Lords amendment: No. 22, in page 6, line 38, at end insert—
("(4A) The rules specified in the code referred to in subsection (3) shall, in particular, take account of the following matters—
§ (4B) The rules so specified shall, in addition, indicate to such extent as the Commission consider appropriate—
- (a) what due impartiality does and does not require, either generally or in relation to particular circumstances;
- (b) the ways in which due impartiality may be achieved in connection with programmes of particular descriptions;
- (c) the period within which a programme should be included in a licensed service if its inclusion is intended to secure that due impartiality is achieved for the purposes of subsection (1)(c) in connection with that programme and any programme previously included in that service taken together; and
- (d) in relation to any inclusion in a licensed service of a series of programmes which is of a description specified in the rules—
- (i) that the dates and times of the other programmes comprised in the series should be announced at the time when the first programme so comprised is included in that service, or
- (ii) if that is not practicable, that advance notice should be given by other means of subsequent programmes so comprised which include material intended to secure, or assist in securing, that due impartiality is achieved in connection with the series as a whole;
§ The Minister for the Arts (Mr. David Mellor)
I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.
§ Mr. Speaker
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following Lords amendments: Nos. 15, 17 to 20, 135, 136, 170, 172, 174, 175, 252, 253, 255 and 257 to 260.
§ Mr. Mellor
I should like to begin by saying that it is with a very real sense of loss that I record my deep regret at the passing of our late colleague Norman Buchan. I had a lot to do with Norman during my 10 years in the House. 521 On some occasions we agreed; on others we did not. However, I was never in any doubt about the calibre of the man and his commitment to a whole range of issues that were well worth being committed to—not least the arts. Even if one disagreed with him, one did so cordially and with humour, as was so evident in Committee. One could always have a chat outside the Committee Room with him in the utmost amity.
I respected and liked Norman. I am deeply distressed that he is not with us today. Our debates will not be the same without him. It came as a shock to me yesterday to read of his passing. I am sure that the whole House joins me when I say that we feel a real sense of loss at his passing.
If I may refer to another preliminary matter, this is the first group of amendments to be dealt with after the Bill's return to us from another place. About 700 amendments were made in the other place. l should like to express my gratitude to the Opposition for their co-operation in ensuring that we can manage the debates in a way that will allow any remaining controversial issues to be dealt with early. I am also grateful for the assistance given by all parties in the House, but particularly by the official Opposition, which has led to a grouping of the amendments that will, I hope, enable us to have sensible debates.
I make no apology for the fact that there is a large number of amendments. We shall almost immediately discover that some are a little controversial, but most represent the Government giving effect to agreements reached in the Commons as a result of the open debate that we had. They also reflect our continuing commitment to listen to points made in debate. When, after debate, a point appears to have such force that it should not he impeded by Government obstruction, we have been only too willing to concede it. Lord Ferrers, the Minister of State, was particularly effective in conducting the Bill through the other place. He gave way gracefully and without ill will. I refer in particular to the moratorium on takeovers. We were able to meet what seemed to be the unanimous view on Second Reading in the other place that something ought to be done.
A document extending to four and a half pages includes the changes that were made in the other place. Some of them reflect our willingness to recognise the strength of feeling in the Lords—for example, in relation to the disabled and the indexation of cash bids. All those changes make it a better Bill, as do a large number—I am sorry that it is such a large number—of technical amendments that reflect the continued combing through of the Bill by the draftsmen to ensure that any minor problems were ironed out. As we know, the odd injudicious comma or the wrong word, even if it does not amount to a matter of policy, can sometimes skew meaning in a way that raises problems later. Therefore, I apologise for burdening the House with so many amendments, but I believe that for the most part they are in a good cause.
I shall deal immediately with a group of amendments that I suspect some will not think are in such a good cause. That controversial set of amendments relates to impartiality and it is right that they should be dealt with first. I shall set out my stall on the matter and then listen with care to what is said on both sides of the House and, I hope, respond later.
Since the Bill left the House, not as much has changed as some contributors to the debate in the other place 522 suggested—and I suspect from the look of jovial good humour on the face of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) he might also want to suggest that there have been many changes.
As a result of a small wobble over the word "current", the substantive law on impartiality in the Bill is precisely the same as it has been since 1954. That is important. We made one addition in the House in recognition of the fact that the Independent Broadcasting Authority is the broadcaster and the Independent Television Commission is the regulator. We added to the Bill a requirement for a code, making clear that the code was not one approved by Parliament because that would blur the arm's length relationship in regulations to which I and many others attach importance. The code will deal with what we know to be some of the problems. It is recognised that there were problems about what constitutes a series of programmes and about other aspects of the regulations. That will always be a difficult and sensitive area. That is why, to general acclamation—no one dissented—we made provision for a code. It will enable broadcasters to know where they stand because, if the regulators are to have the right to intervene, the broadcasters should know on what basis they may do so. Also, the public should know where they stand. All manner of folk, from time to time, take issue with what is contained in television programmes and it would probably assist if one had clear guidance as to what the ground rules were.
I want to restate the principle with as much clarity as I can muster that it is the right of Parliament—it has been so for four decades—to insist that there is due impartiality on matters of current political or industrial controversy and so on. However, it is not for us to usurp the function of the regulators and state exactly what the detailed rules should be. We are not doing that in the amendments. I say that with sincerity amidst the mutterings of scepticism from the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher), who has lifted his head from correcting the proofs of "War and Peace" or whatever he is doing. I had not expected that to be a universally acclaimed sentiment, although it is a true one.
It was necessary—and it was welcomed—for the Government to take account of the strong expressions of view in the House during the passage of the Bill. It also seemed to be eminently right that we should take account of the strong expressions of view in the other place, although not to the extent—I make no apologies for this—of accepting the precise amendments tabled by the noble Lord Wyatt and others, but to recognise their concern. That concern has been reflected in an early-day motion in the House. There was concern that the rules would need to be clear after the Bill had finished in the House. However, insights come to people at many different times. St. Paul gained his insight rather late, so I dare say that everyone else is entitled to gain theirs rather late as well. But there was still time, and we considered it right to add to the Bill a series of points that the code should cover—points that I believe to be a matter of common sense.
It is crucial for hon. Members to understand that we did not specify what the code should say about those points; we merely provided for the ITC, in drawing up its code, to take account of them. I still believe that that was a legitimate way of dealing with the sentiments that were 523 expressed so strongly in the other place, and that it does not blur the crucial matter of principle to which I have adhered throughout.
I shall reserve my more detailed comments until later. Let me say now, however, that I was intrigued by the allegation made persistently in the other place and elsewhere that this would be a lawyers' picnic. As I have said before, I am well aware of—and subscribe to—Ogden Nash's view of professional men:Professional people have no cares, Whatever happens, they get theirs.I am certainly not anxious that my former profession should benefit unduly from any act of generosity performed late in the day. Everyone can come to this party, with their lawyers; it is not only those who take exception to some of the legislation who will have the benefit of legal advice. We have the benefit of that advice, and so has the ITC.
The Bill will not open the way for any legal challenge that is not in any case inherent in the concept of due impartiality, and the need for the regulatory body to flesh out a bare rule and make its own judgment about how that rule should be applied in complex and difficult circumstances. Provided that the ITC draws up its code in a reasonable manner, there will be no scope for judicial intervention or extensive litigation, because the normal rules of scrutiny will apply: a decision made by a public body cannot be overturned in the courts unless that body has acted unreasonably. It is no more likely that the ITC would act unreasonably when faced with a limited or skeleton framework for its code than that it would err in drawing up a code seeking to give effect to a basic principle that Parliament has set out for nearly 40 years.
I place some reliance on that. In the other place, as one or two speakers in that debate pointed out, there was a tendency for arguments about the legalities of the matter to apply not so much to the limited amendments that the Government were seeking to make as to the whole principle of the due impartiality provision itself—which, as I said, has been part of our law for nearly 40 years. Someone who had arrived the previous day from Mars—or, in the case of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett), from Australia or some equally far-flung place—would assume that the argument did not concern some minor adjustments to the code proposals; he would assume that exception was being taken to the very idea of a due impartiality provision. That was where many of the more telling—or, depending on one's view, not particularly telling—legal points took us.
Let me state categorically that, if I thought for a moment that they would result in a legal picnic, I should not commend the amendments to the House; nor should I do so if I thought for a moment that they blurred the key distinction that strikes me as fundamental. Parliament has a right and a duty to prescribe due impartiality in what is still a relatively scarce service, in television. The concept of due impartiality does not exist in the written word, but I still believe that it is necessary to retain it in respect of the principal television services. It is right for us to tell those responsible that they should regulate that rule and, so that everyone knows where they stand, for there to be a code dealing with certain issues rather than avoiding them.
However, it would be wrong to dictate the way in which those issues should be dealt with, and none of the amendments does so. That is the bedrock of principle on which they are founded.
§ Mr. Mellor
I was about to subside into my seat for good, but I shall do so only temporarily instead.
§ Mr. Maclennan
I understand why the Minister prefers to reserve his detailed responses until a subsequent intervention. However, as he is advocating a change of considerable controversy and of great importance to broadcasters, as he admits, his initial speech should discharge the onus of proof for change—particularly as the Minister himself earlier made it abundantly clear that the thought that the language in use since 1954 is still adequate.
What is the mischief? Are we speaking only of the views of Lord Wyatt and of one or two other rare birds in another place, or is there a more general problem? The number of complaints made about impartiality has been minuscule.
§ Mr. Mellor
The Television Act 1954 prescribed the basic law, which will remain unchanged by the Bill, but instead of there being a bare requirement for a code—with which I should have been perfectly content, if it had been left to me—the question arose, as expressed in the concerns of their Lordships and in an early-day motion of this House, as to whether that bare requirement would of itself be adequate, and of whether we should perform the additional task of making it clear that the code dealt also with controversial areas.
The amendment sets out several areas which some would argue any self-respecting code would anyway be bound to cover, and which the ITC of its own volition would have chosen to cover. I should have rested perfectly content with such a provision, but as their Lordships took the view that it would be possible to achieve a broader consensus, it seemed perfectly proper to flesh out the requirements for a code by setting out certain heads that it should cover.
Such a provision could only distort the intentions of the 1954 Act if it added to the requirement for due impartiality that has always been part of the law since the creation of the independent television system. I can state categorically—and this is the belief also of the ITC—that it will not do so but will merely set out points that the ITC should take into account when drawing up its code. The amendment will not alter the substantive law but will introduce only an element of consolation for those concerned that the code might fall short in certain respects, that it will cover certain key areas. Nevertheless, the amendment does not dictate how the ITC should discharge that function.
Despite some of the huff and puff that we have heard, a much more minor amendment would make people think. Just as I have given considerable thought to whether to advance the amendments—all of which passed through my office in their drafting—and to making sure that we did not blur the principle to which I attach importance, others should be certain that they are not—as appeared to be the case from one or two speeches in another place—arguing against the principle of due impartiality, or merely wanting a good old ding-dong about what is admittedly a highly attractive subject for a good old ding-dong, without relating it to the substance of the debate.
The Government showed their good faith by reflecting on all those matters and tabling a draft amendment, albeit that it was found wanting in certain respects.
§ Mr. Mellor
No, it was not defeated. The right hon. Gentleman could not have been following the Bill's progress with his customary attention. The water was tested, and certain views were ex pressed that seemed to me appropriate to take into account. That was done, and a new draft emerged that was entirely satisfactory to the ITC. After all, it is that organisation that will have to perform the duty of regulation. The ITC would not have given its approval to the amendment if it achieved only one half or one quarter of the things that those who cannot reconcile themselves to the amendment say that it will. That is the case for the amendment, and I shall let it rest at that.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I begin by thanking the Minister for the tribute that he paid to my late hon. Friend and colleague, Mr. Norman Buchan. Had he been with us today, Norman Buchan would have contributed to this debate with great passion and authority. We shall miss him for more than this afternoon, because he was a genuinely interesting man who took a real interest in a variety of matters in the House and outside it. I am grateful for the Minister's remarks. I know that my right hon. and hon. Friends would want me to emphasise the great loss which we feel and which the Minister was kind enough to mention.
It is difficult to follow the passion with which the Minister defended the proposed new clause. He proceeded with what is, in his new mood, his usual emollience, saying that he will listen with care and interest to all that is said. That would be enormously comforting if only we could believe that, having listened to all that we say, the Minister is likely to take any notice of it.
We know very well that the clause will be added to the Bill, although, judging from the right and hon. Gentleman's closing remarks, that will happen without the slightest enthusiasm from the Minister who pilots the Bill. He said that, to his mind, the Bill was perfectly satisfactory when it left the House and that he would have been perfectly content if it had remained as it was. He spoke of others taking a different view without identifying them.
§ Mr. Mellor
I made it clear that the others to whom I was referring were certain of their Lordships and hon. Members who had expressed a view in an early-day motion in this House. It is perfectly proper that I should listen to them, as I do to Opposition Members. I did so many times, and then changed the Bill as a result.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I do not want to argue that point at great length, but if the Minister had simply been willing to listen to their Lordships' views, he would have abandoned his attempt to introduce such a clause when it became clear from the outset that their Lordships did not want it to proceed. The Minister tells the House that the clause is of no consequence, and no doubt he would like the country to hear that remark—yet it is of such importance to someone that three attempts were made to devise a draft acceptable to another place, and enormous pressure was placed on the stalwarts who support the Government there to turn up and ensure that it was passed.
Somebody liked the clause and regarded it as important. I accept that that somebody is not the Minister, because his reply to the hon. Member for Caithness and 526 Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) gave every impression of a man swimming in treacle. He was making the heaviest possible weather of defending what he had to defend. I at least propose to set out in the clearest terms within my capability why we are wholly opposed to it and to make it absolutely clear that when the Labour Government are elected we shall repeal this clause, which we regard as intimidatory and inconsistent with broadcasting in a free society.
There is general agreement among the parties, broadcasters and, I believe, the viewing public about the importance of impartiality in television. It is essential to a democracy, particularly in a society that increasingly obtains its information from television. For that reason, successive Broadcasting Acts have charged the ITA, the IBA and, soon, the Independent Broadcasting Commission with the duty of ensuring that proper impartiality and balance are preserved. From the inception of independent broadcasting to the passage of the Bill through all its stages in the House, it has been generally agreed that the judgment on how impartiality was to be maintained should be left to the body that was required to regulate independent television. It should be left to its judgment alone.
