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Television: Quiz Programmes

2.59 pm

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, responsibility for the regulation of these services rests with the independent regulators Ofcom and ICSTIS. In response to recent concerns, ICSTIS has set out a range of actions aimed at restoring public trust in premium-rate services. In addition, Ofcom is undertaking a root-and-branch inquiry into the use of premium-rate services in television programming. Separately, ICSTIS and Ofcom are also investigating specific cases. If they expose serious flaws of compliance, the regulators have the power to impose a range of sanctions on service providers.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he aware that one of the worst aspects was the complacent attitude of Ofcom when questioned about it? Will he remind Ofcom that the terrestrial channels are licensed for public entertainment and news, not gambling? Will he support the Gambling Commission, which has complained bitterly about the proliferation of phoney gambling quizzes on terrestrial channels, and tell Ofcom that it must pay attention to this and take much more drastic steps than it has planned?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I accept what the noble Baroness says, but ICSTIS is the prime mover with responsibility for covering premium phone rates, the main anxiety in recent months. That does not mean that Ofcom ought to be complacent. It is not; it is also committing itself to action, but the initial moves will come from ICSTIS in investigating and establishing the nature of the problem. What is certain is that the whole of television, to say nothing of the viewing public, can only gain from full restoration of trust in the fairness of such programmes.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, the Minister rightly says that it is vital to restore public trust in these quiz shows. I welcome some of the steps taken by ICSTIS and Ofcom, but is he convinced that ICSTIS is pursuing these breaches of the code vigorously enough? Every major broadcaster has been guilty of a breach of the code, but no fines have been imposed on them. Is it not about time that ICSTIS started to impose fines?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, ICSTIS recently strengthened its regulations on these issues. However, in the more extreme cases it may have to construct a case that will stand up in a court of law; therefore, it is essential that it carries out its investigation with due diligence. However, I accept what the noble Lord says and I am assured that both bodies are all too well aware of the enormous public concern. That concern will show itself in a loss of

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trust in television companies and the loss of their revenues as the public turn away from these activities, unless trust is effectively restored.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on answering all four Questions so brilliantly on this May Day. It is also a red-letter day because I agree with every word spoken by the noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, and the Liberal Democrat spokesman. That has never happened before. I urge my noble friend to have a word in the ear of Sir Alistair Graham and tell him to get his finger out and take some action. After all, he now has one less of his many quangos and he has time to get on with it.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am delighted to hear that there is consensus right across the House on my noble friend’s expression of agreement with what the noble Baroness said. She identified the issue very accurately in her Question. My noble friend is right but we should not personalise these issues; rather, we should make it absolutely clear that the regulatory authorities have a significant task on their hands. It is difficult to think of an instance in the past two or three decades of broadcasting where regulatory authorities were brought to the front in quite the way they are by public concern over these issues. At its worst, an element of fraud is involved. That is why I mentioned the potential seriousness of the offence. It is not a question of personalities but of whether bodies do their job properly. Ministers will insist that they do.

Lord Harrison: My Lords, did my noble friend warm to the normal practice of quiz shows whereby, if one contestant gets four questions right in a row, they normally qualify for an extra pint and a round of applause?

Lord Davies of Oldham: Yes, my Lords, and as there was no premium rate, there is no question of fraud in this situation.

International Tribunals (Sierra Leone) Bill [HL]

3.05 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Triesman): My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

This Bill will enable us to show, through concrete action, our commitment to the United Nations, to international justice and to Sierra Leone. A vicious war ravaged Sierra Leone throughout the late 1990s. Wanton killing, mass rape and sexual slavery, mutilation, amputation, the burning of homes and destruction of property shocked the world. Tragically, those who perpetrated such crimes often used children as soldiers in their war. They enslaved them. They armed them. They made them commit terrible crimes, often against their own loved ones.

