The government has finally admitted that it does not have a deadline for when it expects the long-awaited Communications Green Paper to be published.
In a parliamentary written answer, Ed Vaizey, minister for culture, communications and creative industries, said: “No decisions on the timing of the Green Paper have been made.”
However, he added that despite this, the new Communications Bill would be ready by 2015: “The Communications Review remains on course and, subject to the legislative programme, the government hope to introduce new legislation before the end of this parliament.”
The Communications Green Paper is supposed to set out the government’s proposals for a regulatory framework for the communications and media sectors, aimed at providing a thriving environment for growth and innovation in the UK. It is expected to cover a wide range of topics, from the digital infrastructure, including broadband and spectrum allocation, to internet piracy and copyright. Once it becomes legislation, it would update the Communications Act 2003.
Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt first announced that a new Communications Bill would be placed before parliament in 2011.
On the 18 March 2011, he said that the Communications Green Paper would be published “by the end of 2011”, with a draft Communications Bill to be produced by mid-2013.
Then in October 2011, Vaizey said that the Green Paper would be published “shortly after Christmas”. By February 2012, there was still no sign of the Green Paper, and the new timeframe of “early this year” was set. The answer soon became “shortly”, when Vaizey was next asked (22 March) when the paper would be published.
Meanwhile, last week the government denied media reports that Jeremy Hunt was delaying the Green Paper publication because he was too busy with the Leveson inquiry into press standards.
In a parliamentary question on 23 May, Labour’s Baroness Jones of Whitchurch asked: “Can [the minister] clarify whether there is any truth in the media reports that Jeremy Hunt is so busy preparing for the Leveson inquiry that he has had to put the Green Paper on the back burner? If that is the case, does it not underline our view that it is time to let someone else get on with the job?”
However, the Liberal Democrat’s Baroness Garden of Frognal said: “No, I do not follow that logic at all.
“The secretary of state is probably as busy as anything with the Olympics and all the other activities of 2012 that we have been discussing so fully in your Lordships’ Chamber. The communications review is on course.”
She added, however, that the Leveson inquiry would influence the contents of the new communications legislation.