That was the view because there was a general wish, which I hope and believe is shared on both sides of the House, that the preservation of impartiality and balance should be carried out in a way that is not oppressive and is not likely to result in a deterioration of programme standards. The Government's proposal has both those disadvantages. It is oppressive in effect and will lead to reductions in the standards of certain programmes.
I have no doubt that the proposal will intimidate some programme makers, and I go further: I believe that it is intended to do so. Anyone who doubts that intention should read the speech by Lord Wyatt of Weeford, the only true begetter of the new clause in the House of Lords last Monday. He proposed that, before beginning their work, programme makers should be required to sign a declaration saying that they understand, respect and will observe the code of impartiality. The idea that programme makers should be required to sign a document accepting anything except the law of the land as it stands—the Minister was careful to tell us this is not the law of the land—is not consistent with a free society.
Before I describe the consequences of the clause, I want, partly as a result of the extraordinary activities of Lord Wyatt, to remind the House of its origins. By understanding its origins, we understand its purpose. When the Government drafted the Bill, no such clause was thought necessary. All who heard the Minister's speech will agree that it was clear that he does not regard it as necessary even today. No such clause was added or even contemplated by the Government in Committee. The idea is the product of the paranoia about broadcasting which Lord Wyatt has deployed time after time in the articles that he writes inThe Times and in the articles, if that is the right description of them, that he writes in theNews of the World.
We all know—it is almost a matter of public record—that Lord Wyatt, who has a special entrée to No. 10 Downing street, convinced the Prime Minister that to expose the independent television companies to the threat of continual litigation would severely restrict their willingness to make the controversial programmes that many of us regard as the life-blood of broadcasting in a 527 free society. I doubt that the Prime Minister needed much convincing, but we know that she insisted on the inclusion of the clause. I doubt that the Home Secretary has read it. It is clear from last Monday's debate in the other place that the Minister of State did not understand and, as we knew before today but which was confirmed a moment ago, the Minister for the Arts certainly does not agree with it.
The Minister for the Arts told the Royal Television Society, as late as 4 September:Due impartiality is not a matter which can be reduced to some simple mathematical formula, nor can its achievement be guaranteed through any mechanistic statutory requirement.On 4 September he was against a mechanistic statutory requirement. Let us examine what he advocates today. I describe it in the words of the Minister of State, as he spelt out the clause in the House of Lords last Monday:Paragraph (a) of new subsection (4A) relates to due impartiality being achieved for each major matter of political or industrial controversy … Paragraph (b) of subsection (4A) requires the code to take account of the need to define what is meant by a series of programmes. Paragraph (a) of subsection (4B) requires the code to indicate what due impartiality requires in particular circumstances. Paragraph (b) of subsection (4B) sets out that the code should indicate the manner in which impartiality is to be achieved for different programme types. Paragraph (c) of subsection (4B) requires the code to indicate the timescale within which programmes must be included if impartiality is to be achieved over a series. Paragraph (d) of subsection 4(B) requires the code to indicate the means by which the audience is informed that impartiality".—[Official Report, House of Lords, 22 October 1990; Vol. 522, c. 1144.]That is being advocated by a Minister who is, root and branch, against mechanistic statutory requirements.
I hope that the Minister will not suggest that what his colleague in the House of Lords said cannot be described as "mechanistic or statutory", for were he to attempt to do so I should be grieved to discover that, even in this Government, the least literate this century, the Minister for the Arts has only a passing acquaintance with the English language. It is clear that what he has developed and is now advocating imposes statutory duties on the new commission to define in some particulars what objectivity and impartiality is, and is wholly mechanistic in its application.
The real question is not whether the Minister changed his position but why he has appeared to change his mind. I have no doubt that it is because pressure was put on him to produce and to create a new chain, a new limitation and a new burden on the independent television companies in the hope and intention that they will reduce the number of controversial documentary programmes that they produce.
The Minister said again today that the new Independent Television Commission is to draw up a code to ensure impartiality. He repeats time after time that the commission is responsible for the code. I shall read, at perhaps intelligible speed, what the Minister of State described as the new obligations in the House of Lords, from which the House will realise that, although it is the duty of the ITC to draw up the code, the Government are telling it what the code must contain. They are telling it the nature of the code, its provisions, its scope and in some particulars its contents. The contents are to be specified in 528 law and, by specifying its contents, the House, if it supports the clause, will be imposing on the television industry a series of adverse consequences.
§ Mr. Mellor
If the right hon. Gentleman were the ITC and were faced with a bald requirement from Parliament to have a code, I do not see how he would find it possible to discharge that duty without setting out in the code—I quote from paragraph (a) of the amendment—what due impartiality does and does not require, either generally or in relation to particular circumstances; (b) the ways in which due impartiality may be achieved in connection with programmes of particular descriptions".What is the point of having a code if it does not deal with those matters, and what is the harm in setting out clearly what a code should deal with?
§ Mr. Hattersley
The Minister for the Arts was perfectly happy to proceed in the way that he now derides throughout the passage of the Bill.
§ Mr. Hattersley
He does not deride it; he seemed to be doing so. He seemed happy not to have these specifications in the code until they were imposed by the Prime Minister. There was no mention of them when we debated the code before, no suggestion of them in Committee and no inclusion of them in the original draft. Since 1954, the concept of objectivity and impartiality has been left entirely to the Independent Broadcasting Authority or its successors.
§ Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North)
The right hon. Gentleman has said a couple of times that these measures were imposed on my right hon. and learned Friend by the Prime Minister, but they were brought before the House by the other place. If the Opposition in the other place were so passionately opposed to them, why did they manage to muster only a fraction of their strength to vote against them? Could it be that their Lordships, in their wisdom, realised public concern in this matter?
§ Mr. Hattersley
The hon. Gentleman talks about public concern. He can talk about it, but he cannot demonstrate it because there is virtually no public concern on record. The Government have added to the number of institutions that exist to encourage, monitor and publish details on the amount of public concern, but the number of complaints received is minuscule. I propose to deal with the large number of complaints from Conservative Members, but they must not think that they speak for the British public—a fact that they will discover to their discomfort over the next 18 months.
I wish to go through, one by one, the detriments that will be the inevitable result of the clause being passed into law. They show why I was astonished at the words of the Minister of State in another place and even more astonished by the support given to this notion by the Minister for the Arts. They are why almost everyone who has judged these matters with authority believes that the clause will result in constant litigation.
The chairman of the Bar Council and the professor of law at the University of Oxford predict constant litigation. That is certainly the fear of the television companies, which naturally are apprehensive about it. They fear, and we believe that they are right to fear, that every group of 529 right-wing loonies will take them to court—perhaps frivolously, perhaps contentiously, perhaps with the intention of making a point rather than with winning a case—by arguing that a programme should be covered by the impartiality guidelines, as covered by subsection (4B)(a); by arguing that a programme should have carried a warning that it was controversial, as covered by subsection (4B)(d); or by arguing that balance has not been achieved by an alternative programme putting a different point of view and being broadcast in the required period, as required by subsection (4B)(c).
§ Mr. Hattersley
I shall give way first to the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley), who was bobbing up and down earlier, and then gave way to the Minister.
§ Mr. Adley
The best speech in the other place, for brevity and content, was by Lord Peyton of Yeovil. I have a philosophical question for the right hon. Gentleman—perhaps I should be careful about asking it and he should be careful about answering it. He referred to right-wing loonies. Does he agree that political proselytes can often be dangerous people?
§ Mr. Hattersley
Of course they can. It is rather like loving one's mother and not kicking dogs. We can all agree with that. The brave and interesting point comes when we start defining who those people are, and I propose to do so. First, I shall give way to the Minister for the Arts.
§ Mr. Mellor
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. It is good of him to give way to me again, and I shall try not to make a habit of intervening. The right hon. Gentleman is making some important technical points, and I believe that it would be useful to all of us if we had a chance to explore one of his contentions.
The nub of the point seems to be that the provision will lead to constant litigation because it is an intimidatory device to be used by the Government to compel the ITC to do something for which various loonies can then hold it to account. On the right hon. Gentleman's partial reading of the clause, that does not strike me as being exactly what the clause will permit.
The right hon. Gentleman read us chunks from Lords amendment No. 22, but he did riot quote these words from subsection (4B):The rules so specified shall in addition"—here are the crucial words—indicate to such extent as the Commission consider appropriate".In other words, it is for the commission to judge whether it considers that it is appropriate to do the things set out therein. It would be extremely difficult for a judge—although not impossible, and it would not be impossible to have masses of litigation about other matters—to say that it was wholly unreasonable for the ITC to have determined whether it was appropriate to do certain things, when the statute indicates that that was left to its discretion.
§ Mr. Hattersley
That point was made not by the Minister of State in another place but by one of his supporters—I took specific advice on that. The answer relates to the words that the right hon. Gentleman used in his intervention and several times in his speech—"as long as the ITC behaves reasonably". I have no doubt that the 530 ITC will behave reasonably, but the television companies are afraid that the group to which I referred will insist on testing the nature of reason in court and that it will say, "In this particular, the ITC did not behave reasonably. In allocating this programme under one heading while not considering it under another, impartial or not impartial, the ITC behaved not reasonably but unreasonably." The television companies are particularly concerned about the concept of "reasonable".
§ Mr. Gerald Howarth (Cannock and Burntwood)
Does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that the ITC should be totally unaccountable and that no group of citizens should be entitled to challenge whether it has acted reasonably?
§ Mr. Hattersley
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman was here at the beginning of my speech, but if he was, he was not listening. I made it clear that I want impartiality to be preserved and that the ITC should have an unfettered right to make sure that that happens. I want the ITC to have the right that it has enjoyed since 1954, not least because, on the general judgment of the British public—who do not complain about partiality—the present system operates perfectly successfully. We have not heard a word today from the Minister about why a change is necessary because, despite all his debating skills, he cannot produce such an argument.
§ Sir Ian Gilmour (Chesham and Amersham)
If the right hon. Gentleman is right in assuming that the ITC will behave reasonably—which is what my right hon. Friend the Minister and I think—why do we need the amendment?
§ Mr. Hattersley
The right hon. Gentleman must not ask me. I shall not answer Home Office questions for another year or so, so the right hon. Gentleman must put his point to the Minister. I agree 100 per cent. with him—there is no justification for this change. The Minister has not even attempted to justify it. We have not yet heard any reason for making the change.
The fear of litigation is very much related to those groups that the broadcasters rightly suspect will take contentious actions, testing the concept of reasonableness with the intention of intimidating. The hon. Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth) almost challenged me to suggest who those people might be. Everyone knows that the Freedom Association takes such cases to make a point rather than to win a legal battle. Everyone has heard of Lord Chalfont's media monitoring unit. The television companies are rightly apprehensive about how such groups will behave.
Let us have no doubt about the outcome of that apprehension. Programme makers will choose the bland and the anodyne because they believe that the bland and the anodyne are safe, yet the bland and the anodyne are the last things that should characterise some programmes—in particular, the documentary programmes against which the clause is directed. The amendment will result in, and is intended to result in, a reduction in controversy, yet controversy is often the life-blood of good broadcasting.
Let me put it in simple terms. Throughout the debate in the other place, several programmes were cited as the new target for these impartiality rules—for example, "Death on the Rock", "Who Bombed Birmingham?" and Harold Pinter's programme on Nicaragua. We were repeatedly told that, because of these new rules, after such a 531 programme was broadcast there would be a Government health warning saying that that programme was not impartial and that, within a specified period, a programme would appear putting the contrary argument. I do not believe for a moment that that would be the outcome. The outcome will be that programmes such as "Who Bombed Birmingham?" and "Death on the Rock" will not be produced at all. I have no doubt that that is the intention of many of the proponents of the clause. That is what they want and I fear that that is what they will get if the clause is passed.
For that reason, the clause is repressive, and that is why I repeat that the next Labour Government will repeal it. We shall expect impartiality, but we shall have the sense to know that impartiality cannot be precisely defined and that the commission—and the commission alone—acting under the general law, has the duty to see that balance is preserved, not in relation to any one programme but over time. The idea that a programme's imbalance and impartiality are put right over time is wholly consistent not simply with the free society in which we live, but with the idea of plurality of broadcasting on which the Broadcasting Bill is supposed to be based. When we heard the talk of the brave new world of new broadcasting with multiple channels, the argument was always that different opinions would cancel each other out.
That argument was put before Lord Wyatt thought that he could do his worst with some programmes of which he disapproved, before he approached the Prime Minister and before the Prime Minister instructed the Minister for the Arts on what he had to do. It was put when the Broadcasting Bill was in the hands of the Home Office, not in the hands of No. 10 Downing street.
§ Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)
Is not my right hon. Friend being unduly unkind to the Minister for the Arts? After all, since he has rewritten two thirds of the Bill, is not it understandable that the Prime Minister would like to have the odd bit that relates to the original legislation?
§ Mr. Hattersley
I take my hon. Friend's point. However, I understand that most of the rewriting was done by the Home Office. The fact that this proposal was imposed on the Home Office illustrates its basic purpose—to intimidate broadcasters. The result will be a reduction in high-quality broadcasting, a reduction in tolerance and a reduction in freedom—a reduction of the values that we want to see in our society. I repeat, for the third time, that we will repeal the clause at the first opportunity and, for that reason, we shall tonight vote against its incorporation in the Bill.
§ Mr. Julian Critchley (Aldershot)
What on earth is all the fuss about? We left for our summer hols in July happy in the knowledge that we had persuaded the Minister of State that, at long last, he was on the right lines, only to find in October that he has been shunted into a siding. That is due to an unholy alliance between Lord Wyatt and an early-day motion signed by 100 Conservative Back Benchers—one sage and a hundred onions.[Laughter.] I am not getting paid for this.
Some of us remember Lord Wyatt—Mr. Woodrow Wyatt as he then was—when he was a Member of the House of Commons. Once heard, never forgotten. The 532 most accurate description of him then would probably have been "crypto-socialist". In more recent and happier times, he is the author of a column in theNews of the World entitled, believe it or not, "The Voice of Reason". He is even better known as a man of views; he has more views than a dog has fleas. How suitable it is that he should have devoted his remaining energies to emasculating his media rivals elsewhere.
Why is it that many hon. Members—I was going to say "of my great party", but that would be presumptuous—of our great party believe that we have the best newspapers in the world and the worst broadcasting, when all the evidence suggests that it is the other way round? Could it be because youthful left wingers are persuaded to join the media, while youthful right wingers go into the City, become estate agents or manage, for a time, the Scottish Conservative party?
