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Lords Chamber

Volume 622: debated on Wednesday 28 February 2001

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House Of Lords

Wednesday, 28th February 2001.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Lichfield.

Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital

What plans they have to rebuild the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health
(Lord Hunt of Kings Heath)

My Lords, we recognise that some of the current buildings at the Stanmore site are not ideal. The Royal National Orthopaedic NHS Trust is developing proposals for modernising its service and estates. The London regional office of the NHS Executive is in active discussions with the trust and local health authorities to consider a way forward.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, although it does not appear to be quite up to date. I understand that the London regional office has agreed that the hospital should be redeveloped on the Stanmore site. Is the Minister aware of the discussions which continued over years as regards whether the hospital should join the Royal Free or another institution? Is he further aware that, of the 6,500 operations performed at the hospital, over half are performed on patients who do not come from the London area? Does he agree that the hospital should live up to its name and become a national hospital? Given that fact, funding provided to rebuild the hospital on the site should not be borne only by the London region.

My Lords, the noble Baroness is right to say that many patients treated at the hospital come from outside the London region. However, the financial arrangements, certainly in relation to revenue, are reflected in the service agreements made between the trust and individual health authorities from where the patients are referred. As regards the capital programme, no such agreement has been made. The trust has put forward a proposal to the London regional office for a capital programme to be completed in a number of phases, totalling around £50 million. That is being considered, but no decision has yet been made.

My Lords, the Minister referred to the situation as regards capital, but can he give a little more detail on revenue for the hospital? Is it not the case that hospitals such as this, which is essentially national in nature, are now dependent on the operation of proper out-of-area treatments?That applies also to Great Ormond Street, Stoke Mandeville and other valuable institutions. Does the Minister plan to review the methods of funding out-of-area treatments and. in particular, will he consider proper national funding of these tertiary centres to ensure that they develop and thrive?

My Lords, I do not agree with the noble Lord. The income breakdown for the hospital is as follows: current revenue runs at around £43.5 million; £28.5 million arises from service agreements with health authorities and primary care groups; £6.6 million is the result of national specialist commissioning; and other moneys come in from income from patient care and non-patient income. Income from out-of-area patient treatments amounts to £1.9 million. I am satisfied that this funding stream is a suitable way for the hospital to be funded. It recognises both the national position it occupies through national specialist commissioning and its provision of services to residents from a large number of health authorities which hold service level agreements with the trust.

My Lords, some time ago I was a patient at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital. Does the Minister agree that we should celebrate the achievements of such national centres of excellence—in this case we can celebrate an international centre of excellence? That being the case, should we not, make it a priority to give such institutions the facilities they need in order for them to carry on their pioneering work?

My Lords, I certainly agree that we should be proud of the achievements over many years of the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital. Other orthopaedic hospitals such as the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre in Oxford, where I was once employed, also have a proud claim 10 being international centres of excellence.

I fully accept that the buildings at the hospital are not ideal at present. That is why the trust has made its proposals and the London regional office is currently considering them.

My Lords, is it not a fact that the hospital is currently housed in what might almost be described as substandard huts? People attend the hospital simply because the quality of the care is so good. In view of his remarks concerning the £50 million, can the Minister comment on the fact that I was told that a scheme of£28 million was agreed with the region? A spare part of land belonging to the hospital would be sold off for £14 million, bringing the net cost to £14 million. Can he comment on those figures?

My Lords, I do not think that I can go further than the comments I made in my previous response. The trust has put forward proposals which would amount to the wholesale redevelopment of the site. In total, the costs will come to £50 million. Those proposals are being considered at the moment. However, I am also aware that the trust has made an interim bid to the regional office for the refurbishment of the operating theatres and the TSSU. Those works would come to around £500,000. The proposal is also being considered by the regional office. It is hoped that the office will come forward with a speedy response.

My Lords, I understand that the trust has an in-patient unit in Bolsover Street in London. Can the Minister say what plans there are for that unit?

My Lords, it is planned that the out-patient unit should move from its current site to the Homeopathic Hospital in Queen Square. The Homeopathic Hospital will decant into the Bolsover Street car park for a couple of years. A newly refurbished hospital will open in 2003 on the site of the Homeopathic Hospital. The consultant "orthopods" will, no doubt, have much to discuss with the homeopathic practitioners.

My Lords, perhaps the Minister can tell me whether my understanding of what he said is correct. He said that £500,000 will be spent on refurbishing operating theatres which, in the near future, one hopes, will be pulled down in order to make space available for new buildings. How long will the consultations take? Is it not a waste of money?

No, my Lords. Even with the "speed-up" that the Government have introduced into the development of new capital programmes it will take some time to build a new hospital, if that is agreed to. It is important that we do not blight the existing use of these theatres by not giving them a lick of paint and refurbishing them in the interim period. It would be very unfortunate if no progress was made on refurbishment over a number of years. We should look at this issue with some sympathy.

Women In Parliament

2.44 p.m.

When they expect to publish the conclusions of the Home Office study into the legislative options to increase the representation of women in Parliament.

My Lords, the work is only at a preliminary stage. I am not yet in a position, sadly, to give a timetable for it.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer, although it is rather disappointing. Does the Minister agree that if there is a need for legislative change to achieve the best opportunities for women to play their full part in public life and in elected public office, we cannot afford to let the issue drag on any longer than absolutely necessary? The study plus the legislative programme will take us well into the next Parliament, by which time people will have begun to make their selections and so on. Have terms of reference for the study been drawn up? If so, do those terms of reference include looking at the way in which other countries—in particular those of the European Union—manage to ensure that they have a much more equal representation of women?

My Lords, this is a complex area. As a Home Office committed to reviewing election laws in order to find a way to allow political parties to act positively in favour of women, we have made it plain that if we need to change the law we will. We are in the process of designing our approach to this issue and the methodology to be adopted. We have announced that the study will be carried out and we will announce its conclusions in due course. We want to ensure that we get the best possible advice, and we have received some extremely helpful guidance from the Equal Opportunities Commission. We will bring the matter back when it is at its most appropriate developmental stage. I am sure that the noble Baroness will accept that, sadly, we are not in a position to do anything before the likely date of the next general election. I appreciate the need to ensure that the work is well advanced before the next round of elections for the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament; there is some urgency.

My Lords, following the example set by the Conservative Party of having the first woman Prime Minister and, indeed, the first woman Leader of this House, does not the Minister agree that women do not need to be patronised by special legislative measures but can manage very well on merit?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is a member of a party which should be congratulated. Not only did her party produce the first woman Prime Minister but also, as I understand it, the first woman Leader of your Lordships' House. However, the Conservative Party's record generally in promoting women in political and public life is not good. Perhaps that is not surprising when it has spokespeople such as Roy Barnes, the deputy chairman of the Reigate Conservative Association—this is a good one—who said:

"I don't believe that women should get into parliament or be considered as parliamentary candidates until they are say in their forties and they have made their way and have established their families".
With that kind of encouragement, I do not hold out great hope for the party opposite.

My Lords, as women far outnumber men on the electoral roll and as members of the population, is there not a serious need for a co-ordinated campaign of educating women?

My Lords, I would be in trouble if I hazarded the suggestion that that may be the case—not only in your Lordships' House but in my own.

My Lords, we should be grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, for encouraging the Government to inform us that work has started on this issue in the Home Office. Women in this country are well educated in the ways of government and opposition. Can my noble friend tell the House what the Government have done so far as concerns encouraging women into public office and the decision-making process during their term in office?

My Lords, we have done a great deal, particularly in regard to public appointments. I am extremely pleased that that is the case. We set ourselves a goal of ensuring equal representation of men and women in public appointments, and at present the proportion of women is around one-third. Clearly, we need to do more, and steady progress is being made. We need to give the process active encouragement. We can do that through the education system, as we are doing. I am sure also that the Electoral Commission will wish to encourage more women to come forward into political life, and so on. The Government have a good track record. We have more women in the Cabinet than ever before. There are more women in ministerial positions than ever before, and more female MPs. That is a good base on which to work. On this matter the Government's record is second to none.

My Lords, in view of recent A-level results, does the Minister agree that the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, should be persuaded to educate young men? Secondly, does he agree that virtually every country that has proportional representation has a higher proportion of women in its legislature than either the United States or the United Kingdom?

My Lords, I know that this is a vexed question. I look forward to receiving the noble Baroness's urgent researches on the matter. I shall study them with great care and consideration. As for educating men—yes, I am sure that we all need educating.

My Lords, if we take the wording on the Order Paper seriously, the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, is asking for increased representation of women in Parliament. Do not male MPs say that they represent women?

My Lords, I am sure that MPs. male or female, and regardless of the party from which they are drawn, would claim to represent all of their constituents.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that although it is regrettable that some women are not selected simply because they are women, it is equally regrettable that some women are selected simply because they are women?

My Lords, I hesitate before venturing on to the territory of other political parties. Perhaps I may quote the words of Sheila Gunn, former press secretary to John Major. In reference to selection on the basis of Conservative Party approved lists, she said:

"Sometimes some of the older members have difficulty understanding how a woman can juggle family and career responsibilities and how it's actually quite commonplace these days".
That is an interesting observation—not least since the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, was just 34 when she became an MP and had twins at the age of six—

My Lords, I think this is one of those "Sorry, I'll read that again" answers! Her twins were aged six when she was elected to Parliament.

European Security And Defence Initiative

2.53 p.m.

Whether they are satisfied with the discussions they have had with the United States Administration on the subject of the European Security and Defence Initiative.

Yes, my Lords. The United States and the United Kingdom agree that NATO is the essential foundation of transatlantic security. The United States administration supports European efforts to improve military capability and to take a greater share of the security burden. The United Kingdom is committed to taking the European Security and Defence Policy forward on the basis agreed at the Nice European Council. The US supports these efforts and welcomes the progress made towards our shared goals.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Will she confirm that the United States administration was assured that the European security and defence identity would have no separate planning, intelligence or policy analysis or activity of its own? If that is so, what is the function of the policy, planning and intelligence divisions at the European Union military staff headquarters?

My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that there will he no duplicate command structure. However, he raises an interesting question, and one that has caused confusion in the minds of some commentators. The strategic planning capability is the facility to examine military strategic options to support political decisions by providing high-level advice to EU military committees—the Chiefs of Staff and their representatives—and to the political authorities. As previously discussed, that is an advisory function based in Brussels involving about 135 people. That is entirely different from operational planning—the detailed military planning which takes place once a decision to intervene has been made. The role of the operational planners will be carried out either through an existing NATO command structure or, where a smaller or less intensive operation is envisaged, in existing national structures such as our own PJHQ. I hope that that has cleared up what I believe has been significant confusion in some people's minds—though not, of course, in the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont.

My Lords, does the President of France agree with the Prime Minister's interpretation of the role and function of the ESDI?

My Lords, I believe that there is a wide degree of agreement between the British Prime Minister and the President of France. Perhaps I may quote a remark on the NATO alliance made by the President of France on 9th February at Cahors. He said:

"European defence is being done and can only he done in complete harmony with NATO. It is a question of two tracks which are complementary and not in competition".
That is an unequivocal statement.

My Lords, it is important to get this right. It matters enormously in terms of practical politics and international relations. I have no doubt that we are convinced that we should be backing and reinforcing NATO, rather than setting up an organisation that could be different from NATO, autonomous, and indeed a potential rival. But that is clearly not the same understanding as exists in Paris and in other continental capitals.

If we want to make the matter absolutely plain, surely it was very unwise to agree at Nice to the presidency conclusions which include such words as:

"The military capabilities are to be established so that the Union is in a position to intervene with or without recourse to NATO assets".
I could give many more such quotations, but I shall not. That is indeed military autonomy.

My Lords, I must take issue with the noble Lord on his last point about access to NATO assets. We have been clear throughout on this matter. We are talking specifically about Petersberg tasks—about humanitarian tasks and peacekeeping tasks. In answering Questions previously in this House I have made it clear that there may be occasions when, for humanitarian tasks, we shall not need recourse either to NATO planning or to NATO assets. One such example was the rescue operations that were mounted recently in Mozambique. That has been clear throughout. The essential point that I must impress upon my noble friend, on which we are all agreed, is that it is essential to improve European military capability. I believe that the understandings on that with our French allies are very clear. Indeed, Mr Alain Richard said:

"The European defence we aspire to is not and will not be an alternative to the Atlantic Alliance".

My Lords, is there not a danger that we are getting all this out of proportion? Does the noble Baroness agree that it must be in the American interests that Europe should do more in the defence field; in our interests that Europe is capable of handling small, local situations over which the Americans may show increasingly less interest; and in everyone's interest that all this should happen within the overall umbrella of NATO and without undue and unnecessary duplication? Can the noble Baroness confirm that that is exactly what the Government are working towards?

Yes, my Lords. I agree unequivocally with the noble and gallant Lord. I can agree that that is exactly the aim to which the Government are working.

My Lords, your Lordships will have listened with interest to the noble Baroness's rather convoluted reply to the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont. I should like to ask the noble Baroness this question categorically: do we believe what the Prime Minister said to President Bush in Washington last week, or do we believe in the Nice treaty? These are two totally different things.

My Lords, they are not two totally different things. There has been a great deal of discussion around Annex VII to the treaty, and much discussion about what is meant. I should remind the noble Lord of the aim of that annex which states:

"The aim in relations between the EU and NATO is to ensure effective consultation, co-operation and transparency in determining the appropriate military responses to crises and to guarantee effective crisis management".
There is a whole annex devoted to it. I believe that it is very clear that the interests of the United Kingdom, of Europe and, indeed, those of the Atlantic Alliance and our friends in America are being served by the measures that we are taking forward.

Extremist Protests: Protection Of Individuals

3.1 p.m.

What action they are taking to protect people at risk from terrorist action by animal liberationists.

My Lords, it is completely unacceptable that a small minority of criminals attempt to stop individuals going about their legitimate, lawful activities. The Government are committed to doing whatever is necessary to help the police tackle these extremists. There are already tough laws to protect businesses and individuals. We intend to strengthen these further in the Criminal Justice and Police Bill.

My Lords, I welcome the steps that the Government are taking to promote better protection in such cases. Can the Minister say whether the Government will treat this form of terrorism as one of the most dangerous organised threats to law and order that exists at present? In particular, will the Government take measures to prevent intimidation of victims' homes, both by keeping private and confidential the addresses of directors of target companies and by looking again at the question of organised groups acting in concert by way of harassment outside people's homes? At present, the law is not adequate in that respect in properly protecting people.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord on the position he has taken. I also acknowledge his support for government measures. The measures we are putting into the Criminal Justice and Police Bill, which have now been tabled as amendments, will give the police additional powers to deal with protests outside people's homes. The police will be able to direct protestors to move away or disperse; and failure to comply with the direction will be a criminal and, indeed, an imprisonable offence.

A second amendment will amend the malicious communications legislation, which currently makes available to those accused a defence of subjectively believing that their behaviour was reasonable. This will be replaced by an objective test. We are encouraged by the support that we are receiving for ensuring that company directors will be protected from necessarily having to provide their home address. Therefore, we are taking the measures suggested by the noble Lord. We take the issue extremely seriously. It is in all of our interests to give the police the utmost support in operations directed against such protestors.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is not only a case of protecting people, but also one of protecting animals from these people? Can the Minister give the House any information about what has happened to the beagles that were recently stolen? Can he say whether any follow up measures have been taken by the authorities to try to find out what damage or harm has occurred to them?

My Lords, as noble Lords are aware, it is occasionally the case that some of the activities of extremists involved in this sort of "protest"—if one can call it that—have had an adverse impact on some animals. That fact is greatly to be regretted; indeed, it is not something that should be encouraged. I cannot provide the noble Lord with the information that he requires because that is an operational matter for the police. However, I know that the police have taken seriously the attack he mentioned and that they have been vigorous in the extreme in following up and inquiring into exactly what has happened. They are to be congratulated on that work.

My Lords, can the noble Lord confirm that the courts should take into account the intention to cause fear when assessing the gravity of an offence and before sentencing an offender?

My Lords, I am sure that that would be the case. Courts would take that point very carefully into consideration.

My Lords, I believe the feeling of the House is that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, should put his question. If there is time, two swift questions can be put.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that, although we realise and welcome the indication that the Government are considering tightening up the legislation, one of the crucial issues, as always, is one of resources? Is he also aware that the police force responsible for trying to protect Huntingdon Life Sciences in Cambridgeshire is one of the smaller police forces, albeit one that is extremely well led by a very vigorous chief constable? Is the noble Lord further aware that that force needs additional financial support, given the pressure on its resources? Can he tell the House what can be done in that respect?

My Lords, we have provided the Cambridgeshire constabulary with an additional £1 million to support their activities. In response to the noble Lord's earlier point, I should tell him that we have not just moved forward; we have physically tabled amendments so that the legislation will be changed in the way in which I carefully described. So, yes, we are giving very active support to the Cambridgeshire constabulary and, yes, we are putting in place the legislation to enable the police to act.


My Lords, immediately after today's second debate, my noble friend Lord Macdonald of Tradeston will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement on the Selby rail crash. I should add that I am grateful to the usual channels for agreeing to the timing of the Statement. The House may wish to know that that unusual timing is a result of the desire of the Deputy Prime Minister to visit the crash site in person before he makes a Statement to Members in another place.

Latin America And The Caribbean

3.7 p.m.

rose to call attention to developments in Latin America and the Caribbean; and to move for Papers.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the Motion before your Lordships today is, I recognise, very widely drawn. In attempting to follow in the tradition established by my noble friend Lord Montgomery, and in my capacity as president of Canning House (the Hispanic and Luso Brazilian Council), I felt it timely to draw attention to developments in Latin America. However, the Minister then persuaded me to add the Caribbean to the terms of reference. I make no apology for doing so.

The United Kingdom has an ongoing role in the Caribbean, and not only with the six remaining dependent territories in the region. The countries of the Caribbean are largely English speaking, but include Cuba and the Dominican Republic, where, after all, Columbus is said to have first landed after his epic voyage. Although this is an area which may be regarded by some as "America's backyard", I believe, looking to the future, that there is every likelihood that the smaller countries of central America—from Guatemala to Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and even down to and including Panama—and the other countries in the Caribbean will want to get together to form a regional grouping for their mutual benefit and recognition, and to give balance to the large and powerful NAFTA to the north, Mercosur to the far south and the Andean Community to the south-west. Britain could, and should, exercise considerable influence in such a development. In doing so, it is possible that we might find a solution to the vexed question of bananas.

The main thrust of my intervention today is to focus on British trade and investment with the region. Sadly, this is deteriorating and we must do something about it. I start from the premise that the United Kingdom is a trading nation and that historically and culturally, as well as economically, we have as strong ties and links with Latin America and the Caribbean as with other parts of the world—if not stronger. Indeed, that was the reason for the foundation of Canning House after the last war, when our traditional markets flowing from the period of empire were changing and disappearing. It was recognised at that time that the countries of Latin America were rich in resources and potential. But it was also recognised that it would be necessary to promote and stimulate trade and commercial links. That is the task and challenge that we still carry out at Canning House.

It is only fair to say that this had been envisaged by George Canning as far back as the early 19th century. He famously said,

"I have called the New World into existence to redress the balance of the old".

Canning's foresight led to British forces and finance supporting the liberation movements which swept through the continent with Bolivar and Miranda in the north, and San Martin and O'Higgins in the south, to mention but a few leading names. That in turn led to considerable British involvement and investment in the railways, shipping and other industries, and to the establishment of sizeable British communities which exist to this day in Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Chile in particular. However, sadly, I think that Canning's name is better known in Buenos Aires than in London.

Just as Canning in his day was influenced by war and enmities in Europe, today we still take a European point of view. The situation is now very different. We are united in Europe. When we talk bilaterally about the United Kingdom and the countries of Latin America, it is vital to remember that the UK has a leading role to play as part of the European Union, particularly in relation to the special agreements now being implemented or negotiated between the EU and Mexico, the EU and Mercosur and the EU and Chile.

A recent report by Trade Partners UK—the agency created by the newly-formed British Trade International to promote British trading activities worldwide—gives an interesting picture. To attempt to summarise the report's main conclusions is difficult. It shows that UK exports of goods to Latin America tumbled some 20 per cent in 1999 and for most of 2000; it was beginning to bottom out only by September 2000. Mexico was the bright spot with growth every year since 1995, totalling a rise of 132 per cent. The UK's performance was worse than the percentage fall of total imports to all the major markets of Latin America. The decline during 1999 was across most sectors, with pharmaceuticals an exception. Latin America now enjoys a record trade balance with the UK of £1.2 billion, perhaps the largest ever. UK market share suffered falls in key markets although it held up in Brazil.

There can be some consolation in the fact that trade in services appears to have held up reasonably well and that UK investments continued to grow although the UK's leading position in terms of investment is now being overtaken by Spain, particularly in banking, telecoms and the energy sector. As a final conclusion, the report states that the IMF is cautiously optimistic about growth but the cooling of the United States economy could have implications for the region, particularly Mexico.

What can we do about this sorry picture? I hope that the Minister will be able to come up with some initiatives to encourage us. Since the Link in to Latin America Campaign—initiated, I am proud to say, by the Conservative government in the early 1990s—which led to considerable gains in our trade performance, the past two years have seen, with the exception of Mexico some considerable setbacks for the UK in terms of traded goods.

Many individual organisations, chambers of commerce, trade missions and agencies such as the Latin American Trade Advisory Group and the Caribbean Trade Advisory Group have made considerable efforts, as have the commercial department of individual embassies, but there is still a long way to go. There is no doubt that a concerted effort such as the Link into Latin America Campaign can and should have a major impact, particularly if it is led from the highest possible level by the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary. I hope that whoever is in those posts after the next election will make a point of visiting the region as a priority and will, at the very least, prove less difficult as regards arranging time to see and talk with distinguished visitors when they come to this country.

I recognise that some Ministers have made successful visits to the region accompanied by high level groups of industrialists. Apart from the Minister herself, I mention the visit of the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, to Brazil; the visit by the leader of another place, Margaret Beckett, to Mexico; the visit by the Secretary of State, Clare Short, to Bolivia and other countries in the region; and the most recent visit to Brazil and Chile by Nick Raynsford in connection with the PFI. I hope that appropriate monitoring and follow-through is taking place to build on the links, contacts and good will established by those visits.

Other important and major developments need to be watched carefully. I have already referred to the need for the UK to lead in the EU and its internal debates towards a common position that will enable substantive negotiations on a free trade agreement with the Mercosur countries of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay, and other individual countries involved in EU agreements. That is particularly relevant in terms of agricultural policy and modifications to the common agricultural policy.

Another issue relates to "dollarisation". The dollar is already established as the currency of Panama and, most recently, Ecuador. It is a de facto currency in Argentina. There is also the Free Trade Area of the Americas, a United States initiative which in all likelihood will be driven forward and given a push by President Bush.

In calling attention to developments in Latin America and the Caribbean, we must consider not only our trade and commercial links and investment. Other themes will be dealt with in more detail by other speakers. They will include cultural links which imply a recognition of cultural heritage and exchanges of art and artists, and full and frequent discussions on environmental issues.

The important subject of drugs touches us as a consumer country, as it does the producer and transit countries. Since the major drug summit called by Margaret Thatcher in London in 1990—attended by, among other leaders and senior Ministers from Latin America, the then President of Colombia, Vergilio Barco, and leading representatives of the United Nations and the European Union—I am unaware of any recent initiatives by the Government. However, I draw attention to the international drugs conference held in Bolivia at the end of last week at which, I understand, two MPs from the House of Commons were present. I trust that something positive will result.

On the education front., I have referred previously to the enormous increase in GAP exchanges and university exchanges. There is the potential for many young people to have more knowledge of Latin America than my generation had. The British Council plays an important role. It does terrific work. For that reason, I lament the fact that it is closing down its centre in Ecuador. It is the only closure due to take place in South America.

Democracy is important in Latin America. Twenty years ago it hardly existed—certainly not in a pluralistic form. The recent elections in Mexico have produced a change of party in government, with the presidency of Vicente Fox. The democracies of Ecuador and Peru are fragile and struggling, but they are holding out. In that context, the role of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, with its regular exchanges of parliamentarians, is very important. We recently received a group from Mexico. I know that several speakers in today's debate were introduced to Latin America as a result of IPU visits. Given the bridges that we must build in Chile, I hope that there will soon be an IPU visit there. The IPU international meeting in Cuba due in April is evidence of the increasing openness and transparency in that country today, which I hope presages a return to full pluralistic democracy there.

It is difficult—indeed, impossible—in the 15 minutes allowed to me as the mover of the Motion to do justice to a vast continent, full of opportunities and closely linked with Europe. It is a continent of diverse peoples, fascinating history and culture, towering mountain peaks, great lakes and forests, waterfalls, beautiful beaches and islands and, at this time of year, the musical rhythms of carnival. It will be equally difficult for the Minister to wind up. I wish her luck. I know that we are assured of her deep personal interest.

