Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I knew that the noble Lord's generous words would have a sting in the tail. However, he was generous and I thank him for what he said. Sometimes what we have had to read in dispatches has been sickening and appalling, as I know he knows. As regards the questions that the noble Lord addresses, I am sure he will be pleased to know that before I left the Foreign Office this afternoon to come to your Lordships' House to answer this Question I heard that the G8 Foreign Ministers had been able to agree a text to go forward to the Security Council. The hard work of yesterday and today has borne fruit and we hope to see that text adopted as a Security Council resolution. I am afraid that I cannot give any details of that at the moment because they were coming through as I left.

Of course the whole question of the composition of the international force is an enormously important one. We have said right the way down the line that the composition must be such as to guarantee the safety of returning refugees; that is, a NATO corps and a NATO chain of command. We have made that clear. The Russians are taking part in the discussions. We understand entirely that there are Russian sensitivities--I am sure the whole House is aware of this--with regard to the way in which this force is set up. However, we have seen similar forces set up in not altogether dissimilar circumstances. We have been able to take

8 Jun 1999 : Column 1297

account of those sensitivities. We believe that with good will on all sides it will be possible to take account of those sensitivities again.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords--

Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, what compensation may the victims of NATO mistakes expect to receive?

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, I apologise to the noble Baronesses. The noble Baroness, Lady Turner, should perhaps ask her question first. There will then be time for the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, to ask hers.

Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, what compensation may the victims of NATO's mistakes expect to receive; or will these maimed, mutilated and destroyed people be told that they must wait to get rid of Milosevic first?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I do not believe that any compensation claims have been made to NATO. There has been some discussion of possible compensation claims. I am sure that any claims that are made will be dealt with in an entirely open and appropriate way. I think that we can do that. We know that there have been mistakes; we all acknowledge that there have been mistakes. We also acknowledge that there has been a quite remarkable degree of openness on NATO's part in saying what has happened when those mistakes have been made. I wish we could say the same for what has happened within Kosovo itself and the appalling and deliberate atrocities that have been committed there.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, we on these Benches also thank the Minister for her great helpfulness throughout the Kosovo crisis. We add to that our great respect for the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary for the extraordinary resolution and commitment they have shown throughout the crisis to the ends that they are now so close to achieving. Can the Minister say anything further about the relationship of the Russian forces to the proposed NATO command? Can she confirm that the KLA has promised that it will not attack any retreating Serb forces? Can she further confirm that that will also apply to NATO forces once they are satisfied that the retreat is genuine and complete?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her remarks. As she knows, I am a mere messenger to your Lordships' House on these matters. As she has indicated, the real thanks should go to my right honourable friends.

I hope that I have been able to assure the House that the sensitivities of the Russians in the peacekeeping force are well understood. We have dealt with those sensitivities in the past in similar peacekeeping forces; we hope to do so again. This is a matter which is under active discussion at the moment. We believe that there

8 Jun 1999 : Column 1298

is sufficient good will on all sides to achieve the mutual objective. I can confirm that the KLA has said that it will not attack retreating Serbian forces. That of course will apply to NATO; there is no question of NATO attacking retreating forces. However, I emphasise to your Lordships' that we should not count the chickens before they are hatched. We have yet to see a single retreating piece of Serbian artillery. Although we very much hope it will happen, we must ensure that it is a verifiable withdrawal before the bombing stops.

Lord Judd: My Lords, is my noble friend aware--

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness--

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I think it is the turn of that side of the House. Perhaps I should point out to the House that there will be a Statement on the matter later this afternoon. There will then be other opportunities to raise questions.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, it is a brief question.

Lord Judd: My Lords, does my noble friend accept that the House is greatly encouraged by the news she has reported this afternoon?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I think that perhaps my noble friend did not quite hear what I said. I indicated that I think the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, should ask his question.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, it is a brief question. What policies have been given to the occupying forces to deal with the ethnic hatreds that they will face when they enter Kosovo? Serbia occupied the territory 80 years ago and this has been a feature of bitter hatred between the Albanians and Serbs. Can the Minister assure the House that the troops which will go in will be informed of the problems they face and that Her Majesty's Government have prepared them for the problems?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I can give the noble Lord the assurance he seeks. We have made clear that any post-conflict settlement must protect all the people of Kosovo, regardless of their ethnic group, including the Serb minority.

BBC: Director-General

2.54 p.m.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What qualifications they consider that the new Director-General of the BBC should possess.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the appointment of the Director-General of the BBC is

8 Jun 1999 : Column 1299

entirely a matter for the corporation's Board of Governors. It would not be appropriate for me to comment.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. His reply was not totally unexpected. I should point out that my Question is not about people but about qualifications. Does the Minister agree that potentially--and outside the Cabinet--the Director-General is the most influential person in Britain today? Does the Minister further agree that he or she must be politically impartial, creative and committed to the public service trinity of education, information and entertainment, as laid down in the charter, and not just chase audience figures? Finally, does the Minister agree that the Director-General must ensure that the World Service continues to prosper, bearing in mind that that is the face that Britain shows around the world, often to many beleaguered people? Would the Minister endorse or add to that list?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am satisfied that the BBC's charter gives adequate guidance to the governors of the BBC on the choices they have to make. Unlike the leader of the noble Lord's party, I have no intention of expressing a political opinion on this matter.

Lord Hussey of North Bradley: My Lords, perhaps I should first declare an interest as a previous Chairman of the Board of Governors of the BBC. Does not the Minister agree that at a moment like this it is critical that the new Director-General inspires and retains the confidence of his staff in the wisdom of his policies, whatever they may be?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I understand that the job description issued by the BBC to candidates for the post makes exactly that point.

Lord Marsh: My Lords, does the Minister think that the Director-General of the BBC really is more powerful than Mr. Campbell?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I did not rise to that point when it was made by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, and I shall not rise to it when it is made by the noble Lord, Lord Marsh.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, is the Minister really saying that it is inappropriate for the Government to express a view on the qualifications that the Director-General of the BBC should possess? Can I tempt him by suggesting that he should possess qualities which would enable the BBC to escape from its present concentration on sex, violence and materialism and the hopeless elevation of rights over duties?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Government have expressed a view about the qualifications. We have expressed our conviction that

8 Jun 1999 : Column 1300

the charter of the BBC contains adequate guidance to the BBC's governors to enable them to carry out their responsibilities.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page