HC Deb 21 July 1978 vol 954 cc1055-8

Lords amendment: no. 1, in page 1, line 11, at end insert new clause "A": ("A.—(1) Nothing in section 4(2) and (5) of the said Act of 1973 (of which subsection (2) provides for the exclusion from programmes broadcast by the said Authority of the opinions of the Authority and any programme contractor, and of certain persons connected with the Authority or such a contractor, about matters of political or industrial controversy or relating to current public policy and of which subsection (5) provides for the exclusion from such programmes of certain religious matter and of certain publicity for charitable or benevolent institutions) shall apply to a programme broadcast by the said Authority so far as the programme consists of proceedings in either House of Parliament or proceedings of a local authority, a committee of a local authority or a joint committee of two or more local authorities. (2) In the preceding subsection "local authority" means any of the following bodies, namely, a local authority within the meaning of the Local Government Act 1972, a local authority within the meaning of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973, a district council in Northern Ireland, the Common Council of the City of London and, without prejudice, to the effect of the said Act of 1972, the Inner London Education Authority.")

12.56 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Dr. Shirley Summerskill)

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)

I suggest that it will be convenient to take at the same time Lords amendment no. 2.

Dr. Summerskill

Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that being the consequential amendment to the Long Title.

The clause which Lords amendment no. 1 would insert into the Bill has a familiar ring to it. I described this Bill on Second Reading as a modest measure, and we return to it today to find that it was made even more modest in Committee, where the provision exclud- ing subsections (2) and (5) of section 4 of the Independent Broadcasting Authority Act 1973 in relation to broadcasts of parliamentary proceedings was lost on a Division. It is clear from the debate in Committee that the clause was voted out of the Bill not because of any real disagreement with the proposal it contained but, as it appeared, in the hope that the Government would introduce a more far-reaching amendment of section 4(2) of the 1973 Act on Report.

We were not prepared, however, to use this Bill as a vehicle for amending section 4(2) more radically. The future of section 4(2) is a complex matter which will be dealt with in our forthcoming White Paper and in the ensuing legislation. In any event, it seemed clear that a more radical amendment would have been out of order. Nor were we prepared to seek to reinstate the lost clause. We regarded the proposal it contained, which emanated from the Second Report of the Joint Committee on Sound Broadcasting, as a sensible measure but one which was preeminently a matter for Parliament, and we did not think it appropriate to seek to overturn the decision taken in committee.

However, on the initiative of Lord Winstanley and Lord Taylor of Gryfe, the view was taken on all sides in another place that the lost clause should be reinstated, and we have today a further opportunity to consider it. The proposed clause is somewhat wider than clause 2 as it was first introduced in this House. The point was made in another place that broadcasts of the proceedings of local authorities ought to be treated in the same way as parliamentary broadcasts for the purposes of sections 4(2) and 4(5) of the 1973 Act.

My noble Friend the Minister of State agreed to consider this in consultation with the local authority associations, and the result was that on Report in another place he moved the clause which we are now considering. I hope that this House will agree to this amendment and that it will also echo the tribute paid in another place to the speed with which the local authority associations responded to our request for their comments on the proposed extension of the provision.

Mr. Julian Critchley (Aldershot)

These amendments are as modest as the Minister and as innocuous as the Bill itself, the purpose of the Bill, of course, being to extend the life of the Independent Broadcasting Authority owing to the Government's failure to make use of the expert information which they have received from various committees and bodies on the future of broadcasting itself.

The Minister referred obliquely and briefly to the forthcoming White Paper, which, I gather, is to be published on Tuesday, and spoke at the same time of future legislation—an optimistic assumption if one bears in mind that an election may well intervene.

If the newspapers are to be believed—of course, those of us who occasionally write for newspapers think that they are always to be believed—the content of the White Paper to be published on Tuesday with regard to the IBA will suggest that the fourth channel will go to the OBA and not to ITV2, as was the first suggestion of the civil servants in the Home Office when they worked on the Annan recommendations and in their turn made a recommendation to the Home Secretary. The first draft was sunk by the Whitehead torpedo mark 2 and the second draft will see the light of day on Tuesday.

However, this is of only academic interest. It will certainly be not an historic White Paper but an academic one only. I am sure that the election will intervene, the election will result in a Conservative victory, and the fourth channel, long awaited by the British people, will go to ITV2 and not to the Open Broadcasting Authority.

Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)

Does not the existence of Lords amendment no. 1 totally disprove the suggestion made to this House when we approved the broadcasting of our proceedings that no change in the law was necessary as a result? Their Lordships seem to have noticed something that the Government persistently said was not necessary.

More than 10 years ago, the Driberg Committee, which first considered the broadcasting of our proceedings, said that changes in the law would be necessary for various reasons. Other examples have cropped up. The broadcasting organisa- tions are probably not as well protected—certainly not by statute—from cases for defamation as the press is protected.

The last example is the question of contempt of another court. We as Members can make statements on which, in accordance with the Bill of Rights, we cannot be proceeded against in any other court, but it does not follow tha someone reporting our proceedings cannot be so proceeded against.

The Government should have been honest at the time when there was an attempt almost to rush through Parliament the present method of broadcasting the House; they should have admitted that changes in the law would be necessary, instead of denying it, as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Privy Council Office denied it. Only a few weeks later we are faced with such a change. The Government are agreeing to it only a few weeks after they say that no such change would be necessary.

Dr. Summerskill

With leave of the House. Section 4(2), as I said, is examined in the White Paper and it was not thought right to start piecemeal tinkering with the section in this Bill. I am sure that what has been said will be taken into consideration when the White Paper is generally discussed. Obviously I cannot say more on that, although the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) has done his best to provoke me into indiscretions.

This is purely a Bill which at the moment has to be considered on its own, unrelated to the White Paper, until, as I said, legislation of a very large kind follows the White Paper.

Question put and agreed to.

Lords amendment no. 2 agreed to.