Perhaps, in the dog days of summer, I should have tabled an amendment that would have put the BBC and ITV firmly under the control of Conservative central office. Let us suppose that we had passed such an amendment. I should like to offer an example of some of the programmes that we might have been enjoying this winter. We might have had "Thought for the Day" by Mr. J. Archer and "Listen with Mother" with Mrs. Angela Rumbold. "The Weather" would be the province of my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) with "England fog-bound; the continent isolated." There would have been a new series of "Dr. Finlay's Casebook" in which those two loveable Scots, Dr. Finlay and Dr. Cameron, would be played by Messrs. Forth and Forsyth. We might have had "Last of the Summer Wine" starring Sir Marcus Fox and "The Money Programme" fronted by a series of "friends of the family".
I can assure the House that no old films would be shown over bank holidays and the Christmas period. We should no longer have to watch "The Guns of Navarone" for the umpteenth time. Bank holidays would be filled by extracts from the Prime Minister's speeches at party conferences ranging over the past nine or 10 years. Such a regime would not be without its entertainment and its quiz shows. There would be a quiz show entitled "Standing Ovation" in which Young Conservatives were encouraged to make speeches and in which the one who got the longest applause would be awarded shares in the electricity industry.
Would not my clause have solved, once and for all, the problem of bias? Many of my hon. Friends on the Back Benches would have been able to boast of Britain's good fortune in possessing not only newspapers such as theSun, theNews of the World, theSunday Sport andThe People, but the fairest, cleanest and best broadcasting in the world. Sadly, we have missed yet another opportunity.
§ Mr. Maclennan
The late Norman Buchan would have enjoyed that speech. His presence in this debate is felt by all of us; that is why we thank the Minister for paying a well-deserved tribute to him. He inspired not only the interest of which the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) properly spoke, but something pretty close to affection among hon. Members of all parties. He would have cared about this debate.
In all fairness to him, I must say that the Minister did not attempt to discharge the onus of proof which I 533 suggested, in the concluding moments of his speech, that he might do, because it is not possible to demonstrate widespread public dissatisfaction about impartiality in broadcasting. Tens of millions of viewers watch controversial and less controversial current affairs, news and documentary programmes, but the number of complaints on the ground of partiality is very small.
In the year ending March 1990, there were only 245 complaints from the public to the Independent Broadcasting Authority about impartiality. The IBA's own annual survey in 1990 on public opinion showed a pattern similar to previous years. Between 76 per cent. and 78 per cent. of the public thought that no favouritism towards any party was shown either by ITV or Channel 4. In 1988–89 the Broadcasting Complaints Commission adjudicated on only 19 complaints relating to unfairness or unjustified invasions of privacy. Six complaints were upheld wholly, five were upheld in part and eight were not upheld. In the light of those figures, it is hard to see why we should weigh in the balance Lord Wyatt and the 100 onions and allow the Government to amend the Bill in such a significant fashion at this last gasp.
In my intervention I reminded the Minister that he made his views clear not only in his speech to the Royal Television Society, to which the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) referred, but rather more fully in Committee on 30 January when he said:When I was presented with the opportunity to reflect on whether we should make changes to the impartiality requirement it occurred to me that a Government of any stripe are always the last group to be credited with impartiality. I decided that it was better to leave well alone. That is what I have done. We have not fiddled around with the impartiality arrangements. We felt that it was better to leave goalposts where they were."—[Official Report, Standing Committee F, 30 January 1990; c. 411.]I understand the ways of politics and the pressures that Ministers can be put under by other Ministers, sometimes senior ones. I do not find it in any way disreputable that the Minister should have deployed the argument that he has deployed this afternoon with his customary skill. His position today is in stark contrast to what he has said publicly and in the House on a number of occasions.
§ Mr. Mellor
I reject that imputation, however courteously put, because it is not so. The burden of what I was trying to say to the House earlier is that the law on impartiality, the requirement that there should be due impartiality on matters of current industrial and political controversy and so on, is precisely the law as it was in 1954. I was not prepared to make that change. What I said in January stands and what I said in September was said in the clear knowledge that we were going to do what we have subsequently done.
§ Mr. Mellor
Oh yes, absolutely.
In September I dealt with some of the solutions put forward by Lord Wyatt which I thought, and have successfully been able to persuade others, were not workable. We have not moved the goalposts. Everyone agreed that the referee should have a proper rule book so that the players knew what rules they were playing to. We are simply saying that that rule book should contain rules to be determined as to those particular aspects of the game and not by us.
534 I am prepared to be criticised for making a change that some people see as purely cosmetic, but that change does not go to the root of the impartiality law, which is exactly as it was.
§ Mr. Maclennan
The Minister says that in his speech to the Royal Television Society he knew exactly what was going to happen, but the proposals have changed three or four times since then and we are now dealing with a proposition that is quite different from that first put forward in the other place.
I admire the Minister's dexterity in a purely rhetorical sense as he has tried to reconcile the irreconcilable. Neither he nor I, nor the public, are interested in the thought processes that led him to arrive at his stand—we are more interested in the effect of what has been done.
§ Mr. Mellor
I respect the hon. Gentleman's contribution to the Bill and I want to pose to him this question: what will be the difference that television companies will face today, as against what they have faced for nearly 40 years, apart from the fact that there will be a code about which everyone agreed anyway? What substantive change wreaks the mischief complained of?
§ Mr. Maclennan
As I said in my earlier intervention, I believe that the onus of proof on the mischief lies with the Minister. I do not believe that he has discharged it. As to what will be the consequence of this, who am I to put myself in the shoes of many broadcasters who have cast doubts upon the appropriateness of the clause as amended? There is not one broadcasting company that has not expressed its grave reservations about this change. They have all taken endless legal advice. Some of us have received the authorative opinion of Mr. Anthony Scrivener, chairman of the Bar Council. He has spoken of continuing litigation that will be necessary to sort out the consequences of the amended clause.
It is plainly not possible for me to answer the question posed by the Minister, any more than it is for the broadcasters to answer it. That is the nub of the problem. The clause will leave us with a vast uncertainty that cannot be resolved by debate across the Floor, but by a whole series of cases in the courts. It will not be solved by one case as the judges themselves may disagree. Those cases will be pursued by people who have a desire to obstruct the freedom of expression that the Minister and I are at one in seeking to preserve.
§ Mr. Mellor
The requirement on broadcasters today is that they should adhere to due impartiality on matters of current industrial and political controversy. That is almost exactly the same as the rule that they will face under the Bill. As far as I am aware, that requirement has not been the subject of frequent legal challenges in the past 40 years, and I doubt that it will be during the next 40. The substantive law, the requirement to observe due impartiality, is precisely the same in the Bill as it is in today's law.
§ Mr. Maclennan
If we were debating precisely the same provisions as the substantive law set out in the 1954 Act I do not imagine that we would have had a long debate or any debate. The Minister knows that the Government are imposing upon the ITC an obligation to prepare a code with specific, new, substantive requirements. That code 535 will create uncertainty and that uncertainty will cause problems for broadcasters and make the mischief of which I complain.
We are fortunate to have television and radio stations that are not afraid to make controversial programmes. Broadcasters are entitled to put out such programmes. Hon. Members have already mentioned Harold Pinter's programme on Nicaragua, and what about Norman Stone on Poland? Those programmes contain different views held by very different individuals on important current events. No one believes that the views expressed are those of the broadcaster—clearly they are the views of those participating in the programme. That very independence is at risk. Companies competing in an ever-hostile commercial climate will be frightened of making such programmes if there is a risk of organisations such as the Freedom Association—there are plenty of such well-heeled organisations—taking those companies to court.
I do not regard the opinion of any single lawyer on this matter as conclusive. It is the multiplicity of views that have been expressed by lawyers that could be regarded as giving rise to concern. There is no doubt that the balance of legal opinion on this is in line with that expressed by Lord Goodman, to which the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook referred. He believes that it will create a legal picnic. We managed at an earlier stage of the Bill to persuade the Minister of the undesirability of that in the context of the quality threshold. He showed himself then to be sensitive to the undesirability of dragging these matters, which should be handled by the regulators, to the regulation of the courts, or to the establishment of precedents with one test case after another. They will not all follow in line, for the sort of subject matter that could be challenged, particularly in considering whether a matter is major, as required by the measure, will be extremely difficult.
The Minister has won his spurs in the House. Indeed, he has won recognition in the Government, in view of his elevation to his important post, as a result of the manner in which he handled the Bill, listened to opinion and weighed it up. He did not favour a particular view but weighed the argument.
The argument deployed in the other place in favour of the clause as drafted was of the strength of gossamer. If the Minister has any scope for manoeuvre, I urge him to drop this worthless and dangerous clause. The previous three chairmen of the IBA wrote a powerful letter toThe Times warning of the dangers of what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has in mind. I read with interest what Mr. Glyn Mathias, an experienced programme maker and broadcaster for ITN, and a man known to most of us, said on the subject. He commented:The application of due impartiality can vary depending on the number of differing views on any one issue. It is rarely just a question of a right-wing view versus a left-wing view. The result of the amendment will be to neuter the news and to impede our ability to cover events as we have in the past.Coming from a man such as Glyn Mathias, that is serious, for he weighs his words with care.
I have also paid attention to what has been said by the IBA and the shadow ITC. They were not persuaded of the 536 need for what is proposed by anything the Minister or anyone else said. On 3 July they issued a briefing on the question of impartiality in which they said:In our view, the Bill as drafted offers appropriate safeguards for impartiality.That is why there was no debate on the issue on Report and why there was no serious lengthy debate about impartiality in Committee, for we are united in recognising that impartiality is the bedrock of television and we are satisfied that it has been adequately secured in the past.
I conclude with an appeal not in my words but in the words of a leader writer inThe Daily Telegraph. Perhaps it was written by Mr. Max Hastings, who in matters of freedom is a voice to be listened to. I should not attribute it to him because I cannot be certain that he wrote it, but the writer stated:
A classic test of any government is how far it seeks superintendence over matters left to good sense. The amendment … takes intervention well beyond what should be acceptable to Conservatives.I hope that Conservative Members will heed that and will vote tonight with my hon. Friends and Her Majesty's Opposition.
§ Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) on a highly entertaining speech. I hope that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) will forgive me if I do not express the same congratulations on his remarks. My hon. Friend achieved his laughs, not for the first time, at the expense of some of his colleagues. He complained that he was not paid for his performance here this afternoon. Perhaps he should look for a forum where he will be suitably rewarded, because he is assuredly good enough to be paid. I fear that he will never need to worry about the ITC getting at him about being partial or biased over a major matter.
I strongly support the amendments on impartiality, particularly No. 22. The broadcasters have only themselves to blame for the amendments. I suggest that the original amendments in the other place were introduced in frustration at the arrogance of a minority of broadcasters, in the ITV companies and in the BBC, who have abused their positions of influence by producing programmes that peddle their political viewpoints——
§ Mr. Riddick
If the hon. Gentleman will be patient, I shall refer to a few programmes.
The hysterical response to the impartiality amendments has brought no credit to some of the broadcasters concerned. Many of their claims have been highly misleading, while some have been merely abusive. Michael Grade, chief executive of Channel 4, said that Tory Members of Parliament were employing "McCarthyite tactics" and claimed thatthis campaigning has been orchestrated by a small right-wing lobby.Was he referring to Lord Wyatt, to the Media Monitoring Unit, to the Freedom Association or to the 113 hon. Members who signed the early-day motion? I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot that they are not all Conservative Members. The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland will be pleased to hear that they include a Liberal, and there are a few Ulster Unionists. At any rate, 537 the 113 hon. Members who signed the early-day motion represent not a small but a substantial lobby that is not without influence.
The most misleading claim that broadcasters have made is that the amendments introduce a new concept into broadcasting law. That is not true, and I was pleased that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) did not try to put forward that argument.
Due impartiality has been a requirement since the 1950s, and the requirement in the Bill referring to due impartiality is word for word the same as the requirement for due impartiality in the Broadcasting Act 1981. In other words, due impartiality is not a new concept.
The wording is specific, saying that due impartiality must be achieved on matters of industrial and political concern and that that balance should be achieved within a series. Indeed, the IBA has incorporated the requirement to balance over a series in its guidelines.
The trouble is that the broadcasters have been ignoring those requirements and the IBA has proved itself unable or unwilling to enforce its own rules. That is why the amendments are necessary and why it is important that the basic outlines of what is meant by due impartiality, how it is to be achieved and the time limits within which balancing programmes are to be shown should be clearly spelt out in the Bill. That way, there can be no misunderstanding or ignoring of the impartiality rules by broadcasters and the ITC will not simply be able to turn a blind eye to abuses. The forces of law will he solidly behind the new ITC code.
There is no doubt that there has been a clear flouting of existing impartiality rules. In some cases that can be put down to sheer ignorance on the part of the broadcasters. I talked to some broadcasters who did not realise that they had a responsibility to be impartial in the way that they presented things. They simply were not aware of the current state of the law.
§ Mr. Riddick
I have talked to individual broadcasters—for example, people who have interviewed me have been unaware of such matters. However, the majority of cases in which the impartiality rules have been flouted have been deliberate.
Recently, there was a highly revealing article inThe Guardian. It was written by Paul Bonner, the founder programme controller at Channel 4 and now the director of programme planning at the ITV Association. He wrote quite openly:to do justice to difficult and unpopular arguments has meant that balance might only be reached in terms of two or three years, rather than within any series.He says that balance can be achieved over two or three years, which may be all very well for him. But the law says that balance should be achieved over a series. He is clearly flouting that and seems to be doing so with impunity.
In a radio discussion with my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Sir P. Hordern), Mr. Michael Grade, to whom I have already referred, actually admitted that "Oh Superman", a highly partisan and one-sided programme attacking American foreign policy and presented by Harold Pinter, was not balanced or impartial. He said that a balance to the programme was provided in a "Right to Reply" programme by an unknown individual, who was given two or three minutes to put the counter argument.
There is proof elsewhere that some television series are one-sided and unbalanced. I make no apology for referring to the Media Monitoring Unit, which has shown that some television series, notably "World in Action" and "Open Space", are consistently biased to the left.
§ Mr. Riddick
The hon. Gentleman asks me to give an example. I have mentioned "World in Action" and "Open Space". I do not suppose that the hon. Gentleman has actually taken the trouble to read any of the material produced by the Media Monitoring Unit. Were he to have done so, he would have seen clearly to which specific programmes the unit was referring.
Some people might say that Tories and right-wing people would have a go at "Panorama". It is interesting that the last report by the Media Monitoring Unit found that the "Panorama" programme's output during the series in question was extremely balanced and there was little bias towards either left or right.
§ Mr. Gerald Howarth
Does my hon. Friend think that the reason why the "Panorama" programme was found to be balanced was that it had faced a couple of libel actions successfully brought by hon. Members?
