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Communications Bill - Peers line up for a show-down

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Posted by 134/Barry White

‘They (Tessa Jowell and Kim Howells) give the impression that we are just a rubber stamp. They are going to be wrong. ’

Lord Tom McNally speaking in the Lords debate on the committee stage of the Communications Bill

6 May 2003.

There is the whiff of rebellion in the air from the ‘part reformed ’ House of Lords. After just two committee sittings (on 29 April and 6 May) the rumblings are getting louder. Fed up with behind the scenes carping about the activities of Lord Puttnam and the other members of the scrutiny committee who have tabled 70 amendments to the bill.. Speaking during the debate on 6 May he hit back: ‘I should like to make it very clear that the reason 70 amendments have been put forward is because, as a joint scrutiny committee, we were wholly dissatisfied with the responses which we received from the Government to our report. ’ He has been joined by other peers who are very unhappy with the way the Government has responded to amendments put down on the bill. Lord Fowler criticised the process during the debate, saying that it was bad enough that the bill arrived in the Lords with over 100 of the 400 or so clauses not having been discussed in the Commons. Ray Snoddy, media editor of The Times, (12 May) revealed that Lord Puttnam had issued a stark ultimatum to Government: drop plans to allow foreign ownership of ITV or face defeat in the Lords that could kill almost three years of policymaking. ‘If there is no movement by the Government, I can absolutely promise there will a vote and they could lose that vote, ’ Lord Puttnam said. ‘If they want their bill, they are going to have to have it without foreign ownership ’. A number of peers including Lords Puttnam, Alli, McNally, Bragg and Hussey are also against provisions which would also allow Channel 5 to fall into the hands of Murdoch or another US group. The Government wants the bill ‘done and dusted ’ by the time parliament rises for the summer recess. If they fail, it could be carried over into the early autumn before the new parliament meets after the Queen ’s Speech. However, that would be an embarrassment to New Labour who have set much by this deregulatory measure. If the Lords do reject the foreign ownership clauses (and others) the focus will return to the Commons (probably in June) where 128 MPs signed John Grogan ’s early day motion 260 which expressed concern about these provisions. It will be then that we need to put the pressure on MP ’s to stand up to the power of the global media corporations and their ‘apologists ’ on the Government front bench.

DATELINE: 24 January, 2010