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Lord Luke: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his customary clear explanation of the order. We support measures that are intended to promote the success of digital terrestrial television and agree with the Government that the current limit on the holding of licences represents an unnecessary obstacle to growth within the industry.
As the Minister pointed out, the original intention behind the restriction on ownership of multiplex licences to a maximum of three was benign. It was to encourage competition in the early days of digital terrestrial television. It is a fact now, however, that the market has developed in such a way that the principal competition is, as the Minister said, between platforms delivering broadcast services, rather than between those platforms.
I note that the Competition Commission is satisfied that this restriction on multiplex ownership does not raise concerns about competition, and that the limit can be adjusted without harming digital terrestrial television's future as a platform. These Benches therefore support the order.
Viscount Falkland: My Lords, we on these Benches support the order and thank the Minister for explaining it so well. We fully take the points that he has made, in particular that the industry is so much better understood now than it was in 1996. I congratulate the Government and the industry on working so well together. This is an industry that has gathered a momentum that is probably greater than any of us had expected. I look forward to further collaboration of this kind in what is now looking to be a very promising prospect for the industry. There is no change of policy with which we need concern ourselves, and it is a purely technical matter.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, today's organised criminals are intelligent and sophisticated, whether they are dealing with tobacco, drugs or firearms. They are also as adept at working across national boundaries as they are in one country. To combat such crime, governments must be able to match and surpass the ability of criminals to work across national boundaries. At the special European Council summit in Tampere in October 1999, member states committed themselves to depriving criminals of any hiding place in the European Union. The Convention on Mutual Assistance and Co-operation between Customs Administrations, known as Naples II, will give effect to the necessary practical co-operation in the area of customs. The UK played a leading role in the development of the convention, and so I am pleased to bring this draft Order in Council before noble Lords.
The proposal for a Naples II Convention originated in 1991. The idea was to update the existing 1967 Naples Convention in order to provide a framework for modern cross-border investigation techniques. This framework was seen as desirable, given the creation of the single market on 1st January 1993. While this development served as a boost to intra-EC trade, the removal of border controls presented opportunities for abuse, which have been exploited in an increasingly organised manner by illicit traders and criminal organisations.
The 1967 Naples Convention made provision for mutual assistance between member states' customs administrations through two principal means: the sharing of information on contraventions of customs laws; and the investigation of contraventions on request by another member state's customs administration.
In particular, it allows for Customs officials to appear as witnesses or experts before the courts of other member states, and for customs officers to be present during investigations of contraventions by customs authorities in other member states.
Naples II builds on this by developing the administration and co-ordination of the mutual assistance activities, and by adding several other forms of co-operation. These are: hot pursuit; cross-border surveillance; covert investigations; controlled deliveries; and joint special investigation teams.
Signatories to the convention can opt out of each of the first three of these forms of special co-operation by making a declaration to that effect. The Government intend to opt out of the provisions on hot pursuit only.
As the preamble to the convention requires that any action taken under its provisions must comply with the principles of legality, it must be necessary and not achievable by less significant means and it must be proportionate. The Government can confirm that the convention is compatible with the Human Rights Act.
To give legal effect to the convention in the UK it is necessary either to make primary legislation or to specify the convention as a Community treaty under the European Communities Act 1972. The purpose of this draft order is to take the latter course and specify the convention as a Community treaty.
I hope that on this point we may follow the example of the House of Commons Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, which discussed the draft order on 17th January. In the committee there was cross-party support for the aims of the convention and a ready acceptance of its Community status. The committee was in agreement that an Order in Council was the appropriate means to give effect to this convention and that there was no need for any primary legislation. I commend the order to the House.
The rationale for improving co-operation and assistance between Customs administrations not just in Europe but perhaps also more widely is self-evident. The growing problem of cross-border smuggling bears witness to that, as do more serious matters such as organised crime, involvement in drug trafficking, illegal immigration and so on.
Nonetheless, I hope that the Minister and the House will forgive me if I take up a small amount of time. I note that in a Standing Committee in another place considering delegated legislation, the Paymaster General made passing reference to the Naples II convention and its,
I note that the convention deals with other forms of co-operation, such as cross-border surveillance and covert investigations. I therefore assume that by definition the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 must apply in those instances in which those practices are carried out in the UK. That is all well and good but, as the noble Lord will be aware, the legality of that Act under European law is currently under investigation by the European Commission. While I accept that this is a little hypothetical, what are the implications of that for the future effectiveness of mutual assistance between customs administrations in Europe?
On a mildly related topic, is it safe to assume that the cybercrime treaty currently being drafted by the Council of Europe is intended to meld Naples II to provide a cohesive and comprehensive armoury in this area?
As the Minister said, the major development during the past 20 or 30 years in the problems facing customs authorities is the growing sophistication and international nature of much of the smuggling activity that is involved. That activity has changed from that which occurred during the immediate post-war period and in the 1950s and 1960s, which one thinks of as involving traditional contraband goods, to one essentially of organised crime associated with drugs. We are dealing with extremely well financed international gangs which can be sensibly combated only by well financed international customs co-operation.
Of all the new areas that the Minister discussed and which are contained in the convention, that involving joint special investigative teams is probably the most important. Unless drug traffickers are faced with a concerted customs effort involving teams of people who put in the same time and effort to combat the traffickers as the traffickers themselves adopt, the traffickers will be successful.
The Minister discussed exemptions from the convention and said that we were opting out of the hot-pursuit arrangements. I assume that the case for hot pursuit from this country is significantly less than that which would apply if one were in Luxembourg or the Low Countries, where hot pursuit would be a real
The explanatory note to the order explains that the convention will come into force 90 days after the last member state gives notification that it has completed its constitutional procedures for the adoption of the convention. I should like to ask the Minister how far the member states have progressed in the ratification procedure and when we may expect all member states to be fully signed up. In doing so, I do not in any way seek to question the validity or the sense of the order, and we look forward to supporting it.
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