I end by pressing the Minister on three points. The first is the need for high-level contact and follow-up in our relations with the region. The second is the need to ensure the continuation of the important work of the Latin American Trade Advisory Group and the Caribbean Trade Advisory Group. Thirdly, an initiative is needed to take forward the concept of further and deeper co-operation between the Caribbean and Central American countries. I beg to move for Papers.

3.22 p.m.

My Lords, I am sure that I speak for the whole House when I commend the work done by Canning House and its staff, so ably led by the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, and before her by Viscount Montgomery. It is one of the most important links between our nation and Latin America.

As the noble Baroness pointed out, it is 175 years since Canning made his famous speech, thought to be one of the great parliamentary speeches of recent history. It was important because he acknowledged with great foresight that the opening up of the Americas—not just north, but south as well—would mean immense trade benefit for this country and the world. In the last century, although not so much in this, Britain followed the path that Canning had in mind. At the beginning of a new century, it is appropriate that we should adopt his enthusiasm once again.

This country has three qualities that commend themselves to co-operation with Latin America. The first is our open and expansive desire for trade. Secondly, we are determined to protect democratic institutions. Thirdly, we are committed, where appropriate, to giving development help to those countries that desperately need it. Latin America needs our help on each of those points.

As well as defence of the realm, trade is the paramount function of the Government. It is significant—I am a little more optimistic than the noble Baroness—that we are now approaching £600 million of exports to Mexico. That has increased by as much as 8 per cent in the past calendar year. Mexico has a new president, a desire for change and a wish to trade beyond the Americas with the United Kingdom and Europe. We should foster trade relations with it.

The European Union has just agreed a free trade arrangement for services, intellectual property and other modern export items. That is a tremendous change of ethos by the Mexicans and by us, but it needs to be developed, not taken for granted. I commend to the Minister two firm, clear steps that will advance trade in Mexico and Brazil. First, we should encourage the holding of a forum this summer, if feasible, on trade with Mexico. It would be open to the City, all aspects of manufacturing and the world of commerce. Secondly, and very importantly for the developing nations of South America, our Prime Minister should make a visit if possible. Only when you go abroad—as the noble Baroness and I do quite regularly to South America—do you appreciate the standing not just of our country, but of our Prime Minister, not because of his party politics, but because of his ability to evidence the wish for change. A visit by the Prime Minister to South America would be of enormous practical as well as symbolic value.

I chose Mexico as an example of trade development because the number of South American countries is enormous and there are great trading differences between them. For example, in Bolivia, British Gas and British Petroleum have the opportunity to develop what is thought to be the biggest gas field in the Americas, including North America. Let us trade with Latin America with enthusiasm.

My next point is democracy. I am going to put before your Lordships' House some depressing facts, but out of them has arisen a confidence in the people of the Americas to meet disaster with courage. It is amazing that from the Fujimori era in Peru there exist, as far as is known, videos of 211 leaders of the community doing deals with Mr Montecinos. I mean deals for the community. They cover business, the army, politicians, the law and the media. That state of affairs could cause a dramatic loss of confidence in public life in some societies, but that has not happened. The people of Peru have successfully fought that notorious state of affairs, with a transitional government staffed by people of such eminence as Perez de Cuellar as Prime Minister, Diego Sayan as Minister of Justice and Susana Villarim as Minister for Women's Affairs. That is a complete change of attitude. I call on our Government to continue their policy of ensuring that the elections in April in Peru are honestly carried out and thereafter to continue financial and governmental support for the judiciary, the police and the world of politics as we democrats know it so that there is no repetition of what has just happened.

I do not condemn Peru or its history by what I have just said—I commend it. It is a country that is surviving dire trouble. I ask the Government two things: first, that they continue their financial and political support; and, secondly, that they do so because, symbolically, if Peru survives this, other South American countries will take it as a fine example that they themselves can deal with such major events which strike danger into their very society.

I turn to the issue of development. Whatever our tribulations, we are a rich nation. Some countries in South America are desperately poor. Honduras, with little or no strength of economy, suffered the ravages of Hurricane Mitch. It has taken that country perhaps two, three or four years to reach the stage of thinking about recovery, not achieving it.

I call upon the Government to continue that which I know they have done; that is, vigorously to criticise the state of affairs whereby, years on, the European Union has failed to deliver the money which Honduras needed following Hurricane Mitch. A severe administrator would call it a debacle; a humanitarian would call it an outrage. It cannot go on. When countries need help, our example should be the one relied upon by others. With DfID, Sweden and the World Bank, we play a crucial part in the development of such countries as Honduras and Nicaragua which suffer serious economic troubles.

I have mentioned just a few South American countries. I want to close by referring to the Caribbean. The Anglo-Caribbean Jurists Association, financially supported by the Government and professionally supported by the lawyers of this country, is anxious to improve the training and standards of our colleagues in the Caribbean and to maintain law and order at its finest in this English-speaking part of the Americas. Through what I have said, I hope that I have demonstrated what I set out to indicate: we want trade; we protect democracy; and we give development aid where it is needed. In all those regards, Latin America needs us. Let us not fail it.

3.22 p.m.

My Lords, first, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, on obtaining this debate. As one might expect, in moving the Motion she speaks with great authority and enormous experience. My own contribution will be much more modest. I want to refer to only one country in Latin America—Peru.

My interest in that country was first stimulated not, as noble Lords might expect, because Peru produced, and the Irish ate, so many potatoes, but because of a rather more sombre point of common interest. As noble Lords will know, like my own part of the United Kingdom, for a long time Peru suffered from politically motivated terrorism. I believe that all of us were delighted to see come to power out of apparently free and fair elections a new government who wished to address firmly and properly the question of terrorism. Of course, in many ways that happened under President Fujimori.

I began to take an interest in that country because a number of professional colleagues were interested in understanding not only the origins of conflict there and in my own part of the world and how those might be addressed, but also how one might deal with a post-conflict situation. Sometimes, dealing with the aftereffects of conflict is a much underrated problem.

However, when I went there, I discovered that the situation was not as I had expected. Many people would not speak openly. At that time, many people were talking about the tremendous work done by President Fujimori: he dealt with the terrorist campaign and righted the economy, which had been in a disastrous position. Surely that was a fine recommendation for what he and his government had been doing.

However, I found that people were too frightened to talk. When I had spent a little time there and had begun to encourage them to speak in privacy, it became apparent to me that all was not well: the press appeared to be free but were in no way free to speak about important matters; the security forces were not seen as the protectors but as the oppressors of ordinary people; and human rights abuses were rife and widespread.

I am glad to say that those facts have been recognised by our own Government and by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Resources have been made available, for example, for the British Council to work with the press. The BBC was also involved in training and assisting people. Indeed, Dennis Murray, a correspondent from Northern Ireland who had experience of working in a terrorist situation, went out to assist in developing the skills of journalists working in difficult circumstances such as those. Much work was also done with NGOs, particularly in the field of human rights. I believe that we have all begun to discover that free and fair elections are not all that is required in creating a liberal democracy. Peru is perhaps one of the most recently striking and tragic examples of that fact.

The situation began to become more clear, not only to ourselves but to the people of Peru, who, as the noble Lord indicated, began to summon up the courage to change matters and to change them strikingly and dramatically. I was in Lima during the week when the situation changed and when the Speaker of that Parliament subsequently went on to other, more striking things, such as becoming the interim President of the country.

In those circumstances, when the British Council, partly funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, had played a role—one should not overstate it; nevertheless, it played an important role—in developing human rights and activist skills and in encouraging the press to report on some of the dreadful things that had been and were happening, it seemed to me that a powerful case existed for increasing the resources available. It seemed to me essential to capitalise and to develop those skills at a time when the building of a democracy had become so necessary because political parties had largely disappeared. Certainly, the case for at least maintaining the input of the British Council was unanswerable.

However, it came as something of a shock to discover that at that very moment the British Council was deciding to reduce the resources available in Peru and, indeed, as the noble Baroness said, to close the office in Ecuador. At the very time when we were achieving some success and could capitalise and build upon it and have a real impact, I was particularly struck that in Peru all the resources had been cut back.

I speak as a strong supporter of the British Council. In many ways, I consider it to be one of the great unsung institutions. It is appreciated much more outside the United Kingdom than it is within it. It does tremendous work. This is not the time and the place to speak in glowing terms or, indeed, to study the changes in strategy that have taken place recently.

However, I believe that sometimes mistakes are made in carrying out rationalisation. One reduces the amount of resources available to relatively smaller places and invests them in larger places. Sometimes when resources are lost, it is better to put what money there is into the smaller places where it can have an effect rather than to take it to the larger places where the leverage will be relatively limited. Peru is a large country but, in comparison with some of the other countries in which the British Council is working, it is not so large. Removing resources when we were on the cusp of reaping the rewards for our success seemed to me misguided and a mistake.

I hope that the Minister will be able to give me an indication that she shares that concern by acting in an entirely well disposed and friendly way towards the British Council and by encouraging it with the continued assistance that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has given to various projects.

Of course, it is not only projects of that kind that are important, and it is not only a matter of resources. Other things can be done. In my own part of the world, changes are taking place with regard to policing. That has freed up people with enormous experience of working in conflict situations and of dealing with relationships between the security forces and the community. Those people with skills and experience could well be of assistance in a situation such as exists in Peru, where the relationship between the security services and the community is very bad, and with very good reason.

There are other ways in which the situation could be improved. The air links between the United Kingdom and Peru have been scaled down during the past few years. Frankfurt international airport is taking over responsibility for Lima airport and seeks to use it as a hub to serve the whole of the South Pacific and the Far East. Others can see what needs to be done in terms of building democracy and improving human rights. That will help with the construction of the new Peru, which needs to benefit from trade links.

When things go well, we tend to pull out. I fear that that is something of a characteristic in our country. In academic life, our research at a basic level often demonstrates an important advance, but we leave it to others to capitalise on commercial and other advantages. I fear that we may have made a similar mistake in respect of Peru. I hope that it will be possible to ensure that we build on the excellent work that has been done there and in other countries.

3.40 p.m.

My Lords, in contrast to the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, I shall use a wide-angle lens to cover a range of topics without going into too much detail rather than the zoom lens that he used to focus on one topic. That will make the life of my noble friend the Minister more interesting.

Looking through my 28mm lens from high above the Caribbean, I see in the distance the north coasts of Colombia and Venezuela. The Colombian embassy sends me its regular bulletin, Observatorio de los derechos humanos, or the Observatory on Human Rights, for which I am very grateful. Two recent issues concentrated on laws to counteract forced displacement, disappearances, genocide and torture, and the protection of journalists, of whom 157 have been killed since 1985. Those examples are only part of a long drawn-out conflict that is going on in Colombia. President Pastrana, who was elected on a platform to seek peace, was shown on "Channel 4 News" on Sunday visiting the FARC in the rebel-controlled zone. He is a man of courage. However, more conservative opinion in Colombia is impatient and suggests that he is being too soft on the rebels, as do some in the United States, which is now mobilising the military arm of Plan Colombia. The Americans claim that the FARC are behind narco-traffic in cocaine. In the Channel 4 film, President Pastrana seemed uncomfortable at the arrival in increasing numbers of helicopter gunships. The FARC was clearly preparing to defend itself against an assault.

Many feel that the United States' war against drugs, which is now to be directed against peasant growers of cocaine, hides another agenda—that of crushing a left-wing popular uprising that threatens the status quo. That would be in the tradition of the United States' policy in Latin America, which is to destabilise any country that seems too far to the left of centre. It often does that by economic, covert or arm's-length military means. I expect the current government in Washington to tend towards continuing that policy, which would be extremely dangerous. In Colombia, American fingers might well get burnt. I urge the Government—with, of course, the greatest of tact—to use their special relationship to urge great caution in the operation of Plan Colombia.

Next door to Colombia is Venezuela, which now has a president who stands rather to the left of centre. He is carrying out significant policies such as increasing social spending on the strength of high oil prices. Those policies are long overdue but they may make the IMF and its friends in Washington a little nervous. Will my noble friend comment briefly on our relationship with the present government in Venezuela? In many ways, we share a common outlook although I am not sure whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer would consider the economic policies of President Chavez to be sufficiently prudent!

I turn briefly to the Windward Islands, on one of which—Dominica—I enjoyed a wonderful holiday in early January. The first inhabitants of that island, the Caribs, fiercely resisted and repelled many early would-be colonists. Their handsome descendants, some of whom have distinctly oriental features, still live in the north-east part of the island. I am afraid that my noble friend will not be able to give us the good news that the EU and the African, Caribbean and Pacific producers have won the banana war. At least there is agreement about a transition period. Will that be long enough to allow for the necessary diversification of the islands' economy to develop? What assistance, I ask my noble friend, is the United Kingdom giving to assist that process of diversification? I have to admit that I am puzzled by the detail of the "first come, first served" tariff quota system that has been agreed. However, I am sure that she will be able to describe the current position when she replies.

I turn to Cuba, the largest Caribbean island and, with its 11 million people, a major player in the Caribbean both in terms of trade and culture. That has been achieved despite the United States' embargo, which many felt would lead to the collapse of Fidel Castro's socialist experiment. Instead, it had the opposite effect, because strong leadership is better tolerated by a population when there are external threats. After reaching a very low ebb during the early 1990s, caused by the collapse of Soviet economic support, the economy is now in recovery. That is in large measure due to the successful and rapid state-sponsored growth of tourism. That recovery phase provides a big opportunity for trade, and investment in joint enterprises. British entrepreneurs have been part of that effort, considerably assisted by the Cuba Initiative launched by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and the interest of the Department of Trade and Industry, especially that of Brian Wilson, a former Minister at that department.

Other EU countries were off the mark more quickly than we were with regard to Cuba, and they were more flexible in arranging credit facilities. However, a memorandum of understanding with the Export Credits Guarantee Department for limited credit for Cuba was reached in 1999. I gather that the agreement has not yet become operational. Can my noble friend report any progress in that regard and on the rescheduling of the Cuban debt to the Paris Club?

As well as increased trade, there is a welcome increase in cultural exchanges with Cuba, including the opening of a British Council office in Havana. Can my noble friend say whether that has resulted in more scholarships for Cubans to come to study in Britain, and are the figures likely to increase? With regard to the reverse situation, how many British students are going to Cuba to study as undergraduates or postgraduates? Are there any plans for regular exchanges or linkages between academic institutions?

As a doctor, I was very pleased that a seminar for 100 or more British GPs and their Cuban opposite numbers, which met in Havana last year and which was arranged by Professor Patrick Pietroni, went so well. In fact, it is being repeated this year. Although we had things to teach at the seminar, we also had things to learn. The Cuban health service is unique; it has a much lower doctor-patient ratio than anywhere else in the world. Every GP has a strong public health role, and preventive medicine and health promotion have equal priority with curative medicine. A strong primary healthcare system in Cuba is one of the main reasons why it has one of the best health profiles in the western hemisphere, despite economic adversity and sanctions.

Like Scotland, Cuba produces a surplus of doctors and it offers to supply medical personnel to other countries that have suffered disasters, such as hurricanes, earthquakes or floods, particularly if we—that is, the United Nations or the European Union—can provide the money to get them there. Cuba cannot afford to do so. In fact, Cuban doctors have been working in several other developing countries, especially Africa, for some years. Cuba also has a programme offering medical training to poor students from other Caribbean and Latin American countries—a rather effective way, I suspect, of gaining respect and influence.

Fidel Castro, the longest-surviving head of state in the world, is an incurable optimist. At the millennium summit of the United Nations in September last year, he said at the end of what must have been his shortest ever speech—it lasted around three minutes—
"The dream of having truly fair and sensible rules to guide human destiny seems impossible to many. However, we are convinced that the struggle for the impossible should be the motto of this institution that brings us together today".
I am sure we can all agree with those sentiments, even if we do not agree with his form of government.

3.50 p.m.

My Lords, it always amazes me, when one walks around the Palace of Westminster quietly in the evening, having had a drink or two, and looks around that one finds that history is there—Latin America or wherever it might be; the great men. 'When we wander around Westminster Abbey we feel the same. When we look at our colleagues today we ask, "Are they great men, or will they be great men when they die? Where is the spirit of adventure?"

I wish to begin with the Royal Gallery and the tableau of the Battle of Trafalgar. One reminds oneself that that was a battle fought on the way back from the Caribbean, or on the way to somewhere else. Why was it that people went out to those parts of the world? Why did the French and the British fight in the Mediterranean in the summer, like some of the yacht races today, and fight in the Caribbean in the winter? They got there just as quickly as the two great yachtsmen—the Frenchman and the young English girl who went round the world.

They went there because they needed commodities—agricultural, minerals and a few other things besides. But they also went there—dare I say?—for buckaneering, piracy or exploitation. We remember that the British Fleet would spend some time in Bonifacio; it would then move on to Mahon, then to Gibraltar and then to English Harbour. Then it would seize what it could from Spanish and French ships and return with plunder for Her Majesty the Queen.

The noble Lord, Lord Rea, may be mistaken. I believe I am right in saying that the longest-serving head of state is Her Majesty the Queen. I may be wrong, in which case I am sure he will acknowledge my error.

My Lords, I suffer from good advice from people on these Benches who are more important than I am.

There was then a change in that part of the world, and the buckaneers, or those with the letter of marque, suddenly decided to privatise themselves and there was piracy. It may not have been Henry Morgan, but all those historical events have a bearing upon today. I wish, if I may, to take your Lordships through some of the reasons why we went to those places and what happened. I do this because, by accident—your Lordships may have heard me declare this before—I was conceived on the beach in Jamaica, probably the equivalent of last week, in 1937. Therefore I find that I am an honorary Jamaican.

Those unconnected incidents led to a presence in the Caribbean that I could not fully understand. But the most important of all was my directorship of the oldest spa company in the world, Terme Di Poretta, of Poretta between Bologna, Pisa and Firenze. They were the ones who told me of the health-giving qualities of the countries in the Caribbean. They were the ones whose original technical team came to Bath to find Aquae Sulis. Your Lordships will remember that we have always had agricultural problems here, but the pigs that accompanied the Roman Army and which provided the food were self-foraging. They suffered from scabies near Bath and rolled in the mud where the water came out of the ground and were cured. Those were the Bath mineral springs.

Nelson had a connection with Bath. He went off and spent much of his time in what I would regard as the "Queen of the Caribbean", as it was called; the area around Nevis, where we find Pinneys Beach and Nelson Springs, and where, believe it or not, the sailors sat one day under a manganeel tree which dripped sulphur. Their skins were burnt and they rushed into the river. They were cured and that was the Bath River.

But Nelson moved on. In one area in Jamaica a runaway slave was shot and wounded, and he, fleeing through the sugar cane—there was lots of sugar cane in those days—found a river and buried himself in the waters. His wounds were cured and that was called the Bath River.

Those events go back over a long period of time. My first involvement with the Caribbean was through my banking group. We became economic advisers to countries in the Caribbean. The first was St Kitts and Nevis. We had great pleasure in helping them to achieve their independence and then sitting down to negotiate with strange men with Chinese-sounding names who said, "We gave technical assistance to Antigua when it went independent and would like to give technical assistance to you". I happened to ask what sort of technical assistance. The response was, "A certain amount of money would be convenient for major projects, if you could think of some projects". I asked what the terms and conditions would be. "Just a little bit of support in the United Nations"! As noble Lords will know, the British Government have more votes, through the Commonwealth, in the United Nations than anyone else and there are lots of countries of the Commonwealth in the Caribbean which might like to flex their muscles.

I am half-way through my speech and shall now try to be serious. Sadly, today we are no longer a manufacturing nation. We do not possess the equipment to supply to those countries that need it. We are no longer the trading nation that we were because we ourselves have changed beyond belief. Originally we would go to those countries to help them develop their products, which we would then acquire. That is no longer the case. Those areas have minerals, and we know these days that most of the big mineral operations are in the hands of large corporations and a sizeable chunk of the revenue does not go back to those countries for further development.

We then come to agriculture. Obviously there are potatoes; but we can go to a potato market in Latin America and see as many as 100 potato sellers with no customers and poverty of the lowest level. All the great agricultural products have been shifted, somehow, until we come to one specific element. It might be called "ganja" or the coca plant. One of my noble friends advised me only yesterday that the greatest single agricultural crop, in value, purchased in the United States is now ganja, or the "weed of wisdom".

In Peru, we find that most of the major income from agriculture is coca leaf which goes to Colombia for processing. I do not know what we can do about all that, but there is a need for alternative crops. After the Nevis exercise, we ended up as economic advisers to the Government of Jamaica. I went out there full of enthusiasm for the agricultural potential of Jamaica and found that it had to import practically all its food for tourism. There was a simple explanation. If one has a vegetable plot in Jamaica, because the Rastafarians believe that all the food comes from God and they therefore have a right to take it, one needs a guard for the plot. The cost of the guard makes it cheaper to import the vegetables from other parts of the world.

The High Commission in Jamaica always had a problem that when the mango was in fruit on the mango tree in the High Commission, it had to have a guard because the Jamaicans would come and steal the fruit. And they saw nothing wrong in that. But when we go to parts of the area where the ganja is grown, or the "weed of wisdom", and try to think of alternative crops, it becomes extremely difficult. We spent a great deal of time on that with Dutch technology and managed to produce carnations and roses early enough for the market in Colombia. But we found that we could not obtain a satisfactory price for them. Also, it seemed that most of the flowers were acquired by Colombia and each pack of flowers—they were distributed throughout America—would contain other certain noxious substances.

That was very difficult and we now have to deal with the drug problem. I do not know how. But I believe we have more experience than most. Part of that campaign was my simple Question to Her Majesty's Government a few weeks ago to ask whether they planned to legalise marijuana. Thank goodness they said no.

The next area of development has become financial services. But that is now called "money laundering". Again, the opportunities that exist in the Caribbean are considerable for those who wish to preserve their capital legally where all the services are set up, and somehow we must manage to create a division between those that are illegal and those that are genuine. I have been talking with the Swiss authorities about those areas. I believe that we should co-operate and concentrate upon this matter. To condemn it out of hand and remove that source of income is again of concern.

Finally—noble Lords will perhaps think that I am being negative—we come to crime. I have never understood why 100 years ago we had footpads; they then became rollers, then muggers and now they are street robbers and are about to go back to being footpads. Sadly, the biggest single grouping comes from those of Caribbean origin. It was black on white for a while and now it is black on black. At the other end, from Latin America, we have the dippers. In general, the Latin Americans have been pretty good at pickpocketing. If we are not careful, the countries that have natural resources will be condemned because of drugs, crime and money laundering. They are worth more than that. This Government and this country can provide tremendous assistance to restore stability.

4.1 p.m.

My Lords, I rise with great pleasure to speak on the subject of Latin America. I sincerely thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, for enabling me to do so. I fear that compared to previous speakers I am a novice on this subject. Indeed, this is the first speech I have made on Latin America for 25 years, since my days as a mature student at Essex University where I studied comparative government, taking as my comparators with the UK Government Latin American countries and in particular Chile, Argentina and Brazil. However, I have developed a great interest in Latin America over the years.

The 1970s were volatile years in Latin America—in Chile when President Allende came to power and the appalling bloody aftermath; in Argentina where, following changes of rulers, two of my lecturers had to remain in the UK because of their political allegiances in their homeland; and in Brazil where the military reigned supreme.

Today I want to concentrate on Brazil. At Essex I was extremely lucky to have an inspired Brazilian lecturer from Sao Paulo. Her love and enthusiasm for her city and her country instilled in me a desire to continue learning all I could about Brazil and to visit it one day.

It is fair to say that often when Brazil is mentioned, thoughts turn to its famous footballers, the role models of so many youngsters throughout the world, its coffee plantations which provide us with our daily satisfying brews, or its wonderful Rio carnival, which is taking place at present. But Brazil is much more than that. Brazilian society evolved from successive waves of migration from Europe, Africa and Asia whose people joined the indigenous Brazilian Indians. As a result, Brazil enjoys a rich, colourful and diverse population. Brazil is the largest of the Latin American countries and the fifth largest in the world. It covers nearly half of the South American continent.

I remember vividly one statistic given to us by our lecturers: Brazil is 27 times as large as France. For Europeans, I think that puts Brazil in perspective. The major difference between the Brazil of the 1970s and the Brazil of today is that in the seventies Brazil was under military rule. Since 1985 it has been a federal republic consisting of 26 states and the Federal District Brasilia. Its president is elected for a four-year term of office, and President Cardoso, the current president, faces the next elections in October 2002.

In comparison with Brazil, our political system is very simple. President Cardoso's party, PSDB, is gaining members fast, but there are 18 political parties represented in Congress. That means that the president has to rely on a coalition of parties which currently represent approximately 60 per cent of the votes in the lower House. President Cardoso is the first Brazilian president to serve a second term of office and is recognised as having raised Brazil's international profile. The role of the armed forces has considerably diminished since 1985, although some high-ranking military personnel retain a measure of influence.

Relationships between the UK and Brazil have developed substantially since 1985. Today, as has been mentioned, there are exchange visits between the two countries at the highest level. President Cardoso has been on four state visits to Britain and in 1997, together with Tony Blair, signed a joint action plan highlighting eight special areas of co-operation between the two countries. In those areas, two areas were regarded by both governments as particularly important. I refer to the international fight against drug trafficking, which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, and increased co-operation in support of peacekeeping exercises.

