|Back to Table of Contents
|Lords Hansard Home Page
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that, no matter what support is offered by the Government and NGOs, Bangladesh still needs an enormous amount of help? Is she aware that a number of noble Lords are to form part of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association delegation that will visit Bangladesh later this year? I am one of those fortunate enough to be part of the delegation.
Baroness Northover: My Lords, speaking of the Commonwealth, might not there be scope for a Commonwealth or European Union initiative to help resolve this human rights problem? Would the Secretary of State be willing to take that forward?
Baroness Amos: My Lords, it is possible that there would be scope for an initiative through the Commonwealth, but it is important for the House to remember that Pakistan is currently suspended from the Commonwealth. However, the context in which the Commonwealth could consider this situation would be in terms of human rights as set out in the Harare Principles. There are a number of areas under those principles by which an initiative could be taken forward. I would be happy to take up this point with the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth.
Lord McNally: My Lords, is the Secretary of State aware that her supplementary responses were far better than her original Answer? I hope that that is a sign of her influence on the department. She made the point about possible new rights for the Biharis in Bangladesh. Does she agree that that offers a chink of light? There are signs that the younger generation of Biharis see this as a long-term solution. Is not that something which could and should be encouraged?
Baroness Amos: My Lords, I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that the younger generation of Biharis strongly envisage their future within Bangladesh. If we can sort out the issue of citizenship, it would mark a promising way forward.
I am pleased that the noble Lord found my supplementary responses more informative than the original Answer, but if I had given everything away, there would have been no opportunity for noble Lords to come back on this issue.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, Her Majesty's Government are concerned that recent developments in Togo seriously undermine the chances of securing satisfactory conditions for the presidential election on 1st June. The United Kingdom has regularly raised these concerns with European Union partners. The United Kingdom fully aligns itself with the EU statement of 15th May which highlighted our concerns about governance and urged the Togolese authorities to create the right climate for democratic elections.
Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. Is it not time that the European Union sought to galvanise the international community to promote the restoration of democracy for the 5 million Togolese people? They have been suffering for over 35 yearslonger than any other African countryunder a brutal dictator who has murdered his political opponents, and imprisoned and tortured others. Is it not clear that Eyadema has deliberately flouted the call made by the European Union as early as February for a broad-based agreement between the political forces on the conditions for democratic elections? Is it not also clear that the pending presidential election will be a sham and should not be dignified by the presence of French official observers? Since the French Government have undoubted influence in Togo, do the Government believe that that nation will be prepared to work with its partners in the European Union to bring an end to these dreadful wrongs?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I have a great deal of sympathy for the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan. There is no doubt that President Eyadema has broken his word, the word that he gave to President Chirac that he would serve only his current term and would not stand for election again. He has changed the law and effectively undermined all opposition in the country. I agree with a great deal of what the noble Lord has said.
The question here is what is the EU reaction. The United Kingdom will continue to work for a very robust EU position in the run-up to the election. We want an appropriate EU response in the light of the conduct of the election. It is no secret that different views are held within the EU on the strength of language to be used over Togo. We shall continue to argue for the use of very strong language over these issues, while no doubt others will continue to argue as they do at present.
Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I am sure that the Minister is aware that when Togo launched into a two-week campaign for the presidential election on Friday 16th May, the main opposition candidate, Mr Gilchrist Olympio, was barred from standing for election due to changes made to the constitution in December 2002. Can the noble Baroness explain what role she might see for NePAD in monitoring free and fair elections in African countries such as Togo?
Of course NePAD has made good progress since its inception. We must try to ensure that those elements of the NePAD process dealing with good governance in Africa are applied to Togo and we must continue to argue in the way that I have indicatedI hope that the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, was pleased with what I had to sayabout the United Kingdom's position on this issue in the European Union being a very forward one.
The noble Baroness said: This amendment seeks to extend Ofcom's regulatory functions to include the BBC's fair trading commitment. The Royal Charter currently requires that the commitment is enforced by the BBC Board of Governors. The fair trading commitment places a strong obligation on the BBC to trade fairly and not to use the publicly-funded licence fee to its advantage against other commercial broadcasters. While we welcome such a commitment, we believe that the BBC governors have failed to effectively enforce its requirements to date.
The position of the BBC fair trade commitment, and the process by which compliance is achieved by the governors, requires closer scrutiny. The fair trade document contains provisions asserting the means by which the BBC brand should be used, in addition to including fair trade obligations that we believe should be subject to external regulatory oversight. The amendment ensures that the fair trade commitment as currently drafted would be subject to further scrutiny.