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I am proud that, through our military intervention in May 2000, the United Kingdom helped to bring peace to Sierra Leone. Our forces did a remarkable job, as ever, in a place that some people said was beyond saving. Since then, we have supported the Government of Sierra Leone as they have built on that peace and worked to put the years of war decisively in the past. But peace in west Africa is fragile. We should not forget that the people of Sierra Leone continue to live with the legacy of the crimes committed and inflicted on them, just as others do in the Balkans and in Rwanda.

In 2002, the Government of Sierra Leone and the United Nations negotiated an agreement to establish the Special Court for Sierra Leone. We supported that because we recognised the horror of what had come before, and we were mindful of the need to send a message that such crimes could not be allowed to go unpunished; there should be no impunity. The special court is an international criminal tribunal, which incorporates domestic and international law. Sierra Leonean judges and staff sit alongside international colleagues. We have consistently supported the special court as it takes forward its mandate to try those most responsible for the serious violations of international humanitarian law that took place during the civil war.

If we want to stop fresh atrocities in Africa, or in any part of the globe, we need to send a strong message: some crimes, whatever the circumstances, will be punished. It is, of course, for the court to determine the truth regarding the allegations against those individuals facing trial. In doing so, it will help to close this chapter of conflict and help Sierra Leone to overcome its bitter legacy. Our support for the court, as for other international criminal tribunals, such as those for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda, is not just financial. As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs said in June, if we want to live in a just world, we must take responsibility for creating and fostering it. In practice, that means that we, and other states, must provide strong support to such tribunals as they take forward their important work. We do that by sharing information, by taking witnesses into our relocation system and by imprisoning some of those convicted by the tribunals.

It is for that reason that the International Criminal Court Act 2001 makes provision, among other things, for our entering into sentence enforcement agreements with the International Criminal Court and with other international criminal tribunals established by resolution of the United Nations Security Council.

The Special Court for Sierra Leone was established with the full agreement and participation of the Government of Sierra Leone. A UN Security Council resolution was not, therefore, required. None the less, a resolution authorised the UN Secretary-General to negotiate the founding agreement with the Government of Sierra Leone. The reality is that an international criminal tribunal established in this way was not entirely foreseen at the time of the drafting of the International Criminal Court Act.

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This short, two-clause Bill will extend the International Criminal Court Act’s provisions on sentence enforcement to the Special Court for Sierra Leone. It will enable the United Kingdom to enter into such an agreement with the special court. That is further concrete evidence of our support for the resolution of this history of difficulty. I can assure the House that the Special Court for Sierra Leone enjoys full support from the whole of the international community and fully deserves our practical support.

Some may ask why we are taking this step now in the particular case of the Special Court for Sierra Leone. The first reason is the United Kingdom’s commitment to peace, security and development in Sierra Leone. We have shouldered that responsibility from intervention through to finishing the job. We told everyone—the Sierra Leoneans, the ECOWAS community of west Africa and, not least, our forces that started this difficult job—that we would finish this difficult job. Secondly, it is through actions such as this that we safeguard the investment that the United Kingdom has made militarily, politically and financially in Sierra Leone. Thirdly, we shouldered that responsibility to give effect to our commitment to imprison former Liberian President Charles Taylor if he were convicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

Perhaps I may speak now about that commitment. Former President Taylor was transferred to the detention facility of the Special Court for Sierra Leone in Freetown on 29 March 2006, when he was indicted for alleged crimes against humanity and for war crimes. Within a short period, considerable security concerns arose regarding former President Taylor’s presence in Freetown. There were fears that his supporters might take action to destabilise the region; there was evidence, which I regarded as significant, that they were planning such action. For that reason, the Governments of Sierra Leone and Liberia, with the support of the United Nations, proposed that former President Taylor’s trial should take place away from the court’s headquarters in Freetown. The Government of the Netherlands agreed to allow the special court to sit in The Hague to hear former President Taylor’s trial, and the International Criminal Court agreed to allow the special court to use its facilities for the trial. The Dutch, however, insisted that, if former President Taylor were convicted, he must serve his sentence in another state.