Brazil is Britain's most important trading partner in Latin America. Our exports trebled between 1992 and 1997, exceeding £1 billion in that year. A number of British multinationals have subsidiaries in Brazil including HSBC, Lloyds Bank, Rolls Royce, Glaxo-Wellcome and Shell.

I turn to internal issues in Brazil, which are vital to that country. In the most recent years Brazil has experienced economic difficulties with a recession and rising prices in the wake of the devaluation of the real, the Brazilian currency. However, that now appears to be halting. Unemployment has fallen to its lowest level in three years, standing at 6.2 per cent in December 2000 and prompting hopes of a rise in consumer confidence. However, dependence on foreign capital means that Brazil remains vulnerable, and with imports outgrowing exports its trade deficit could increase significantly.

In the 1970s there was little if any evidence of public programmes designed to assist the poorer sections of the population. Spending on programmes aimed at the poor hardly amounted to 1 per cent of the GDP even in the better years. Today there is a national policy of social welfare, with planned objectives, funding and administrative personnel. Priority target groups for help are children and adolescents and the poorer Brazilian regions, priority being given by the federal government to local authorities with the highest indexes of local poverty.

However, despite the 1993 social welfare code, the launch in 1996 of the Brazilian National Programme for Human Rights and the establishment in 1997 of the National Department for Human Rights, there remains a high degree of social inequality in Brazil. Some of the more stark aspects of that are reflected in the considerable number of children still living on the streets, the lack of facilities for those with disabilities and the shanty towns made from cardboard, plastic and any other usable material, which remain on the outskirts of Brazil's major cities.

Despite the Brazilian Government recognising the need for legal sanctions against those responsible for human rights violations, frequent and serious violations continue and it is common for those responsible to go unpunished. Extreme violence exists in Brazil's society and there is uncertain access to the institutions of justice. As a result, illegal private security guards are prevalent, especially in the poorer areas of the cities. There are still cases of torture and rape of suspects in police stations and of executions carried out by military police, sometimes with the participation of government officials.

Following years of neglect, especially in basic education, Brazilian education compares unfavourably with other Latin American countries. Illiteracy rates among seven year-olds are estimated at 11.5 per cent in urban areas but reach over 33 per cent in rural areas. Underpaid teachers, high drop-out rates and a lack of technical schools add to the difficulties. That results in a relatively small group of well-educated professionals and trained skilled workers.

The efforts of the Brazilian Government in education since 1994 appear to have had a positive effect, especially their legislation requiring increased spending on education at state and municipal level. Additionally, in 1997 the Government launched an extensive programme to combat adult illiteracy. However, with such an inherited burden from the authoritarian years and the size and geographical differences of the country, the government face an uphill battle.

So too in the field of health. The Brazilian health sector reflects the problems of poverty, poor or non-existent sanitation and little or no health education. Infant and maternal mortality are high. Malaria cases average over half a million per year, and registered cases of AIDS continue to rise.

Public spending on health was low—1.9 per cent of GDP in 1997 compared with 4.3 per cent in Argentina, for example—although it is now increasing. And there is continuing evidence of corruption and fraud in the administration of the health service, despite the government's plans to allay that.

There are many other aspects of this complex country which I could have detailed. However, in a relatively short speech I have been able to refer only briefly to the Brazil of yesteryear and give a flavour of the Brazil of today; a democratic Brazil which is now looking outwards instead of inwards.

I conclude by hoping that the relationships between the UK and Brazil will continue to strengthen. That can only be to the benefit of both countries. I urge the Government to build on these relationships and in doing so to use every way possible, in particular to work with and to assist the Brazilian Government in their mammoth task of developing and expanding social and welfare services.

4.11 p.m.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, on bringing forward this interesting and important topic for debate. I declare an interest as shareholder and chairman of a bank holding company in the United States which has extensive trading interests in the area.

The area is somewhat of an orphan as regards British trading. It is as though the Monroe doctrine was an economic rather than a political deterrent. I find that strange because Britain had a large part to play in the liberation of Chile, for instance, where the Anglo/Irishman, O'Higgins, was prominent and was much assisted by Admiral Cochrane of the Royal Navy.

In addition, Latin America was never an area in which Britain had large acquisitive interests or interests in territorial expansion. In the early days, we were large investors in Argentina's railways and other large projects, where Harrods is still a name to conjure with.

However, it is sad that we have forgotten the trading opportunities in Latin America. It is sad that all the way down south from Mexico there are franchises for continental motor cars—for instance, Volkswagen—but nothing for the UK industry. During my visits to South and Central America I have been impressed by their capital goods requirements but saddened by the lack of British goods in comparison with those from continental Europe and the USA.

During my travels in Latin America, I have found nothing but good will towards the British but sadness that we appear to have overlooked the market. Of course, the recent withdrawal by the British Council from Equador and possibly from Peru can only exacerbate such feelings among South American friends there.

There were problems some years ago when the payment records of some of those countries were less than encouraging. However, one should not forget that at that time nearly all Latin American countries were governed by the military and that in recent years the tendency has been for those countries to have proper elections in which proper democratic governments have taken over.

The relatively recent success of democracy in the region is clear in the memories of most of us. However, when I first visited the area a little over 20 years ago Brazil was run by the military. I remember that the general whose turn it was to be president proudly told me that the country had recently reduced inflation to almost 50 per cent. He thought that that was a good record. Inflation, although rampant in those days, has been successfully tackled in most of the larger economies.

Argentina was ruled by a consortium of senior officers from its army, navy and air force. Not only did the Falkland Islanders suffer as a result of that; the Argentine people suffered from frightful and frightening terror within the country. Even Chile, which is one of our oldest allies and was a great help to us during the Falklands War, had a history of human rights abuses which are still being sorted out. In Paraguay, General Stroesser led a police state—and a rotten and corrupt state it was, too.

One could mention nearly every Latin American country, even the smaller ones of Central America such as Nicaragua where a family ruled as a dynasty for many years. Panama was likewise ruled—or misruled—by corrupt overlords. No wonder they were all regarded in derogatory terms as "banana republics".

It would be unfair to describe them as such today because many of the goods they produce are of a high quality. I am sure that like me your Lordships are not unfamiliar with the wines of Argentina and Chile. Indeed, France and Italy have fruitfully invested in the vineyards of those countries and have traded where they have seen an opportunity to do so. We have failed to do that. While UK importers have no problems, our exporters are only slowly understanding the opportunities open to them and the financial assistance available to them from the ECGD.

Like the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, I am unclear as to why the Caribbean has been linked to Latin America in the debate. Apart from a geographical affinity, there is nothing much in common between the two areas. Most of the Caribbean islands have small populations and therefore trading opportunities are limited.

There is also a great deal of Hispanic influence in Central America. However, Cuba is an anomaly because the USA Government, despite an enormous base on the island, seem to treat Castro and Cuba in almost the same way as they treat Saddam Hussein and Iraq. That sentiment provides Canadian and European countries with great opportunities for trading and we should follow those up. However, one should remember that Florida is almost a second Cuba for the people who live there. As we saw during the recent election, they have strong voting preferences and are important in that regard.

Part of the Caribbean which is a fierce fiefdom of the UK is Haiti, where politics and corruption are to be found hand in hand. Haiti's next-door neighbour, the Dominican Republic, has managed to throw off the corruption and tyranny of General Trujillo and the heritage he left. The Caribbean is a charming and enchanting area for tourists and lovers of cricket—and again I declare an interest—and a holiday there is always worth while. There are many flights to the whole of Latin America and the Caribbean. There are delightful places to visit where good hotels, good food and good wine abound. I commend those as places to visit and enjoy, but, perhaps more importantly, as areas in which to carry on trade. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure the House that the Government are aware of the importance of Latin America and will give some encouragement not only to Members of this House but also to exporters to push British goods, which they are not doing at the moment.

4.20 p.m.

My Lords, first I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, on introducing this very timely debate and on her outstanding expertise and ongoing work as president of Canning House which, with its invaluable cultural and educational role, links Britain and Latin America. I echo all the main points that the noble Baroness made.

Latin America is a microcosm of the world's problems and opportunities. With its variation of GDP per head, climate and people, it is in many respects more a cross-section of the world than any other area. When we look at Latin America we can tell ourselves to stop generalising about the world and simply apply our theories to this bit of it. For the whole of our lifetime the story of Latin America, and our relations with it, has been one of potential, but all too often it has been one of limited progress side by side with poverty, inequality and much injustice.

The first issue is how far any of us can see that changing, and how far we can help it to change. Some may say that it is not for outsiders, whether it be the United States, the EU, or even Che Guevara, to try to parachute in their own views, and there is some truth in that. To echo my noble friend Lord Brennan, it is clear that our role is very welcome and encouraged. I have paid three visits to Latin America. My first visit was to Mexico 20 years ago in connection with the United Nations Commission on Transnational Corporations. I was pleased to be involved in the inward IPU mission from Mexico two weeks ago. In 19921 was a member of the UK delegation to the Earth Summit in Rio. My most recent visit was as part of the IPU delegation to Bolivia last September. I was the only Member of this House on that delegation. I should like to place on record our appreciation to everyone involved in that exercise, including our ambassador in La Paz, Graham Minter, and the Bolivian ambassador in London, Sr Quiroga Matos, who is in the House this afternoon.

Bolivia is now on the right track. To make a sweeping over-simplification, it recognises the immense challenge of reconciling market forces, notably in the burgeoning economy of Santa Cruz for example, with the fortunes of the indigenous people concentrated in the Andes, the campesinos and greater La Paz. One issue that Bolivia has addressed directly is cocaine. As to that, there is some disquiet in Bolivia that its Herculean efforts to eradicate the trade—its plan for national dignity—has cost its balance of payments some 500 million dollars and only some 50 million to 100 million dollars has come back from America and Europe in the form of support. At the same time, Bolivia has witnessed Plan Colombia which is largely a military-based American programme of some 3 billion dollars that runs the risk of escalating problems. I hope that I am wrong about that.

The people of Bolivia themselves pose the not totally rhetorical question: does failure to solve the problem earn more financial support than solving it'? Now is the time to respond to Bolivia's needs as much as we can. We commend the efforts of the UK in terms of DfID's agricultural and forestry projects in particular, and training, the work of the British Council, the pivotal role of the CDC in Santa Cruz, which serves as a hub for South America, and the investments in mining, not to mention the huge BP and other gas investments on the Argentine-Paraguay border, which we visited. The new pipeline will provide up to three-quarters of the growth of Brazilian electricity generation in the next 20 years.

In the context of oil and gas, perhaps I may say a word about the environment and sustainable development. I remember that in Rio in 1992 someone calculated that if every citizen of the world was given the same ration card for carbon, in broad terms the north would owe the south about 500 billion dollars. Even the Americans do not have that kind of money. Progress on Kyoto is slow but is taking place; it is part of a vast agenda of sustainable development. I say to environmentalists that, with difficulty, we have all signed up to a common hymn sheet in Rio, Agenda 21. Let us go forward together in implementing it. That is one area where the European Union has the lead role.

Other lead roles are emerging strongly in Latin America. The American time zone relationship is highlighted by efforts to assemble the free trade area of the Americas. It is reported that the US is wooing Argentina to try to overcome the reluctance of Brazil which has invested a good deal in the development of Mercosur. One is also aware of the tensions between multilateral, regional and bilateral approaches. Both the US and EU adopt bilateral approaches with Chile which include, incidentally, labour and environmental dimensions.

Latin America is now the largest per capita recipient of EU aid in the world. Moreover, in Mercosur the EU has become a more important trading partner than the US. The role of the EU in Latin America is an evolving one. For example, when Pascal Lamy, the EU trade commissioner, appears in Buenos Aires to talk about WTO matters, that visit is as significant as that of any member state, and probably much more so. As to bananas and sugar, like my noble friend Lord Rea, I ask the Minister how the Caribbean is assessing the latest arrangements.

The EU umbrella is also ideal for certain contacts in the social field. I am very pleased that, following the summit last year, this summer my former colleague Emilio Gabaglio, general secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation, will be conducting a mission to Mercosur and Bolivia, which is an associate member.

In the cultural field, there are sensitivities with regard to the respective roles of Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, Holland and the UK as former colonial powers. But the converse is that there is a rich European cultural heritage and an equally rich possibility of a European market for cultural tourism and the display of Latin American artefacts in the great European museums. A group which includes the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, the chairman of the all-party Latin American group, Mr Tam Dalyell, and the Bolivian ambassador, is to meet the director of the British Museum tomorrow morning to discuss these issues. I hope that we can have contact with the EU cultural relations commissioner among others. There could be a lead EU role for the British Museum in one area and, likewise, for Madrid, Rome, Paris and so on in another. The British Museum is already contemplating a gallery of Andean civilisation following the model of the highly commended gallery of Mexican civilisation which opened recently. Two-way traffic in cultural contacts region to region is now an idea whose time has come.

Finally, I refer to the representation of EU countries in Latin American capitals. If my arithmetic is correct, assuming that 19 EU countries send missions to each of the 19 Latin American countries, that means 361 missions overall. In some fields all try to do more or less the same thing. The Americans have just 19.

No European country, including Britain, can provide wall-to-wall service on every topic in every country. It seems to me that there is now the opportunity for a medium-term plan for EU external relations which can strengthen our expertise in many smaller countries. I do not mean a merger, but some contact through lead roles in certain fields. That is an area within the scope of Sub-Committee A of the European Union Committee. I hope that we can consider the matter in the near future.

4.30 p.m.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for bringing this debate to the House today. I also thank her for the great encouragement she has given me on the occasions when I have considered going to South America.

I believe that my first visit was when I represented the United Kingdom at a meeting in Sao Paulo, Brazil to consider re-writing the Brazilian constitution. The outcome of the meeting was that women wished to include four pages on women's rights. When I met our consul he told us that the Indians wished to include four pages on Indian rights and the farmers wanted 10 pages on farming rights. If everyone had included everything that they wished there would have been a book about the size of the Bible. The American delegate was a very wise woman. She said that they included just two lines which covered the whole issue. My noble friend mentioned that democracy is fragile. It was fascinating to note that re-writing of the Brazilian constitution.

On more recent visits to Latin America I was surprised to discover that the norm was for any president to be elected for one term of office only. The parliamentarian groups I have accompanied have made the point that that is not a good position because there is no sanction. If a president is elected for one term only, he can do what he likes. There is no way of showing him how dissatisfied one is by failing to reelect him. There is a definite case to be made for a president having the right to two terms of office rather than one only.

I have been on parliamentary delegations to Peru in 1999 and Guatemala in 2000. They were both very interesting experiences and quite different. Before that I had been to Ecuador in my capacity as chairman of Plan International, United Kingdom branch. It is an NGO which raises money in 10 donor countries to work in 43 of the poorest countries. We work only with the poorest of the poor.

My first trip was to Ecuador to see the people in Canar where they made straw hats. They paid 60 US cents for the materials and spent four days making them. They were given two dollars for their work. The hats then went through various processes. People carried out the last processes of finishing, packaging and labelling. They were sold in Europe for between £30 and £50 each. Canar has just the right climate with the right amount of moisture for making the straw hats. They are known to us as panama hats which can be rolled up and put in the pocket.

One of the Plan representatives from Germany went to Canar and returned with a hat. She was asked by the staff of a German magazine whether she had returned with anything. She replied that she had returned with just a hat, which was considered rather nice. The hat was put on the head of a model and the picture was put on the front cover of a fashion magazine, which contained an article pointing out that the readers could also acquire such a hat. I believe that 20 dollars was the quoted price for a hat. It was not very expensive, but that was fair more than the makers received.

The magazine thought that it might receive a few hundred replies, but it received 20,000 from people wishing to buy the hats. That involved four years' work for the community and meant that Plan became redundant there and moved on to help a poorer community. The hat-making community is now totally self-sufficient. It sends trade representatives to world trade fairs. That community has now established a marvellous way of life without the necessity of middlemen. That is an example of enterprise and of having access to markets. It was a sheer stroke of luck that it gained market access, which has made all the difference to that community.

I visited another place in Ecuador where the inhabitants had chosen to live in the middle of a swamp in houses built on stilts. When we asked why they were living there they said it was because it gave them a better life. It made one think how bad life must have been before. Returning to that area recently, I discovered that it has now become quite a built up, settled and drained area. That represents a typical pattern of how people establish lives for themselves in some of these countries.

In Peru we were entertained royally in Lima. We saw the river Amazon. The noble Baroness, Lady Flather, and I went on to Cuzco after the parliamentary visit in order to study the history there, which was quite fascinating. I went to see the work of Plan in Peru. I visited a number of places which had health centres and so forth.

Water was available in the middle of one little town. The town had existed for 34 years and every drop of water had had to be carried nine kilometres by hand or by donkey. Now there was running water and just one tap in the middle of the village. The village headman had to turn it off pretty regularly because the children were so excited by it that they would have allowed a great deal of water to run away. Plan provided the expertise and materials, but the people themselves had built the supply.

At the instigation of my noble friend Lady Hooper, I went on to Bolivia. She said that I must. I was there before the parliamentary visit so I was pleased about that. I was invited to open a greenhouse to teach children how to grow plants in the altiplano. I would have called it almost a chicken house because I have seen buildings like it in Cornwall. We built three simple prefab school buildings one after the other as the school community enlarged. The fourth building was the greenhouse.

It had a ribbon across its front with a bow. I was told that I could either cut or pull the ribbon. Foolishly, I thought that it would be more glamorous to cut the ribbon. I had not realised that it was a primary school and that all the scissors were of the special non-cutting variety. After sawing away for quite some time I pulled the ribbon and launched the greenhouse with a bottle of beer which was given to me. I thought that that was a very appropriate equivalent to our western champagne which we break across the bow of a ship.

The local people then produced a tablecloth which was like a runner. It must have been about 100 feet long. It was stretched on the ground. Everyone had brought hundreds of different varieties of potato. We all sat on the ground and had a great celebration party after the event.

I went on to Tarija where we were working to deal with Chagas disease. It is caused by a terrible insect which drops from the ceiling at night and bites people. People die either of a heart, lung or abdominal condition very suddenly and horribly. By fixing ceilings people can be given a new life. We worked there in conjunction with another local NGO to carry out the necessary work. The experts from the United States said that to seal the ceilings in the very poor houses would cost a minimum of 35 dollars for the paint. But the local people, using a mixture of cactus juice and local soils, were able to make the repairs at three dollars a house and do it very well indeed.

Another project there was Pro Mujer, which comprised rotating credit for women. With a small amount of credit people were able to set up businesses such as stalls. We visited a soup stall. The name of the soup served was "muy fuerte", which means very strong. It was made from the penis and testicles of the bullock. Apparently, that soup was a great success in Tarija. People were constantly arriving at the stall to sup the soup in order to pass on those strong qualities. I can understand why the soup was so successful.

In Guatemala there was no tax base, which was a great cause of concern to us. Much as the government wished to help their people, the rich paid off the tax inspector, which was much cheaper than paying tax. The very poor did not have money with which to pay tax. So without some form of revenue and tax base the government found it very difficult to carry out their plans. But they were doing good and we wish them continued success.

There are so many marvellous places that I have seen, but nothing can compare with the excitement of a visit to South America and the great new world that it has opened up for me.

4.40 p.m.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, for initiating the debate. I know of her great interest in the region. She has often regaled me with stories of the Caribbean and Latin America. I apologise for not being present during some part of the debate. However, I look forward to reading in Hansard what has been said by noble Lords. I trust I will not repeat inadvertently anything that has already been said.

My special area of interest is the Caribbean. I crave the indulgence of the House to spend a moment in welcoming the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, to the Caribbean family. Here in London we very much appreciate the noble Lord and the work he did there. I probably will share some rum with the noble Lord later if he has the time.

The Caribbean region faces enormous challenges at this time. Those challenges reflect the vulnerability of the region. The Caribbean is a small region with a large number of countries whose population is less than one-sixth of that of the UK. Nevertheless, we must recognise its importance to us here.

During the early 1950s the Caribbean responded magnificently to the need in Britain for manpower. The people left their homes. They manned the buses and the trains. Some of them had never seen a train before. They worked in the factories. They contributed in a real way. It was unstinting. I read today that sometimes it is said that they came here for economic reasons. Although I was very much in the Caribbean at the time, I can tell noble Lords that their wish to come here was to support the mother country that had been ravaged by war and had lost most of her manpower. I say that so that we put in context why the Caribbean is important. Our links are historical and, in times gone by, the Caribbean has been a great source of wealth to the United Kingdom.

We must recognise that the Caribbean region faces enormous challenges between now and the year 2010. These challenges reflect the vulnerability of the region. Globalisation is not going away. It offers many benefits, but there are many risks for everyone, including the UK and the Caribbean. I trust that this increases the United Kingdom's interest in helping the Caribbean during what will be a momentous period of change for us.

I do not want to give noble Lords the impression that we should only be concerned with problems in the Caribbean; I want to stress that the Caribbean has some very big assets—a good deal of human talent of a high order, excellent levels of education and a highly developed sense of civil society. Those are assets that we in this country can envy. In a globalised world human capital will be crucial.

As I said, the UK and the Caribbean have strong historical ties and family links. Over half a million citizens in the UK are of Caribbean origin. That is over four times larger than the relationship between Cuba and America. But it is much more than a matter of size. The Caribbean community in Britain is part of what we are as a nation. One has only to see how many gold medals we won in the Olympic Games to realise that the contribution of the Caribbean still goes on. We consciously celebrated this time the fact that we have a multi-cultural and a multi-ethnic society. I believe that we should spend some time thinking about that contribution.

With those strong ties and family links, as in any relationship, there are also some shared problems. The Caribbean is no longer far away. We know—I have heard it said today—that there is a major and growing drugs threat to the UK and to the region as a whole. One-third of the drugs on UK streets transit the Caribbean.

We also have direct responsibility for five overseas territories in the Caribbean with which we are forging a new relationship of partnership. These territories face many of the same pressures as the independent countries in the region. The Caribbean has strong two-way trade relations with the UK. Nearly £1 billion is exported to the Caribbean from the UK market. We have a significant interest in oil and gas in Trinidad. There are direct UK interests in promoting the economic growth and political stability of the region. Many of the UK's key international interests—for example, good governance, human rights, sustainable development and the environment—are very high on the Caribbean agenda.

There are some challenges. In global terms the Caribbean appears relatively stable. But it is a region whose problems are firmly on the international agenda and deserve real attention from British Ministers. It is vulnerable because of the large number of small island states with few natural resources and no easy prospects of economic diversification. But while the Caribbean area has problems, it certainly does not have to become a problem area. That could only happen if, by default, the international community allowed it to become so. The challenges will become increasingly acute over the next decade.

If one looks at the Caribbean's trading position, one sees that the 1994 NAFTA deal swung the terms of trade with the US back in favour of Mexico. Subsequent US aid and access programmes, building on the original 1980s Caribbean Basin Initiative, while helping to some extent, failed fully to compensate for what was lost.

The Caribbean is now facing huge threats to its traditional markets—bananas and so on. The preferential EU market access arrangements have been under challenge by the US and others in the WTO for some time and are probably unsustainable beyond this decade. Behind the walls of the EU/ACP Lom¹ agreement and preferential contracts, the production costs of the main local staples—bananas, sugar and rum—have soared relative to potential competitors in Latin America and elsewhere.

Perhaps I may say a little about bananas since it is always topical. The UK has only two objectives on bananas: first, to resolve the dispute rapidly in a WTO-acceptable way; and, secondly, to address the needs of vulnerable Caribbean banana producers. We have remained open to various approaches. We were disappointed by the failure of negotiations on the basis of the Caribbean proposal. But we are pleased that the Commission has been focusing on the need for an early solution, which is WTO acceptable.

Against the Caribbean's criteria, the Commission's approach of "first come, first served" for quotas, which should allow for specific arrangements for the Caribbean, is a valid basis for a solution, and we are content for it to be pursued. But the Secretary of State made it clear to EU Ministers at the GAC meeting on 9th October that the needs of the Caribbean must be safeguarded. He said that we will not abandon Caribbean interests. We were grateful for that.

As usual, when I am on my favourite subject, the time passes quickly. I should like to end by asking one question of the Minister. On Monday, the General Affairs Council of the European Union agreed a proposal to extend duty free access to products from least developed countries—the so-called Everything But Arms proposal. Does the noble Baroness share my welcome for that proposal, and will she make a statement about its impact on the Caribbean?

4.51 p.m.

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, has given us the first opportunity since June 1999 to debate the affairs of Latin America and has wisely added the Caribbean to the title of the debate. Although, as has been said by one noble Lord, the two regions are quite separate, they do interact with one another. Noble Lords will appreciate that Guyana is on the mainland of Latin America and several of the countries of the Caribbean are Hispanic, so there is not that total separation between them that exists in some people's minds.