§ Mr. Riddick
My hon. Friend makes a telling point, but there is another issue. My hon. Friend knows only too well the difficulties of taking legal action against broadcasters. We have heard that it will be a lawyers' paradise, that they will have a field day and will be taking the television companies to court every five minutes. That is absolute nonsense. For a start, the amendments will not result in that, but even if they were to make litigation easier, the cost of taking such legal action is prohibitive. Therefore, to suggest that the amendments will produce much more litigation is absolute nonsense.
I am not just concerned about party political bias: I am equally worried about a more general anti-free market., anti-big business, anti-capitalism and pro-Government: intervention approach that seems to pervade so much of British broadcasting.
§ Mr. Austin Mitchell
Will the hon. Gentleman give an example? I hate to interrupt this tide of nonsense. Will he give us examples of producers, directors and programmes that have shown the malevolence, bias and lack of impartiality of which he accuses them all?
§ Mr. Riddick
I have no intention of starting to name. lots of names.
I have been involved in a television programme made by one of the respectable current affairs teams, which was quite clearly biased. When I met the programme's producer and presenter it was interesting to find that they quite clearly had a specific view about the programme that they were making.
§ Mr. Riddick
Yes, of course it was like me. The reason why I was being interviewed was that I had a certain view. 539 I should have thought that producers and presenters would be interested in presenting programmes that were balanced and impartial.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I would hardly believe that the hon. Gentleman said it, but he did so twice, so I must ask him the question again. His complaint is that producers have a specific view. Does he believe that television programmes should or could possibly be made without the producers having a specific view or did he just make a couple of slips of the tongue?
§ Mr. Riddick
I know that the right hon. Gentleman is trying to be clever, but the producers' and presenters' views should not be peddled in the programmes that they make. Of course, everyone has a perfect right to a view, but they should attempt to present a balanced approach in the programmes that they make.
One radio programme that I regularly listen to is a classic example of the sort of thing that we get. It is "Start the Week" on Radio 4 on Monday mornings, presented by Melvyn Bragg—[Interruption.] That programme is one of the more notable but subtle exponents of the sort of thing about which I have been talking—[Laughter.]
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)
Order. Barracking from sedentary positions does nothing to improve the quality of debate in the House.
§ Mr. Riddick
I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Opposition Members have been talking about intolerance. They are demonstrating enormous intolerance simply because I am putting a counter view.
One of the interesting comments made in the debate in the Lords on Monday was made by Lord Annan, a respected commentator on broadcasting matters who chaired the Committee on the future of broadcasting 13 years ago. In Monday's debate he said:Two distinguished broadcasters in current affairs on television told us that there ran through the output a strain that was anti-establishment, anti-institution, anti-free enterprise and anti-American."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 22 October 1990; Vol. 522, c. 1160.]I fear that that strain has not entirely disappeared.
The other day, Barbara Amiel, writing inThe Times under the rather extraordinary headlineBias makes for better television",said:Good documentary makers almost always have a point of view, and in my 20 years of working in the medium I found few who could be said to have sound Tory views.That does not prove anything, but it suggests that a large number of people working in the media have a left-wing perspective on life. I do not object to that, but I object when they peddle their left-wing views in the programmes that they make.
Most hon. Members will have heard of Christopher Dunkley, the respected television reporter of theFinancial Times. Back in July he questioned why the BBC was so enthusiastically preaching one point of view on environmental matters. He went on to ask:When does the BBC intend to give equal time to other political attitudes on the environment?So, several people are worried about what is going on in television. There is clear evidence of bias in certain radio programmes on the BBC——
§ Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)
Would it be possible to give a specific example from "Start the Week", because I understand that it is enjoyed by a large audience of all sorts of people, including large numbers of bourgeois ladies whose favourite subversive habit is flower arranging?
§ Mr. Riddick
As it happens, it is my misfortune to listen to "Start the Week" most mornings on my way to the station. The other day my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) was on the programme talking about bias on television. It was interesting to hear how Mr. Bragg interrupted my hon. Friend far more than his other guests—[Interruption.] My hon. Friend is perfectly capable of looking after herself, but it was clear that Mr. Bragg thoroughly disapproved of what she was saying and made sure that the other point of view was put—and that is not always his practice.
For as long as broadcasting plays such a vital and integral role in the British way of life, due impartiality will be a key component of it. I congratulate all who are responsible for these amendments, in this House, the other House and outside Parliament, and I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister on coming forward with the amendments. I look forward to the day when similar impartiality requirements apply to the BBC, but in the meantime I am happy to support the Lords amendments.
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
I thoroughly enjoyed the speech by the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley), but I am a bit worried because he was not nearly as funny as the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick).
When I became a young councillor, I joined a local authority in Devon, which was wholly controlled by so-called independents. One of the first things that I was told was that they had no politics there: they were all above that sort of thing. I discovered that that meant, "We do not have any Labour party politics." All the councillors were happily Conservative and had always voted for and propagated Conservative ideas on the council.
Listening to the hon. Member for Colne Valley I had a tremendous sensation of deja vu. Here is a party which happily and consistently supports newspapers which quite a few people would think had about as much independence of view and lack of bias as Mrs. Whitehouse; yet that party claims that the journalists who work in broadcasting are not to be trusted to be independent.
But the Lords amendment is rather different. Those of us who sat through the Committee and watched the Minister for the Arts reshaping the legislation, so that it became by the end completely different from what had been intended by the people who wrote the line on the back of the envelope on which it was based, know that the fact that he has now had to give way at this very late stage to an amendment as bigoted, unimaginative and stupid as this one must show that he is acting on the instructions of his mistress.
The House should realise that the amendment encapsulates a dangerous attack on freedom of speech. I am a very partial person, so I believe strongly in impartiality. All my life, I have had a definite view on a number of subjects about which I have not hesitated to express my opinions, but I accept the right of others to disagree with me, publicly and in writing. I expect people 541 to have a contrary point of view and to express it, and I believe that our broadcasting would assume a much sadder and more dangerous form if we changed this set of values.
Democracy depends on the ability of people who have a vote to listen to differing points of view. Why do we offer ourselves for election if we do not believe in the right of every person in the country to listen to differing points of view? Why do we protect so strongly the privileges of the House of Commons which allow us openly to attack other institutions and ideas? It is because we believe in the right of free speech——
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
I want to develop my idea a little further. I heard the hon. Gentleman express his views at considerable length in Committee, and learned there of his expertise in "Blue Peter".
It is vital that we understand that there must be diversity and the expression of a wide variety of views in broadcasting. We need to maintain codes of control, in the sense that we expect people to present balanced views. All of us, having seen programmes with which we disagree, demand some sort of balance for the other point of view; but we who are not involved in broadcasting must not sit down and draw up rigid rules which appear to tell the broadcasters they are not to be trusted to do their own jobs responsibly.
It is noticeable that we do not do this with newspapers. We allow journalists who work on newspapers to be as bigoted, ignorant and lazy about doing their research as they want to be—and from time to time they are helped by people who are as bigoted as they are——
§ Mrs. Edwina Currie
(Derbyshire, South: As a totally bigoted journalist in my other life, I put it to the hon. Lady that there are nevertheless hon. Members who think that the Lords amendment as it stands is worth having; that there are problems; and that it is appropriate and right that broadcasters be reminded of their duties.
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
I have no objection to broadcasters being reminded of their duties. That is the responsibility of those to whom we have given powers under the Bill to do precisely that. Why did the Government come here with a Bill that gave them those powers? Why do we have codes of conduct in existing broadcasting legislation? The Government gave those powers not because they thought it amusing to do so but because they expect those charged with them to carry out their duties. Those who have any doubt about the reasoning behind the amendment should listen carefully to the hon. Member for Colne Valley. The hon. Gentleman's one distinction is that he actually says what many Conservatives believe but are much too tactful and clever to put into words.
I think that only a small number of Conservative Members will vote against the amendment, although the commitment of Conservatives to freedom of speech is no less than the commitment of some Opposition Members. If the amendment is accepted, we shall be underlining not the need for impartiality but a call for bigotry, for political control by a Government who feel themselves under attack and who want to restrict the opportunities for broadcasters to put different points of view before the public. That is a dangerous form of paranoia and in the final analysis it is extremely restrictive.
542 6 pm
I frequently argue with the broadcasting authorities and often wish that they would show greater impartiality in their handling of some subjects. But I reserve my right to go on protesting to them through their existing machinery, raising points on which I think they are wrong and winning or losing my case on the basis of my evidence. I do not accept and hon. Members should never accept a deliberate, bigoted, small-minded and unacceptable attempt to restrict the freedom of broadcasters to produce open debate. Such debate is the life-blood of democracy, and for 10 years the Government have sought to restrict it. They must not be allowed to get away with it.
§ Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)
I was always schooled to believe not to add to a construction anything that would not improve it. That has legislative wisdom, which is why I am slightly puzzled because the burden of the argument advanced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State was that the Lords amendments add nothing to the Bill. Under questioning, that was expressed once or twice. Why are we adding something that is unnecessary? I wish that my right hon. and learned Friend would look more carefully at that proposition, because some people suspect that the amendments add something that the Minister does not want. My right hon. and learned Friend would have been better advised to stand by his original position that the Bill had integrity as it was and that any additional information added by the clause was superfluous. That suspicion, that contesting of the proposition, means that he may find that he has agreed to something that he does not want.
The Minister was right to say that some of us do not like the impartiality rules. That is an important element in the argument. It is wholly appropriate that there should be an impartiality rule when the public fund, effectively through taxation, the licence fee, a public service broadcasting system. I had hoped that, in the advancement of broadcasting, we were moving to sufficient diversity so that competing views and ideas in the system were such that we did not have to worry about each jot and particular of everyone's view.
The past 11 years have unhappily concentrated our minds on the history of broadcasting. At one time, presses were licensed because we feared that their contrary views might undermine good government. We used to license the theatre and some productions there, because we feared that they might be insidious and seditious. The remarkable stability of this country over three centuries does not, by and large, bear that out by contrast with the experience of other countries. I thought that, by getting rid of the Lord Chamberlain, we had made a great leap forward.
As a Conservative, I do not like the concept that one man's views on a programme or what I should read or see are better than my own ability to judge. In amendments such as the one we are discussing, the detailing is a manifestation of the old-fashioned nanny state, which says that my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister and I and other hon. Members are not able as free citizens to say, "This is nonsense." It is like saying that we cannot judge, and that, because we are unable to make a judgment ourselves, specious bodies of the great and good have to be set up to do it for us. As I say, I thought that we had got rid of the Lord Chamberlain and his remit for the theatre. However, we now have Lord Rees-Mogg who has a better 543 view on these matters than we because he is judged by the Government somehow to sum up the nation's propriety in these affairs.
My hon. Friends have expressed agitation about how awful and frightful some programmes are. I agree that some are motivated and some are particular, but the smashing thing about this country is that this clash of ideas is what we have always been about. We have advanced, and the freedom of speech and expression, which mean that I and my hon. Friends may be particular, are vital.
There is a fear of broadcasting through television. We are going back to the old licensing of the presses. It is said that there are too few of them and that, if they fall into the wrong hands, our dull electorate—Mrs. Smith of Aldridge or Mrs. Brown from somewhere else—will be incapable of recognising a prejudiced programme. Wise dissertations in the newspapers argue that visual images are somehow so captivating to our intelligence that they render us incapable of saying that something is wrong.
I advance my next argument because it is relevant. We banned the direct broadcasting of members of certain organisations in Northern Ireland. Among other things, that was a denial of people's right to hear even the unacceptable and it is therefore a denial of our freedoms. I have been trying to say for a couple of years that my party above all ought to be mindful of the fact that we are strong and free. I said that in the debate on the IRA. As free citizens in a free country, we are the final arbiters.
That may be seen as a slight digression, so I shall return to the proposition advanced by the Minister. The amendment adds nothing and should therefore be dropped. The Minister has secured that which he and other hon. Members think appropriate. It is over the top, and the Bill as it was before it went to the House of Lords should be allowed to stand. We should say that the amendment is unnecessary and drop it.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)
The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) is a remarkable Member of Parliament. On many issues, bucking the party system—which also happens on our side—enlightens a subject. The benefit of this place is not the two sides of the House, although that is necessary to get business through. It is that there are hon. Members in all parts of the House who buck the system and put forward their own ideas. I should like to see that inside and outside the House. I have not participated in debates on the Bill but, like the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills and my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), I should like to ask what the amendments are about. I have read reports of the debates and read about proceedings in the Lords.
The Minister has told us that the amendment will not make a big change. A problem arose from an early-day motion signed by 100 people and by some people in the other place with ideas about the problems, especially with independent companies. It was therefore thought that a little should be done to make those people feel that the subject was important when in fact it is not. However "better" it is than the original idea, there are some problems that I should like to investigate. I shall discuss partiality and impartiality and the legal challenge. It is a long time since I was Home Secretary but I should like to 544 look at the problems that a Home Secretary might face if a legal challenge, or judicial review, were taken out. Judicial review seems to be becoming more common.
I shall look first at impartiality. People think that the Home Office runs broadcasting—which was certainly not the case when I was Home Secretary and I hope that it is not the case now—and on a controversial subject half the letters that used to pour in were in favour and half were against. On another subject, a different half might be in favour and another half against. It is surprising how subjective are the views of those who want particular programmes.
What is impartial? There is a newspaper in Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, calledThe Impartial Reporter. That is a curious use of the word "impartial", but perhaps it is the typical use of the word. People believe that they are impartial even when they are partial. For example, I shall be watching the televisoion on Saturday when the British rugby league team are playing the Australians. Unfortunately, I cannot go to the game. I hope that the commentators will be very partial because that is what I want. It does not matter because the Australian commentators will also be partial. I am only sad that I shall not be there.
Of course, I am not saying that all is well with British broadcasting. The way in which the Home Office used to run it—I hope that it still is running it—was correct. I remember a member of the Cabinet berating the BBC and threatening it with a reduction in its licence if it continued to behave in a certain way. I wrote to all my colleagues saying that it was neither their business nor mine. I said that if any individual member of the Cabinet felt strongly about any matter, he should write and complain as an individual, as large numbers of people used to do. Broadcasting is not under the control of the Government, the Cabinet or the House of Commons, and nor should it be. That does not mean that I do not have complaints about the BBC, but there is a code of practice for the BBC as well as for the IBA.
