Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord McNally: My Lords, when are Ministers going to accept that casuistry in their answers--

Noble Lords: Order!

Lord McNally: --that legalism in their answers is no response to genuine public and cross-party concern about the concentration of media power? Would it not be far better if Ministers left our Competition Bill unamended in another place--I hope that there may be an indication that this time we shall have the support of the Opposition Front Bench--or will the Government give time to Mr. Clive Soley to bring forward the Bill that he has proposed to deal with this matter, or will the Government pass the matter over to one of their many review committees? In any event, will the Government realise that the concentration of media power is of real public concern and that chirping "no, no, no" from Mr. Rupert Murdoch's top pocket is no ministerial response?

Lord Haskel: My Lords, the Government are certainly aware of the public concern about media ownership. Regarding the amendment to the Competition Bill, the Government will advise the other place of the content of that Bill when it is debated there. However, the Government have made it clear that in their view the amendment is not only unnecessary but, what is more, it is unworkable.

Lord Naseby: My Lords, in his Answer the noble Lord suggested that as only 16 months have elapsed since the passage of the last Broadcasting Act, there has been insufficient time to review the provisions, but the Government have now been in power for 11 months, so is the House to understand that the Government's present policy is that they are entirely satisfied with the current proportions of ownership?

Lord Haskel: No, my Lords. As I explained in answer to an earlier question, the Director General of Fair Trading is in correspondence with other newspapers, and there is currently a review of broadcasting and the cross-ownership of the broadcasting media. When that review is completed and when the DGFT has received a response from the other broadsheet newspapers, the Government will be able to make a more informed decision.

Lord Peston: My Lords, my noble friend referred to the independent directors of The Times. Does he by any chance have to hand a list of those independent directors and, if so, could be read it out to the House?

Lord Haskel: My Lords, I am afraid that I do not have that to hand, but I shall certainly write to my noble friend on that point.

Lord Steel of Aikwood: My Lords, when the spokesman for the Official Opposition referred to prime

2 Apr 1998 : Column 383

ministerial interference, was that a reference to the occasion when The Times was sold to Mr. Murdoch, because that seemed to me to be the time when there was improper interference? When the Government talk about pursuing British interests, will they bear in mind the two occasions on which the BBC's worldwide television service has been dropped from Mr. Murdoch's satellite simply because it has the inconvenient habit of portraying programmes of documentary fact?

Lord Haskel: My Lords, the sale of The Times to News International took place in 1981 when the matter of editorial independence was addressed by changing the company's articles of association. Consent to the transfer of The Times was given by the Secretary of State on that condition. His consent was dependent on the articles of association being amended to incorporate provisions to protect editorial independence. The amendment to the articles makes it clear that, in the event of any dispute between the editor and the directors of Times Newspapers, the matter has to be referred to the independent national directors whose decision shall be final and binding.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: My Lords, will the noble Lord assist in this matter simply with a stroke of the pen by changing what he has described as a "review" into a "full-blooded inquiry", as is merited by the amount not only of public concern, but also of public suspicion? There should be no further delays in instituting such a change.

Lord Haskel: My Lords, that is not within my power, but I am sure that the inquiries by the Director General of Fair Trading will reveal exactly what the level of predatory pricing is.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that if this House decides in due course to insist on their amendment, the Competition Bill will be at risk of delay for a year? Is he prepared to contemplate that or would the Government then be prepared to accept the amendment passed by this House?

Lord Haskel: My Lords, I am not aware that the Competition Bill would be at risk of being delayed for a year.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, I totally accept what the noble Lord said about there being nothing improper about any telephone conversation regarding British business which the Prime Minister may make, but does the noble Lord nevertheless agree that having received a negative answer from the Italian Prime Minister to the effect that the company would not be interested in being sold to Mr. Rupert Murdoch, that

2 Apr 1998 : Column 384

has undoubtedly saved Mr. Murdoch a fortune given the amount of money that might have been required if he were to make a formal bid?

