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Former Yugoslavia: War Crimes

3.6 p.m.

Lord Russell-Johnston asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, Her Majesty's Government have no knowledge of a secret deal by President Chirac to protect Ratko Mladic. It is a matter for the French Government. The international community continues to exert pressure on Serbia to hand Mladic to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. We are working with international partners to trace indictees, particularly Karadzic. In April, the EU introduced a visa ban on individuals known to assist indictees, and the Office of

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the High Representative on Bosnia-Herzegovina has also frozen assets of individuals suspected of supporting Karadzic.

Lord Russell-Johnston: My Lords, it is seven years to the day since the slaughter in Srebrenica ended. There were five days of slaughter which left 8,000 Muslim boys and men dead. Does the Minister agree that, irrespective of President Chirac's involvement, it is shameful that the international community, including, in particular, NATO members who have the capacity, has failed to do anything in seven years to apprehend those primarily responsible for that massacre? Does the Minister agree that Karadzic moves around freely, with quite a large protection entourage, in a small area and that it is nonsense to suggest that no one knows where he is? If the same energy had been directed towards the apprehension of Mladic as was directed towards the apprehension of Eichmann—and he is in the same class as Eichmann—he would have been in The Hague ages ago. Carla del Ponte said the other day that there is no will. I agree with her. But I do not know why and the Minister did not seem to explain why.

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, a great deal of commitment and energy is going into apprehending and detaining war crimes suspects. Of the 75 people indicted for war crimes, only 18 individuals remain at large. So work is going on. As the noble Lord indicated in his response to my Answer, he knows that there are difficulties in apprehending some of these individuals. The noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, noted earlier this year that in the region in which Karadzic operates, Tito managed to tie down six German divisions with only 15,000 partisan troops. There are problems but our international partners, including SFOR and the Office of the High Representative, are doing everything they can to apprehend these individuals.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, further to the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Russell-Johnston, it is odd—is it not?—that General Mladic who, after all, is considered to be one of the butcher-architects of Srebrenica, which was one of the worst atrocities committed on European soil since the Second World War, is around and about and his whereabouts are said to be known. It is true that the French Government totally deny the suggestion that there has been any deal and people are not quite so sure about what Mr Karadzic might be charged with, as I think he is in a slightly different category. Can the Minister assure us that enormous efforts will be put into nailing this particular individual and bringing him to justice in The Hague, where he surely should have been long ago?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I hope I can reassure the noble Lord that enormous efforts are being brought to bear to, as he said, nail this individual. Mladic is thought to be in Serbia, but since no NATO troops are based in Serbia, it is entirely the responsibility of the Serbian authorities to hand him over to the tribunal. The international community

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continues to put great pressure on them to do so. My honourable friend in another place, the Minister for Europe, Denis MacShane, raised our strong concerns on this issue with the leadership of Serbia and Montenegro during his April visit to Belgrade.

Procedure of the House: Select Committee

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the Lord Chancellor be appointed a member of the Select Committee in the place of the Lord Irvine of Lairg.—(The Chairman of Committees.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Communications Bill

3.11 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Lord McIntosh of Haringey:) My Lords, I beg to move that the Commons amendments be now considered.

Moved, That the Commons amendments be now considered—(Lord McIntosh of Haringey.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

[The page and line references are to HL Bill 41 as first printed for the Lords.]

1Clause 3, page 3, line 3, leave out subsection (1) and insert— "(1) It shall be the principal duty of OFCOM, in carrying out their functions—

(a) to further the interests of citizens in relation to communications matters; and
(b) in that context, to further the interests of consumers in relevant markets; and to do so where appropriate by promoting competition. (1A) Where it appears to OFCOM, in relation to the carrying out of any of their functions under Chapter 1 of Part 2, that the requirement specified in subsection (1)(a) conflicts with the requirement specified in subsection (1)(b), they may give priority to the requirement specified in subsection (1)(b)."

    The Commons disagree to this amendment but propose the following amendments in lieu thereof—

1APage 3, line 3, leave out subsection (1) and insert— 1A

    "(1) It shall be the principal duty of OFCOM, in carrying out their functions—

(a) to further the interests of citizens in relation to communications matters; and
(b) to further the interests of consumers in relevant markets, where appropriate by promoting competition."
1BPage 4, line 22, at end insert— "(6A) Where OFCOM resolve a conflict in an important case between their duties under paragraphs (a) and (b) of subsection (1), they must publish a statement setting out—

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(a) the nature of the conflict;
(b) the manner in which they have decided to resolve it; and
(c) the reasons for their decision to resolve it in that manner. (6B) Where OFCOM are required to publish a statement under subsection (6A), they must—

(a) publish it as soon as possible after making their decision but not while they would (apart from a statutory requirement to publish) be subject to an obligation not to publish a matter that needs to be included in the statement; and
(b) so publish it in such manner as they consider appropriate for bringing it to the attention of the persons who, in OFCOM's opinion, are likely to be affected by the matters to which the decision relates."
1CPage 4, line 27, after "subsection", insert "(6A) or"

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do not insist on their Amendment No. 1 to which the Commons have disagreed but do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 1A to 1C in lieu thereof.

As we come, thankfully, close to the end of parliamentary scrutiny of this Bill, we return to an issue that has produced some of the most interesting debates. It is entirely appropriate that we are debating duties that will set the scene for Ofcom's work. I am sure we will do so in the positive spirit which has carried the Bill since its introduction into the Chamber over four months—and, I understand, 83 hours on the Floor—ago.

In introducing these amendments, it is important to repeat what the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport said in another place. When this House considered Ofcom's general duties, we decided that Ofcom should be given a principal duty to the citizen and consumer, and within that duty, citizen interest should take precedence. We also decided that Ofcom should discharge its duty to the consumer and citizen where appropriate by promoting competition.