Of course, the BBC makes mistakes. I wrote to Sir Ian Trethowan at the time of Airey Neave's death. In the interests of impartiality, the BBC interviewed someone who said that his organisation had killed Airey Neave. In my letter—which appears in print in my book—I said:As a minister, I never attempted to dictate or interfere in BBC programmes. Indeed, it is my view that the BBC has a duty to allow a wide spectrum of political opinions to be voiced. Ideas and opinions will never subvert our society.But I argued that it was a grave error of judgment to interview that man at that time. I was entitled to my view, but it did not mean that I wanted to control what the BBC was doing.
At the time of the Ulster workers' strike—this is an important point that should have been picked up before—Lord Fitt, then a Northern Ireland politician, came to me in high dudgeon and said that the BBC was the voice of the loyalist paramilitaries. He called the BBC "Radio Free Belfast", and said that it was the mouthpiece of the organisers of the Ulster workers' strike. The BBC argued that it required the declaration of an emergency to make it act in a different way. It does not worry me that the existing system does not mean impartiality in the true sense because it entitles me to complain if I wish to do so.
Despite all the weaknesses of the BBC and the IBA, I believe in the present system and in the distancing of Ministers and the House of Commons from the running of 545 broadcasting. It is vital that that should be so. That is why I am against a Ministry of Broadcasting. Broadcasting is better off under the Home Office because it pays so little attention to it. Indeed, it is vital that it does not. Imagine a Minister of Broadcasting going to his office every day, taking his coat off and saying, "I run broadcasting; it is my fiefdom." That would be wrong. Just imagine what would happen if broadcasting was put under the control of the Department of Trade and Industry because it controls the spectrum, or something like that. Please let us not do that.
Currently, it is left to the Home Secretary, through the Queen and others, to appoint the governor and the members of the board of the BBC. It should be possible not to appoint supporters of the Government in power. The only time that I was in a position to appoint a chairman of the BBC, I rang Edward Boyle and offered him the post. He had been a Conservative Minister, but I had the highest admiration for him. He declined, and one reason that he gave was that he loved his job at the University of Leeds. What I did not know was that he was dying. The appointment of chairmen or governors should be done out of respect for their intelligence and ability, not because of party support. That might not be perfect, but it is important to keep a distance. The code of practice in the Bill is an interference in freedom.
How will the legal aspects affect the Government? I recognise the Minister's experience as a lawyer; he said that there would be no problem and that the Government would not end up in the courts. However, Lord Boston—who is the chairman of Television South, a former Minister with responsibility for broadcasting when I was Home Secretary, and a Queen's counsel—in another place called in aid legal opinion. Indeed, he dismissed legal opinion that I would not have lightly dismissed when I was Home Secretary. For example, he called in aid Mr. Anthony Scrivener, an eminent silk, who questioned the replacement of the words "make provision" by "take account of". He said that it was an improvement, but not a matter of great significance. He also referred to the words "major matters" replacing "individual issues". One person's major matter is another's minor matter. Lord Boston also quoted Lord Goodman, another eminent lawyer, who took a different view from that of the Minister.
§ Mr. Mellor
If the right hon. Gentleman had been advised by his lawyers and by the lawyers to the regulatory body that this was not a lawyer's picnic, he might have felt the same degree of fortitude that I feel when facing such comments. The right hon. Gentleman may not have been present when I said earlier that, although it has been suggested that the term "major matters" would lead to difficulty, in fact for 40 years the law has contained the word "matters", which would be just as likely to lead to difficulties. If someone wished to make a fuss about "major matters", he would be as likely to make a fuss about "matters". However, there has been no litigation in that respect during those 40 years. Many of the lawyers' arguments appear to be arguments against the original proposition, not the amendment.
§ Mr. Rees
Why put it in the Bill? The BBC and the IBA have had codes of practice for many years, but they are not in the Bill. Eminent lawyers take a different view from the Minister. He argues that there have been no court cases, 546 but I warrant that there will be—especially in view of the strong views expressed by the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) and others. Those who wanted change have been conned. The Government believe that they are adopting a policy of damage limitation, but they are wrong.
There should not be the slightest question of broadcasting being under the control of the Government or Parliament. Let us have a statute for the ITC and a charter for the BBC and appoint the right sort of people as governors. Of course, mistakes are made, but I am proud of the BBC and the IBA none the less. We have the best broadcasting system in the world. It is not often that we praise anything in this country. In this place, we are here to run things down; to us, everything is wrong.
§ Mr. Nicholas Bennett
The right hon. Gentleman should not confuse criticism of a Labour Government with criticism of the country. We do not run this country down. That is the prerogative of Labour Members.
§ Mr. Rees
The hon. Gentleman will never be a Minister at the Home Office and he will never have anything to do with broadcasting. He is typical of the sort of man who wants thought control and who believes thatThe Sun is the best newspaper in the world. I get angry about this talk of the country and political parties. It explains why politicians are held in such low esteem.
Do not put politicians in charge of broadcasting because that is wrong. The Government have made a mistake. The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills has it right. This country must be free, even if that involves making mistakes from time to time.
This is a silly Bill. We shall lose tonight, because that is the way things are, but it will be a sad day for broadcasting when we do.
§ Mr. Gale
In introducing the amendment, my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for the Arts said that the 1954 Act makes provision for due impartiality. He told the House that those of us who served on the Committee felt that that provision was probably adequate and that he would probably have settled for that.
Those in the other place felt otherwise and they chose to table an amendment that would place greater emphasis on impartiality. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said that those in the other place did not want the amendment. If they had not wanted it, presumably they would not have voted it through by a two to one majority. If they had chosen to seek to defeat it, presumably there would have been more than 100 or so Labour peers present.
547 Sometimes this House and the other place are not entirely in touch with public opinion. It is interesting to note that, when the Lords defeat a Government measure, the Opposition say how wise they are.
§ Mr. Gale
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to finish, I shall, of course, give way. As he knows, I have a high regard for the comments that he has made throughout our proceedings on the Bill. When the Lords introduce an amendment that none of us has discussed in Committee or on Report, it is suddenly wrong.
§ Mr. Maclennan
I always listen to the hon. Gentleman with interest because of his knowledge of broadcasting. He did not see fit to represent the so-called views of the public, as embodied in the amendment, at any stage in the Bill's proceedings. I imagine that, as a man interested in broadcasting, he is usually very much in touch with public opinion. Why was he not on this occasion?
§ Mr. Gale
I am perfectly prepared to concede that, on occasion, other people have better ideas than me. My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister conceded exactly that this evening. I think that it has been generally accepted that, since the Bill entered its Committee stage, it has been improved considerably following non-partisan discussion. The hon. Gentleman contributed a considerable amount to that process, as did many other Opposition Members. Indeed, I meant to start my speech by saying how very much those of us on the Back Benches who served on the Committee will miss the amusing wisdom of Norman Buchan, who played such an important part in our proceedings. Opposition Members contributed a great deal, but none of us in the House has a monopoly of wisdom, and I genuinely believe that, in this case, their Lordships have brought to our attention a matter that we should have considered earlier.
The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook said that the amendment represented an effort to intimidate and that, if it reached the statute book, the programmes that would result would be bland and anodyne. I do not believe that. The general public want, and generally believe that they get, and generally do get, impartial programming. The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) said that she wanted to see and hear both sides of the argument. That is what impartiality is about and the amendment has been drafted precisely to achieve that end: it represents a genuine and fair attempt to write impartiality into the Bill in terms that most reasonable people will be able to understand.
I am, by trade, a journalist and a broadcaster, and I find nothing frightening about the amendment. As the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich said, I used to make "Blue Peter," and I find no shame in that. But I spent two thirds of my career with the BBC making current affairs programmes. People of all political views were involved in making the programmes, but it was our proud boast then that our personal political opinions did not interfere in our programme making.
§ Mr. Gale
People say that the old jokes are the best, but although I am in favour of the environment and recycling, I think that it would be nice to hear a new joke from time to time.
The amendment is being treated by some as an attack on freedom of information. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), who has been a staunch defender of freedom of information, introduced the IRA argument. As a current affairs producer and director, I shared with my colleagues of whatever political persuasion the clear understanding that we should never give air time to terrorists or convicted criminals. It was only as a result of the breakdown of that understanding among broadcasters that the Government found it necessary to impose that regulation. Undoubtedly, the best form of regulation is self-regulation.
I see no cause for fear in the amendment. My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) will be seeking to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I know that he will put another point of view. My hon. Friend and I do not always agree. Sometimes my post is misdirected to him and he courteously forwards it, and sometimes it is the other way round, so we know each other's constituents' views. We know that, out there, there are a lot of people who are genuinely concerned about the standards of broadcasting and about impartiality. They are not only Conservative supporters; there are most certainly Labour supporters among them.
The public want security. They want to feel that, broadly speaking, what they see on the screen—over a reasonable period—is balanced. That is what their Lordships have sought to write into the Bill. They had three attempts at it before getting it right. That, in itself, says a lot for the way in which that House works. The amendment was not forced through the other place in an imperfect form. Their Lordships considered it as they often consider matters—perhaps with greater wisdom and depth than we do in this place. I think that they got it right and I see nothing whatever to fear from the amendment.
I hope and believe that the House will accept that, in this instance, the other place has made a significant contribution to freedom and democracy in broadcasting. One side will never be impartial, fair and democratic. The public want the opportunity generally, consistently and all the time to hear both sides of the argument. That is what the amendment would ensure and I hope that, on consideration, hon. Members on both sides of the House will feel able to support it.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
I also pay tribute to our dear, late colleague, Norman Buchan; one of the few poet politicians that we have—or had—in this country. Opposition Members will miss him greatly, and I know that he will be missed by many Conservative Members who criticised him in the past, but who always recognised the sincerity of his views.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) on his skilfully crafted vignette. I know that we shall be reading about it for the next six months in the various publications that he writes for. He was able to speak with all the freedom of a man never likely to be tempted by political office.
549 6.30 pm
The code of practice for broadcasting put before us by the Lords has all the hallmarks of the Prime Minister's paranoia—she who actually believes that any form of opposition or criticism of her or her Government's policies is tantamount to treason. I am afraid that she is supported by many intolerant people on the Conservative Benches.
The code would have been unacceptable to me wherever it had originated, and whoever initiated it. Even if it had come from the Minister for the Arts—the most acceptable face of Tory extremism on the Front Bench today—-I should have opposed it. The fact that its genesis was in the vile and bilious views of that odious bigot Lord Wyatt makes it doubly repellant. As far as I can tell, he wants the unrestricted freedom to write what he wants in a newspaper such as theNews of the World, and to restrict broadcasters from making programmes with which he happens to disagree. What hypocrisy that amounts to. What double standards.
§ Sir Ian Gilmour
The hon. Gentleman is not being altogether fair to Lord Wyatt because 40 years ago he was on the extreme left and now he is on the extreme right. Surely that demonstrates due impartiality.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul. Dean)
Order. Before the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) deals with that, I am sure that he will recognise, on reflection, that we should refer to members of the other place with some respect.
§ Mr. Banks
It is very difficult to have any respect for Lord Wyatt, to be perfectly honest, and I am not prepared to accord him any. I shall not mention him again—that is the easiest way in which to pay him any respect. Anyone who can write the sort of article that he writes in theNews of the World does not deserve serious consideration when he expresses views about impartiality in broadcasting, and it is as simple as that. He wants to turn broadcasters and broadcasting into as unbiased a medium as theNews of the World or The Sun.
When the Minister for the Arts was speaking about the code of practice, he said that there was no impartiality in the written word. That is certainly true of the extreme right-wing bias of our great national newspapers. Surely, if the written word is central to and underpins the democratic process, as so many journalists constantly tell us, we should require balance from the written word, from journalists and from newspapers. We already require balance from broadcasters, through the IBA and the charter. Balance is written into that, and there are statutory rights and requirements with regard to it.
What is so unsatisfactory about the present situation? We should like to see a statutory right of reply as regards the written word, but when that case has been argued, the Government and journalists have always rebutted it. We are asking broadcasters to go much further than journalists. As I have said, broadcasters already impose upon themselves, and adhere to, an acceptable balance. The public do not require us to change the rules as they currently apply to broadcasting.
§ Mrs. Currie
Where, in the hon. Gentleman's paeori of praise for balance and in his attitude to newspapers, lies the refusal by the Leader of the Opposition to talk toThe Times, or the refusal by Derbyshire county council and other council leaders to put advertisements inThe Times Educational Supplement because of articles that appear inThe Sunday Times? What about the views of a headmaster—who happens to be a Labour councillor in east Staffordshire—who believes that all satellite television dishes should be banned, along withThe Sun?
§ Mr. Banks
I certainly do not think that the anecdotal approach to politics, which the hon. Lady specialises in, is the way to treat the matter at a serious level, which is how one would expect it to be treated.
Any hon. Member is entitled to say that he or she does not wish to speak to a particular newspaper. Even if an Opposition Member told some newspapers everything—the whole truth—they would never print it, because it is the function of a number of newspapers to do the dirt on the Labour party. I remember talking to a journalist from theDaily Mail whose specific instructions had been to do the dirt on the Labour party. If an Opposition Member does not want to talk to a newspaper, surely that is his or her right.
I do not agree with banning newspapers from libraries, which means that I do not agree with some of the decisions taken in local government, by councils controlled by the Labour party. The hon. Lady knows that because of our exchanges in Committee. There is no way in which she can catch me out in such an obvious and predictable fashion.
I am worried that, when the justification for the code was advanced in another place, it was said that broadcasting existed as a protective monopoly. Up to 30 channels can be obtained by people with cable television. That does not seem to me to be a definition of a monopoly. If a programme on one channel puts a view that another one disagrees with, or if it has its facts wrong, there is ample opportunity for another television station to put it right. Newspapers do that from time to time when they attack each other.
If the code is passed, it will be largely unenforceable, but that is not its real danger, and we should not reject it merely because of that. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) got it right: the code is there to intimidate broadcasters. It will result in self-censorship, because broadcasters will be so worried about what might happen that they simply will not make certain programmes, on the ground that it could get them into difficulties with the authorities. It is the self-censorship element of the code that worries me most.
To so many Tory politicians, impartiality merely means agreeing with their views. In recent months and years broadcasters have embarrassed the Government. That is one of their prime functions.
The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) knows about the broadcasters' ability to criticise Government and call Ministers to account. It might detract from Ministers' dignity of office, but, frankly, that is what the public expect broadcasters and journalists to do. Unfortunately, it is a lamentable fact that few journalists and broadcasters are prepared to do that today. There is far too much deference given to Ministers by the broadcasters whom I listen to on the radio or the journalists whose articles I read in the newspapers.