The then UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, in the light of the security concerns and on the advice of UN staff operating on the ground, added his urgent call to that of the regional Governments and requested that the United Kingdom agree to make the necessary commitment to the Dutch. On 15 June, I informed the House that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary had agreed that, subject to parliamentary legislative approval, the United Kingdom would allow former President Taylor to enter the UK to serve any sentence imposed by the Special Court for Sierra Leone, if he were convicted and if circumstances required that. In the following days, former President Taylor’s transfer to The Hague

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was authorised by the president of the Special Court for Sierra Leone and was confirmed by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1688. On 20 June, he was transferred to The Hague, where he now awaits trial. A real threat to peace and security in Sierra Leone and the wider region had been overcome.

I emphasise that our decision was taken entirely without prejudice to the outcome of the trial of former President Taylor or any other individual on trial before the Special Court for Sierra Leone. I am absolutely clear that former President Taylor is entitled to a fair trial and I am absolutely confident that the Special Court for Sierra Leone will ensure that he receives one.

In short, the Bill and any subsequent signing of a sentence enforcement agreement represent a contingency arrangement. Imprisonment in the United Kingdom would take place only if former President Taylor were convicted, if the special court requested that the United Kingdom imprison him and if the United Kingdom agreed to do so.

After contact with the Scottish Executive, it was decided that it was sufficient for the territorial extent of the Bill to be limited to England and Wales. It follows, therefore, that any sentence of imprisonment would be served in a prison in England or Wales.

The Bill, and any sentence enforcement agreement signed as a result of its provisions, will not apply specifically to former President Taylor. The Bill, which comprises two clauses only, simply establishes the legal basis under which the United Kingdom may sign a sentence enforcement agreement with the special court. None the less, I confirm that the request that was made to us and the political undertaking that we have given relate only to imprisoning former President Taylor, should that be necessary. We have not received a request in respect of any other individual on trial before the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Indeed, we expect that any other individuals convicted by the court will serve their sentences elsewhere. To put this into context, in total, 10 persons are on trial before the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

In closing, I should like to recall that the United Kingdom has placed itself at the forefront of the international community’s efforts to ensure that those accused of the most serious crimes known to humanity are held to account. The Bill follows in the tradition of the UK’s staunch action to achieve that objective in relation to the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda and more recent challenges, such as those in northern Uganda and Darfur. It sends yet another powerful signal to those who abuse high office and commit low crimes: there can be no impunity; justice must be served. The Bill matches our words with actions. I commend it to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Triesman.)

3.17 pm

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, in intervening, rather briefly, in the Second Reading of this Bill, I do so not out of any desire to criticise it; indeed, I wholeheartedly support it and congratulate

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the Government not only on the role they played in bringing stability and the rule of law back to Sierra Leone, thus rendering possible the taking of legal action against those suspected of having committed crimes against international humanitarian law in that country, but also on having drawn the practical consequences of our political support by making it possible for us to enforce judgments against any of those so convicted.

Far too often, fair words by Governments at the United Nations in New York are not translated into practical action by them to implement those fair words, particularly when that action may involve some costs to them either politically or financially. That we are thus willing the means as well as the ends is admirable and it could set a good example to others.

I want to make one or two more general points. First, amid the gloom and perplexity that we feel when faced with the difficulties of dealing with the problems in Iraq, Afghanistan or Darfur, we tend to forget the major advances that have been made in the past 15 years since the end of the Cold War in undermining the culture of impunity for gross breaches of international humanitarian law. The Yugoslav and Rwandan tribunals, the International Criminal Court and the hybrid tribunals set up with UN backing in Sierra Leone and Cambodia are all steps along that road. Of course, we are still a long way from eliminating that culture of impunity entirely, and no doubt difficult choices and hard cases remain to be settled along the road. But if anyone had suggested, before that trend began, that heads of state would be brought to trial before international tribunals and that leaders as well as foot soldiers would be held to account for their crimes, they would have been laughed out of court. We are, I believe, witnessing a fundamental shift in the application of international law and a very welcome one.