The subject of drugs has been much aired during the course of the debate. As we know, the menace of drugs begins in Latin America, it travels through the Caribbean and finishes up on the streets of the United States and of Europe. Therefore, I think it is wise for us to consider the affairs of the whole region together even though, during this debate, inevitably, noble Lords have concentrated on the particular countries that are of most interest and concern to them.

As has been remarked, there has been a total transformation of the region in the past 25 years. My noble friend Lord Sandberg enumerated some of the countries of the southern cone that had made the transition from military dictatorship to democracy over that period. The only one he left out was Uruguay, which was under military control in the middle 1970s. As this has been a debate for reminiscences, perhaps I may tell the House that I was in Argentina in 1976 as a delegate of Amnesty International, together with then Congressman Drinan. We were described in the newspapers as the "mad monk" and the "red Lord", which was a reference to my socks. I still maintain the same colour. I was also in Bolivia, to pick up the reference of the noble Lord, Lord Lea, in 1978 when Mr Banzer, who has made a remarkable comeback, was removed from the presidency. There was a democratic election but, unfortunately, there was a great deal of fraud. At the end of it I had to describe the process, if your Lordships will forgive me, as a sinverguenza fraude.

I have been concerned with the affairs of Latin America for the past 25 years and I am very glad to have the opportunity to revisit them today. I wish to take up the second of the three legs of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, and concentrate on what we might do to promote democracy, human rights and the rule of law in whatever way is open to us. I begin with a reference to the Caricom states, which, two weeks ago, formally signed an agreement which brings into existence the Caribbean Court of Justice, which will replace the Privy Council as the final court of appeal in criminal cases throughout the region. The full implementation of the agreement may take two or three years, because it requires amendments to the constitutions and national legislation of the countries involved.

We cannot have any objection to the ending of the Privy Council's jurisdiction. It is an anachronism and a link with the colonial era that is resented by many people in those countries. But at the same time we must hope that the new court will be totally independent of the executives in the member states, and at least as robust in its defence of human rights as the Privy Council has been. Our former colleague, Lord Gifford, who practises law in Jamaica, supports the new court, but recommends a sequence of procedures to ensure that it does meet the required standards of independence and competence, to the satisfaction of the people as confirmed in a referendum. One would expect, for instance, that the Pratt and Morgan judgment of the Privy Council, in which it was held that a death sentence carried out more than five years after sentence would be inhuman or degrading punishment, would continue to apply under a new dispensation.

There are causes for concern when there is a trend towards withdrawal at the same time from the jurisdiction of the UN Human Rights Committee and of the Inter American Commission and Court of Human Rights. Trinidad has withdrawn from both jurisdictions and Jamaica from the Inter American Commission on the misapprehension voiced by regional Attorneys General that delays imposed by those procedures would make it impossible for them ever to execute anyone in capital cases. The commission has dealt with recent cases from Jamaica in an average of 7.6 months, while cases from Trinidad are taking 10 months. We ought really to encourage all Caricom states to accept the jurisdiction of the Inter American Court. I should like to ask the Minister what assistance we could give, technical or financial. to states such as Barbados which do take on that obligation and which therefore ought to be rewarded for signing up to international instruments that defend the human rights of their people.

More generally, law enforcement is not well resourced in Caribbean states, and the quality of justice is not high. We could help by offering advice based on our own experience—for example, with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act—and by supporting indigenous non-governmental organisations such as the Guyana Human Rights Association, which has been operating so effectively on minimal resources since it was founded in 1979.

Colombia was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, as being the world's largest producer of cocaine, exporting 90 per cent of its annual production to the US, and the rest to Europe. We have strongly supported the efforts that have been made by President Pastrana to negotiate a political settlement with the two groups of armed rebels and at the same time to urge that the paramilitary groups, which are also involved in the drugs business, should be dealt with vigorously. The Americans, on the other hand, place greater emphasis on a military solution to the question of the armed groups. As part of Plan Colombia, they are giving hundreds of millions of dollars worth of weapons to the Colombian armed forces.

The new Secretary of State, General Colin Powell, says that he supports Plan Colombia, but he believes that there is no military solution to the problem. At the same time President Pastrana said that, during his visit which began yesterday, he would ask the Americans for another 500 million dollars a year on top of the two-year 1.6 billion dollar package already agreed with the Clinton Administration, mostly to encourage farmers to grow crops other than coca. I warmly endorse what has been said about the importance of crop substitution as a strategy in dealing with the drug menace in Latin America.

One possibility would be to divert some of the money earmarked for military aid into crop substitution. The military already has the manpower and weaponry to deal with the drugs business, as it demonstrated in the Black Cat operation against a network that exchanges drugs for arms on the borders with Brazil and Venezuela, and also in a separate operation against the FARC and paramilitaries in the mountainous zone between Antioquia and Cordoba provinces.

The problem is that a few laboratories may be destroyed, a few traffickers arrested and hundreds of hectares of drug cultivation eradicated, but the attraction of the crops for peasants in remote areas is so great that very soon the trade revives. The only permanent solution is to ensure that rural Colombia and, similarly, rural Bolivia, which has been mentioned in the course of the debate, have other means of earning a decent living. Some of the money needed for this purpose may well come from donors, but if the strategy works, then both the state and the armed opposition in Colombia would be able to reduce their military spending, freeing resources for rural development.

I was glad to see the announcement of peace talks between the Colombian Government and the FARC which Mr Battle welcomed in a recent statement. That has lead to substantive talks which are due to begin on 8th March. A group of friendly nations is to be invited from the Americas, Asia and Europe to help in the process. I should like to ask the noble Baroness whether Britain is among those countries which have been invited to the talks. If not, will the EU be represented collectively by the Swedish presidency? The EU was active in pressing for these negotiations and could play a useful role. I know that President Pastrana visited Sweden at the end of last month and it was during that visit that he unveiled the six-point plan to deal with the paramilitaries, which has been urged on him by the armed opposition.

The EU has a budget of 105 million euros for aid to Colombia over the period 2000–06, quite separate from Plan Colombia and concentrating on human rights, long-term economic and social development and an end to violence. If further help is needed to buttress the peace process, I hope that we would support a special grant for that purpose.

5.2 p.m.

My Lords, I, too, should like to thank my noble friend Lady Hooper, who is so very knowledgeable and such a good friend of Latin America, for initiating this debate. It has been extremely interesting, with many well-informed contributions, including a thoughtful and witty speech by my noble friend Lord Selsdon, as well as an important speech from the noble Baroness, Lady Howells, on the Caribbean. Contributions from noble Lords today have reflected exactly the high quality of debate frequently heard in your Lordships' House, but so rarely found elsewhere.

In the short time available, it is difficult to do justice to such a large and varied area, so I shall concentrate on only one country, Mexico. Over many years, I have had the good fortune to visit Mexico frequently, the last occasion being only a month ago. This is a good time to take stock of Mexico because, over the past six years, it has experienced an extraordinary political transformation, culminating in a new president, elected at the end of last year. That signalled the end of 71 years—not 18 years—of what was in effect one-party rule. It leaves no room for doubt, for example, about the consolidation of Mexico's transition to democracy.

This peaceful transition marks the first change of government since the 1910–17 revolution. It heralds substantial political changes in the composition of the PRI, the old establishment party. Furthermore, it has elected an extraordinary individual in President Vincente Fox. He has a private sector background and an anti-bureaucratic bias. One of his principal objectives is to expand economic ties, as well as to forge closer relations and further co-operation with Mexico's northern neighbour, the United States.

Even though the United States took 88 per cent of Mexico's exports in 1999 and provided 74 per cent of its imports, Mexico has developed free trade agreements with other Latin American countries and the Caribbean. It will not have escaped the notice of noble Lords that President Bush's first state visit was not the usual one to Canada or to Europe, but to Mexico. The "Guanajuato proposal", made only recently when President Bush visited President Fox at his ranch, clearly established a close working relationship. That relationship is grounded in their respect for democracy and human rights, not only for themselves, but also for all people in every nation. They come from similar backgrounds.

During President Fox's administration, we are likely to see even more important developments with the dynamism achieved through NAFTA. With 40 million Mexicans working in the US, this fact alone must have a massive effect on Mexico's working relationship with the United States and is vital for the growth prospects of Mexico's economy. The close relationship should also have a major and positive effect on improving economic and social development along the US-Mexican border: fighting drug trafficking, about which we have heard a great deal today; money laundering, drug abuse, organised crime; and, of course, corruption.

Mexico is the only country on the American continent to have signed, last November, a European free trade agreement with the European Union.

The UK has a substantial stake in the Mexican economy, as we heard in the eloquent speech of the noble Lord, Lord Brennan. The UK was the second largest direct investor in Mexico after the US, but has now sadly slipped to third place behind the Netherlands. In 1999, we exported some £939 million-worth of products and imported £664 million-worth. First and second quarter figures for 2000, the latest figures I have, show £588 million-worth of export, up by £156 million on the same period in 1999. If we neglect this most valuable market, it will be our loss.

Despite these encouraging trade figures, the present Government continue to show a remarkable lack of interest in the transition that I have described. They have demonstrated, too, a reluctance to engage in this part of the continent that could even be described as verging on neglect. In November last year, the Prime Minister did not go to Mexico—that was the wish of the noble Lord, Lord Brennan—but sent instead his special envoy, the noble Lord, Lord Levy, bearing a message saying that he was unable to visit Mexico during his term of office, but hoped to visit next year. Is this really how our foreign policy announcements should be made? Not even our Foreign Secretary could find time to visit.

It is a shame, too, that we did not have an opportunity to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Levy, in today's debate after his extensive tour of Latin America on behalf of the Prime Minister. I am sure that all noble Lords would like to hear a report of his Latin American odyssey.

At President Fox's inauguration, heads of state and high-level diplomatic delegations representing governments attended. This was a celebration of the re-establishment of democracy. More important, our competitors from Latin America, Spain. France, Germany and the United States sent top representatives and delegations from their political, economic and cultural elites. Who did the British Government send? None other than the Minister of State for Scotland. I fear that we may have some bridge building to do in the future.

The recent changes that I have referred to are highly significant in global terms, both politically and economically. Mexico is re-emerging as a truly democratic nation, a force for good in a region of the world that is still in the political balance, as we have been told by several noble Lords in the course of our debate.

In winding up the debate, I should like to ask the Minister why our policy towards Mexico has been so—dare I say?—offhand. Before 1997, we received two presidential visits as well as several other senior visits. Mr Michael Heseltine took an extremely successful delegation from the British Overseas Trade Board when he was its president.

As Proust said:
"The mind can be influenced like a plant, like a cell, like a chemical element; the only requirement is a set of new circumstances or a new environment".
I believe that Proust was right; President Fox is bravely creating the new circumstances and the new environment. We can all look forward to exciting changes.

We on this side of the House hope that the Government will in future take Mexico more seriously. Perhaps in her reply the Minister will tell the House what future constructive plans the Government have towards Mexico.

5.10 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office
(Baroness Scotland of Asthal)

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, for introducing the debate. She has shown a notable commitment to the region, in this House and outside, particularly in her role as president of Canning House. I am sure that the House will join me in congratulating her on her valuable work and on inspiring the debate on this topic today.

I have been greatly impressed—as, indeed, I often am when listening to your Lordships' debates—by the number and variety of the interventions we have had today. It is heartening to know that, as on so many subjects, noble Lords have such a wealth of experience and expertise.

"Developments in Latin America and the Caribbean" is an enormous subject, as a number of noble Lords have said. To answer the questions of my noble friend Lord Rea alone would keep us here for many hours as opposed to minutes. How can I touch on the historical and entertaining narrative given by the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon? How can I reply with proper weight to the graphic, glowing and colourful experiences outlined by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, which so delighted us? There has been reference to Peru, Chile, Honduras, Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador and Guatemala, to name but a few of the countries in Latin America, and to the Caribbean.

I am particularly glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, encompassed the Caribbean in the debate and thank her for that. We, too, believe that it is important to have a regional perspective. The EU/LAC summit process, which began in Rio in 1999, was enriched by Caribbean participation. I am pleased that we encouraged that. The countries of the region have a lot to contribute to one another, and we and other members of the EU are keen to promote closer links within the region in pursuit of common goals.

I was a little disappointed that the noble Lord, Lord Sandberg, did not appear to understand the importance of the connection with Latin America and the Caribbean, although he rightly gave warm praise to the delights of the Caribbean as a region to visit.

The noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, made some trenchant comments to indicate almost that Her Majesty's Government are not interested in this area. I was somewhat surprised by that. I should like to reassure the noble Baroness and all noble Lords that Her Majesty's Government's interest in the region is very real and that we wish to have an invigorated relationship. Mexico is an important area and the warmth of affection that we have always enjoyed with that country remains.

We are playing a more active role in the Organisation of American States (OAS), which includes both Latin America and the Caribbean countries as members. Last year we appointed our first permanent representative, the Director of the Americas in the FCO, to the OAS and we stepped up our contribution to OAS projects, particularly in the fields of human rights and electoral observation. The most recent projects with UK support include the OAS electoral monitoring mission to Peru and a seminar on human rights systems in the Caribbean which was organised earlier this month by the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

We shall continue to give a high priority to regional action. I should like to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Lea, and other noble Lords, about this issue. In the context of the follow up to the EU/LAC summit, we are working with our EU partners to add real meat to the declaration made in Rio. We want to make the "priorities for action" a reality. The European side wishes to concentrate on three areas: the promotion and protection of human rights, which I hope will give comfort to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury; the support of the most vulnerable members of society; and the promotion of the information society.

We have indicated that we are keen to promote an initiative on sharing information on e-government and e-commerce as a contribution to bridging the global digital divide. We are in the process of discussing how to take this forward. The next EU/LAC summit will take place in Madrid in 2002 and we intend to play our part in ensuring that it is a success.

The theme of regional integration is, of course, particularly relevant in the context of the priorities of the new Administration in the United States and their renewed focus on the hemisphere. We are following with interest the debate on the proposed free trade area of the Americas and the agenda for the summit of the Americas in Quebec in April, a matter to which a number of noble Lords referred.

I should like to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Sandberg, further: Latin America is not a forgotten market. For our part, we are very keen to expand trade between Europe and the Latin American/Caribbean region. We strongly supported a free trade agreement between Mexico and the EU. The final parts of that agreement, on services and other matters, will enter into force this week. The agreement is already proving its worth in promoting a strong growth in the United Kingdom's trade in goods with Mexico. That demonstrates—if we needed clearer demonstration—that perhaps the tone of the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, was not quite right in relation to our efforts with Mexico.

We also welcome the EU's close relationship with Mercosur and fully support the current negotiations with Mercosur and Chile. The United Kingdom will be at the forefront of efforts to conclude the most liberal agreements possible. This should bring substantial benefits to the economies of both regions.

Before I deal with other trade issues, I should like to make a few comments on specific areas. First, on the region that I know best—the Caribbean. I should say to my noble friend Lady Howells, that I totally agree with what she said. I could not have expressed it better.

The region is one of importance. It has given much to our British way of life—its contribution has been very broad indeed—and it is now, thankfully, very visible in your Lordships' House. I, too, welcome the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, to the fraternity.

We have a direct interest in promoting economic growth and stability in the region. We have strong trade relations with the Caribbean. The United Kingdom exports an impressive £1 billion-worth of trade to the Caribbean market each year. It is a market that we would like to see grow.

Our reinvigorated policy towards the Caribbean has seen an increase in the number of high level visits to the region. For example, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales paid an extremely successful visit to Jamaica, Trinidad, Tobago and Guyana in February of last year. During that visit, His Royal Highness was able to take forward, in conjunction with the respective host governments, projects related to business and youth development and to the environment in the Caribbean. I understand that his chocolate—Guyanese chocolate—will now do very well.

A number of noble Lords may be aware that we hosted the second United Kingdom/Caribbean forum at Lancaster House in May of last year. At that meeting we established a framework for the relationship and identified various initiatives to pursue together. These include, more police training, joint action on illegal weapons and drug search, assistance to create a Caribbean inward investment office and the development of closer legal and judicial links, including the formation of a British/Caribbean jurists association, to which the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, referred in his extraordinary and powerful speech.

Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica have withdrawn from the first optional protocol to the ICCPR, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, indicated. The protocol provides a further avenue for individuals to appeal against sentence once they have exhausted all available domestic appeals. We know that this is an area of acute concern to a number of states. The establishment of the Caribbean court of justice is a matter for the Caribbean countries themselves to decide. It would be quite improper for us to seek to influence that decision one way or another. However, I reassure the noble Lord that the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council will remain available to all countries that use the system for as long as they wish.

I should also like to acknowledge the work of the Caribbean Advisory Group, which advises the Government on how we can improve co-operation and our relationship in fields such as education, culture and sports, and business links and trade. They, too, contribute to our ability to enhance our relations with the region.

At the Rio summit, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary described Cuba as the motor for the future economic development of the region, and held a landmark meeting with the Cuban Foreign Minister, Perez Roque. It is right, therefore, that in this debate we have touched on the importance of Cuba. We have based our relations with Cuba on a policy of constructive engagement and frank dialogue, and the bilateral relationship has developed positively. Our cooperation in many areas, including in the fight against illicit drugs, is good. Our trade relations are improving, with a regular flow of inward and outward missions. The British pavilion at the Havana international trade fair in November was a great success, to cite just one example.

Caribbean governments face collectively—as was mentioned by my noble friend Lady Howells—a bumpy road ahead. None of us can wave a magic wand, but what we can do is work together to try to ensure that the Caribbean survives the journey. We have taken, and shall continue to take, active steps to increase the attention, the amount of listening and the co-operation and support that we are giving to the region.

A number of noble Lords have seen over the past 20 years dramatic political and economic changes in the Latin American region, together with the Caribbean. Democracy has triumphed throughout Latin America and people throughout the region now enjoy democratic government. Every country except Cuba and Haiti is now an established democracy. But we should not underestimate the difficulties. In some countries democracy is new and has fragile roots. Problems of social justice, poverty, crime, human rights, violence and the drugs trade present formidable challenges. The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, eloquently drew attention to some of those problems and highlighted some of the excellent work being done by NGOs.

Many speakers drew attention to human rights issues in several countries. Noble Lords will know that the Government are determined to keep human rights at the heart of their foreign policy. This means, in part, making resources available to plan and implement projects. We estimate that since the Rio summit we have undertaken over 50 projects specifically focused on human rights issues in the region, at a cost of about £1.3 million. Current projects include, for example: broadcasting in Spanish throughout Latin America on human rights topics in co-operation with the BBC World Service; training police and prison officers in Brazil, in Venezuela and in the Caribbean; legal advocacy training in Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago; and aiding the national co-ordinator for human rights in Peru to link 61 human rights NGOs by building an electronic information service.

In addition to funding projects, our policy involves more active listening to NGOs, and being more aware of the needs and concerns of civil society. We have worked hard to ensure that we take advice from quarters in the search for the most efficient way to help. All of this will help to deliver greater democracy and, in so doing, will help our ability to trade, and trade effectively.

The problems are, of course, different in each country. The issue of human rights is one of the key considerations, for example, which drives our policy in Colombia. We have been at the forefront of international efforts to support the peace process in order to help protect human rights and democracy there. The Government are very concerned about the increase in violence, and particularly the threat to human rights workers, trade unionists and those involved in administering justice. We have been playing a leading role, both bilaterally and within the European Union. My right honourable friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office, Dr Mowlam, will be paying her third visit to the country next week with the aim of offering further advice and assistance. So, contrary to the belief of the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, we have been very active in that area. Dr Mowlam has given us great support.

We have strongly urged the Colombian authorities to implement practical measures to address the social and economic problems which lie at the heart of the internal conflict, and we shall continue to encourage them to find ways to achieve actual improvements on the ground. The EU aid package of 105 million euros for Colombia over the period 2000–2006 will be focused on achieving that objective.

The noble Lord, Lord Brennan, and the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, with his usual charm, drew proper attention to the situation in Peru. We have played a leading role in Peru over the past year and we will maintain a close interest in the Peruvian elections, which will take place on 8th April. We shall take part in the 50-strong EU election monitoring team that will observe the election. I agree that electoral assistance should be given at grass roots level too. That will be important. That is why the Department for International Development is now implementing a £775,000 programme, mainly through civil society organisations, to support greater engagement by the rural poor in the political and electoral process.

I should like to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, about the British Council in Peru. I am pleased to report that, although the budget for English language teaching and cultural events is being reduced, the British Council governance programme is being retained in its entirety. It will continue to contribute to the democratisation process in Peru. So I can assuage the noble Lord's concerns in that regard. The British Council does a huge amount of good work and the structure of the offices is under frequent review. Offices may have closed in Ecuador, but they have opened in Cuba. The British Council will keep up with the programme regime and will examine it again if the present structure proves inappropriate.

Many speakers touched on the question of drugs. I should like to reassure all that we are actively involved throughout the region in the international effort to stop the drugs trade, including providing direct counter-drugs assistance to many Latin American and Caribbean countries. This is a global problem and we all share a responsibility. Only by working together can we hope to make progress in limiting the damage that the illicit trade causes to families, to society and to the environment.

Reference was made to Honduras. We should not forget the tragic and dramatic problems that have been caused by natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes in El Salvador and Honduras. We have been impressed by the fortitude of those who have suffered in these countries and, with the international community, we have responded quickly to calls for assistance. We have given about £1.5 million to El Salvador since the first earthquake in January, and we intend to contribute to a rebuilding project in the coming weeks. The noble Lord, Lord Brennan, made specific mention of Honduras. We played a major role in reconstruction after the ravages of hurricane Mitch. Much of the work has been in remote areas which other donors have not reached. We are now playing a full part with other major donors in promoting changes in Honduras and Nicaragua for the benefit of the poor and disadvantaged.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, and the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, rightly drew attention to our trading and investment relationship with Latin America and the Caribbean. I am well aware of—and I pay tribute to—the energy that many noble Lords who have spoken have put into forging stronger business links with the region. In 2000, bilateral trade in goods with Latin America was worth some £6.2 billion; and with the Caribbean some £1.8 billion. We also have strong investment links; the UK has always been a major foreign investor in the region.

The opportunities remain great. But we could do better and we are still trailing behind our European partners. The Government are working to ensure an improvement in our trading position in the region. That is why in the past year the Deputy Prime Minister visited Brazil, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry visited Brazil and Argentina and the Minister for Trade visited Venezuela and Chile. There were also other trade-related ministerial visits and 30 government-supported trade missions to the region.

I am glad that my noble friend Lady Gibson rightly concentrated on Brazil and the challenges that it faces. We are delighted that President Cardoso of Brazil will be visiting the United Kingdom again at the end of March. One of the main objectives of his visit will be publicise the plans for the new cross-border infrastructure projects in South America, which will provide British business with considerable opportunities in transport, energy and telecommunications. The visit will also provide an excellent opportunity to carry forward bilateral dialogue.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, also mentioned LATAG and CARITAG. Perhaps I may say shortly that they remain extremely important and are working well. They have unrivalled expertise and commitment. I am sure that they will continue to thrive. I should have liked to touch with greater concentration on Mexico. I apologise to the noble Baroness for not doing so more fully. I can reassure her that it is a vibrant relationship and one that will not be undermined or diminished.

In conclusion, the opportunity just to touch on these key issues has been a very important one. We have many key interests at stake, as well as many opportunities before us. We shall continue to work hard to share the benefits that continued friendship and co-operation will bring. If there are any areas that I have not covered in my response, I shall write to noble Lords in due course.

5.31 p.m.

My Lords, I should like to thank all those who have contributed to this afternoon's debate. I regret that some of our veteran contributors, like my noble friend Lady Young and the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, were not able to participate as they had wished; and, indeed, that one or two other speakers had to scratch their names from the list at the last moment. However, we have had a really good debate. Of course, it had to be wide ranging, but we have also benefited from a great deal of personal experience, knowledge and reminiscence. The latter ranged from balmy beaches in Jamaica to buccaneers and then bananas, as well as to the very special brews experienced by my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes. I believe that the Hansard record will make very good reading.

I thank the Minister for her comprehensive response to all the questions raised within a time limit that was almost impossible to follow. In particular, I thank the noble Baroness for the reference to the natural disasters that have so afflicted the region—from El Ni ño to Hurricane Mitch and, indeed, through to the recent El Salvador situation. I look forward to improving further on our record of activities and communications with Latin America and the Caribbean. I also look forward to attending the forum proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, in the summer. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Communications White Paper

5.33 p.m.

rose to call attention to the White Paper.A New Future for Communications (Cm 5010); and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am glad that my good fortune in the ballot affords us an opportunity to debate the recent White Paper on communications. When legislation is introduced, it will clearly affect every individual in the land and it is good to know that perhaps points may be raised in this afternoon's debate that the Government will wish to take into account before framing the Bill, which I look forward to seeing later in the year.

The main proposal of the White Paper is, of course, the creation of OFCOM, replacing the current functions and duties of various regulators. I confess that I am an agnostic as to whether the creation of a single regulatory body is the best solution, or whether much the same result could have been achieved by ensuring better co-operation between the existing regulators. However, I am quite happy to go along with the Government's view that OFCOM is the best option, provided that the distinct regulatory roles regarding broadcasting are preserved, including separate regulation of radio and television. In this connection, I should declare that I am Chairman of Scottish Radio Holdings.