551 The code is part of a long-running campaign by Conservative Members against broadcasters and against the BBC in particular. The people have made no demands for such a code to be imposed upon broadcasters. When it is only the politicians who are complaining, I am convinced that they have got it totally wrong. If I had received a large number of letters telling me that there is bias in broadcasting and giving me details, I might be more concerned. I have received no letters to argue that case. I have received dozens of complaints in letters—I am sure that many other hon. Members have, too—from people with the opposite point of view. They are worried about the implications of the code and of the Bill in general.
The code and the proposals in the Bill come from a dangerously authoritarian Government, led by an intolerant Prime Minister, who uses the language of freedom while always acting to limit it. I greatly welcome the assurance given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook that when he is Home Secretary the code will be repealed. I am sorry that the Minister for the Arts supports it.
§ Mr. George Walden (Buckingham)
Although I do not necessarily share some of the darker insinuations about repression that have been made by some Opposition Members, it is legitimate for certain Conservative Members to be tentatively puzzled, to put it mildly, about why we have got to where we are tonight. In the past few months, we have moved from the position where we did not feel it necessary to legislate further on these matters to the position where we were going to legislate on individual issues, and then to the position where we would legislate on major matters. In a short time we have moved from the non-defined to the over-defined and then to the ill-defined. We have moved from arm's length to hands on and then to one hand on. At the very least, that suggests uncertainty of intent.
When Members on both sides of the House mention the possibility of litigation, it reminds me of a phrase that featured in the Lords debate. A legal expert from Oxford was quoted as having said that the phrase "major matters" waselusive of meaning and pregnant with ambiguity.That sounds like the House debating earlier this week economic and monetary union.
Leaving that aside, that seems to me, as a non-lawyer listening to lawyers—my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor) and lawyers in another place—to be a worrying prospect. I believe that, on television, there is bias of four kinds. The first sort, which occasionally I think that I see with my slightly biased eye, is blatant anti-Tory bias. But what do I say to myself? I say, "I can rely, above all else, on my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) to act not only as a bias detector but also as a bias corrector in his own right."
I have to remind myself also that I read studies which show that large numbers of people in the country believe that much of the television output is biased in favour of the Tory party. I need also to take note of the stark, simple fact that, although this medium is caricatured as a thoroughgoing anti-Tory medium, and although it is alleged to have enormous influence over people's opinions, the Conservative party keeps winning elections. Although, 552 therefore, I see aspects of anti-Tory bias, and sometimes what seem to be blatant examples of anti-Tory bias, on television, I try to put them into a common-sense context.
The second sort of bias that we see on television is anti-Government bias—indeed, anti-any-old-Government bias. What that means is simple: that when my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health hands out another few million or billion pounds, television will show a picture of someone on a long waiting list who needs an operation. I can guarantee that, if ever the Opposition come to power, they will not solve the waiting list problem in a hurry and that television will do a programme saying, "You said six months ago that you were going to solve the problem, but here is the same person in the same queue." There is nothing that one can do about that second form of bias. Moreover, if one thinks about it, it is a healthy form of bias.
The third form of bias that I see, according to my own eye, is cultural bias. There is not a great deal that we can do about it, but I believe that it is a damaging bias. I am political about it. As a whole, the BBC is a little too anti-enterprise for my taste. It is a little too conservative. It has not caught up with some of the new thinking that I personally and some of my colleagues wish to see disseminated.
I sympathise with the description about a year ago at the Edinburgh television festival by Mr. Rupert Murdoch of that sort of cultural bias by the BBC, but then I say to myself, "What can we do about it? What we see on the box is a reflection of the state of our society." In my view, it is an inert and over-conservative society that does not respond as quickly as I personally would like to some of the policies that the Government want to pursue. We have to remember, however, that Mr. Rupert Murdoch's cure for that form of bias would be far worse than the disease. We should be screaming for a return of the bias after we had had a dose of Mr. Rupert Murdoch on the BBC.
The fourth form of bias is the most difficult of all. It is ontological bias. I know that that is an awful word, but I think that it is the one that I mean, if I have got it right. It means that bias is built into the nature of the medium. It means that, if there is a spectacular picture, no matter who is at the controls behind the machine there will be an enormous compulsion to show it. Nine times out of 10, that picture will be damaging to authority, order and reasoned assumptions. However, there is nothing that we can do about it. That is the nature of television film. One could write philosophical treatises about it, but there is nothing that we can do about it.
That reinforces the other form of bias, the inbuilt anti-Government bias of the medium. There is nothing that can or should be done about it. Moreover, we should be grown up about it.
What concerns me about the Bill has nothing to do with oppression and some of the other exaggerated words that have been used by the Opposition. My belief is that the amendment, even in its watered-down form, springs more from instinct than from intelligence. If a little more thought had been given to the nature of the broadcasting medium in general, and television in particular, I should not have been put in this sad and silly position of having to vote, as I shall do tonight, against something, not 553 because I think that it will do immense damage to the country, or that it will seriously curtail freedom of speech, but because I believe that it is a sad and silly amendment.
§ Mr. Austin Mitchell
I have to declare an interest as the presenter of a political programme for Sky Television. It might be seen as an attenuated interest, given what I read inPrivate Eye, but it is there, none the less.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) on his speech. He suffers in his party from an unfortunate handicap—that he can think. If more Conservative Members suffered from it, we should not be debating the amendment. I do not intend to follow the attempt by the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) to be humorous about this sad and sorry affair, but he could have devised something worse than putting Central Office in charge of television. It would almost certainly do for the viewing figures what it did for the vote in Eastbourne. However, that could do radio, for which both the hon. Member for Aldershot and I have made programmes, a great deal of good. It could, by contrast with some regimes, be enlightened. I think of the news coming from a lectern in Downing street and of a nice little programme about Downing street called "Neighbours", with the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) playing Kylie Minogue's role and the Minister for the Arts playing the Jason Donovan of the series. It could be an interesting programme.
What is even more important, if television were put under the control of Central Office we should not have the saturation bombing of the BBC by the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) from which we have suffered in the past. It could be more enlightened than the regime under which the Lords amendment would put it. That would lead to much influence in television being given to a body that would be less enlightened, more partisan, prejudiced and ideological than even Central Office. It would pass it to the judges and the courts. If such a requirement, framed in that way, is written into the law, we shall turn the whole matter over to the courts. It is a sensitive question. Moreover, it is a question on which a large collection of people, with strong prejudices and large amounts of money, are prepared to go to law. We have many wealthy lunatics in this country who will almost certainly want to take up the opportunity that is offered to them to wreak a sort of indirect revenge on the broadcasting system for all the prejudices that we have heard about today. It creates an opening for any lunatic with any prejudice and enough money to push the issue into the courts.
The debate is a sad reflection of the way in which the Government function and how decisions are taken. The Bill's progress has been a steady dilution of the Prime Minister's very real prejudices. She wants to bring a touch of discipline into television. She does not like it, is prejudiced against it and wants to put the frighteners on it by legislation. Throughout the months in Committee and in the House, we have seen a steady dilution of that impact. The Minister has done the job, on which we have all congratulated him, of diluting those prejudices. He will earn plaudits from the media, the Opposition and the House. Yet now, after the Bill has been to the House of Lords, the Prime Minister is wreaking her revenge through her representatives in the geriatric ward up there. Lord Wyatt proposed this amendment, which is known to echo her instincts, attitudes and views. We now have the 554 spectacle of that nice Minister who has told us one thing being forced to say something else because of the process in the House of Lords.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
What I find most distressing about the debate—perhaps my hon. Friend will agree—is that the majority of hon. Members on both sides who have spoken have disagreed with the code. What is acutely depressing is that we can win the debate and then lose the vote. That is a very sad mark of our parliamentary democracy.
§ Mr. Mitchell
Yes, it is a sad mark. In fact, the Minister's own words go against the proposal. lin Committee, the Minister said:When I was presented with the opportunity to reflect: on whether we should make changes to the impartiality requirement, it occurred to me that a Government of any stripe are almost the last group to be credited with impartiality. I decided that it was better to leave well alone. That is what I have done … The Government deserve some credit in this matter. We have not fiddled around with impartiality arrangements. We felt that it was better to leave the goalposts where they were. Grief has not been turned away entirely, but may be more difficult to detect among the clouds of suspicion inevitably generated—rightly or wrongly—about these matters.He went on to enlarge on that and said:I am indebted to the hon. Member for Erdington, as he has put his finger on an issue that has caused me concern. My inclination was to leave the impartiality provisions as they were on the basis that our impartiality would not be readily accepted by some, and thus it would be better to leave matters well alone unless there was a compelling reason for changing them … The problem with removing it is that, as with many of these matters, it is easy to have a well intentioned stab at an alternative, and easy to find a reason why that well intentioned stab is not as good as what one has."—[Official Report, Standing Committee F, 30 January 1990; c. 411–17.]That was in January and now, in October, all those words have to be eaten. It is like running against one's own video tape in an election campaign. The Minister's case then was strong and telling and he should be putting it now.
§ Mr. Mellor
I am sorry to intervene because I know that there are some who want to draw the debate to a close. If what I am doing today required me to eat those words, I should not be here doing it. I want to make that clear. I have stood up for what I believe about the Bill on several occasions. The fact that I am commending the amendment is not in any sense a violation of what I said in January. What I said then related to the basic law on impartiality. We are talking about subsidiary matters to the code. The law is precisely as it was. When I spoke those words in January, there was a provision for a code. What has happened in the House of Lords is not that what Lord Wyatt said should be in the Bill has been put in the Bill, but certain matters were added to the requirement for a code to assert that the ITC should have regard to certain areas which, if it saw fit, a code should cover. That is different from changing the law on impartiality which, I shall say with the same force as I did in January, we are advised to leave well alone. My advice has been taken on that point.
§ Mr. Mitchell
The Minister doth protest too much. I am happy to allow him a long intervention but his position must be ambiguous if the intervention had to be that long to explain it. In January, he was arguing about leaving the requirement as it is. He is now arguing in favour of writing something into the Bill in the terms suggested by the House of Lords. That is an entirely different position. I accept 555 what he said about the other changes to the Bill, but he cannot have it both ways on this matter. That is the problem.
To enlarge the field of attack, the fact that the ITC has tacitly sanctioned the provision—albeit under duress—is a betrayal of its responsibilty. It has let down the television industry. The television industry feels that the ITC caved in far too easily.
We are left with a folly. The legal opinions gathered by the various television organisations make a telling case against the amendment, which throws everything into the courts. That is the wrong forum for airing such issues.
Professor J. M. Finnis for the Independent Television Association said:There can be no doubt that the phrase 'take account of has an unsatisfactory elusiveness. It could be interpreted by a court as requiring that the ITC's rule conform to some judicially conceived standard about what matters are and are not major, and/or about what is and is not a due standard of impartiality … Such an interpretation … might be supported by pointing to the fact that whereas (4B) expressly provides that the rules need comply with the requirements of (4B) only 'to such extent as the Commission consider appropriate', there is no such leeway expressed in the face of (4A)".Christopher Beaumont, the Queen's counsel for ITN, said:If the word 'major' is used it would raise formidable problems of drafing and definition. There would probably have to be a catch-all provision … I think that as the latest Third reading amendments stand there could be a risk of the Courts being asked to rule on the criteria used by editors in compiling their programmes.That is a further argument against the amendment. Anthony Scrivener, Queen's counsel for Channel 4, said:The words 'major matters' involve making a judgemental decision in a context where there is and can be no guidance as to how the words should be defined. It is obvious that what one person may consider to be a 'major matter' would be considered by another to be a matter of little importance.Lord Goodman said that the amendment proposed is "virtually legally unworkable." He went on to say:Quite apart from the legal difficulties (including applications for injunctions before transmission, applications to the Divisional Court, and post transmission complaints and litigation) the practical difficulties are insuperable.He goes on to put the point that I have already made about defining the words "major matters". That is the mess in which we are left. This is a sensitive area and people have strong feelings. People with money have prejudices that they want to pursue and the issue will be pushed into the courts.
This matter is central to the regulation and self-discipline of broadcasting and we are taking it out of the hands of the regulators, saying, "We have no confidence in you because we are going to throw it into the courts." That is a failure of the principle of regulation that has been the essence of our system until now.
The matter is one for doubt, hesitation and pain. We cannot compromise with this amendment. There is no way of taking out its teeth, diluting it or modifying it. It has to go. If it does not, we shall be in uncharted waters and enormous difficulties will be caused.
§ Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancaster, West)
We have, effectively, been reviewing the question of impartiality since 1954—in the Broadcasting Act 1981, for instance.
556 The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) kept circumventing the main point. His objection to the amendment concerns the use of the code. An impartiality code relating to the BBC and the IBA has operated for many years, and, as far as we can establish, has prompted no litigation in the past 36 years. Why should it suddenly start now?
The right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) made a good point: he said that we should allow the regulators to operate at arm's length from the Government, who, he said, should not be involved. Careful scrutiny of the amendment, however, reveals that that is precisely what the Government have set out to achieve. They do not suggest that the code that will govern future broadcasting is written in the Bill; the code will be written and implemented by the ITC. The amendment lays down what the code should include to ensure impartiality, but it does not say how that should be done.
No Conservative Member is setting out to censor, say, a series of television programmes. The director, or producer, must have the right to present his argument. The code is intended to ensure a proper balance: the aim is to prevent a director from presenting a series of programmes—the amendment refers specifically to a series—in which only one party or point of view is represented, and no attempt is made to balance that with opposing views.
Since the introduction of the Television Act 1954, the power of the media has vastly increased. How many of us receive letters from constituents who have been moved to write to their Member of Parliament about a television programme? Surely we should be trying to ensure that, when an argument is presented to the public by such a powerful medium, the opposing argument is presented as well. We are not trying to tell broadcasters what they should be doing; we are asking them to do what they have been required to do since 1954.
Let me deal—as a former practising barrister—with the question of litigation. We are being asked to judge whether the code will prompt extensive litigation before it has even been written, which is nonsense. Lawyers in the other place have passed judgment on something that is not yet in existence, adducing the few scintillas of evidence available to them in relation to the ITC's guidelines. Should we not pay more attention to the experience of the past 36 years than to a few lawyers in the other place and outside the House who are gazing into their crystal balls?
The ITC will view the code in a common-sense way, remaining at arm's length from the Government, political parties and specific points of view. The ITC will be the regulator. As a member of the governing party of this country—the Conservative party—I do not wish to be involved in broadcasting; I merely want the regulators to ensure that impartiality is exercised. I am sure that the ITC will not produce a code that obliges the Leader of the Opposition, for instance, to follow any speech by the Prime Minister about a news item with his own comments. Surely everyone recognises that that would be absurd.
