A relatively new committee carrying out important work
Writing exclusively for Endeavour Public Affairs, Lord Inglewood DL writes about his work as Chairman of one of the House of Lords newer Select Committees – The House of Lords Select Committee on Communications. He believes that despite being a relatively new committee, already it finds itself at the forefront of a number of first order national and international political issues.
Lord Inglewood is Chairman of the House of Lords Select Committee on Communications. He is a former MEP for the North West of England (1999 – 2004) and for Cumbria and Lancashire North (1989 – 1994). He was a Government Whip (1994 – 1995); Government Deputy Chief Whip (1995); Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State and Government Spokesman at the Department of Heritage (1995 – 1997); and Opposition Spokesman for the Environment, Transport, and the Regions (1997 – 1998).
One of the characteristics of having a specific responsibility in Parliament is your political focus narrows. While it does not insulate you from the wider political issues of the day they generally become less intense and immediate concerns. Of course I have thoughts about the War in Afghanistan, the Civil War in Syria, the state of the UK and the Global Economy, and the progress, or lack of it, according to taste, being made to resolve some of the UK’s domestic woes. But I am not going to share them here. What I shall do is ‘flag up’ two aspects of the responsibilities of the House of Lords Communications Committee which are of real general importance.
The House of Lords Select Committee on Communications is one of the House’s newer Select Committees, but finds itself at the forefront of a number of first order national and international political issues where I believe we have a real input to make into the House’s work and the wider national debate.
First, as part of the consequences of the Hacking Scandal which led to the closure of the News of the World, the Government set up an inquiry under Lord Justice Leveson to look into ‘the Culture, Practice and Ethics of the Press’. He is due to report in the Autumn, and this will precipitate considerable wider discussion about the proper relationship between the Media and the rest of Society which is likely to lead to a redefinition of this relationship for the next few years at least. The relationship should not be cosy, but equally should not be antagonistic in principle. Somewhere a balance has to be struck to achieve a workable modus vivendi in the public interest which respects both people’s legitimate private interests and brings about the exposure of wrongdoing. Sir Brian is going to have to deploy the Wisdom of Solomon and while on one level I envy his role, on another I am greatly relieved it is not my responsibility.
Initial indications gathered from the press suggest the Government and Sir Brian may not be at one, and this should make for interesting debate.
Secondly the Committee is starting a new inquiry into ‘Convergence’, entitled ‘Media convergence and its public policy impact’. I have always believed, contrary to the doctrine of Constitutional Law, that Parliament is not sovereign in the sense that it is Science and Technology which determines how the World works. Politicians can, at least to some extent, organise the way these mechanisms are deployed, but they cannot determine what they are.
Against this background digital technology is revolutionising the way in which we, and I include machines in the meaning of ‘we’, communicate, and what can be conveyed. We are at the point, predicted in various forms by science fiction writers where almost anything is possible. This poses enormous challenges for the political process as vast swathes of legislation and regulation are to a greater or lesser extent rendered more or less useless. Secondly, the present framework has been mainly set within the legal framework of the traditional nation state, and the impact of this technology is rendering traditional jurisdiction increasingly irrelevant. These together pose massive challenges for our country and its neighbours and finding technically workable and politically acceptable responses to these challenges is very far from straightforward.
The clock cannot be turned back. It is no good hankering after what no longer exists. We hope our work will help address these really important issues which in their own way are at least as important as the state of the Economy or the War in Afghanistan.