It is obvious that technology and broadcasting interact very closely, affecting not only the transmission but also the content of programmes. The advent of colour, for example, greatly increased the popularity of sport on television. Satellite communications have clearly made us a global village on the one hand, while, one the other, they have perhaps made it more difficult to cram news from all over the world into a half-hour bulletin that was designed for a time when we could only get such pictures from the United Kingdom. In radio, the advent of the transistor radio transformed radio from a large set sitting in the corner of a room when listening decisions were essentially a family matter to one where it was a matter of individual choice, with a dramatic impact on the sort of programme that teenagers, for example, were then able to demand.

In one important respect technology impacts very closely on one of the fundamental tenets of public service broadcasting, which is universal access. In this context, I must say that. I believe the White Paper has got it wrong. It is, I think, a serious mistake to impose a "must offer" obligation on public service broadcasters without a corresponding "must carry" obligation on satellite owners. Otherwise the negotiating position of the platform owner is unfairly strengthened, and there could be a huge transfer of resources from terrestrial public service broadcasters to the satellite owner. I should remind noble Lords that, in the past, transmitters were owned in the independent sector not by the broadcasters but by the regulator, the IBA. The transmission systems of both ITV and BBC have now, of course, been privatised, but with considerable safeguards.

I ask your Lordships to look ahead to the time when we have analogue switch-off and all our transmissions are digital. At the moment, we have two platforms: digital terrestrial television and satellite. Unless something is done to improve the coverage of digital terrestrial, I believe that satellite will undoubtedly have the upper hand. I freely concede that satellite is highly effective; indeed, only a month ago when I decided that it was time our family moved into the digital age, we opted for satellite simply because there was not an On Digital signal available in our area.

But it is surely clear that we cannot allow our entire broadcasting system to be dependent on a platform that the Government cannot effectively regulate, both as to access and as to the terms on which access is granted. If the Government feel that they are unable to do this, there is really no alternative but to increase our reliance on digital terrestrial television so that we do not find ourselves beholden in the future to the platform owner of a satellite who may not always wish to act, or be willing to act, in the way in which the government of the day would wish.

If, however, the Government can adequately control the terms of access to the satellite platform, then I must confess that, if cable operators are required to carry public service broadcasting free of charge, I can see no reason why satellite platform operators should be allowed to charge—except perhaps the minimal cost of encryption where that is required. Are they seriously suggesting that television even in a digital age could attract an audience without the current terrestrial public service broadcasters, which still account for well over three-quarters of all viewing? They need the output of BBC, ITV and Channel 4.

That brings me to another minor criticism of the White Paper; namely, that I do not believe that it does enough to encourage the take-up of digital. I was a member of the committee that recently looked at the funding of the BBC. One of the reasons that I disagreed with my colleagues on the imposition of a digital licence fee, which was one of the options under consideration, was precisely that it would discourage a take-up of digital television. The Government fortunately shared that view. But if they really want the nation to move towards a digital system they must do more to encourage the take-up. In this connection, it is distressing to note that the vast majority of television sets being sold are still analogue sets. Once the date for analogue switch-off has been decided, it might be worth the Government considering mandating the inclusion of digital receivers in all sets sold over, say, the prior three years. However, in the meantime, it might be appropriate to ensure that the term "digital", which is currently used far too widely and misleadingly, should only apply to sets that can actually accept digital signals.

I was glad to see that the White Paper came out strongly in favour of regulation of content and public service broadcasting. I think it should go further in that the public service regulations should be identical for BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5—as indeed they were in the case of BBC and ITV in the last Labour government when the noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees, was Home Secretary. He produced a White Paper on broadcasting in 1978. For similar reasons, I would have the BBC fully under OFCOM, just like ITV, as regards programme content, and its usage of spectrum under the same control as, for example, is the Radio Authority under the new radio division of OFCOM.

Public service broadcasting is essentially about trying to elevate public taste by persuasion rather than coercion. The Reithian view that broadcasters have an obligation not only to give the public what they want but a tolerable leavening of what a civilised consensus would indicate they should have, offends both libertarians—they do not believe that there is better and best—and extreme free marketeers who think that that should be left safely to the market.

Yet the chief merit of public service broadcasting is its respect for the audience. It believes that if we are to elevate public taste as well as to entertain, we must win the loyalty as well as the respect of our audience. We must be in contact with them in much the same way as a magnet must be close to metal before it can move it in any direction. It is only elitist in the sense that it believes that the best in human thought and achievement as well as entertainment should be made available to all; and the triumph of British broadcasting, both BBC and independent, has been to demonstrate that the best can attract huge audiences as well as critical acclaim.

But there is a third and dangerous siren voice: technology. I should like to see the Bill put a duty on OFCOM to have regard to the overall health of the system in considering the licensing of new services. We must resist the technological imperative whereby invention has become the mother of necessity. Technology dramatically increases the range of options open to us but it does not, and must not, determine how they should be used. Decisions on the number of services we have must be based not on technical considerations like the spectrum efficiency of digital broadcasting but on listener and viewer demand and the availability of resources, both human and financial, to provide the programming they wish. Few people would want to admit publicly that as human beings we are powerless to control the technology we have created. Somehow technology seems to mesmerise and freeze our critical faculties and produce a sense of inevitability about the nature and direction of change that comes pretty close to an abdication of responsibility. Of course, there is a role for the market place and the BBC paid a heavy price in the early 1960s for failing to recognise that the growth of cheap radio receivers and the increased spending power of teenagers had transformed dramatically the nature and tastes of its audience. Arguably, the introduction of Radios 1, 2, 3 and 4 were 10 years too late.

I certainly do not suggest that we now freeze the number of services at the present level. I do suggest, however, that the criterion for the introduction of new services should not be simply the availability of frequencies and aspirant groups wanting to run them—those are prerequisites but not determinants—but rather some evidence, and research can help us, that there is an adequate listener demand for such a service and the funds to fund it. In this, I counsel OFCOM and the Government to pay even less attention to the clamour of those who want to provide new services than they do perhaps to the protectionist fears of incumbents who do not want them.

Similar thoughts govern my thinking on ownership rules. The White Paper disappointed many by not being more specific. The Government have indicated that they are content to have one company for ITV, yet seem to be pussy-footing around with radio. In radio, there is already the BBC and three separately owned independent national services and it is difficult to see the need for any further constraint on the consolidation of independent local radio. I would also suggest that it could well be in the public interest.

I recognise that deliberation on changes to cross-media ownership rules may have been required because many of the perceived synergies also raise delicate public interest considerations. But the case for liberalisation of ownership rules within radio itself is much more clear cut and should be proceeded with separately and quickly.

In broad terms from the point of view of the listener, I suggest that plurality of ownership, far from producing diversity of output, may in fact reduce it for reasons of both motivation and availability of resources. It is perhaps obvious that if a single owner has several radio stations in the one market place, it is in his own self-interest that different services will be provided and listener choice enhanced. Happily, this also coincides with the public interest. Separate owners, however, although promising different services, may tend to use similar programming to reach the same target audience which is most attractive to advertisers.

Pressure on resources and a consequential reduction in the amount of money available to be spent on programming will also be very much greater if they are under separate ownership. A common owner can obviously amortise administrative overheads over a number of services thus leaving more resources available for the attainment of quality and diversity in programme making. Historically,' when independent local radio stations were required to cease simulcasting on FM and AM and instead produce separate programming streams, it was the biggest leap in listener choice we have had in the independent sector. Unfortunately, ownership regulations prevented the AM service being broadcast on FM, thus making it more acceptable to listeners. It is perhaps no coincidence that since independent radio tends to cater for an older age group on AM, it is the one segment of the population in which the BBC still enjoys the highest market share because Radio 2 is available on FM and is now the BBC's flagship service.

Advertisers are always looking for more choice but they sometimes forget that more choice tends to diminish individual market share for each participant. You cannot have mathematically BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and another service all with 50 per cent market share. It does not work. That is why I think that, in licensing new services, OFCOM should have regard to the overall viability of the broadcasting market place as a whole; otherwise there is a very real danger that even the most successful services will gradually have their audiences and consequently revenue whittled away and that, as a result, overall quality will suffer. I feel sure that this is something the Government would wish to prevent. I commend the suggestion to them. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

5.47 p.m.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, on securing this important debate. Time is short and I therefore confine myself to a single aspect of the White Paper: higher bandwidth services.

We are all aware of the Government's stated ambition to make the UK the best and safest place in the world for e-commerce. At its best this offers reassurance that Ministers are aware of the crucial importance of the knowledge economy to the future competitiveness of the UK. Indeed, the White Paper is peppered with a plethora of lofty pledges articulating the Government's commitments.

In this context, broadband matters. The difference between current narrowband connection rates of 56 kilobits per second and those of broadband of 2 or more megabits per second—perhaps as much as 1 gigabit if "optical wireless" technology comes on stream—is not only a matter of degree. Greater connectivity also enhances the user's online experience as well as paving the way for the delivery of new and improved services.

It is all the more regrettable therefore that there is a whiff of incompetence about the way the roll out of broadband has been managed. The White Paper states that,
"We … wish to move quickly on developing our proposals".
It also states:
"We want the UK to have levels of access to the communications infrastructures of the new economy that match or exceed the best in the world".
Three months on, far from moving quickly and far from,
"levels of access … that match or exceed the best in the world",
we have instead a further publication from the Government: UK online: the broadband future. This replaces the wishful thinking of the White Paper with a more tentative approach. It sets a new goal for the UK; namely,
"to have the most extensive and competitive broadband market in the G7 by 2005".
However, it also concedes:
"Some areas of the country may remain unserved at the least for many years, and some segments of the population may be unable to afford services".
In effect, the Government are content to institutionalise digital divides.

That admission contrasts starkly with the honeyed words of the White Paper, which says:
"We must avoid the creation of communications ghettos, areas of the country or groups in society without access to new net works and services".
It also says:
"All our citizens should have access to the advantages and opportunities provided by the next generation of communications technologies".
I highlight only two other issues, which I hope that the Minister will address. First, local loop unbundling, if not an unmitigated disaster, has been somewhat of a mess to date. Quite apart from the threat of legal action against BT by AOL and Freeserve, I understand that the European Commission is contemplating an investigation into Oftel's failure to move the process forward. What assurances can the Government give that the muddle of recent months is being replaced with a more coherent and effective strategy?

Secondly, unmetered access is crucial for the affordability of the new technology, but, inexplicably, I find no reference to it in the White Paper or the UK Online publication. Can the Minister explain why not?

In conclusion, I make the obvious point that actions speak louder than words. For all the soothing rhetoric in the White Paper about promoting the knowledge economy, the Government's approach to broadband is timid at best. Worse, they have introduced a burgeoning list of constraints and disincentives on the industry. There are the delights of the infamous IR35 and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. Even in the current Session, the Tobacco Advertising Bill raises the ugly prospect of ISPs being statutorily defined as publishers. Those are bad enough individually, but their cumulative effect will undermine rather than promote the knowledge economy in the UK. Surely that is not what the Government want.

5.52 p.m.

My Lords, I join others in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, for introducing this debate on a matter on which he speaks with unique experience, particularly in relation to radio. I declare two interests. First, I am a former chairman of the IBA—the predecessor of the ITC, which is itself about to be abolished. Secondly, my daughter is a member of the staff of the BBC.

In many ways, the White Paper is as significant and mould-breaking as the White Paper of 1952, which ended the BBC's monopoly and created ITV. Then, setting up one new broadcasting body produced a storm of controversy. Today, the abolition of five worthy regulatory bodies and their replacement with a super-regulator, OFCOM, commands an agnostic acquiescence—I think that the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, got the word right—if not a positive enthusiasm, but there is not uncritical agreement. The British Board of Film Classification, which is an independent non-governmental body with no public funds, tells me that it is about to be handed over in one way or another to OFCOM with no formal consultation. The Government might look into that. OFCOM is regarded by many with some resignation as the necessary consequence of the removal of the traditional frontiers between telecommunications and broadcasting.

I welcome the White Paper's robust reassertion of the importance of public service broadcasting as an essential contributor to the quality of life in our society. I particularly welcome the unequivocal statement that there should be no privatisation of Channel 4. If the Secretary of State's aspirations in paragraph 5.2.6 are to be fulfilled, it will be vital to avoid OFCOM being unduly monolithic and having too narrow a focus. The thrust of technology, the pressures of competition and the Treasury's appetite for cashing in on selling the spectrum must be balanced by the presence of senior people in OFCOM who understand the importance of, for example, original programming or the regional dimension of public service television and its other values. As the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, said, there will be a need to create a radio division of OFCOM capable of ensuring that the development of digital radio is not overshadowed by the warring giants of ITV.

The proposal to preserve the BBC's special position is criticised understandably by its competitors in ITV and less understandably by the Consumers' Association. Admittedly, it is an untidy and not entirely logical proposal, but tidiness is not everything. The BBC, warts and all, has always been the benchmark by which the best of commercial broadcasting judges itself. Living with, and in some ways within, OFCOM will place a heavy responsibility on the BBC governors. They should welcome OFCOM's overview of the BBC's more commercial practices, because it will give them the benefit of an independent transparent judgment and free them to be the single-minded guardians of the values and duties of public service broadcasting in a way that is not possible for OFCOM.

Under the new White Paper regime, the BBC, and above all its governors, will stand to be judged by how far they fulfil the famous dictum of the distinguished BBC broadcaster Huw Weldon that the BBC's role is to make good programmes popular and popular programmes good.

5.56 p.m.

My Lords, I join in the congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, on introducing the debate. I warmly welcome the White Paper. I have been particularly impressed by the extent to which the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport have worked so effectively together on the consultation.

I shall devote my few minutes to chapter 3 of the White Paper, and specifically the proposal to provide universal access to the Internet by 2005. Fortunately, much of what I had intended to say has already been said by the noble Earl, Lord Northesk.

I declare an interest as the managing director of a NASDAQ-listed Internet service provider. My principal concern is the extent to which Internet access will be provided to every home. The Government need to explain precisely what is intended by universal access to the Internet by 2005. Does it mean access at home or broadband access by schools, libraries, colleges and universities? Progress on increasing the levels of home Internet penetration has unfortunately been very slow. Broadband rollout and even access to ADSL is pitifully slow. I noted the admission of the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Chris Smith, in the Financial Times on 12th February, where he was quoted as saying:
"We want Internet access for all by 2005 but that won't necessarily, even in a perfect world, mean broadband access for all".
Those who have access from home are far more likely to use online services more. I commend the work of Citizens Online, which is committed to promoting universal access to the Internet from homes. Its first report aptly addressed the problem, saying:
"Children are often unable to leave home in the evening to access public terminals or access points and people in rural areas face much longer journeys than do city dwellers in an attempt to get access to public terminals.
The Government rely heavily on the platform of digital television as a significant point of access to the Internet. It is essential that the digital TV service providers allow unfettered access to the whole web, not just to commercial walled gardens.

Another major challenge is the need to educate and to change the mindset of many people towards using the Internet. I believe that in that respect the Government should be commended for their achievement of already setting up more than 600 online service centres across the United Kingdom. I understand that they are committed to opening a total of 6,000 on-line centres by next year. I do not know how they will achieve that; nevertheless, that is one of their targets.

Finally, can the Minister tell the House how much, if any, of the £21 billion that they received from the 3G licence auctions last year has been reinvested into high-speed, broad-band infrastructure? I would countenance a guess that if that sum had been invested in broad-band infrastructure across the United Kingdom, effectively it would have connected every home to broad-band access. Have the Government considered setting up a universal Internet access service fund to prime-pump new initiatives and to offer incentives to the commercial service providers to provide access to homes where it is not commercially viable?

My time is up. I look forward to the Bill being introduced into your Lordships' House.

6.1 p.m.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Gordon of Strathblane on introducing this debate. I have an interest to declare. I am employed by Granada Television. I am also employed as a freelancer by BBC Radio. Perhaps the two cancel each other out.

No one in this country can avoid the BBC in a debate of this kind. Not only does it control 40 per cent of television viewing and 50 per cent of radio listening, it still dominates the culture which it used to monopolise. At the moment, it seems to me to be in a mood to enter another golden age. The five national radio channels are flying; the World Service is still deeply effective; and its television twins, BBC1 and BBC2, are being primed with new money and enthused with new ambitions by the new director-general, Greg Dyke, whose first year has seen a BBC turnaround on a scale few would have predicted.

However, the BBC casts a very long shadow. It could be argued that its publicly funded power, size and competitiveness both make and mar—even distort—our mass communications systems, making it extremely difficult for ITV companies to grow in any way that is comparable to fellow commercial outfits in Europe and the US. Yet, without the BBC, our country's broadcasting is unthinkable. It is a serious dilemma.

ITV attracts an up-market audience of 48 million viewers a week, invests more in UK home-made productions than any other channel in Europe, including BBC1, and has 27 regional news services across the UK—twice the number of those on the BBC's two main channels combined. We have a massively-watched public service commercial channel, the like of which exists nowhere else on the planet. Therefore, why is it so neglected in this White Paper?

Big organisations can be neglected, too. And have not we seen the consequences of that over the past few years? There persists in radio and television the belief that what is good is not commercial and, therefore, what is commercial cannot be really good. We would consider that to be nonsense if it were applied to David Hockney, Pavarotti or Mercedes-Benz. However, here the commercial is still a taint, even though the work that it sustains, and, for that matter, some of the commercials themselves, can be a triumph.

This Government have tackled many broadcasting issues here and elsewhere with skill and sympathy but not, alas, with enough of either in the case of ITV. For example, in the case of the digital switch, firm and immediate guidance is needed now. That would encourage manufacturers to promote digital equipment and would hasten the day when the analogue channels become available for an Exchequer set to benefit from both. Again, ITV agrees that it should be available on all delivery platforms—terrestrial, cable and satellite. But if ITV must offer that, surely those systems, including satellite, must carry. Why ever not? Without such fair dealing, the satellites will be in the driving seat in all negotiations, as my noble friend Lord Gordon of Strathblane pointed out.

Moreover, surely it is time to repeal the rules which prevent any one company owning more than 20 per cent of ITN's news service. No other substantial broadcaster in the world is denied the opportunity to own its own news supplier. And what of the absurd rules governing independents? Once again, while ITV must take 25 per cent of independents, the restriction on its own classification as independent and its own investment in independents is subject to unfair discrimination.

Finally, why is OFCOM responsible for regulating content on all channels, save the giant BBC? It is as if Oftel were not to regulate BT. That w ill only exacerbate unfairness and archaic favouritism. There is no suggestion that the BBC's board of governors be disbanded, but surely those governors, too, can see that their future best lies within rather than without, especially as an over-privileged BBC will cause unnecessary friction and, worst of all, I believe, backfire on the BBC itself.

In my view, ITV's needs have been ignored for far too long, its ambitions discounted and its potential marginalised. Surely now is the time to give ITV, which is a valuable national and regional asset, the means that it needs to add fully to the wealth of the nation.

6.5 p.m.

My Lords, I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, for introducing this debate. First, across the range of exciting developments in communications, I understand that technological convergence is an important happening. Whether the context is telephony, the Internet or broadcasting, technological convergence is taking place.

Secondly, I understand that convergence is clearly accelerating the pace of change. In that context, time seems to be of the essence. However, I want to concentrate particularly on a matter of importance in relation to where I live—the issue of access. Who will have access to these new opportunities? My own Midlands diocese embraces such places as Walsall, Wolverhampton, the Black Country and Stoke-on-Trent, but also Shrewsbury, Oswestry and remote places on the Welsh Border.

At this time of the foot-and-mouth crisis, what are those remote Border farmers in need of? They need information. They need information which gives help and hope and they need it quickly. I am encouraged by the Government's help to urban areas in my own diocese—the Walsalls, the Blakenhalls and the Tiptons. However, if those places, particularly on the educational front, also miss out on access to communication, the consequences could be serious.

As a previous speaker has already said, this White Paper sets the goal of universal access to the Internet by 2005. I note that it has also promised 100,000 computers at low rent. Clearly, the task is great. However, the Government speak of promoting that access rather than trying to ensure it. Should not work be done to monitor the effect of non-provision on people and communities or on sectors of society which are at risk?

I submit that access is a vital issue, whether in relation to the Internet, to telephony or to digital broadcasting. Therefore, I submit—I believe that here I am in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Gordon—that a strong regulatory presence may be required to ensure that communications deliver their potential to all members of our community.

I end with a punch-line. I have heard it said that sophisticated communications networks can shrink the globe. What a pity if, through the gravitational pull of profitability or the lack of political will, they succeed only in shrinking the inside of the M25.

6.8 p.m.

My Lords, I add my thanks to my noble friend Lord Gordon of Strathblane for introducing this debate. It provides a timely opportunity to consider how the proposed new framework can deliver full and equal access to the communications revolution for the UK's 2 million visually-impaired people.

The White Paper acknowledges that access to communications services often poses particular difficulties for disabled people, even though such services may be more important to them than to the population at large. It states:
"We will want to ensure that as many as possible are able to benefit".
However, current plans for reform simply do not spell out how that is to be achieved. There is apparently no provision for ensuring universal access for disabled people through primary legislation or strong licensing conditions. The duties of the new regulator in relation to disabled people appear weak. A consumer panel is proposed without any reference to how disabled people's interests are to be represented within it, and the willingness and ability of new media industries to self-regulate is grossly overestimated.

As matters stand, neither digital TV, digital radio, mobile phones or websites are accessible to blind and partially-sighted people. They are excluded from those proliferating technologies because of poor design, the extra cost or technical difficulty of access, the absence of suitable equipment and the lack of training. Yet all of those services could be available for use if they included basic inclusive design features that magnify text or provide an audio alternative.

The industry has shown itself to be unwilling to make a small but fundamental investment in inclusive design and it is showing no signs whatsoever of developing the universal access standards that the White Paper calls for. Every time a new generation of equipment is produced that is not accessible, the longer it takes and the more expensive it is to rectify the situation. There is nothing in the White Paper to suggest that the Government plan to enforce universal access through licence conditions or that the back-stop powers of OFCOM will be deployed swiftly or strongly enough to make a difference.

One of the most critical issues for blind or partially sighted people today is, of course, access to digital TV. For more than a decade, the RNIB and others have campaigned for audio description on TV. That is an additional narration that fits "between" dialogue and describes action, body language, facial expressions and anything else that helps people to follow what is happening. While broadcasters on digital terrestrial TV are currently required by law to have 10 per cent of programmes with audio description within the first 10 years of their licence, there is currently no way for visually impaired people to access those programmes because they lack the necessary equipment.

Broadcasters and the voluntary sector have invested in developing a prototype of the necessary technology to show that audio description can work, but no broadcaster or manufacturer is willing to fund production of the equipment for public use. Why, then, are the Government refusing to ensure that a statutory right to have public broadcast programmes televised with audio description is matched by a statutory right to have equipment that can receive audio-description? The RNIB and the digital network have requested governmental intervention to underwrite the costs. Without such support, the whole project will founder. However, the Government have thus far said no. Moreover, they say that they will not countenance raising the audio-description targets on broadcasters until the RNIB and broadcasters sort out the production of the module between themselves. It cannot be right to leave access to such core services either to the market or a charity. If the Government are truly to honour their commitment in the White Paper to,
"extend and improve provision for … audio description'",
they must take action.

In the brave new communications future it appears that sighted people will have the opportunity to, for example, vote online, receive vital health information and access new educational opportunities through interactive digital TV. However, blind or partially sighted people may not have such opportunities.

It cannot be the Government's intention that the digital communications revolution should exclude blind or partially sighted people in that way. There is still time to ensure that A New Future For Communications urgently addresses their needs. We must all hope that the opportunity is seized.

6.13 p.m.

My Lords, I, too, am delighted that my noble friend Lord Gordon introduced this debate. I congratulate the Government on publishing the White Paper primarily because it is very reassuring to see a government for once dealing with a future technology in such a proactive way.

I am not a broadcaster and I have no history in the broadcasting media. My background is in information technology and in consequence I probably view the White Paper with somewhat different eyes from those of many other noble Lords. From my perspective it seems that information technology and the Internet have been added to the White Paper somewhat as an afterthought.

I would like to state the obvious: that the Internet is not the same as broadcasting and that it has to be treated differently. Indeed, in a few years' time, when broadband will be universal, much more content will be available over the Internet than is available today on television.

I turn to a subject that I know worries Members of the House; that is, access to unsuitable material and pornography. Three weeks ago I was telephoned by a friend of mine, who suggested that I should take a look at a programme on Channel 5 called the Ricki Lake show. I turned on my television and was horrified to see a young American man extolling the virtues of pimping. His line was simple: that pimping was a fine profession and that it made him lots of money. Perhaps that is simply the world we live in. However, I venture that noble Lords will be as shocked as I was when I relate that I viewed that programme at 9.20 on a Friday morning. I had thought that there was a watershed relating to such programmes but clearly I am wrong. I am aghast that Channel 5 allowed that programme to appear on daytime television.