Given the current power of the media, we must provide guidelines, and give the authority to implement them to people who operate at arm's length from the House of Commons.
§ Mr. Hind
I take the hon. Gentleman's point, but it is possible to buy a whole range of newspapers and to choose which political point of view to absorb. That choice is not possible when one particular point of view is being expressed on one particular television channel.
Some may consider that this proposal is going in the wrong direction, but it is based on 36 years' experience, and—in view of the growing power of the broadcasting media—makes good sense. Those who say that it will change the face of broadcasting are living in cloud cuckoo land. It will not do that; what it will do is provide a sensible framework for the future.
§ Mr. Clifford Forsythe (Antrim, South)
I am prompted to speak by something that was said by the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd). He based part of this argument against the amendment on the fact that the IRA and its supporters were not allowed to broadcast freely.
I am afraid that, as a Northern Ireland Member, I cannot accept that the sickening spectacle of supporters of terrorism—and, on occasion, the terrorists themselves—should appear in people's living rooms after the atrocities such as have been perpetrated this week and in the past. That cannot be used as an argument for freedom.
§ Mr. Richard Shepherd
I think that the hon. Gentleman misunderstood me. We were talking about proscribed organisations and the form that they take. I said that we were being denied the freedom to judge such organisations for what they are. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that their members are evil and godless people, I entirely agree, but I believe that, as an honourable citizen, I am able to judge their evil and godlessness for myself.
§ Mr. Forsythe
If someone who had just killed a child in a forest was interviewed by the BBC or Ulster Television, I do not think that any hon. Member would wish to take part, believing that that constituted freedom. We in Northern Ireland, who suffer such terrorist incidents daily—who witness them from our living rooms—support freedom as much as anyone in the United Kingdom. We are in favour of democratic freedom and freedom of expression. Sometimes, however, we are not given the freedom to live. I hope that the House will not accept the argument of the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills in deciding whether or not to support the amendment.
I accept the argument that television should be impartial, and in Northern Ireland, Ulster Television is very good in that respect. Unfortunately, the BBC—although it will not be affected by the Bill—cannot be said to show the same impartiality.
§ Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)
Does my hon. Friend agree that, in respect of both Ulster Television and BBC Northern Ireland, the local broadcasters in Belfast behave responsibly, and that irresponsible behaviour is usually associated with broadcasters based in London—whose conduct in the past makes a strong case for the proposed new clause?
§ Mr. Forsythe
My hon. Friend makes the point very well.
Years ago, I was a professional footballer. We all knew the rules—including the referee—and did not try to change them while we were on the pitch. Even the professional footballers of today who are paid enormous sums of money do not attempt to change the rules of the game. I 558 do not understand why there should be any objection to guidelines that could easily be observed, or why there is such fear of them among the television companies. Is it their intention to broadcast programmes that would break those rules? It occurs to me that we are anticipating a situation that may never arise, but certainly my hon. Friends and I support the amendment.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)
The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe) is right to say that there is nothing in the Lords amendments to which anyone could take serious exception. The interesting question is whether the amendments are necessary, but to debate that would require passing judgment on the proceedings in another place.
I pay tribute to my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister and to my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden), who was the first to be alert to some of the dangers in the original Bill. He has not been sufficiently credited with helping to make possible the return of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor) to the Home Office to get a grip on the Bill and to put it in such a form that allows all right hon. and hon. Members to support its provisions.
The broader issue is that television must be interesting, and that producers and editors should be allowed to choose the subjects that they cover. By all means argue, but they should choose—and the BBC and independent companies should devise their own codes and guidelines by which their programmes are made. I hope that other organisations will spend £5 on buying "BBC Guidelines for factual programmes," which on pages 21 and 21—which shows how numerate is the BBC—presents the corporation's code. Given the length of this debate already, I shall not quote even the extracts in bold type. Nevertheless, those who have grounds to complain—given the vast range of programmes produced, there should be scope to make complaints, and whether or not they are upheld by the BBC itself or others does not matter—ought to be able to do so, when the programmes that are the subject of such complaints can be judged against the broadcasters' own criteria.
Past controversies proved that broadcasters have not lived up to their own codes, which is only natural. There must be scope for human error and for differences of judgment. However, I follow the analysis of my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham in saying that much of what is newsworthy and broadcast is anti-Government. It is not anti-Government in the sense thatThe Guardian is—and which, because it thinks that the Opposition are so feeble, regards itself as a one-newspaper opposition to the Government, and always tests the Government rather better than the Labour party.The Guardian is anti-Government in terms of challenging the Government and providing a forum for debate of a kind that cannot always fully take place in this House.
The House should support the Government in their reluctance to say that nothing can be done if it might be the subject of a genuine complaint. That is a potential danger in journalism in respect of press freedom, and Calcutt arid the new criminal law affecting journalists begs full debate and preferably delay. One thinks also of the privacy Bill. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Mr. Knight) and to my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton), who together managed to stop it making too much progress last Session. There is also the 559 question of the statutory right of reply. We must be big enough to say that we will not stop being broadcast anything against which a complaint might be lodged.
My recommendation is that people should take the bigger attitude, and recognise that one can sometimes succeed with a complaint, as one should—but that on other occasions simply a row can help. Most of the time, it is worth considering the variety of programmes and ways in which people can put across their views, and accept that broadcasting and the press are a bit like this House, in that they can say what they think, but must accept the consequences.
§ Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South)
My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister is a parliamentarian with a deft sense of humour, and he will need it when he comes to winding up this debate on the so-called impartiality amendments. I liked his style when he opened the debate. To my satisfaction, it lacked the messianic fervour exhibited by Lord Wyatt or even by my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick). My right hon. and learned Friend affected instead the manner of a cynical head waiter who finds himself serving a dish when he does not really like the chef's cooking.
I did not find my right hon. and learned Friend totally convincing, but he was more convincing than the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) who over-egged his pudding. He seemed to be using a sledgehammer rather than a stiletto, and made our flesh creep not only with talk of lawyers' picnics—although I did not infer that he was all that averse to them—but with words such as "intimidatory" and "offensiveness". He conjured up a vision of a new Woodrow Wyatt wing being built on to Brixton prison to accommodate erring broadcasters.
Let us return to the point at which the Bill left this House in July. What happened since serves as a cautionary tale of a lordly rake's progress. The Bill was in good shape when it left this House. There was no discontent about its provisions and no amendments concerning impartiality or the lack of it had been tabled at any stage. As my right hon. and learned Friend honestly admitted, the Government felt no concern about the lack of impartiality clauses.
When the Bill reached the other place, enter the voice of the people in the rather surprising shape of the patrician Lord Wyatt of Weeford, who claimed to speak for an army of discontented listeners and viewers who complained of major bias. There is no use pretending that constituency does not exist. It was echoed in our own debates, particularly in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley.
What response should one make to that angry if sometimes contradictory discontent? My hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley directed most of his fire at a programme entitled "Start the Week". Apart from the fact that it is not covered by the Bill, it is one seen by many listeners who genuinely enjoy it and cannot find anything to be cross about. That shows that one man's negative bias is very often another man's positive political enjoyment or prejudice.
560 Such contradictions did not deter Lord Wyatt, who, like Prince Rupert of the Rhine, went riding off on a charger in all directions. He did not mind where he went, and he probably would not have achieved anything, except the decent obscurity of a Division defeat, if the principal opposition had not come from Lord Thomson of Monifieth, formerly head of the IBA. I watched those two ancient gladiators clash over programme after programme, and found it difficult to decide which of them was talking greater nonsense.
Lord Wyatt seemed to believe that civilisation was under threat because of terrible bias and lack of impartiality, whereas Lord Thomson appeared to be arguing that under the IBA, all British broadcasting was pure, holy and impartial, for ever and ever, amen—and that all broadcasters abided by the spirit of the Television Act 1954 and the code that goes with it. The truth of the matter is that only a minority of British broadcasters have even heard of that code, let alone abided by it. Above all, Lord Thomson seemed to be saying that Lord Wyatt's suggestions were a terrible threat to free speech.
I simply could not swallow either proposition, but then Lord Whitelaw got in on the act, firing his blunderbuss in the air in confusing directions. One week he was opposed to Lord Wyatt's amendments, but then, for no discernible reason, he was in favour of them. I was not surprised that the Bill was passed by the House of Lords. I do not pretend to understand the proceedings of the other place, but after much confusing debate the Wyatt amendments were made.
What difference have the amendments made to the Bill? It is not massively different from before. There always was a code on impartiality for broadcasters, with statutory backing under the 1954 Act. It is perhaps regrettable that so few broadcasters have heard of the code or of the statuory backing, but having been in television in various guises from reporter to, rather briefly, chief executive, may I say that I had not heard of it until Lord Wyatt mentioned it.
I am not surprised that the old code was more honoured in the breach than in the observance. Perhaps it is no bad thing that broadcasters should be aware of the code. Declaratory legislation shows that concepts such as fairness and impartiality cannot be effectively codified because they are matters of editorial judgment. Good broadcasting and good journalism will come not from codes or laws but from the morality, ethics and good judgment of editors, producers and senior managers.
Against that background, does it matter whether the amendment is made or not? I heard the voices of my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden), who will vote against the Bill because he thinks that the amendments are too silly, and of my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), who thinks that they offend the libertarian spirit of this country. I hold a different view from the two extremes that have been taken—that the amendments are a denial of free speech and that they will cause a new era in the impartiality of our broadcasting systems. The amendment will make a marginal difference. It is a matter of judgment whether it will make a positive or negative difference. I do not think that the existence of the signposts or headings will make any difference because the code has the kind of headlines that any sensible code would have.
British broadcasting needs not more impartiality but more professionalism. To illustrate that point, one need 561 only go back to the Alasdair Milne era of the BBC, when things were going wrong not because of wild bias and lack of impartiality but because of a sheer lack of professionalism. That changed under the new editor-in-chief.
We want not so much less bias as more freedom of choice. We want more peer pressure, not necessarily more pressure from peers, but these are matters of editorial judgment. By a tiny margin, the judgment of editors will be positively strengthened by the code—and by drawing attention to it rather than diminishing it and making it negative. It is not a big deal either way. It is a little bit silly, but I shall vote in favour of the amendments.
§ Mr. Gerald Howarth
Were Conservative Members a television company, we would have fully met all the requirements on impartiality. My hon. Friends have admirably represented both sides of the case—my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), with his typically robust and vigorous defence of freedom, my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden), with his great insight, and my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick), who put a more robust point of view in defence of the amendments. I cannot say the same for the Opposition, who were rather biased and who encompassed only one view. At least Conservative Members encompassed several views.
We were all particularly delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) managed to drag himself away from the garrison town to share with us, in the intimacy of the House, his next newspaper article, for which undoubtedly he will be paid. He was the light entertainment for the House.
It is perfectly clear that due impartiality is what the public expect from their television broadcasting. It was universally agreed that, when there was a duopoly, it was absolutely vital. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills asked whether, as we have a multiplicity of television channels, there is a need for the same requirements of impartiality to be imposed. I believe that it still needs to be imposed. Although the parallel has been drawn with newspapers, we all recognise that the power of newspapers is not as great as that of television. My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister rightly said that this is still a scarce resource, and it is therefore right and proper that this most powerful medium should continue to be governed by the impartiality rules.
I want to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley in giving a couple of examples. Opposition Members find it difficult to understand why we feel exercised about these matters, so I shall cite two examples. The first is the broadcast by the BBC in May 1988 of the television drama "Tumbledown", the dramatised account of events at the battle on Mount Tumbledown during the Falklands war. The BBC argued that the film was non-political, but in a widely publicised account of the preview of it, its director, Richard Eyre, was reported as having said:I would feel the film a failure if it's not deeply political … I don't think the film is balanced, and I hope that's considered one of its advantages, its virtues.The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) is nodding. He agrees with that, and so would I if another side of the Falklands campaign had been shown. There was another side—"The Falklands Play", which was commissioned by Alasdair Milne, the former director-general of the BBC, and written by a celebrated 562 playwright, Ian Curteis. Alasdair Milne described it as a terrific story and a play that had enriched the BBC. Unfortunately, he felt that he could not screen it because we were in the run-up to a general election.
That is why, as my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) said, Conservative Members believe that there has been a lack of professionalism. That was acknowledged by Michael Checkland, the new director-general of the BBC, last year. He said:I think there was a point in the BBC when we kind of missed what was going on, the fact that the country had moved over in the last decade to the rightand that there had been a Conservative Government for 11 years.
Opposition Members attacked my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley for not producing examples, but it is important for the House to have examples. Clearly the director-general's prescriptions had not extended to Scotland, where there is a new twist in the concept of balance. Radio Scotland's editor of news and current affairs said in a letter in August last year to my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth):I do not believe you are right when you accuse us of lack of balance. The Scottish body politic is out of kilter, and that will inevitably be reflected in our programmes.If that were the rule on impartiality in television, there would be no case for Labour representation in the south of England, and clearly Labour Members would not believe that to be right. I hope that, in clarifying those arguments and giving those examples, I have been able to show the Opposition that there are justifications for the provision.
§ Mr. Howarth
I shall not give way. The hon. Gentleman had a good shout, and I recognise that the House wants to move on.
The argument is not about impartiality—that is set out clearly in clause 6(1)(b). The minds of many people have been exercised by the imprecise nature of that provision. That is why my noble Friends felt that they had to pursue this matter and why they fought vigorously to incorporate the amendment in the Bill. I salute their endeavours.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South said that there are plenty of guidelines, and my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) gave some examples. In the case of my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton) and myself, it was not that the guidelines did not exist, but that they were flagrantly breached. There was a lack of professionalism. Clearly we cannot legislate for professionalism in broadcasting. This is not a draconian amendment. It will spell out to the ITC firmly and clearly Parliament's intention in seeking to ensure that there is proper impartiality. The amendment is not prescriptive. It creates a framework, and Parliament is entitled to draw up that framework.
I will conclude—[Hots. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—for my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot has probably cast me in the role of the epilogue. I warmly welcome the Government's stand on this matter. It is up to the ITC to continue a long-established tradition of political impartiality. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) is on dangerous ground when he would deny the public the right to challenge the ITC's decisions. I am sure that he does not believe that members of the 563 public should not have that right, and that the commissioners should have the last word. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is not that much of a dirigiste that he would deny members of the public that right.