The Government are keen to reflect the spirit of the amendment carried in this House. Having listened to what has been said throughout the debate about putting the word "citizen" on the face of the legislation, we recognise that we explained our concerns about using this as a legislative term because of the fear of confusion with legislation concerning nationality. But it is clear that the House of Lords believes that this is the right term. We think that the courts will understand that the phrase "citizen interest" runs through the Bill in a civic sense, applying to such areas as high standards in television and radio, public service broadcasting, universal service for telecommunications and the optimal allocation of spectrum. So the Commons Amendment No. 1A retains the word "citizen".

We want to be sure that the general duties will actually work and there are potential difficulties, which I pointed out at the time, in Lords Amendment No. 1. The noble Lord, Lord Currie, explained on proceedings after Third Reading that the amendment created,

    "different duties in different parts of Ofcom's activities, which will cause difficulty. It will make Ofcom subject to judicial review . . . It will be the big players, not the small players, who will take advantage of that".—[Official Report, 8/7/03; col. 260.]

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The Government agree with the noble Lord, Lord Currie. By introducing a hierarchy of duties, the Lords amendment would introduce increasing risk of judicial review. Like existing broadcasters, Ofcom must strive to further the interests of both consumers and citizens, as appropriate, and with equal vigour. Ofcom needs the flexibility to achieve the objectives that Parliament is giving it. We absolutely believe that the consumer interest is normally best served by competition, but in citizen interest issues, competition is not the only solution. More often than not, Ofcom will need to act under licensing powers. The Commons amendments seek to remove the potential for legal challenge against Ofcom.

I can assure the House that the Government understand the difference between the interests of the consumer and the interests of providers, an issue that was debated. I want to make it clear that we are not in any way equating the interests of consumers with the interests of the market, nor are we equating the application of competition with an unchecked free market. Ofcom will act for consumers and citizens.

The Commons amendments remove potential dangers contained in differing interpretations of the amendments carried by this House. As well as keeping the word "citizen", we are keeping the concept of a principal duty to further the interests of both citizens and consumers, and these interests shall be equal.

In addition, the Commons amendments bring further measures of transparency and accountability. Where the duty to consumer and citizen come into conflict in important cases, Ofcom will publish a reasoned statement as soon as possible after any decision explaining how the duties came into conflict, how Ofcom resolved the conflict and the reasons behind its decision.

Your Lordships have rightly said time and again that the communications industry is not like any other industry. We believe that our amendments will ensure that communications continue to contribute to a strong and healthy society and democracy.

We are grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Puttnam and Lord Currie, who helped to frame these amendments. Their support has been invaluable in this, as it has been throughout the passage of the Bill, because we welcome the knowledge and experience which comes from the Joint Committee and from the experience of the chairmanship of Ofcom. Also, because of their positive approach, I believe that we have before us amendments that will protect the interests of the citizen and the consumer from the beginning to the very end of the Bill. I believe that these amendments reflect the strong feelings expressed in this Chamber, and I commend them to the House.

Moved, That the House do not insist on their Amendment No. 1 to which the Commons have disagreed but do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 1A to 1C in lieu thereof.—(Lord McIntosh of Haringey.)

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3.15 p.m.

Lord McNally: My Lords, I should say at the outset that these Benches will be supporting the Government's amendments. The Minister mentioned the long journey that we have travelled. I urge people to look at some of the ministerial language that was used at the start of that journey, particularly by Dr Kim Howells and Tessa Jowell, and then study tomorrow the Minister's comments in Hansard. They will then understand just what a journey this has been. We believe it has been very welcome in tilting the Bill back towards public interest and citizens' interest.

Sometimes when the House of Lords passes an amendment, we wonder whether we have done the right thing. Our original amendment, which was carried with such a fine majority and had support from all Members of the House, was the direct precursor to the Government suddenly finding the will and the imagination to concede the Puttnam amendment. If they had not, they would have lost another three votes in this House. I have no quarrel with that, but it shows how sometimes letting the Government know the will of this House early in a Bill's proceedings affects the seriousness with which they listen to subsequent arguments.

We also appreciate the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Currie. I echo a comment that was made yesterday about the self-regulatory nature of this House. If we had had too firm a Chair on the relevant evening, the noble Lord, Lord Currie, would not have been able to make the helpful statement that he did. But because this House has the common sense to listen when someone has something worth saying and not to stick too closely to the rule book, we received sound advice about the faults in the original amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, circulated a letter—he is becoming quite a letter writer—to supporters of the original amendment which states:

    "I believe the Government has understood and taken on board the spirit of our amendments, and in one substantial respect has even improved them. The drafting changes mean that OFCOM will be better equipped to deal with a legal challenge to its decisions".

We welcome that.

The dangers are still out there. I read today on the Internet a speech of Howard Dean, the leading Democrat presidential candidate, who is making the kind of speeches in the United States that Tony Blair used to make in the United Kingdom. Howard Dean said:

    "The media conglomerates now dominate almost half of the markets around the country, meaning Americans get less independent and frequently less dependable news, views and information".

That is the nature of the task ahead for the noble Lord, Lord Currie, and his colleagues. Despite what the Minister said at Third Reading, this is an untried and untested regulator. We do not know whether we are getting Elliot Ness and The Untouchables or Willy Wonka and the chocolate factory. Only time will tell. I say for the Minister's benefit that that was a joke. I know how he loves to store my jokes.

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The hopeful point about the legislation is that the reputation that is first on the line is that of the noble Lord, Lord Currie, in regard to the powers he will have and the firmness with which he will use them. We on these Benches have every confidence in him. The amendment is acceptable in that context.

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