Noble Lords may be interested to know that I complained to the Independent Television Commission in writing and on House of Lords writing paper. I have received a n acknowledgement, but as yet no answer. Noble Lords may also be interested to know that someone else I know, who does not have a title, telephoned the ITC to complain, only to be fobbed off with the comment that that is the way that television is going these days. Finally, noble Lords may be even more interested to know that I also telephoned Channel 5 but, predictably, my call is yet to be returned. The conclusion is obvious—nobody gives a damn; all that matters is ratings.

However, all of that is sweetness and light compared with what is available on the Internet. Within one minute of leaving your Lordships' House, any noble Lord could be sitting in front of a computer in the Library and could have accessed the homepage of any number of highly offensive websites. Little skill is needed. One simply has to enter, "www.", followed by any expletive that one likes, and then ".com". An immediate connection will be made to a hardcore porn site that is located who knows where on this planet. One will see people engaged in all types of sexual activity. As noble Lords will have read, the material is not confined simply to adults; children too are featured. When broadband arrives those activities will become more immediate and infinitely more graphic.

If such material can be accessed in the Library of your Lordships' House it can equally be accessed by an eight-year-old child left unsupervised in front of a home computer. Soon there will be pornographic video on demand, in full Technicolor, in Dolby sound and "in your very own home". The Internet is so simple to use that it is no exaggeration to say that everyone can learn to tap into it very quickly and without hindrance. The Internet permits ludicrously easy access in a matter of seconds to the most hardcore, violent and perverted pornography. How can any child deal with that? How can any child know what he is letting himself in for when he gets together with a few friends after school to look up something naughty on the net?

To our children the Internet should be viewed as a wonderful window on to the world, a fantastic learning tool and a superb way of communicating. But when it offers easy access into depravity we should all be on our guard. It is our duty to ensure that our children are protected. I hope that OFCOM can step up to the challenge.

6.18 p.m.

My Lords, I should like to take four minutes—I thank the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, for giving me the opportunity to do so—to make four points about the White Paper. I do so as someone who believes that convergence is coming and that the White Paper therefore points in the right direction.

My first point is about the composition and processes of OFCOM. It must be a new body that is fit for its ambitious role, it must be open, transparent and accountable in its processes and it must have executive and non-executive directors and functions and structures that are purpose made. Any attempt to create OFCOM simply by bolting together the ITC and Oftel would be wrong because they are very different bodies. Both have distinguished histories. But they were created for entirely different purposes. Of course we must draw on their strengths and people, as we must draw on other regulatory bodies' strengths and people. May we have an assurance from the Minister that OFCOM is a start-up and not a merger?

Secondly, I emphasise the extent to which wise, light-touch regulation should draw on research into people's attitudes and patterns of behaviour in relation to broadcasting. Research is an indispensable part of the wise judgment that will certainly be required. Powerful experience is now available through the broadcasting regulators, principally but not exclusively through the Broadcasting Standards Commission. May we have an assurance from the Minister—I know that research is a subject that is close to his heart—that that experience will be built on and reinforced in the new structure?

Thirdly, we must accept that competition should be the main route to the satisfaction of viewers, listeners and telecom users. Of course, one enemy of competition is excessive regulation; the other is abuse of dominant market position. I, for one, find the White Paper rather coy on the question of cross-media ownership. We need competition, and we need plurality of voice. Some competition may lead to the sort of concentration the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, described. But when it comes to cross-media ownership, over-dominant share of voice becomes the issue—an issue which is social, economic and political. Perhaps it is unreasonable to expect the Government to be too brave on this issue in the run-up to an election. But afterwards is another matter. Let us hope that the Bill does not shirk this issue in the way that I fear the White Paper does.

Finally, what of the BBC? The BBC remains at the heart of the British communications kaleidoscope, not least as a benchmark of quality which still distinguishes British broadcasting from so much of the rest of the world. But we need a focused and accountable BBC with defined and specific public service objectives; not a beanstalk growing and proliferating in every direction, trying to fill every nook and cranny of the media market. It should be a BBC wholly within the scope of OFCOM, not half in and half out as it is in the White Paper, perhaps with governors still responsible for internal quality control and good governance, but securely protected from random, short-term political interference from politicians of all colours. That is one of the paradoxes of the White Paper; that it opens the BBC to political interference from which it can only be protected by being part of the complementary regulatory structure. I fear that that issue too has been shirked in the White Paper and I hope that the Bill will do better.

6.22 p.m.

My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Gordon for making this debate possible. I declare an interest in that earlier this month I became chair of the Broadcasting Standards Commission, having previously been deputy chair of the Independent Television Commission, though clearly the views I put forward are entirely my own. I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Holme, who was my predecessor at the Broadcasting Standards Commission and I pay tribute to his work and indeed that of his predecessors in the chair.

The Broadcasting Standards Commission, together with its predecessor body the Broadcasting Standards Council, set standards in this country for openness and transparency in dealing with standards and complaints, linked to high quality research—qualities which I hope will be carried fully into the new OFCOM procedures.

I welcome the idea of OFCOM as a merger of the five regulatory bodies. It will be a welcome end to the double jeopardy that now exists for broadcasters—indeed, sometimes triple jeopardy when there are complaints about their work. And I welcome the idea of a light regulatory touch over our broadcasting. However, I have a number of comments to make on the content of the White Paper.

First, I hope that the new OFCOM will have proper representation of non-executive board members in order to fully represent consumers and citizens. Secondly, I hope that OFCOM will be fully accountable as a body. Indeed, it ought to come under the National Audit Bureau just to add another layer of oversight and accountability.

I hope that the good work on content, which was carried out by the Broadcasting Standards Commission and the Broadcasting Standards Council before it over recent years, will not be lost in the larger OFCOM structure. It is therefore proper that within OFCOM there should be a content committee, also including one or more non-executive board members, in order to ensure that acceptable television standards are maintained. I am pleased that the phrase, "acceptable standards" will replace the words, "taste and decency".

I trust also that the new OFCOM will be robust in defending the concept of public service broadcasting, a concept which has made British television the best in the world and made us unique as a country in providing television. I am disappointed that so far it appears the BBC will not come fully under the new regulatory structure. The danger is that it means that either the Government or Parliament will have to act in an oversight capacity over the BBC if the governors do not meet the need, which they may not always do. That may bring the BBC, as the noble Lord, Lord Holme, said, into possible conflict with the Government.

If I were a BBC governor, I would argue passionately that it is in the interests of the independence and integrity of the BBC that it should come fully under the new OFCOM structure. That will be desirable given the complexity of the White Paper and the likely complexity of the Bill to follow. If the Government were to publish a draft Bill, it would enable Parliament to exercise pre-legislative scrutiny, which would result in a better Bill in due course.

Lastly, it is right that OFCOM should deal with content problems post delivery. I am a little concerned at the suggestion that the role of classification should be given to OFCOM. That is probably not the best way forward, even though OFCOM may have a duty to consider complaints about classification itself. Having said that, I believe the White Paper represents a good way forward and if the Government listen to the criticisms, we will have an even better broadcasting structure in the end.

6.26 p.m.

My Lords, I have no special interest to declare. I am just an ordinary consumer strongly in favour of broadcasting, and I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Gordon for this opportunity to tell your Lordships the reasons why.

Public service broadcasting makes a special and distinct contribution to the sense we have of being a nation. That is why I am a supporter of public service broadcasting. By that I do not mean warm beer and cricket on the village green, or church bells across the meadow; I mean that it reflects the whole variety of different regions, different ethnic backgrounds and different cultures of our urban, rural and suburban life. Television and radio bring us the whole mixture of life that makes up our society today.

But the advantages of public sector broadcasting do not end there. News and current affairs, based on a high standard of journalistic integrity, feed our democracy. Public service broadcasting backs up our education system with such things as the Open University, the National Grid for Learning and the University for Industry. It provides us with entertainment and cultural activity, not only making the good popular and the popular good, but also nourishing us with cultural activity in which we can all share. In addition, public service broadcasting can provide a showcase for creativity and talent which helps the economy, particularly the creative economy.

Of course, broadcasters other than the BBC can provide that. Thanks to our system of regulation, all broadcasters in this country have to provide an element of public service. Public service broadcasting is not just there to provide what the market will not or cannot provide. The communications White Paper recognises that. That is why I am generally in favour of its recommendations.

But central to that is the way in which media technologies are converging. As all the broadcasting media come together, will we be able to maintain the public service ethos which I find so beneficial to our society? I hope so.

In the White Paper the Government clearly state that public service is an objective. Regulation and controlling ownership are their means of achieving that. For there are obvious dangers from concentrating media ownership in a few hands. I saw a quotation the other day from Gerald Levene of America On line. He is reported to have said:
"The global media is becoming more important than Government, than NGOs, than the educational institutions".
I find that rather chilling and worrying. Neither am I persuaded that the proliferation of services in the media markets means there is any less need for regulation. There may be more competition but the public interest remains to be defended.

To get that right, we need a lot more debate to hear what ordinary consumers have to say, because the experts sometimes get it wrong. For instance, they certainly got wrong our anxiety to shop over the Internet; they obviously grossly overestimated that. But one thing seems certain; that is, that the development of public service broadcasting partly lies in what Steve Morrison of Granada has referred to as the broadcasting of public services. By that he means programmes such as homework and revision TV channels; a televised health advisory service; a citizens advice bureau of the air, and help with pensions and social security matters. With interactivity, all those are likely to become an important part of public service broadcasting.

At a seminar on digital citizenship last year, my right honourable friend Chris Smith gave a vision of the future of broadcasting that I rather like. He saw the multichannel, online, multitechnology broadcasting world as a public library of the airwaves, which would inform, entertain, educate, challenge and unite us. I hope that his vision becomes a reality.

6.31 p.m.

My Lords, I too welcome the White Paper and thank the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, for the opportunity to debate it. However, there are real concerns that the White Paper gives far too much power to broadcasters to determine their own priorities with little or no emphasis on broadcasting's responsibility to its audiences both as consumers and as citizens. We want artistic and dramatic freedom and creativity, but it has to be balanced with responsibilities which public sector broadcasting gives, and that must have the utmost importance.

Perhaps what is needed is a clear definition of public sector broadcasting which is enshrined in legislation. That would give greater reassurance to many viewers and listeners, which self-regulation cannot. The organisation Public Voice brings together many bodies which focus on public sector broadcasting. It feels that the current consumer panel should have its remit extended or, if not, that it should be supplemented by a citizenship panel which could monitor broadcasting's performance and ensure that it contains a sufficient mix of educational, social action and children's programmes to reflect the multiple interests of our society today.

When the rules were relaxed in 1990, the amount of public sector broadcasting rapidly diminished. There is evidence that certain groups are very much underrepresented. Their voices are not heard sufficiently. They are not visible enough to ensure that through that sort of broadcasting the diversity of our communities is fully represented. I believe that strengthening is needed before we get too far along the road.

6.33 p.m.

My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, for introducing this debate and providing us with the opportunity to discuss this important document.

I begin by congratulating Her Majesty's Government on this excellent White Paper, which is widely welcomed. However, there are a number of issues in relation to ethnic minorities, religious minorities and particularly the Muslim community, on which I should like to concentrate in the next three-and-a-half minutes.

Last week the Home Office Minister, Mike O'Brien, stated:
"Religious belief is important to many of us. It is the moral code by which many people live their lives. We live in a multicultural society with people of many faiths. To make that society truly equal and inclusive it is vital that we respect the right of others to freedom of thought, conscience and religion—and their right to practise their religion or belief. The Government is alive to concerns among some minority faith communities that they suffer discrimination".
There are more than 200 commercial radio stations in the UK and almost none are owned or administered by Muslims. They do not have a comparable right to reply. They remain under-served and underrepresented by almost all media groups. If we are to reflect the multicultural, multi-religious nature of Great Britain, it is important that all ethnic and religious minority groups are part of the mainstream too.

As your Lordships are aware, major pieces of broadcasting legislation come before Parliament only occasionally. It is against that background that 2 million British Muslims will welcome the attention given to "Access Radio" and community broadcasting in the Communications White Paper, A new future for communications. They too would like to see some specific definitions and amendments to make the new media legislation compatible with the Human Rights Act 2000 and EU and other international laws, conventions and treaties.

The right to communicate is a basic human right, which is unfortunately denied to the many minorities in Europe. The Muslim community contributes more than £6 billion to the UK economy every year, yet it has a tiny impact within the media. British Muslims wish to see a strategic approach from the Government to the development and regulation of community access radio and television. Such an approach should be cross-media in nature and grounded in clear public service objectives.

British Muslims have a substantial contribution to make to neighbourhood renewal, equality and social inclusion, local democracy, participation in local decision-making and supporting lifelong learning and access to new information and communication technology. I hope that the Government will establish a community media fund whose purpose will include support for start-up and development costs, operating costs, including social and creative programming, training, learner support costs and research into audience and impact.

The new communications regulator, OFCOM, could adopt a strategic and supportive cross-sector approach to the regulation of all minority media including broad public service requirements where licensing is required and self-regulation where appropriate. There is a case for OFCOM to hire and retain informed and representative individuals from the minority communities as well as Muslims, at key decision-making levels to create greater representation and participation. I should be obliged if my noble friend the Minister in his reply could tell us whether OFCOM will have regional offices and what efforts will be made to consult with all the communities throughout the regions.

Finally, I should like to draw to the attention of your Lordships the many organisations which have made representations and written about the White Paper including Access Media Alliance and others. I hope that the Government will take note of their views and ensure that all sections of our community are fairly represented.

6.38 p.m.

My Lords, I, too, commend the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, on having the ingenuity to raise this debate. It is the House of Lords at its best. On other occasions when we imitate the other place, we are not very good. Debates of this nature are very good and worth listening to. I commend the Government for publishing a White Paper which is their response to a new communications environment.

I notice in the introduction that the Government wish to restore the balance between basic standards of decency and quality. That prompted me to say a word about the video industry. For nine or 10 years I have been chairman of the Video Standards Council. It is not generally known how important the video industry is. We are taken by what happens on the Internet, quite properly; it is a new departure and is important. But the video industry serves the 89 per cent of households in this country which own a video recorder, and the number is still growing. The industry sold 96 million videos in 1999. It rents 3.5 million videos each week and generates £1.2 billion from video sales. It employs over 38,000 people. It has paid £2 million in VAT and generated considerable revenues for investment. It is a substantial part of the entertainment industry. Not much is said about it in this White Paper.

For historical reasons, the UK video industry is the responsibility of the sentencing and offences unit of the Home Office. The White Paper introduces OFCOM and so forth, the implication being that the responsibility for videos will remain with the sentencing and offences unit. But the reason for the introduction of the Video Recording Act 1984 was the dirty videos and the like.

The situation is different today because there is an anomaly. When the Government talk about OFCOM and so forth, it is important that they consider putting the regulation of videos under the same regulating department; the Departure for Culture, Media and Sport. It cannot be divided between the two bodies. The British Board of Film Classification should remain. I have every confidence in it. It has done a good job over the years and a very good job for the video industry. It is important that we consider the structures of government, which is my purpose in speaking tonight.

6.41 p.m.

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, for securing tonight's debate. I congratulate the Government on the White Paper. It is an excellent start and I hope that there will be opportunities for further consultation and more detailed clarification before the appropriate legislation is brought forward.

In the formal response to the White Paper submitted in my name from the Church of England's Communications Unit, we warmly welcome the Government's emphasis on public service broadcasting. It is a beguiling argument that in a multi-channel world neither religious programmes nor any other category should have protected status; or that they should be narrow-cast into a digital ghetto. So it is good to see that countered in the Government's firmly expressed aim that public service broadcasting will have potentially an even more important role. And I welcome the commitment to secure the carriage of public service channels on cable and satellite and that these will be given due prominence in electronic programme guides.

Not only religious programmes but also educational, children's and other strands and genres which contribute to our high international reputation would fall by the wayside if left to commercial imperatives. Indeed, I have some worry with the paper's proposal that ITV companies will continue as the main commercial provider with
"less prescriptive detailed regulation".
Does that mean that there will be no indication of how much religious and other public service broadcasting will be required? I assure the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, that by "religious" I mean not only Christian but other faiths, too.

The White Paper sets out only one justification for public service broadcasting; namely, that it works. I venture to suggest that the reason it works is because of the kind of pressures broadcasters face: the lowest common denominator; competitiveness; and the power of what is appealing rather than what is important. Such matters are currently held more or less in check.

But even with its interesting proposals for a light three-tier structure, the White Paper is a little short on detail about how such vital tempering and balancing is to be sustained. How will the various elements of public service broadcasting be measured? To relax regulation without putting in its place a clear and measurable strategy seems to be a strange way of strengthening public service broadcasting. I suggest that more needs to be done to ensure that each genre within the public service broadcasting responsibility is properly defended as part of the mainstream. We need more detail on that.

If the Government are sincere—as I believe they are—in their reiteration of public service values in broadcasting, they have to look beyond the technical enhancements of increased choice. As the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, indicated, we have an understandable tendency to be seduced by technical progress. But new technologies are simply means of distribution. They do not of themselves make the end product any better.

An essential test of the new arrangements will be that they deliver in terms of content. So do the Government believe that the mechanism for regulation in the White Paper will be sufficiently robust? There is much to be said for the more unified approach. However, like the noble Lords, Lord Bragg and Lord Dubs, I believe that OFCOM's remit should include the BBC because in order to be effective regulation needs to be distant from production.

How effectively will the proposed new arrangements deal with matters which violate generally accepted standards of taste and decency? As the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, demonstrated, these concerns are by no means confined to a small cranky group of the disgusted. There are legitimate and public protests about offensive broadcasts, videos and the Internet. The White Paper begins to address them and I hope that the Government will take the issue very seriously indeed.

6.45 p.m.

My Lords, the topic on which I want to touch is the regulation of advertising, considered in Chapter 6 of the White Paper. I declare an interest as chairman of the Advertising Standards Authority. Because I took up the office only on 1st January, I can happily welcome the favourable comment about the authority in the White Paper without appearing to boast. Indeed, I can at the same time pay tribute to the work of my predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, and to the council and staff of the authority for improving the processes and efficiency of the ASA in recent years while maintaining its independence both of government and the industry.

The ASA currently regulates not only advertising in all the print media but also in the cinema, on videos and on the Internet. The White Paper proposes that the new regulatory body, OFCOM, should have the principal responsibility for regulating advertising in the broadcast media, taking over the responsibilities currently held by the ITC and the Radio Authority, but states—and this is of importance—that OFCOM could authorise the broadcasting or advertising industry to run industry-based codes within a co-regulatory system whereby OFCOM would set the framework and the industry could be left to draft detailed rules and take responsibility for implementation and enforcement. The White Paper states:
"The strengths and effectiveness of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) system for self-regulation of non-broadcast media, which is well-regarded both here and overseas, gives us confidence that a more co-regulatory approach than the present could be effective".
Fast moving changes in technology and its application mean that old distinctions have become problematic. There is much convergence between what is regulated as broadcast advertising and what is regulated as non-broadcast advertising. Video advertisements appear on buses, in taxis and on the Heathrow Express. We have moving pictures in Internet advertising. All those look like television advertising and it is difficult to discern the distinction between broadcast and non-broadcast electronic advertising, particularly when the Internet can be accessed on a television screen and television can be viewed on a personal computer. I need hardly say that modern advertising is no respecter of the division between broadcast and non-broadcast. And global brands expect to advertise on all platforms.

The legislation that is envisaged should allow sufficient flexibility for OFCOM, the ASA and any new co- regulatory arrangements to operate effectively in a rapidly changing scene. But there needs to be in place a mechanism to ensure consistency of standards and in decision-making and to enable consumers to know where they should go.

Inevitably, I suppose that the legislation will be complex and lengthy. Because my noble friend Lord McIntosh recalls the complexity and length of the Financial Services and Markets Act, which he took through the House, he might like to recall the warning of Sir Howard Davies, chairman of the Financial Services Authority. He said:
"Having a Bill in Parliament is like having a skip in front of your house: other people put their rubbish in before you have a chance to fill it with your own".

6.50 p.m.

My Lords, I spent many hours on the Davies committee considering the BBC with my noble friend Lord Gordon of Strathblane. Therefore, I particularly welcome this opportunity to debate these matters with him tonight. He was rather more successful: one of his recommendations was accepted by the Government. None of mine was. That is what committees of inquiry are like.

I rise to make just one concrete suggestion following the remarks of my noble friends Lord Dubs and Lord Borrie. When I look at the White Paper and the Bill that is to follow it I have a powerful sense of défà vu. This is very much like the Financial Services and Markets Bill in which some of us were closely involved last year. We have a situation in which the existing system of regulation no longer matches modern reality. The subject is fantastically complicated in its detail. I see the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, nodding. The subject is also absolutely non-partisan. We have a situation in which four or five regulators are to be merged into one. We hope that that will be done from the bottom up and that they will not all be shovelled into the same pot. We also have disciplinary systems with serious implications for human rights legislation.

The Financial Services and Markets Bill was referred to a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Burns. Had it not been for the work of that committee the Bill would have been completely unworkable. We had enough trouble with the Bill when it emerged, but without that work it would have been unworkable and probably would have offended against human rights legislation. The simple suggestion that I make tonight, which has also been made by the all-party media committee, is that the Bill be referred to such a committee. I believe that all the more strongly because, from what I hear of the drafting process—I make no criticism of it—the clauses are being shovelled to the draftsman so that the Bill is ready as soon as possible in the new Session. No doubt the best job is being made of it by the best possible people, but I shall be surprised if they come up with a flawless Bill.

Here we have an opportunity to use that method to consider the Bill before it is passed. It has been used only once since the Financial Services and Markets Bill, but clearly that is how we should proceed with the Bill before it is considered in detail in both Houses so that we arrive at a correct piece of legislation that lasts for the decade of revolutionary change which lies ahead of the broadcasting industry.

6.53 p.m.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, for introducing this debate. I should like to address my remarks primarily to the subject of disabled users of the broadcast media. I believe that over 2.5 million people have visual impairment and 8.7 million people have hearing impairment. Traditionally, those groups of people are pushed into ghettos within broadcasting and are dependent on our changing the system to make it more accessible to them. The noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins, has already spoken of the tremendous opportunities for change that are available with the new technological media if the Government are prepared to give a little nudge to ensure that people are better able to gain access.

Public service broadcasting—I believe that all broadcasting should have an element of public service, even if it is only for a minority interest—has been one of the democratising influences in our society, certainly throughout my lifetime. That is beginning to break down with the ability to purchase what one wants. We now have an opportunity to insist that the Government pay greater attention to the new technological possibilities to cater for the 6 or 7 million people who have problems with the media. That may mean stipulating that programmes must be broadcast over particular ranges or that suppliers ensure that new equipment can receive new broadcasts.

Probably the most obvious example is that the BBC believes that it is capable of achieving 100 per cent subtitling. Other terrestrial broadcasters do not believe that that is possible. I welcome the fact that we intend to bring into the system both cable and satellite broadcasting, but surely in the not too distant future we should work towards a system in which all of them are included, especially in view of the fact that many programmes in these other media are recycled from the primary producers. We have been over the subject many times. The estimated cost of providing broadcast subtitling is £400 an hour, which is not a huge cost. I believe that not long ago I and the Minister agreed at Question Time that under the Disability Discrimination Act there was an arguable case for regarding that as a reasonable consideration. I suggest that now is the opportunity for the Government to nudge it further forward.

There are similar requirements, for example in relation to those with hearing problems who use radios. There is the possibility of broadcasting without sound effects, for example on Radio 4, to enable people to pick up the gist of programmes. It is possible that with the emergence of new channels that service will be available. That is the kind of approach which must be looked at in the current environment.

As to the use of telephones, unless we begin to put pressure on providers to ensure that equipment is adapted to enable those with hearing problems to use them, for example, by building in microphones, and is available at the same cost as ordinary telephones, we shall continue to deny to a large section of our community the use of that basic form of communication. I do not know how many people who use mobile telephones noble Lords have bumped into in the past few weeks. Mobile telephones are here to stay for the foreseeable future. We must begin to apply pressure, and I hope that discussion on progress will allow us to do so.

6.57 p.m.

My Lords, I begin by declaring two interests: first, as a non-executive director of Anglia Television; secondly, as chairman of the Commercial Radio Companies Association. The communications White Paper has been generally well received, and quite rightly so. It is a far-sighted document which in general has tackled the issues of technological change, convergence and the future of the communications industry with imagination. Sadly, there is a major exception to that general approbation. The radio industry has reacted with undisguised disappointment. That disappointment is derived both from what the White Paper says and what it does not say.

Part of the radio industry's disappointment derives from the failure of the White Paper to say anything decisive about the future of radio ownership. Concerns about radio ownership arise from the desire to provide listeners with a wide range of choice of high quality programmes. What then is the relationship between diversity of programming and the pattern of ownership?

