that as we have got the improvement and clarity provided by the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, which I am accepting, it will reassure him that IFNCs will not adversely impact on the independence of journalism, and therefore that the amendment is no longer necessary.
As for the European Union, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, is not involved in gold plating here. I would be greatly concerned that he is trying to enshrine with Amendment 233 something which is already in UK and EU law and is already met as far as IFNCs are concerned. This amendment is otiose. That is putting it at its kindest, and as I am always kind to the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, I hope that he will withdraw his amendment.
Amendment 233ZE withdrawn.
233ZF: Clause 28, page 31, line 15, at end insert—
“(1A) OFCOM must do all that they can to secure that a person does not become or remain a person appointed under this section if the person is a disqualified person under paragraph 1 of Part 2 of Schedule 2 to the 1990 Act in relation to a Broadcasting Act licence”
Amendment 233ZF agreed.
Amendment 233A had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Amendments 233B and 233C not moved.
233CA: Clause 28, page 31, line 20, at end insert—
“( ) Prior to appointing a person to provide relevant media content under subsection (1) or to including the conditions in subsection (2) of this section OFCOM must consult the provider of the Channel 3 service for the area for which a person would be appointed and ensure that the provider of the Channel 3 service in that area—
(a) agrees that it cannot continue to provide a regional or local news service which meets its licence obligations in that area, and(b) accepts the terms on which a person would be appointed to provide the regional or local news service.”
My Lords, the purpose of this amendment is to ensure that the introduction of new arrangements for independent news in the nations and regions proceeds in a spirit of partnership and agreement between the Government, the regulator, and Channel 3 licensees. That has been the way in which the policy has been developed so far, and the way in which the arrangements for the independently financed news consortia pilots, due to start in April, are proceeding. The programmes that emerge from these independent news consortia will be shown on the Channel 3 network. Should funding become available to support their full rollout across England, Scotland and Wales, we would hope that the process for establishing these services continues to involve the agreement and support of the relevant ITV Channel 3 licensees.
I have always understood that that was the purpose, and intent, of the Government’s policy—not to force IFNCs on ITV and STV, but to make them available on the basis that there was no longer sufficient value in the Channel 3 licensees to support the existing nations and regions news services. As currently drafted, however, Clause 28 does not fully capture that intent. It would instead entitle Ofcom to select an appointed independent news provider and to impose that provider on an existing Channel 3 licensee. This is despite the fact that the licensed broadcaster would continue to carry all the statutory obligations and the necessary compliance risk for the continuing provision of the service, including legal and technical risks.
There is also the matter of editorial control. Channel 3 has to protect its brand and to keep its audience. When ITV commissions a programme from an independent production company, it is an ITV executive who has the final say in what is broadcast. This must be so with the news programmes that it carries as well. It is therefore only right that decisions on the approach and implementation of the IFNC schemes should continue to involve broadcasters and proceed only on an agreed basis. My amendment is designed to encourage the continuation of such a collaborative approach. I hope that, in responding to what I have said, the Government will undertake to give further consideration to the current drafting of Clause 28 and look to revise it to take account of the points that I have raised. I beg to move.
I should like to endorse what the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, has said and add another point. From the point of view of the viewer, there should be a seamless series of programmes, so that even things like house style should be reflected in the news programme, as well as the rest of the ITV or STV programming for that night. Therefore, the greater the degree of co-operation between the two, the better.
My Lords, I am not going to look at the clause again in the exact way the noble Baroness has enjoined me to do because we think that the clause is satisfactory as it stands. However, at the same time I accept entirely the noble Baroness’s anxieties. She has identified that reassurances are necessary about the operation of the clause and I hope therefore to approach her amendments in those terms. The respective Channel 3 licence holders having their say before an IFNC is appointed is an important issue. My noble friend Lord Gordon emphasised that point.
It would be unreasonable for Ofcom to require a replacement news provider to deliver the regional news on Channel 3 without first consulting the relevant licence holder and receiving representations from that licence holder beforehand. We confidently expect that to be done against the obvious expectations of Ofcom and what the clause says. The Government recognise this. We have already provided for such a duty requiring Ofcom to consult Channel 3 licence holders, as set out in new Section 287A(8). The new subsection properly connects the public service licensing regime, under Section 287 of the Communications Act 2003, where Ofcom must consult license holders and receive representations before making any changes, with the powers set out in this new clause. We are linked, therefore, to that Communications Act obligation. This represents a consistent and robust approach to Ofcom consulting each Channel 3 service on the imposition of the new conditions. I am entirely accepting of the thrust of the noble Baroness’s amendment, but saying that in fact we have not really accepted that argument. We have addressed our minds to that argument and that is what is reflected in the clause. I hope therefore that the noble Baroness can confidently withdraw that amendment.
Amendment 233CB also raises an important issue—the impact on plurality and the choice of news provision in the appointed areas. What the amendment would do, however, is to require Ofcom to make an assessment or an evaluation of an appointment in advance of that appointment actually being made. As the Committee will readily appreciate, Ofcom effectively assesses the UK news and media marketplace, and we do not expect that obligation to change in any way. We would expect a determination of impact to follow the selection process.
I do not think that the amendment is necessary. Ofcom cannot carry out those duties without evaluating the result of the selection process. I hope that the noble Baroness will feel that her amendments have identified two important issues, which the Government consider that they have addressed adequately and appropriately. I hope that she is able to withdraw her amendment with confidence.
I thank the noble Lord for his reply. However, we do not think that consultation is enough. We would like ITV’s agreement to be required. I hope that the Government will go away and think on that. For now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 233CA withdrawn.
Amendment 233CB not moved.