The power of the BBC brand cannot be underestimated. It is critical that its commercial activities are regulated in such a way that no question of cross-subsidy between licence fee-funded activities and commercial interests arises. It is critical that public confidence in the institution is maintained. If doubt arises as to the legitimacy of the commercial activities
The role of the governors is of paramount importance in the BBC. It is twofold. The governors are responsible for policy formation, albeit strategic, and for internal regulation. The amendment, coupled with Amendment No. 152, seeks to give Ofcom the necessary authority to confer legitimacy and to ensure compliance with the fair trade commitment as it applies to the BBC's commercial activities.
Amendment No. 152 concerns the monitoring of the BBC's commercial activities. It seeks to confer a duty on Ofcom to monitor compliance by BBC companies with self-published guidelines regulating their commercial interests. It is essential that the regulatory framework within which the BBC commercial arm operates is clearly defined and monitored to remove any ambiguity among other parts of the commercial broadcasting sector.
The procedure through which compliance is currently adjudicated remains unclear. It is not appropriate within today's broadcasting ecology for such practices to remain without an adequate mechanism to ensure conformity. The amendment supports the proposal suggested by Amendment No. 146 and would enable Ofcom to obtain any BBC information, including access to books of account or contractual documents, as it believes necessary to fulfil its obligations under the clause.
The amendment would create a level playing field for all commercial broadcasters and would clarify the position of the BBC governors and Ofcom in respect of BBC Worldwide. It would ensure that the BBC's fair trading commitment and the relating commercial policy guidelines are scrutinised both internally by the governors and then externally by Ofcom. Implementing the clause alone would not remove the power from the governors to enforce these obligations; it would simply allow Ofcom to monitor the BBC's regulatory compliance. Amendment No. 146 would provide the mechanism of enforcement while Amendment No. 152 would grant Ofcom the necessary power to discharge its duty effectively.
The commercial arm of the BBCBBC Worldwideis not licensed by Ofcom but is conferred authority by the Royal Charter. This produces a notable irregularity. The commercial activities of the BBC would not, as the Bill is drafted, fully come under the external regulatory scrutiny of Ofcom, which does not have the same powers to monitor or request information from BBC Worldwide as it does from other commercial broadcasters. The only power that Ofcom will retain is the concurrent power exercisable with the OFT if it is proved that the BBC or BBC Worldwide are guilty of abuse of their dominant market positions, or if the BBC can be proved to have distorted the market. Such an abuse of power would be extremely difficult to assess and substantiate.
Amendment No. 275 seeks to ensure parity between the BBC and commercial operators in the matter of cross-promotion. It seeks to confer a duty on the BBC to make arrangements to secure that any rules made by Ofcom regarding the regulation of promotion of programmes, channels and related services are observed. This would ensure that any rules set by Ofcom which apply to commercial broadcasters apply equally to the BBC, thus reflecting the objectives of Amendments Nos. 146 and 152.
It is important to emphasise the problem of one-sided, unbalanced cross-promotions which can confuse viewers seeking to make informed choices between services to the detriment of broadcasting as a whole. Cross-promotions for mass market channels can be used to stifle competition unfairly. In both areas there is a strong case for the BBC to adhere to much more concrete and objective standards and to be subject to some kind of external scrutiny.
This is not only a theoretical problem. Many viewers and listeners complainonly slightly tongue-in-cheekthat the level of advertising on the BBC is now worse than on commercial channels. Equally, there are concerns among rival broadcasters that new BBC digital services enjoy the benefit of free promotional airtime on BBC1 which would, if purchased from commercial stations, costs millions of pounds. Now that the BBC is a fully-pledged partner in the digital terrestrial platform, it is noticeable that its advertisements for digital television contain a throwaway reference to cable and satellite, followed by a eulogy on the benefits of Freeview.
A code on cross-promotions, most recently reissued by the ITC in January 2002, contains rules to which all commercial licensees must adhere. Consulting on the rules at the time, the ITC said that it sought to strike a balance between,
We would expect this code, or something like it, to be taken up by Ofcom. Ironically, the rules are now at least as much relevant to the BBC as they are to its main commercial rivals. It would appear that the BBC falls outside the code and has no intention of operating within it. In our view this is unacceptable. The code, by its nature, encompasses both content rules and competition rules, both of which the BBC and the Government have stated should apply to the BBC going forward. The amendment, which would add cross-promotion to Schedule 12 alongside all other matters where the BBC is expected to act as if subject to Ofcom's jurisdiction, plugs this important gap. I beg to move.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page