It is a well known result in economic analysis that having a large number of owners does not provide a wide range of choice. In that case every owner will compete for the largest number of listeners, and the result will be a narrow range of programming as different stations struggle to capture the most popular part of the market, cannibalising each other's markets. It is a small number of owners that will produce greater diversity as stations spread along the spectrum of taste to maximise total listening. The BBC is an excellent example of that; it is a major company which provides a diverse range of programming on its national and local services. Clearly, the Government agree with the argument of my noble friend Lord Gordon that plurality of ownership reduces choice and that a limited number of owners can increase choice, for they have deployed that argument convincingly in the case of television.

The White Paper makes clear that a future in which there are only two companies providing regional television; namely, the BBC and a single ITV company, will not in any way compromise the provision of a diverse local service. Does the Minister agree that the same argument can be applied to radio? The radio industry itself has proposed that in future there should be at least three companies providing radio services in a given locality, the BBC and two commercial companies, hence providing a framework with the plurality necessary to stimulate competition and the concentration necessary for the provision of a wide choice of programming. Will the Minister this evening endorse that proposal?

I turn now to what the White Paper does say. I believe that the proposal to create OFCOM, a single integrated regulator, is really excellent. A single regulator is necessary if this country is to take full advantage of the opportunities provided by the new technologies. However, the ability of OFC'OM to deliver the Government's goals of diversity, a dynamic market and efficient use of the scarce spectrum, is seriously compromised by the failure to include the BBC within OFCOM's regulatory domain.

Again, it is a well-known result in economics, now the economics of regulation, that if one has more than one regulator of an industry, the result is wasteful duplication, the inefficient utilisation of scarce resources and the consumer being badly served. These were some of the reasons, for example, why the Government quite rightly opted for a single regulator for the whole financial services industry.

In radio, a single regulator could be the guardian of diversity and choice and of the efficient use of the spectrum. A single regulator for radio would be able to ensure that format commitments are kept where appropriate, are adapted where necessary and in either case there is not wasteful duplication. The proposed system of radio regulation in the White Paper, in which OFCOM regulates commercial radio and BBC radio is regulated by the BBC governors, is an economic nonsense and a guaranteed recipe for inefficiency.

As everyone who has spoken on this topic in this debate so far has agreed—namely, the noble Lords, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, Lord Bragg, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, Lord Dubs and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield—the enormous benefits which a single integrated regulator, properly constructed, will bring to broadcasting will be lost if the Government preserve the antiquated anomaly of the BBC being regulated entirely separately. Will the Minister assure the House that the Government will look at this matter again?

The radio industry to keen to work with the Government in transforming the White Paper into a successful Bill. Regrettably, all the major recommendations made by the radio industry in the consultation process preceding the White Paper were ignored. I hope that the Minister can give me an assurance this evening that that will not be the case the second time around.

7.2 p.m.

My Lords, in thanking my noble friend Lord Gordon of Strathblane for having the luck of a Napoleonic general in the ballot and giving your Lordships the chance to debate this White Paper, I was going to say how quickly we seem to be returning to this subject. I then realised that five years have already elapsed since the passage of the Broadcasting Act 1996, a virtual lifetime in a world in which Moore's Law, for instance—the doubling of processing power every 18 months—applies.

That rate of dynamic change lies at the heart of the regulatory challenge. Each of the last Broadcasting Acts has arguably been overtaken by developments in the markets and technology before the ink on the Royal Assent has dried. The proposal to establish OFCOM, therefore, will be judged on the basis of how well and how flexibly, under the legislative framework, it can respond to the rapidly changing environment.

My version of the agnosticism of my noble friend Lord Gordon is to ask whether we really need a concurrent regulator at all, or whether the DTI and OFT could not be responsible for all the commercial and competition issues and another single body responsible for all issues of content and standards. I suspect that, on balance, OFCOM is the right route to go down, but when the legislation is introduced I hope that the argument will be convincingly and clearly made.

In addressing just two other points in my remaining time, I should declare a number of interests as a director of, or venture capital investor in, various companies for which broadband connectivity in particular is of critical importance. In addition, I am a director of a company, Indicii Salus, which is in the forefront of cryptographic security for Internet services.

Universal broadband access is of overwhelming importance to both individual consumers and to businesses, large and small. Our culture and our prosperity alike will be diminished if we fall behind in its provision. There is no doubt that over the past 10 years neither BT nor the cable operators have shown the level of innovation or dynamism that consumers deserve. In the end I believe that the markets will pass judgment, as the board of BT may now be finding, and perhaps as a result we will see the long-needed improvement in commitment and service.

The regulator, as so often, may only be the enforcer of last resort, but Oftel's recent record in sharpening or complementing market forces is deeply disappointing. If, as the White Paper notes,
"unbundling … in every country, gives rise to disputes between the incumbent operator and its competitors"
Oftel was as well prepared to handle these disputes, many years after they were apparent in other countries, as Dad's Army would have been for 21st century warfare. I sincerely hope that OFCOM in the future and Oftel in the interim, show greater vision and determination.

The White Paper covers briefly the issue of Internet security and the prevention of on-line fraud. The DTI, over 10 years or more, has been longsighted and energetic in encouraging work and standards in this field. But it is impossible to overstate the importance not only of achieving the highest levels of security for e-commerce and on-line payments, but also of instilling unequivocal confidence in these systems on the part of consumers. Much of that responsibility lies with the private sector whether Internet companies, banks or retailers.

But the Government have a vital role as well. In particular, where the Government have an existing regulatory or supervisory role such as, for example, in the move of the National Lottery to on-line playing, they must surely ensure that the highest levels of security are adopted. Can the Minister say whether he believes that the present regulatory regime, before any new regulation, is adequate in that respect?

7.7 p.m.

My Lords, I, too, would like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, for initiating this debate. I would also like to thank him for planting a very important seed, at least in my mind, that technology should not be in the driving seat. I hope that noble Lords will take note of that because I am sure that when the Bill arrives in this House we shall have to bear that in mind. We shall have to make sure that the controlling force is not technology.

I must declare an interest. I am a director of Meridian Broadcasting, which is a regional ITV company. I am also a director of Kiss and Magic, which are independent radio stations. I am very proud of Meridian's record in providing services in the area it serves. I am also very proud of the original way in which it has used its charitable trust to provide programmes on very special subjects, which are mainly disability issues as well as programmes on ageing, carers and all the related matters which affect us. It has followed them up with booklets, information, provided loops and so forth. It is very important that, whatever happens, the regional dimension must be maintained and not be smothered by too much regulation.

I was going to mention one or two names, but there are more than I can quote now. Many noble Lords have already said that the BBC should be fully regulated by OFCOM. The Charter was brought into force at a time when, in their wildest imaginings people would not have envisaged what is happening today. There is no question but that the BBC should be part of the regulatory process. Ultimately, it cannot continue to be judge and jury in its own case. It does not work.

The main issue at the moment is providing a level playing field. There are a number of different aspects. I am talking only about television. Noble Lords have touched on many matters which are beyond my comprehension. With regard to television, there is the BBC, free to air, pay TV and all the ITV companies which have to generate their own revenue to provide programmes. If we provide a level playing field for all these services, they will grow and prosper and we shall have the best of all worlds.

If the ITV companies are penalised when they want digital carriage or when they compete in other forms of carriage, they will not have the money to provide the programmes. We know that ITV companies are providing the programmes and have overtaken the BBC among ABC viewers. That people are watching TV is a most important statement. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, is not here; but Channel 4 provides a tremendous number of programmes. It provides programmes on Islam. They are not patronising, which the BBC's programmes so often tend to be.

My time is up. The real point I want to leave with noble Lords is that when we come to debate the Bill we must try to see that there is fair play between the different providers and that they all have the opportunity to grow and do their best for us.

7.12 p.m.

My Lords, last year I had the honour of meeting the world-wide president of Sony. When we were introduced, I said, to break the ice: "You know, sir, I sometimes think that in 10 years' time we will not recognise this industry". With typical Japanese terseness he replied, "Three years". I thought of that when the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, made a comment about the 1996 Bill. Whenever, over the past 20 years, we have debated broadcasting communications it has been against a realisation that the technology is moving much faster than the parliamentary process.

Nevertheless, like other noble Lords, I welcome and am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, for initiating the debate. We have, in this debate perhaps more than in previous debates during the past 20 years, and in the legislation we are looking forward to, an opportunity for setting the parameters and the foundations for our communication system, at least for the earlier parts of the 21st century. That is why I should like first of all to welcome and endorse the call of the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, for an imaginative way of scrutinising the Bill.

The Government have had the benefit of a great deal of experience today. Indeed, the debate could have lasted twice as long. Some of the shortened speeches left much wisdom unsaid. I have received over 30 briefing papers from various organisations in preparation for the debate. Because there is an onus on us to get it right, we need a procedure which will allow the various interest groups to have their say at a pre-legislative stage. I hope that the Government take that on board and think imaginatively about the process.

Furthermore, that is illustrated by the fact that today we have had more than the usual number of declarations of interest. My noble friend Lord Thomson took the matter to a new stage. I have heard of the sins of the fathers being visited on the sons, but the success of the daughters being visited on the fathers is a new dimension.

My own declaration is that I am president of BREMA, the manufacturers' trade association. Over the past 20 years I have been involved in various capacities in the passage of most of the Bills. At present I am chairman of my party's study group on the White Paper.

My own involvement in broadcasting started just over 30 years ago, when I worked for the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, in Downing Street. He said to me, "Find out what Merlyn is up to with the BBC"—and he was one of the Ministers whom the noble Lord trusted!

Perhaps I may just make a comment about what the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, said about radio. That is often neglected. The Minister always has the stock reply that digital radio is far too expensive for him. The signs are that digital radio is making advances. Both the BBC and the commercial sector have given it a real impetus. The manufacturers have always said that they need the quantity before they can get prices down. One good sign is that Ford have said that they will put digital radios into their cars from 2004. It could be that digital radio will get its impetus first through car radio.

I turn to TV. It is only with reticence that I take issue with the call of the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, for a level playing field. Many of our problems over the past few years, and particularly much of the sniping at the BBC is because some of the commercial interests do not understand the matter. I can best illustrate that by saying that a few years ago I was involved in the setup of the National Lottery. I went to see a very senior civil servant with a representative of the football pool. The representative asked for a level playing field. After a while the civil servant said, "But you don't understand. We have no intention of creating a level playing field. We want the lottery to win". That came as a great shock. But I am sure that it would help the commercial interests if they realised that we want public service broadcasting to win.

Over the past few years, or certainly in the early part of the 1980s, the great debate has been whether public service broadcasting in this country would be forced into a smaller and smaller ghetto as it has been in the United States, in Canada, in Australia and elsewhere. But the great victory of the debates of the 1980s and 1990s is that in the 21st century we are determined to build into our regulatory framework of broadcasting a very strong public service broadcasting sector.

We wish the commercial sector well and that it should prosper. But the commercial sector should stop thinking that it can shrink the public service sector by constantly sniping at it. There is no doubt about that. I see the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, looks surprised, but I am not surprised because I have seen strong vested interests trying to undermine public service broadcasting in this country. I am happy and. indeed, in some ways pleasantly surprised, at the robust nature of the White Paper's defence of the public sector. I welcome that.

I feel that we have an opportunity on digital broadcasting, but it is not an opportunity if we leave it purely to market forces. Each individual digital provider is happy to adopt the cheap and cheerful technology that will get it subscriptions into a walled garden. I understand that. They have the interests of their shareholders profit maximisation to fulfil. But that commercial impetus is not necessarily the same one as a national commitment to an orderly digital switchover. I welcome the parallel White Paper, Enterprise, Skills and Innovation, published by the DTI and the Department for Education and Employment, which puts forward a whole range of initiatives for a proactive approach to the adoption of digital. Paragraph 4.5.3 of Chapter 4 of the White Paper sets out a real plan for a digital switchover. It will not happen without that kind of commitment from government.

I welcome the work done by Chris Smith and Patricia Hewitt. They have shown that grown-up government works. Chris Smith is the first Secretary of State to have made it to Cambridge television conferences—a great success in terms of the Ministry of Fun having been a rather short-term appointment in successive governments. However, at the base of it, we have to go back to the old mantra laid down by the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, in his White Paper—quality, diversity and choice. How do we do that? We do it by defending and building on the strengths of the White Paper and by using the consultative process to which the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, referred. The danger is not that we progress from the White Paper but that we slip back and allow it to become green and frayed at the edges.

Our late colleague, Lord Ted Willis, used to say that the kind of Minister for whom he had the most contempt was the one who always carried the imprint of the last bottom which sat on him. In the communications industry, there are some very big bottoms about. Ministers will need support to resist being sat upon. I hope the Minister believes that he and his colleagues will have the support of this House if they remain robust in the defence of public service broadcasting and a truly inter-operable digital service.

7.22 p.m.

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, for having used his valuable place in the ballot to introduce this debate on a topic of which he has had so much experience in his business career.

Communications is a topic which bears down on us with increasing intensity, complexity and with bewildering speed. Let me say, right at the outset, that we on these Benches accept the need for a major overhaul of the regulatory regime of the communications industry in all its forms, especially as the demarcation between those forms is becoming increasingly blurred. We can read newspapers on the Internet, and even watch the cricket from California. We can send and receive e-mails and faxes from mobile phones. Indeed, whereas 20 years ago you would ask someone if he had a fax, you now automatically ask, "What is your e-mail address?"

Considering the importance that telecommunications play in everyday life, with about 50 per cent of the population possessing mobile phones and that telecommunications are an essential ingredient in fax and e-mail and the Internet, it may surprise your Lordships to know that in the White Paper the word "broadcasting" is used 592 times whereas the word "telecommunications" appears only 78 times.

Because of the increasing technical connection between the differing forms of communications, the time has come for some rationalisation of the industry. We agree that the time has arrived to consolidate the activities of the various regulators. As the White Paper points out in paragraph 1.3.2:
"There are nine separate regulators covering television and radio and telecommunications, with different regulators covering issues of taste and decency and economics and competition".
Obviously, that cannot continue. In addition, the BBC is a law unto itself, and the White Paper proposes that it should continue to be so, with some slight modification. This gaggle of regulators is to be replaced by a single regulatory body to be called in the jargon of the day, OFCOM.

We also agree that this is the right route to take. However, this job is far too big and complex for any one person or superstar; or perhaps "superczar" is the right word. The Secretary of State told the other place on 12th December last year (at col. 487 of the Official Report) that the regulator,
"will be a hoard, not a single person",
although the actual wording of the White Paper is,
"the new regulator will be governed by a board",
which is not quite the same thing. Perhaps the Minister will explain this discrepancy because the White Paper makes it clear that OFCOM will consist of a chairman, a chief executive and other executive and non-executive members. We do not quarrel with that because obviously OFCOM will have to have a series of chairmen or managers of divisions or whatever to deal with its day-to-day operations. We are in actuality converting five large quangos into a gigantic quango filled with the favoured nominees of two different departments of the government of the day.

We accept that a single regulator is necessary, but we certainly believe that, without detracting from its essential independence, the regulator should be fully answerable to Parliament. I would appreciate the Minister reassuring me on that point because although the White Paper refers to OFCOM establishing links with the devolved assemblies and the English regions, there is no mention of accountability to Westminster. That is despite the fact that the Secretary of State told the other place that OFCOM,
"will be jointly accountable to me and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry".—[Official Report, Commons, 12/12/00; col. 487.]
The White Paper is the product of two government departments, the DTI and the hybrid Department for Culture Media and Sport, and gives rise to strange inconsistencies, depending on which department wrote which chapter. As a result, while it provides a superficial analysis of the subject and is undoubtedly full of good intentions, it is woefully short of detail and inconsistent in its approach. We see practical proposals to implement "light touch regulation" and self-regulation for broadcasters, but the chapters on telecommunications recite a litany of deregulation without containing any ideas of how this is to be brought about.

We all know that, left to itself, regulation grows. That is a particular danger for OFCOM. It will inherit the responsibilities of the existing regulators. In addition, it will be given new concurrent powers with the Office of Fair Trading; concurrent, my Lords. This means that broadcasters will be simultaneously subjected to the jurisdiction of two separate authorities. Optimistically, the White Paper says that which of the two would exercise their powers in a particular case would be the subject of consultation in each particular case. Getting one authority to defer to an equal authority may happen elsewhere, but not on planet Earth! And whose criteria is the broadcaster supposed to conform to if they are not identical?

Left to themselves, the present constituent sub-regulatory parts of OFCOM are likely to seek to retain all their existing powers, and indeed take on board any new ones their colleagues enjoy, but which they do not. There is a danger, therefore, that we will have regulation by the highest common factor, rather than the light touch that the Government promise and which we all support. There is a saying about the devil being in the detail. Our problem is that there is a considerable lack of detail in the White Paper, which shows some signs of having been rushed into print ahead of the rumoured imminent general election. There is also the rumour of a draft Bill ready for publication. That would not be surprising when one considers that the Government wanted to tack this gigantic separate subject onto the Utilities Bill until common sense prevailed and it was left to separate legislation.

We look forward to seeing the Bill in due course. While I am not in a position to issue any blank cheques, I believe that all the principles will be acceptable. It is the only the detail that we shall want closely to examine.

We are not happy with the bland phrase buried in the fine print that,
"we will give OFCOM Competition Act type powers to levy financial penalties … This will bring the range of enforcement powers into line with the powers of other regulatory bodies, for example the Financial Services Authority".
This means that the regulator could fine companies up to 10 per cent of turnover and impose penalties on individuals. There is lack of reference to any appeals procedure over the exercise of any of these regulatory powers, especially the financial penalties. I shall be pleased if the Minister is able to tell the House today what right of appeal would be available.

FSA type powers include those to enter premises and seize documents. Those powers are not truly consistent with a "lighter regulatory touch" and putting them into the hands of what—I am sure that noble Lords opposite will not mind my saying this—will be a political appointee could possibly be entirely inconsistent with the freedom of the press.

Another cloud no bigger than a man's hand appears in the seemingly innocuous and pious passage which states that,
"we believe there is a case for OFCOM to have a general responsibility to promote support for training … including powers to research and monitor performance".
By what standard in spin doctoring will that performance be monitored? One does not have to be paranoid to see where such powers could go wrong under the influence of any government, and where that might lead. I believe that it could represent a danger. Other regulators around the world are facing the same issues and Britain should take the lead by finding practical solutions.

To repeat and stress what I have said previously, we believe that the White Paper is short on practical measures to give the communications industry, in particular telecommunications, the space it needs to develop its potential. For example, I have time to touch only briefly on the wide subject of streamed video material on the Internet. Does the White Paper suggest that this should be licensed? Will there be the same "must carry" obligations as on public service broadcasting?

Telecommunications is a rapidly expanding international industry which technically knows no borders but in which Britain could and should play a major role. It seems to me that every door is left ajar and I await the draft legislation with interest. It is important to the economy that the entire communications industry should be regulated well, but not too hard, and that such regulation as is necessary is forward looking rather than backward looking. We on these Benches will support those ideas.

7.33 p.m.

My Lords, along with other noble Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, for securing his place in the ballot and thus bringing forward such an expert range of speakers. That has made my task tonight extraordinarily difficult, not only because the White Paper is necessarily wide-ranging, but because the range of expertise to which I must respond is very great indeed.

Perhaps I may begin by agreeing immediately with the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, that the ways in which we communicate are being transformed. We have had and at the moment still have distinct static media—broadcasting, telephony and the Internet—but these are changing and converging with astonishing speed. I am not sure whether the president of Sony was right to say that great changes will take three years rather than 10 years, but certainly the change, for example, in the ownership of mobile phones over the past 12 months—an increase of 67 per cent—is absolutely staggering. I now find myself in a minority by not having one.

Many contributions to the debate have reflected a general recognition that the White Paper strikes an effective balance between lighter, more appropriate regulation and the continued protection of the public interest, although the balance of the debate has erred towards the public interest, and quite properly so. We believe that we shall meet the twin goals of freeing industry from outdated restrictions but still put in place a framework which will at its heart meet the needs of citizens.

We have three main objectives: first, to make our communications and media market the most dynamic and competitive in the world; secondly, to ensure universal access to a choice of high quality and diverse services; and, thirdly, to safeguard the interests of citizens and consumers. Those objectives are not set out in any particular order of importance. The way in which we shall embody those is through the establishment of the office of communications, OFCOM. I was interested to hear the noble Lords, Lord Gordon and Lord Thomson, acquiesce to that, and the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, accept it. In that context, I was grateful for enthusiastic support, based on sound economic principles, expressed by my noble friend Lord Eatwell.

In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, of course OFCOM will be responsible to Parliament. Any organisation responsible to Ministers is by that fact then responsible to Parliament. I am not sure that I welcome the reminders from the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, and my noble friend Lord Lipsey of the analogies with the Financial Services Authority and the Financial Services and Markets Bill. However, I am afraid there are many ways in which in due course a communications Bill will encounter some of the complexities with which we had to grapple when dealing with the regulation of financial services.

Perhaps I may start with the first objective of creating a dynamic market and look at the relationship between OFCOM and the Office of Fair Trading, which at present exercises the powers contained in the Competition Act in the communications sector. We see this developing in the following manner. As competition becomes more pervasive, we will expect to rely more on the general competition framework than on the sector-specific powers which will be exercised by OFCOM. However, we think that there will be a continuing need for sectoral powers, in particular to address the competition implications of technical bottlenecks and to protect the interests of consumers. OFCOM will be given appropriate powers in line with the new European framework. The noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, expressed doubts about that in his early remarks, but in the end I believe he came to recognise that this is the right approach.

So far as concerns ensuring universal access, I agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield that this will continue to need a strong regulatory presence. Everyone should continue to have easy access to public service television and radio channels. In the future, as it is now, it should be free at the point of delivery, along with other communications services at affordable prices. The proposals contained in the White Paper ensure that channels currently available free to air are carried on all platforms and that electronic programme guides provide easy access to them.

The Internet, of course, is more complicated. More and more people are gaining access to the Internet. They may access through personal computers, televisions, mobile phones and now even games consoles. They may access at work, at home—families with young children are increasingly going online—and in the future in access centres, to which I shall refer in more detail shortly. Businesses of all kinds can access global markets and make great efficiency savings in how they interact with suppliers and customers and in the way they make, market and trade their goods and services. Over the past year, business access to the Internet has risen from 50 per cent to 90 per cent. Since the beginning of 1999, household access to the Internet has more than doubled to 32 per cent. We have a part to play in this. By the end of last year, 42 per cent of government services were being delivered electronically. By 2002, this will increase to 73 per cent. We have a target of 100 per cent by the end of 2005.

On the issue of universal access, one comment made from the point of view of broadcasters—this was voiced by the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, and my noble friend Lord Bragg—was that we are being inequitable between terrestrial and cable and satellite broadcasting. The noble Lord, Lord Gordon, in particular, criticised the asymmetry of the "must carry" and "must offer" regimes. It is difficult to answer questions at the moment because, as he knows, currently negotiations are being carried on between BSkyB and ITV on non-discriminatory access. I should not like to intervene in those negotiations, except to say that, unless we achieve a just result from them, there is always Oftel in the wings, ready to act.

As to access to broadband, the noble Earl, Lord Northesk, is right; broadband matters. Our goal is for the UK to have the most extensive and competitive broadband market in G7 by the year 2005. That was set out in our broadband strategy document on 13th February—which, incidentally, is two months after the communications White Paper, not three months.

The noble Earl criticised the fact that we acknowledge that in some areas it will be many years before broadband access is available universally to homes. To achieve broadband access, it is necessary to install a server—let us say a telephone exchange or a central point—which has a range of only three to five kilometres from that point. One can therefore appreciate the difficulty of geographical access. In addition to local loop unbundling, we propose to set up an extensive network of approximately 6,000 centres, a matter to which the noble Lord, Lord St John, referred.

The noble Lord asked how we are going to do that. We are proposing to devote £10 billion over the next three years to connect schools, colleges, universities, libraries, hospitals, surgeries, police stations and the UK on-line centres to broadband. Even in areas where home broadband access is not physically possible, that will make a great dent in the inaccessibility of broadband.

As an initial step, we are setting up a new £30 million fund to support innovative schemes to meet local requirements and to ensure that as many people and businesses across the UK as possible have access to affordable broadband services. We are working with the Countryside Agency to introduce this scheme into rural areas.

I recognise the points made about telecommunication services. I do not think that a word count indicates any lack of seriousness about this in the White Paper. I should say to the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, that Internet security is partly the responsibility of the Electronic Communications Act of last year, which provides the framework, and partly the responsibility of self-regulation.

Quite rightly, much of the debate was about diversity and plurality. There was considerable criticism of the existing rules of media ownership and some comments were less friendly than others about our proposals. Generally, we want to consult on a new and suitable framework for regulating media ownership. We are clear enough about our policy but it is less obvious how we will put it into effect.

We do not argue that competition alone delivers diversity. Digital technology means that consumers can choose from a wide number of channels but that does not necessarily mean a more diverse range of content. The noble Lords, Lord Gordon and Lord Holme, and particularly the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, recognised that point. If you have too many participants, then you have, I say with trepidation to the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, the "hoteling" effect of the market working but generating more and more mass market output. We have seen that working rather badly in the United States.