The concept of a hybrid tribunal, set up under national law but enjoying the support and participation of the whole international community, such as in Sierra Leone and Cambodia, is clearly exceptional. It is a concept that will, one must hope, be even more exceptional now that the International Criminal Court is up and running. It is in a way a tribute to the pragmatism and flexibility with which the UN is capable of operating when the will of its members is there. How much better it would have been surely if a similar hybrid tribunal had been established in Iraq to conduct the trials of Saddam Hussein and his henchmen, and how much more widely would the justice meted out to them have been seen as fair and reasonable than has in the event been the case? Just in case that may be considered as being wise after the event, I would point out that I proposed such a course three years ago in the immediate aftermath of the invasion.

I have one final point—it is a question rather. The legislation relates only to Sierra Leone and the hybrid court established by that country. Does that leave Cambodia in a somewhat anomalous situation, or have I perhaps missed something? Perhaps the Minister could throw some light on that matter when he winds up the debate.

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3.20 pm

Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, I, too, commend the Bill and adopt all that the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, particularly his general point that now tyrants and those who have committed the most awful crimes against humanity will not go unpunished. I also note that my noble friend said that this Bill relates to a specific request from the United Nations and that there has been a specific undertaking by the Government only in respect of Charles Taylor, the former President of Liberia—if he is convicted, although we know that he was the principal sponsor of the RUF and that the RUF was responsible for some of the most atrocious crimes of recent years.

It is also worth noting that although the request is specific, the Bill is general. Presumably, if there were to be other requests by the special court in the cases of the other nine indictees, at least the Bill would open the way for us to receive one or more of those. One thinks, for example, of the late Sam Hinga Norman who, after a four-year trial in Sierra Leone in the special court—that is far too long a trial for anyone—eventually died after medical treatment in Dakar.

Perhaps my noble friend will confirm that the Bill does open the way for other indictees—I think there are 10 in total. I also assume that the special court is very much an ad hoc court because of the necessary agreement between the United Nations and the Sierra Leone Government. The Rome statute that established the International Criminal Court is not retrospective and did not come into force until 1 July 2002. Are there other special courts covering the interim period before the ICC came into force?

I also note what my noble friend says about the position in relation to Scotland. It is true that foreign affairs are the responsibility of the United Kingdom as a whole, but there are separate legal jurisdictions. With the precedent of Lockerbie one thinks that the Scottish courts in some cases would have had parallel legislation to this, but that was obviated by the agreement with the Scottish Executive.

It is right, of course, that we gave this undertaking, and it is right that we are prepared if necessary to receive Taylor under the sentence enforcement agreement. It is right that we shoulder the burden in such cases as a good example not only of international solidarity—yes, of Commonwealth solidarity—but because of the special links that we have with Sierra Leone. I have had links with Sierra Leone since the late 1950s when I had some very close friends at university. When I visited Sierra Leone first in the 1960s, it was a time of relative stability, although the Creole population of Freetown, as a result of democracy, had their privileged position threatened by the Mende and Temne tribes. Alas, the subsequent history has been chequered with military coups. Over the years, I have met a succession of exiles from Sierra Leone, all of whom seem to end up in Muswell Hill for some odd reason. Alas, one met a great effluxion of talent from that country.

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We have served Sierra Leone well. In 2000, we had 800 British paratroops who secured the airport, evacuated British citizens and captured Foday Sankoh, the rebel leader, in what was probably a model of international humanitarian intervention—one of the best—which gained us much credit among African countries at the time. It is also fair to say that Britain has been a leader in post-war reconstruction. There are 80 British personnel serving with the International Military Advisory and Training Team, IMATT, in Freetown. DfID has a good record in disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration, proposals for good governance, anti-corruption and capacity building, and even direct budgetary support. There has been substantial progress in Sierra Leone in the transition from war to peace.

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