Lord Haskel: My Lords, any conversation which the Prime Minister may have had with the Italian Prime Minister is a private matter. Therefore, it is a matter of which I am unaware.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, reference has been made to British business and British companies. I was under the impression that Mr. Murdoch was an American citizen. Is that correct?

Lord Haskel: My Lords, I was referring to the ownership and location of Times International and BSkyB.


3.30 p.m.

Lord Carter: My Lords, at a convenient moment after 3.30 p.m. my noble friend Lord Dubs will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement that is being made in another place on the report of the Narey Inquiry on security at the Maze Prison. I take this opportunity to remind the House that the Companion indicates that discussion on a Statement should be confined to brief comments and questions for clarification.

Regional Development Agencies Bill

Brought from the Commons; read a first time, and to be printed.

Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill

3.31 p.m.

Read a third time.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Dubs): My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.--(Lord Dubs.)

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, the House has already discussed the specific clauses of this Bill. I shall not go into the specific details of the Bill. However, before this House passes the Bill, I believe that it is important to set out again why it is necessary. This is an emergency Bill. The powers contained in it have proved to be long lived in a succession of measures but they have never been, and should not be, accepted as a permanent part of our arrangements--hence the need for regular renewal of the powers as provided for in the Bill.

It is to be hoped that the talks process will produce an agreement that takes a big step in resolving the conflict. The news overnight from the talks appears to

2 Apr 1998 : Column 385

be discouraging but is not necessarily disheartening. We realised that the crunch points would be left to last and that cross-border bodies and their precise definition, together with the offensive and illegal claims to sovereignty in the constitution of the Irish Republic, were the crunch points. We shall see whether the process of the end-game, which we appear to be approaching--brink management in the face of an artificial deadline--produces a result. This process has been refined in recent years in the European Union and is much beloved there. Sometimes it produces a result.

Whatever the results of the talks, it is certain that some terrorists of both extremes will continue their deadly operations. I have long thought, and said when I was a Minister in the Province some years ago, that the momentum behind the terrorism is both political and financial. The financial rackets, based essentially on the ability to place people in genuine fear for their lives, provide some of the momentum for terrorism these days. That part of the momentum will survive any political settlement. But political agreement between the two governments and the various parties will not entirely remove the political momentum behind terrorism; it will only weaken it. That will be particularly so if the results of the agreement build in uncertainty. I refer to the plan for regular future referendums which was suggested a few days ago.

A lasting agreement, if it can be obtained, endorsed by the people will help immensely in the fight against terrorism but it will not switch it off like a tap. I believe that incidents that have occurred in the past few days underline that point. The cold-blooded murder of a retired policeman reminds us once again of the exceptional service and daily bravery of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and of all the security forces. The interception of a big car bomb at Dun Laoghaire emphasises the very good work that has been carried out by the Garda in this respect as well as the dangers to Great Britain and the Province. These outrages, taking place as they do during an official ceasefire, are an attempt to throw the talks into difficulty. They also cast a shadow forward.

The powers in this Bill will, I believe, remain necessary in order to defend democracy. It is important to be clear about this, particularly as it appears that some people even within the United Nations do not really accept this. These powers are not anti-democratic; on the contrary, they are essential for the defence of democracy. The purpose of terrorism is to distort democracy by terrorising people. This Bill is not against the rule of law but is to protect the rule of law. The Diplock courts exist because of the terrorisation of juries and witnesses. Mr. Cumaraswamy of the United Nations needs to understand this, if newspaper reports of his recent comments are correct. He is reported to have recommended the reinstatement of jury trials in the Province. That is not realistic at present and that is likely to remain the position for the immediate future.

The future of Northern Ireland is a matter for the decision of the people of Northern Ireland. They should be allowed to make a free decision. This Bill is part of the background which entitles people to make a free

2 Apr 1998 : Column 386

decision. To permit this, all who support democracy should support the fight against terrorism of which this Bill is an important part. I support the Bill.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page