Lord Whitty asks the government if DCMS is still the right department to oversee the communications industry following the failed BSkyB bid.
By and large David Cameron has not changed the boundaries of Whitehall department since he came to power. Probably wisely in my view.
But there are exceptions and one in particular is quite illogical.
I have put down an oral question to probe the justification for the switch last year of responsibility for communications from BIS to DCMS. A decision that seems to have been made without forethought and in the heat of the moment as a follow through to an embarrassing moment for the Coalition.
There have been many media column inches and many hours of the Leveson Inquiry devoted to the Prime Minister’s decision to relieve Vince Cable of his quasi judicial responsibilities for Rupert Murdoch’s bid for overall control of BSkyB.
Because of Vince’s revelation of bias against Murdoch - - in a sting by two Daily Telegraph undercover reporters – David Cameron decided to switch that responsibility to Jeremy Hunt (who we now know had a pretty evident bias in the opposite direction!). Whatever the rights and wrongs of the BSkyB issue, that transfer of Ministerial responsibility for a one off decision was at least understandable. But what was not logical was to go on to transfer a whole chunk of departmental responsibilities as well.
Responsibility was transferred not only for broadcasting but also for media as a whole, telecommunications and digital development – and oversight of the Regulator Ofcom – almost none of which is directly or indirectly relevant to the BSkyB bid.
There was virtually no explanation at the time of why departmental boundaries needed to change; nor has there been since.
This now needs to be queried. It is true that BIS is primarily a business department but it also has substantial responsibilities for competition and for consumer protection. DCMS is straightforwardly a sponsor department for the industries that it covers. BIS is by no means perfect but experience on other fronts – issues of intellectual property and the digital economy for example – have shown that at least there is a balance in BIS between the interests of the producers and that of consumers – but DCMS is always gung ho for the interests of the so called creative industries. It should not be in that position with the owners of the media of any sort – nor should it be responsible for the relevant regulator – Ofcom - which is required to have particular reference to the consumer interest.
DCMS is not the appropriate Department for this role in any of the industries that were transferred. It is about time the government thought again.