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Session 1999-2000
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Delegated Legislation Committee Debates

Draft Eutelsat (Immunities and Privileges) (Amendment) Order 2000

First Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

Thursday 16 November 2000

[Mr. John Cummings in the Chair]

EUTELSAT

9.55 am

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. John Battle): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the draft EUTELSAT (Immunities and Privileges) (Amendment) Order 2000.

The order was laid before the House on 30 October. The European Telecommunications Satellite Organisation—EUTELSAT—is based in Paris. It was established in 1977 and ranks as one of the world's leading satellite operators, with reach across Europe, Africa and large parts of Asia, and connectivity with America. EUTELSAT provides TV and radio broadcasts and pioneered the delivery of internet services. It also provides capacity for corporate networks, satellite news-gathering, telephony and mobile voice, data and positioning services. As many as 48 countries are shareholders in EUTELSAT, the largest being Italy with 20.3 per cent., followed by France with 20 per cent. and the United Kingdom with 19 per cent.

The order will enable the Government to notify their acceptance of the amendments to the convention and the operating agreement relating to the European Telecommunications Satellite Organisation. The amendments were presented to Parliament by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry in February 2000, under the negative procedure. The order is made under the International Organisations Act 1968 and, as such, it falls to a Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister to introduce it. It will give effect in UK law to those additional privileges and immunities that we are obliged to confer under the convention and the amended operating agreement.

As an intergovernmental organisation, EUTELSAT already enjoys the usual privileges and immunities under the EUTELSAT (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1988. Agreement was reached in 1999 for EUTELSAT to be privatised as a French company, with a residual two or three-person intergovernmental organisation to oversee its obligation to provide public service telephony.

After EUTELSAT is put on a commercial footing, the order will exempt the residual intergovernmental organisation from customs duties on goods and publications of the organisation imported by it into the UK in the course of its official activities. It does not apply to or affect employees of EUTELSAT, or any other individual connected with it. In accordance with Section 1(6) (a) of the International Organisations Act 1968, the privileges and immunities conferred by the order are no greater than are required by the convention and operating agreement, as amended, or those authorised by the Act.

I hope that this modest and non-controversial order will have the full support of the Committee. It is a tidying up job, bringing the organisation into line with other international organisations and within the law. The order confers the usual conditions and fully accords with previous decisions made by the House and internationally.

9.58 am

Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk): Thank you, Mr. Cummings; I welcome you to the Chair. I also thank the Minister for setting out the order so succinctly and so enthusiastically. EUTELSAT is a treaty-based international organisation funded and run by national telecom operators, and BT and Cable & Wireless are the UK investors. It is the largest carrier of satellite television in Europe, and Britain, as one of the 48 nation members of the organisation is a substantial investor and user. Its success is important to the UK.

As the Minister said, the order amends the EUTELSAT (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1988 by exempting EUTELSAT from all customs duties within the scope of its official duties. It is important that it remains competitive in that global industry. The Opposition will therefore not oppose the order. However, I have two questions. To what extent do British interests invest in EUTELSAT each year, and does the Minister believe that the order will increase the country's usage of satellite?

9.59 am

Mr. Battle: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. The last time we debated privileges and immunities, we were reduced to speaking about privileges for embassy staff and others, including whether they could park on yellow lines in London with immunity. The order is not about such privileges, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for setting it in context rather more fully than I did.

The Department of Trade and Industry has more to do with the role of satellites, but, even with my limited knowledge, I know that satellites are playing an increasingly important role in international telecommunications. They help to ensure the range, the right bandwidth and so on to allow a successful global telecommunications network to be built. The hon. Gentleman reminded us that the industry is a business and that it must remain competitive. That is the key aim of the restructuring of EUTELSAT. Our job today is simply to ensure that the industry remains in line with the usual practices for privileges and immunities.

Satellites will be vital to business in Europe, even to public administration, especially for the delivery of internet services, e-commerce, e-business, e-communications and public administration the future. It is important that they are in position and run well and wisely.

The hon. Gentleman asked about investment. I said that the UK is a key investor in EUTELSAT; we are behind two other countries at about 19 per cent., but we are certainly a major investor. It is difficult to say how much each company invests in each satellite because that information is confidential. If the hon. Gentleman wants more background information about the range of investment interests and the use of EUTELSAT, I shall happily provide it, through the Department of Trade and Industry, with a background note. Although that matter goes wider than the remit of the order, I shall ensure that the information is made available to all members of the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

    That the Committee has considered the draft EUTELSAT (Immunities and Privileges) (Amendment) Order 2000.

Committee rose at two minutes past Ten o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Cummings, Mr. John (Chairman)
Battle, Mr.
Colman, Mr.
Day, Mr.
Gapes, Mr.
McKenna, Mrs.
McNulty, Mr.
Pollard, Mr.
Spring, Mr.
Thomas, Mr. Gareth

The following also attended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(2):
Clapham, Mr. Michael (Barnsley, West and Penistone)
Field, Mr. Frank (Birkenhead)

 
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