The noble Lord asked whether we would apply our analysis to radio and specifically to the BBC plus two commercial stations. This is an issue on which we are seeking views through the communications White Paper.

While on the subject of radio, I fully appreciate what the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, and other noble Lords have said about the importance of community radio and access radio, particularly for religious and ethnic minorities. We are very keen to encourage community radio—the White Paper is very strong on this point—and we see a continuing role for local analogue radio in religious broadcasting.

As I am on the subject of minorities, perhaps I should say something about communications for people with disabilities, which formed an important element of the debate. As noble Lords will know, we published plans at the end of January for improving access to digital terrestrial television for people who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind or partially sighted. This was debated in the House quite recently when I answered a Question tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, in which reference was made to the heightened targets for special provision; to the half-price licences for the blind; to the extension of the regime to cable and satellite; and to the new regulations which provide for disabled access to public call boxes and text phones. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, made a point about individual phones, which might be more difficult to achieve. Certainly this matter is high on our list of priorities.

Securing quality is, of course, absolutely essential. We strongly reaffirm our belief in the value of public service broadcasting. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, was surprised by that; I thought we had been consistent in our view over the past four years. I should say to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield that I am not keen on measuring it or defining it, but it is there. The three-tier system of regulation that we are proposing is designed to protect that.

Tier one will cover all broadcasters. There will be codes establishing minimum content standards and rules on advertising and sponsorship. The noble Lord, Lord Borrie, referred to the fact that OFCOM could delegate to industry using the excellent example of the Advertising Standards Authority, although I think that the noble Lord recognises that television is a special case, both because of its persuasive power and the relationship between programmes and advertising.

The second tier provides for an element of external regulation for the BBC. This has raised a good deal of controversy in the debate. The noble Lords, Lord Gordon, Lord Bragg, Lord Holme, Lord Dubs, Lord Eatwell, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield and the noble Baroness, Lady F.-lather, all thought that the BBC should be completely under the control of OFCOM. If a debate on that subject were organised in the House, a large number of noble Lords could be persuaded by the BBC to put the opposite point of view. But certainly we have heard what has been said. I do not think that our view leads to the conclusion drawn by the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, that ITV is being ignored. ITV will benefit more from unified regulation than from the more discriminating regulation that we have at the moment.

In tier two we shall be concerned with quotas for independent productions and regional productions and the availability of news and current affairs in peak time. The requirements in this tier are important for the quality of broadcasting and for the continued success of the UK's creative industries.

Finally, in tier three, we propose that the qualitative public service remit of the broadcasters should be based on transparent self-regulation with back-stop powers for OFCOM in relation to commercial broadcasters and for the BBC, the Secretary of State, and Parliament. It should not be thought that the Governors of the BBC are not in turn responsible, through the BBC Charter, to the Secretary of State and Parliament. Again, I do not agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, that definition is what we need. What we need in practice is that the broadcasters responsible should make statements of programme policies, should report on them, and should develop adequate self-regulatory mechanisms which will be backed up, if necessary, by OFCOM. That will create a more level playing field for public service and commercial broadcasters, giving commercial broadcasters the challenge of demonstrating that they can exercise this new freedom.

There has been a great deal of debate about the regulation of content. I am well aware of the concerns, which were most eloquently expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, about what is acceptable in broadcasting. OFCOM will take over the role of the Broadcasting Standards Commission in adjudicating on complaints of fairness and privacy; however, the issue of acceptability is much less clear. People have very different views about what is acceptable. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, about the even greater difficulty of regulating the Internet. The noble Lord will be aware of the Internet Watch Foundation and the content rating that it is proposing. But he will be the first to tell me that that requires international co-operation and international standards. The legislation will be constructed flexibly so that, as controls improve or expectations change, the degree of regulation can be adjusted by OFCOM in the light of research.

The interest of consumers as opposed to citizens is always a difficult distinction to make, although it is clear that there is a distinction. We shall be keeping the key role of the regulator in consumer protection, but we recognise the need for a consumer advocate. That is what the consumer panel will do. It will include codes of practice for people with disabilities and for minorities of various kinds. The noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, will be aware of the Cultural Diversity Network, which is now producing an action plan in this sphere. The question of interoperability—which is a consumer interest question—is for the industry in the first place, but there will be a back-up power to impose standards when necessary.

The issue of digital switchover is extraordinarily complicated. We have set out our tests: of availability, affordability and take-up. The noble Lord, Lord Bragg, is right to continue pushing us, because we are continuing to push ourselves. But there are significant problems in actually promoting, as the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, would wish us to do, the process of switchover. It has to be driven by availability, by the market and by individual decision rather than by government diktat. It will be recognised that it is not merely a question of the first television set in a home, but of all the other television sets, in children's bedrooms, in bathrooms or wherever they may be.

I was asked a number of questions about the organisational framework of OFCOM. I do not have time to answer them in detail, except to say to the noble Lord, Lord Holme: yes, indeed, it will be a start-up and not a merger. OFCOM will have important powers which existing sectoral regulators do not have. It will have the power to fine broadcasters for breaches of general authorisations, and the concurrent powers for the broadcast sector with the Director-General of Fair Trading under the Competition Act.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Thomson: no, the British Board of Film Classification will not be handed over to OFCOM; however, it will be expected to adhere to the same tier one standards. I recognise the point that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, makes about the need for consumer representatives. That is a question between OFCOM and the consumer panel. So far as concerns regional offices, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, that there will be a regional presence. What form that will take is not yet known.

I have been greatly encouraged by the tone of the debate and by a great deal of the content. Consultation is going on, and the speeches in this debate are very much part of that process. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, for his support for what he sees in the White Paper as a robust defence of public service broadcasting—that is also my belief. I believe that that is what we are in the process of achieving. That process has a good deal further to go.

7.56 p.m.

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who took part in the debate. Bearing in mind the observation of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon, that broadcasting is mentioned 592 times in the White Paper whereas telecommunications is mentioned only 78 times, I am all too conscious that I concentrated exclusively on broadcasting. It is a question of my background. I was grateful, therefore, that within minutes the debate had swung on to broadband and the Internet. I was particularly grateful that we also gave due attention to the needs of the deaf and the blind and to the opportunities that the Bill could present to do something meaningful for them.

It is significant that very few speakers covered the same aspect of the Bill. That indicates the wide scope of the legislation that will shortly come before the House. I hope that the Government will reflect on some of the points that have been raised, and indeed on some of the innovative ideas as to how the Bill might be handled.

Most important of all, I hope that the Government will give adequate time for debate on the Bill. There could have been a full-scale debate on any one of the 20 or so contributions that we heard this evening. If the Chief Whip is listening, I say to him that it would be wise not to plan for too much else in the legislative programme for the Session in which the Bill is brought forward. In the meantime, I am happy to withdraw the Motion. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Hunting Bill

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

Selby Rail Crash

7.58 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions
(Lord Macdonald of Tradeston)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister in another place about the tragic accident at Selby at about 6.20 this morning. The Statement is as follows:

"I am grateful to the House and in particular the Opposition for giving me the opportunity to make this Statement at this time, which has allowed me to visit the scene this afternoon.

"The latest casualty figures are 13 killed. We believe at present that these include two train drivers. There are 75 other casualties, 10 of whom are in a serious or critical condition. I am sure that all Members of the House will wish to join me in expressing our deepest sympathy to the injured and to the families and friends of those who lost their lives in this tragic and horrific accident.

"When I visited the scene I saw for myself the tremendous efforts of our emergency services and the many agencies involved in dealing with the accident. As always, they showed true professionalism, courage and efficiency in yet again the most difficult circumstances.

"The House will want to join me in paying tribute to the North Yorkshire Police, working with the British Transport Police and other forces, the local lire brigades and ambulance services, the Royal Air Force's air sea rescue helicopters, and the local hospitals which treated the injured.

"My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Department of Health is visiting hospitals this evening and will be thanking hospital staff for their work today. I also want to pay tribute to the way in which members of the local community responded so quickly with help and comfort to the passengers.

"Let me turn to the facts of the tragedy in so far as they are known. At approximately 6.20 a.m. this morning a Land Rover was travelling west along the M62 motorway, pulling a trailer carrying another car. It left the motorway as it approached a bridge which crosses over the East Coast Main Line. The bridge is protected by crash barriers. But the vehicle left the road some 30 metres before the beginning of the crash barrier. It then travelled along and down the embankment behind the safety barrier before falling down the railway cutting and onto the railway track. In all, on present information, it is estimated that the vehicle travelled more than 100 metres from leaving the main carriageway before reaching the railway line.

"The driver got out of his vehicle and phoned the North Yorkshire Police. As he was speaking to them the 4.45 a.m. GNER Newcastle to London train, carrying more than 100 passengers, collided with the vehicle on the track.

"The passenger train left the rails as a result of the collision but remained upright. Almost immediately it then collided with an oncoming freight train. The time between the emergency call and the first collision was some 40 seconds, and the two trains crashed within seconds after that.

"It is essential that this appalling tragedy is subject to the fullest investigation. There are a number of agencies involved in this—the Health and Safety Executive's railway inspectorate, the British Transport and North Yorkshire police, and the Highways Agency. I have asked the Health and Safety Executive, therefore, to provide me with an interim report within the next few days. I shall then make a decision as to what further steps may be appropriate. I shall ensure that the report is made public".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement that was made by the Deputy Prime Minister in another place earlier this evening.

8.2 p.m.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement this evening. On behalf of all noble Lords on these Benches, I join with the Minister in expressing our grief and sympathy for those who died or who were involved in the accident. At this time we feel for their families, we feel for those who cannot be sure that their loved ones are safe, and we also feel for those who might not yet have found out that their loved ones are involved.

On these occasions we rightly praise the sterling efforts of our emergency services. Successful handling of these disasters is derived from two factors. The first is the courage, determination, resourcefulness and skill of those involved on the scene. However, we should not forget the second factor; namely, the emergency planning carried out a long time in advance just in case. Mercifully, it does not get tested too often.

This accident occurred as a result of an unbelievably unfortunate chain of events. If any one of them had not taken place, the accident—if it had happened at all—would not have been nearly so serious. There will, of course, be public and media concern over the safety crash barriers. I am sure that the Minister will agree with me that much research has taken place over many years. As a result, hundreds or even thousands of lives have been saved by the barriers. Noble Lords will be aware that the Highways Agency and local authorities are constantly installing more crash barriers to protect high-risk features. Of course, there are a few which are more high-risk than railway crossings. Indeed, there was a similar accident in Germany a while ago.

I have no intention of asking any technical questions tonight. We shall find out more tomorrow, and the preliminary results of the official investigation will no doubt be available within a few days. I am also confident that the Minister has taken all the appropriate steps following this most tragic disaster.

8.4 p.m.

My Lords, I associate these Benches with the expression of sympathy that has been made to the injured and to the friends and families of those who were killed in this astonishing and catastrophic accident. Indeed, I believe that it is the worst accident on the railways for several years. When the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Department of Health, and others, are talking with people who were involved in the accident, I hope that they will ensure that those involved do understand that Parliament as a whole—not just this House, but also the other place—is deeply sympathetic as regards what happened today.

As the noble Earl just said, it was an extraordinary collection of events all happening within seconds, as the Statement makes plain. In all the confusion, and considering the terrible things that happened, it was a mercy that the engine of the train, which I understand was derailed, actually stopped short of hitting the nearest houses. Had it not stopped, that would have added yet another horrendous aspect to this already terrible accident.

There are questions that could be asked, but can the Minister assure me that the North Yorkshire Police will be carrying out the usual investigations that apply to any road incident? I ask that because, at the bottom of this, we are talking about an incident on a motorway. It is not for us to judge what happened or, indeed, what caused that accident. But that was the cause of the rail accident.

Further, can the Minister say whether the investigation of the Health and Safety Executive's railway inspectorate will cover all the other rail-oriented factors that might have made a difference one way or the other? Bridges have a natural vulnerability when they are involved in accidents with cars. That may sound a silly way of putting it, but not only is the car vulnerable in such circumstances but so, too, is the bridge. The Statement explained what seemed to me as I watched the events unfolding this morning to be an impossibility; namely, a car going over the barrier of a motorway bridge and ending up on a track. But, of course, it did not go over the barrier; it went behind the barrier, which is quite different.

I am sure that there are questions to consider and decisions to be taken as a result of the accident. Despite the fact that I agree with what has been said about the great care that is taken with bridges, I hope that the vulnerability of bridges will, nevertheless, be borne in mind. We look forward to the publication of the results of the inquiry. In closing my remarks, I repeat our sympathy for those who have been injured and for those who have lost loved ones today.

8.8 p.m.

My Lords, the House will share my appreciation of the sincere tribute made by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, to the emergency services and their careful contingency planning of even the most unexpected of accidents. The Highways Agency is constantly concerned about its standards in relation to crash barriers. I thank the noble Earl for his remarks, with which I associate myself completely.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, is right to stress the exceptional and awful coincidences at work in this morning's accident. As I said, the railway inspectorate will produce an interim report, which I hope we shall receive at an early stage. This will be made public. Like noble Lords, the noble Baroness will be aware of the professionalism that is inherent in the inspectorate. I am sure that it will consider every aspect of this tragedy.

As the noble Baroness said, bridges are, indeed, vulnerable. One of the primary functions of the crash barriers erected around bridges is that they should offer protection above railway lines. They are built to agreed standards. My understanding is that the crash barriers on this bridge were in fact longer than the required standard for such barriers. However, as the noble Baroness rightly pointed out, in these circumstances we have a vehicle that seems to have gone off the road before the barrier and then travelled a hundred metres or so on to the track. Those circumstance will be inquired into by North Yorkshire Police and other agencies. The Transport Research Laboratory has a team now at work assisting the Highways Agency. It, too, will make a report and, where appropriate, I shall bring those reports to the attention of your Lordships' House.

8.10 p.m.

My Lords, I should like to add words of sympathy from these Benches after this terrible tragedy. I do so as a bishop from Yorkshire although my diocese is on one side of the boundary where this accident took place.

When I heard the news this morning, I was with a choir and readers ready to broadcast the Radio 4 service on the BBC. We were able to do in that service what I know many others will have done during the day; that is, to remember in our prayers those who have been killed, those who were injured, and those who rescued them.

As I thought more about this terrible event, it is only during the latter part of the day that I realised that some sympathy also needs to be shown to GNER. This is the second tragedy that that rail company has had to face. Naturally, our deepest sympathy must go to those whom we have already mentioned but I should like to put down that little marker of sadness for the rail company.

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate draws our attention to the two tragedies which have now struck the GNER company. I echo with real sympathy his concerns. Many of us who today heard Mr Christopher Garnett, the Chief Executive of GNER, would have been clearly affected by the way in which he spoke so movingly of the terribly tragedy which has happened and of his sympathy for the injured and bereaved.

I add my admiration for the work of GNER in these difficult circumstances. All day it has been working to ensure that every assistance is given not only to the injured but also to relatives. It is arranging travel, accommodation and counselling for relatives, staff and those involved in the accident and those profoundly affected by it.

My Lords, I live in North Yorkshire and use this railway line every week when attending your Lordships' House. However, I wish to comment as the chairman of the North Yorkshire Police Authority. I thank the Minister for his generous remarks about the help that North Yorkshire Police have given in this tragic accident. I have been in close contact all day with the deputy chief constable in North Yorkshire who wishes your Lordships to know that he has been touched by the enormous amount of help and assistance that has been given all day. He will be grateful for your Lordships' recognition of that. He has been in liaison with other agencies and forces. He wished me to convey his gratitude to your Lordships' House; and I do so.

My Lords, the noble Baroness has much to be proud of in the way that the North Yorkshire Police Force has worked today along with the other emergency services. My right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister made clear at the scene of the accident how impressed he was with the way in which it had taken command of the situation in an effective but sensitive way. All of us who have watched as the tragedy has unfolded over the day would echo the noble Baroness's sentiments and praise the police force and other emergency services for their outstanding work.

My Lords, as have other noble Lords, I express my sympathy and extend thanks to the emergency services.

I am sorry to introduce this issue but matters will go on. No one knows how long the line will be closed; it may be for a short or a long period. If it is to be closed for any length of time there will need to be additional services on the West Coast Main Line. At present that line suffers from great restrictions. I hope that there will be liaison between the two railways to ensure that there is adequate provision of additional services for people travelling to the north, over the Pennines to York, and so on.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that question. GNER is the main operator on the East Coast Main Line. Its services north of Doncaster are currently suspended but its Leeds services are unaffected. It is too early to tell when those services can be resumed. All concerned are keen to reopen this important link as soon as possible. I take the noble Lord's point about the need for cooperation between companies in these circumstances. The rail recovery action group will meet tomorrow. That will give the industry an opportunity to share its views. At this stage it is too early to say when the service will reopen. I do not think that it would be proper for me to speculate on such matters before we have established the facts.

My Lords, at this time we think about this awful tragedy. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Blackburn, said, we have to look forward. The Minister will be aware that there has been considerable criticism about the length of time taken to get services running again through Hatfield, and to resume services when there are accidents, small and large. I understand what the Minister says, but can he assure us that once the necessary investigations have taken place and the wreckage cleared—clearly that is a sensitive matter because there may be more bodies—as a priority every effort will be made to get the line repaired and back into service, if possible within days rather than the 17 days involved with regard to Hatfield?

If services are to be diverted to Leeds—that is clearly a possibility—is consideration being given to suspending the work at Leeds Station?

My Lords, I spoke earlier of the close liaison between the British Transport Police and the North Yorkshire Police. I understand that the police are treating this as an accident investigation. It has not been identified as the scene of a crime, as was the case at Hatfield. From talking to the parties today, I know that there is a shared belief that the line should be opened as soon as is practical given the fact that agencies have to carry out proper inquiries. The rail recovery action group will meet tomorrow. Operational matters of the kind to which the noble Lord referred can no doubt be on the agenda of that meeting.

Parliament Acts (Amendment) Bill Hl

8.19 p.m.

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—( Lord Donaldson of Lymington.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[THE DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (The Viscount of Oxfuird) in the Chair.]

Clause 1 agreed to.

moved Amendment No. 1:

After Clause 1. insert the following new clause—


(". Nothing in section 1 shall reduce the steps or the time required for the House of Commons to overrule a legislative decision of the House of Lords.")

The noble Earl said: I would never dream of entering into a debate with some of our legal pundits, but a question of principle appears to be involved—I do not say that it is definitely involved, but it appears to be on the face of it. The Explanatory Notes—issued, I understand, by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson—say that one indirect effect of the Bill will be that in future the House of Commons will only have to pass a Bill twice instead of three times before overruling us. We are also told that it will take the House of Commons only one year instead of two before achieving that result. I may be told that that is a misunderstanding but, as it is in the Explanatory Notes, it needs clearing up.

I must say two or three words about why I object so strongly to the weakening of the delaying power of this House. I do not say that it should be strengthened, but it should stay as it is now. There are not many noble Lords who want to stay to hear my reasons, but I can explain how I see the relations between the Houses by telling a short story. In 1946, when Lord Montgomery was Chief of the Imperial General Staff and I was Under-Secretary for War, he took me to the staff college at Camberley. Like everyone there, he was in uniform, while I was a wretched civilian, cowering on the platform. He finished his speech, "Well, gentlemen, you must never forget the politicians. They are our masters". There was loud laughter. He went on, "But we must also never forget our duty to lead them up the garden path".

That is how I see the relationship between the two Houses. In the end we have to give way to the Commons, but we do not want to allow them to overrule us without any delay. We do not want them to reduce the delay that we impose, because we have a higher intellectual and moral standard than they have. Anybody knows that perfectly well. However, we know that self-government is better than good government, so we have to give way to them in the last resort. However, we must be in a position to make our opinions widely heard throughout the country and exert our full influence. Once our delaying power is tampered with, that influence will be diminished. I therefore strongly object to any provision that could possibly reduce our delaying powers. I beg to move.

I regret to have to say that the noble Earl has wholly misunderstood the purpose of Clause 1. He has misread the Explanatory Notes, which I am confident accurately express the purpose and tenor of Clause 1. In the circumstances, I hope that I may be forgiven for referring to the Explanatory Notes. They read:

"Clause 1 of the Bill deliberately avoids the necessity for Parliament to express any view as to the validity of the 1949 Act by providing that it and those acts passed in reliance upon it, shall be 'confirmed"'.
The 1949 Act, of course, purported to reduce the period between two readings in the other place and the number of occasions on which the Bill had to be passed by the other place before the will of this House could be overridden. The Explanatory Notes continue:
"This is the appropriate term"
that is, "confirmed"—
"if the 1949 Act, and consequentially the War Crimes Act 1991 (the 1991 Act), the European Parliamentary Elections Act 1999 (the 1999 Act) and the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2000 (the 2000 Act) would otherwise be invalid, or if the four Acts are, and always have been, valid and all that is required is a stilling of unfounded doubts. Its purpose is not only to place the validity of the 1949, 1991, 1999 and 2000 Acts beyond question. but indirectly to affirm that in future when using the Parliament Act procedure the House of Commons need only pass the Bill on two occasions (instead of three) and that the time required to elapse between second reading in the Commons in the first of these sessions and its final passing by that House is one year (instead of two)".
That has been accepted as the position since 1991, which was the first occasion on which that view could have been challenged. However, there are three views among the legal fraternity and others. The Attorney-General believes that no action is needed, because everybody knows that the 1949 Act was validly passed by the other place to amend the 1911 Act. Others take the diametrically opposite view that the other place had no power to change the constitutional arrangements. The third, and I hope not insignificant, group, of which I am one, does not know the answer. Not only do I not know the answer, I do not want it to emerge as a result of what the media will portray as a clash between the courts, the judiciary and the legislature. The Bill is designed to still doubts or to confirm the Attorney-General's view. At any rate, it would put the issue beyond controversy.

If the amendment were accepted, we would have the astonishing position that, in the event of a challenge to the validity of any attempt by the other place to pass, say, the Hunting Bill—I take that as an example, although other occasions may well arise—within the reduced time limits, the courts would have to ask whether this Act, as it then would be, reduced the terms required for the passing of Acts by the other place without the consent of this House.

The courts would have to resolve the question that Clause 1 is designed to remove from the arena. They would have to ask whether, without the amendment, the clause reduced the relevant periods. The Attorney-General would say that of course it did not. Others would say that of course it did. I would say that I do not know. As a result, we would have a potential collision between the courts and the legislature, which is what the clause was designed to avoid.

I say with some confidence and all the emphasis that I can command that the amendment would wreck one of the primary purposes of the Bill. I hope that the noble Earl will withdraw it.

It is with both delight and regret that I find myself responding on behalf of the Conservatives to the amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Longford. The noble Earl's proposition appears to be that nothing in the Bill should reduce or limit the existing powers of your Lordships' House. It is a real pleasure to have that perspective advanced and maintained by such a senior and respected Member of the Government Back Benches. I take this opportunity to ask the Attorney-General whether he is prepared to endorse that view on behalf of the Government.

We agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson. Furthermore, we do not believe that anything in Clause I as drafted would have the effect that the noble Earl, Lord Longford, fears. To that extent, while we welcome the underlying principles and sentiments of the amendment, we do not believe that it is necessary.

I understand the motive that the two noble Earls have addressed. It may be useful if I spell out the Government's position. We maintain the view that the Parliament Act 1949, the Salisbury/Addison convention and the convention that, after discussion and consideration of the views expressed in this House, the Government will get their business through, provide a proper and satisfactory working basis for the relationship between the Houses. I respectfully agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson of Lymington, that nothing in the Bill as drafted would have any effect on this House's suspensory veto.

Perhaps I may give a crumb or two of further comfort to both noble Earls by indicating the unanimous view of the report of the Royal Commission, chaired so well by the noble Lord, Lord Walceham. I shall give the quotation, which is from Recommendation 3, paragraph 4.12 of the report:
"The second Chamber should continue to have a suspensory veto of the present length in respect of most primary legislation".
I believe that that is the point which my noble friend Lord Longford made. The qualification refers primarily, of course, to the two special cases. The first relates to extending the life of Parliament, and the second—I am very glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Saatchi, in his place—concerns money Bills. Therefore, I respectfully agree that this provision is not needed. However, if the opportunity were there to be taken, I hope that I have clarified the position so far as concerns the Government.

8.30 p.m.

I do not find the answers given so far very convincing, although I welcome all the kind things said from the Opposition Bench. Why were those words included in the Explanatory Notes when, at the very least, they were liable to mislead? Certainly they misled me. Nevertheless, I am glad to have raised the matter because it is set out in black and white. On the face of it, anyone would conclude that the Bill would weaken the delaying power of this House. For that reason, I am glad that I raised the matter. No doubt we shall hear more on other issues. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, commands such enormous respect that I timidly suggest to him that the Explanatory Notes should be revised before they are published again. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clauses 2 and 3 agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported without amendment; Report received.

House adjourned at twenty-seven minutes before nine o'clock.