It is extraordinary to suggest that there will be a plethora of legal actions. Some of us know how costly they are—one cannot mount a legal action unless one has the necessary resources. The only people with anything to fear from the amendment are those broadcasters who are contemptuous of the traditional concerns for impartiality which have long been regarded as worth while in this country. I commend the amendment to the House.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I simply want to ask the Minister two specific questions and make one point before the right hon. and learned Gentleman takes, I hope, a good deal of time describing why the clause is necessary. He normally addresses the House with great courtesy and often with great persuasiveness. He owes the House something that we have not yet had—a description of why he believes the clause is necessary. In the hope that I can provoke him into doing that, I want to ask him two questions.
The hon. Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth) seemed to be labouring under the illusion that the clause applied to the BBC.
§ Mr. Hattersley
It appears that he is not under that illusion, but all his examples of partiality were taken from the BBC. The hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) did the same. The Minister for the Arts should put those hon. Gentlemen and us out our misery by telling us why, if it is imperative to have such a code with legal backing and all that that implies for independent television, it is not necessary to have such a code for the BBC. Why is this necessity so great for the independent channels and not for the public corporation? I should be grateful for an explicit answer on why this decision has been taken.
I return to a crucial question. I hope that the Minister will tell us exactly why he regards the clause as necessary—not why he regards it as trivial, superficial, or cosmetic, not why he thinks that it will do less damage than we fear, not why he thinks that it will do more good than others suspect, but why he regards it as necessary in the first place. As I believe that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will answer that question, I shall give one specific, brief example of why I regard the clause as dangerous.
Were it the clause of the emollient Minister for the Arts, we would regard it as a little triviality that added to the gaiety of parliamentary life, but the real motive behind the clause was expressed in specific terms by the hon. Member for Colne Valley. The hon. Gentleman was very close to saying that programmes that do not accept the established view of the Government of the day have to be treated as suspect and probably suppressed. The hon. Gentleman made a speech which was wholly ridiculous and which will be regarded with complete derision by sensible people, but the fact that his speech was ridiculous does not mean that there is not, underneath the absurdity, a vein of deeply disturbing and sinister attitudes towards a free society. That is the real motive behind the clause.
§ Mr. Riddick
That is not what I said. Broadcasters have every right to have whatever political view they wish; I am saying that they should not reflect their personal political viewpoint in their programmes. What is wrong with that? Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree?
§ Mr. Hattersley
I shall tell the hon. Gentleman what is wrong with that. I do not want to offend the hon. Gentleman's neighbours by overstating my criticism, but it is wrong because, first, it is not consistent with free broadcasting and, secondly, it is not consistent with good broadcasts. I shall give an example. Professor Minogue of the London School of Economics produced a series, which looked like a factual description of history, which was devoted to the concept that socialism was a disaster and had failed wherever it had been tried. The hon. Member for Colne Valley may be surprised to hear that I do not share that view. But the idea that Professor Minogue should have been prevented from making his series is preposterous.
I want to see a diversity of programmes. I do not want broadcasters to be bullied, forcing them to look over their shoulders in case Members like the hon. Member for Colne Valley are doing through the clause what they want to do, even though that may not be the intention of the Minister for the Arts. But we are to hear what the Minister's intentions are. We shall hear for the first time in the debate why he thinks that the amendment is necessary and why he has commended it to the House.
§ Mr. Mellor
The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) was less than fair to my previous effusion, which I thought set out matters with great clarity. I shall give a shortened version, so that those who wish to proceed to a vote may do so. I sensed during the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth) that there were those who wished to do so, so I shall not run the risk of wearying people too much.
I am genuinely sorry that, a number of controversial matters having been resolved during the Bill's passage, we have not succeeded in moving much closer together on this issue. I should like briefly to restate the purpose of the amendment and to set it in its context.
The first point to make absolutely clear, following a series of speeches—most recently that of the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell)—is that, when I said in January that I did not think that there was a case for any substantive change in the law on impartiality, I meant every word, and I have stuck by every word. The fruits of that are to be seen in clause 6(1)(c), dealing with requirements placed on the commission:due impartiality is preserved on the part of the person providing the service as respects matters of current political or industrial controversy or relating to current public policy".That is precisely the formulation that has appeared in every broadcasting statute pertaining to independent television since 1954—not a word of it has changed. That is a commendation of the Bill, not a criticism of it.
One thing has changed, for good reason. There is now a statutory requirement for a code instead of guidelines. My hon. Friends the Members for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) and for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) made speeches that expressed my views on many of these matters.[Interruption.] I am glad that my commendation of my hon. Friends has gone down so well. Perhaps I will commend a few more, in the hope that mass popularity 565 will follow. The IBA had guidelines and associated powers of pre-vetting and so on. As the ITC is a regulator, but not the broadcaster, it seemed appropriate that the guidance that it should give should be formalised into a code so that both the broadcasters and the public knew where they stood.
The debate has grown like Topsy. People have begun, in their enthusiasm for the fight, to take issue with points that were perfectly accepted all along. I do not mean it cynically when I say that I always enjoy the contributions of the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), who speaks with great authority. It may have been a slip of the tongue, but he seemed in the end to take issue with the very idea of a code. When the Bill was last debated in this House, everyone was happy about having a code; it was not a controversial element.
§ Mr. Mellor
It was a statutory code. For the first time, the code was provided for in statute. The Bill then went to the House of Lords, where, perfectly properly, their Lordships debated the Bill vigorously. Lord Wyatt put forward various amendments, such as the proposal that, when a biased programme was shown, a balancing programme had to be shown within one month and he wanted that provision to be on the face of the statute. That drew forth my remark in September to the Royal Television Society that I thought such an approach was unwarrantedly mechanistic and would not be successful. The original proposal was rejected and we ended up with an element of reassurance.[Interruption.]
I know that the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook can hardly contain himself. However, I am now coming to the point that he wanted me to address. Although the Labour party is terribly relaxed about all this impartiality stuff at the moment, it was not very relaxed about it when it was last in office. I dare swear that, if Labour were ever to regain office, the state of relaxation would soon change into a nastier turn of mind. We hope that this legislation will last a long time, so it has to encompass all manner of possible responses.
§ Mr. Mellor
That is the best argument against that I have heard all evening. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be as persuasive for the rest of the night so that we can have an earlier bath than most of us expect.
Some people were concerned that the code should address issues, and they wanted the answer to those matters contained in the statute. We rejected that for the reasons of principle that I have explained. However, in the interests as it then seemed—unwarrantedly, as it now appears—of spreading a bit of sweetness and light on the matter, there seemed no harm in deciding that, even if we could not give people the resolution of the problems on the face of the Bill because it would be wrong in principle, we could offer the reassurance that the code would address certain key elements.
Once again, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) that no self-respecting code could fail to address such matters. However, not everyone is as trusting as I am. It may be felt that it is better and makes reassurance doubly sure that we should 566 put on the face of the Bill areas that the code should cover. There is nothing wrong with that in principle, as long as we do not say how the code should say it.
I cannot bring myself to say that this is the most fundamentally significant reform that has ever been brought before the House or even that it is the most fundamentally significant reform that I have embraced this week, today, or even in the past 25 minutes. However, it is one of 700 Lords amendments which has been plucked out of its obscurity because other people have chosen to get excited about it. I can say only that it is of benefit that the code, which we have all decided is useful, should cover issues that will properly go to the heart of the matter.
The ITC believes that the proposal is helpful and workable, and that it does not infringe any of the broadcaster's prerogatives. I am sorry that that is not as enthusiastic an endorsement as I could muster for other issues, but it is an endorsement with which I hope to carry my hon. Friends into the Lobby with me tonight.
§ Question put, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 268, Noes 181.569
|Division No. 342]||[7.43 pm|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Coombs, Simon(Swindon)|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Currie, Mrs Edwina|
|Amess, David||Curry, David|
|Arbuthnot, James||Davies, Q.(Stamf'd & Spald'g)|
|Arnold, Jacques(Gravesham)||Davis, David(Boothferry)|
|Ashby, David||Day, Stephen|
|Atkinson, David||Devlin, Tim|
|Baker, Nicholas(Dorset N)||Dickens, Geoffrey|
|Baldry, Tony||Dicks, Terry|
|Banks, Robert(Harrogate)||Dorrell, Stephen|
|Bellingham, Henry||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James|
|Bendall, Vivian||Dover, Den|
|Bennett, Nicholas(Pembroke)||Dunn, Bob|
|Benyon, W.||Durant, Tony|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Eggar, Tim|
|Blackburn, Dr John G.||Emery, Sir Peter|
|Body, Sir Richard||Evans, David(Welwyn Hatf'd)|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Evennett, David|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas|
|Boswell, Tim||Fallon, Michael|
|Bottomley, Peter||Favell, Tony|
|Bottomley, Mrs Virginia||Fenner, Dame Peggy|
|Bowden, A(Brighton K'pto'n)||Field, Barry(Isle of Wight)|
|Bowden, Gerald(Dulwich)||Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey|
|Bowis, John||Fishburn, John Dudley|
|Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes||Fookes, Dame Janet|
|Bright, Graham||Forman, Nigel|
|Brown, Michael(Brigg & Cl't's)||Forsyth, Michael(Stirling)|
|Browne, John(Winchester)||Forsythe, Clifford(Antrim S)|
|Bruce, Ian(Dorset South)||Forth, Eric|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Fox, Sir Marcus|
|Budgen, Nicholas||Freeman, Roger|
|Burns, Simon||French, Douglas|
|Burt, Alistair||Fry, Peter|
|Butcher, John||Gale, Roger|
|Butler, Chris||Glyn, Dr Sir Alan|
|Butterfill, John||Goodlad, Alastair|
|Carlisle, John,(Luton N)||Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles|
|Carlisle, Kenneth(Lincoln)||Gorman, Mrs Teresa|
|Carrington, Matthew||Gorst, John|
|Carttiss, Michael||Grant, Sir Anthony(CambsSW)|
|Cash, William||Greenway, Harry(Ealing N)|
|Channon, Rt Hon Paul||Greenway, John(Ryedale)|
|Churchill, Mr||Griffiths, Peter(Portsmouth N)|
|Clark, Dr Michael(Rochford)||Grist, Ian|
|Clark, Sir W.(Croydon S)||Hague, William|
|Clarke, Rt Hon K.(Rushcliffe)||Hamilton, Neil(Tatton)|
|Colvin, Michael||Hampson, Dr Keith|
|Conway, Derek||Hannam, John|
|Coombs, Anthony(Wyre F'rest)||Hargreaves, A.(B'ham H'll Gr')|
|Hargreaves, Ken(Hyndburn)||Needham, Richard|
|Harris, David||Nelson, Anthony|
|Haselhurst, Alan||Neubert, Michael|
|Hawkins, Christopher||Newton, Rt Hon Tony|
|Hayes, Jerry||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney||Nicholson, David(Taunton)|
|Hayward, Robert||Nicholson, Emma(Devon West)|
|Heathcoat-Amory, David||Norris, Steve|
|Hicks, Mrs Maureen(Wolv' NE)||Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley|
|Hicks, Robert(Cornwall SE)||Oppenheim, Phillip|
|Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.||Page, Richard|
|Hill, James||Paice, James|
|Hind, Kenneth||Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil|
|Howard, Rt Hon Michael||Patnick, Irvine|
|Howarth, G.(Cannock & B'wd)||Patten, Rt Hon John|
|Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Pawsey, James|
|Howell, Rt Hon David(G'dford)||Porter, David(Waveney)|
|Howell, Ralph(North Norfolk)||Powell, William(Corby)|
|Hughes, Robert G.(Harrow W)||Price, Sir David|
|Hunt, David(Wirral W)||Raffan, Keith|
|Hunt, Sir John(Ravensbourne)||Rathbone, Tim|
|Hunter, Andrew||Redwood, John|
|Irvine, Michael||Renton, Rt Hon Tim|
|Irving, Sir Charles||Rhodes James, Robert|
|Jack, Michael||Riddick, Graham|
|Jackson, Robert||Roberts, Sir Wyn(Conwy)|
|Janman, Tim||Roe, Mrs Marion|
|Jessel, Toby||Rost, Peter|
|Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey||Rowe, Andrew|
|Jopling, Rt Hon Michael||Ryder, Richard|
|Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine||Sackville, Hon Tom|
|Key, Robert||Sainsbury, Hon Tim|
|Kilfedder, James||Sayeed, Jonathan|
|King, Roger(B'ham N'thfield)||Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas|
|Kirkhope, Timothy||Shaw, David(Dover)|
|Knapman, Roger||Shaw, Sir Giles(Pudsey)|
|Knight, Greg(Derby North)||Shelton, Sir William|
|Knight, Dame Jill(Edgbaston)||Shephard, Mrs G.(Norfolk SW)|
|Knowles, Michael||Shepherd, Colin(Hereford)|
|Lamont, Rt Hon Norman||Shersby, Michael|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Skeet, Sir Trevor|
|Lee, John(Pendle)||Smith, Tim(Beaconsfield)|
|Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark||Soames, Hon Nicholas|
|Lightbown, David||Speed, Keith|
|Lloyd, Sir Ian(Havant)||Speller, Tony|
|Lloyd, Peter(Fareham)||Spicer, Sir Jim(Dorset W)|
|Lord, Michael||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Luce, Rt Hon Richard||Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Macfarlane, Sir Neil||Steen, Anthony|
|MacKay, Andrew(E Berkshire)||Stevens, Lewis|
|Maclean, David||Stewart, Allan(Eastwood)|
|McLoughlin, Patrick||Stewart, Andy(Sherwood)|
|McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick||Stewart, Rt Hon Ian(Herts N)|
|Madel, David||Stokes, Sir John|
|Major, Rt Hon John||Sumberg, David|
|Malins, Humfrey||Summerson, Hugo|
|Mans, Keith||Tapsell, Sir Peter|
|Maples, John||Taylor, Ian(Esher)|
|Marland, Paul||Taylor, John M(Solihull)|
|Marlow, Tony||Taylor, Teddy(S'end E)|
|Marshall, John(Hendon S)||Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman|
|Martin, David(Portsmouth S)||Thompson, D.(Calder Valley)|
|Mates, Michael||Thompson, Patrick(Norwich N)|
|Maude, Hon Francis||Thornton, Malcolm|
|Mawhinney, Dr Brian||Thurnham, Peter|
|Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Townsend, Cyril D.(B'heath)|
|Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick||Tracey, Richard|
|Mellor, David||Tredinnick, David|
|Mills, Iain||Trimble, David|
|Miscampbell, Norman||Trippier, David|
|Mitchell, Andrew(Gedling)||Trotter, Neville|
|Moate, Roger||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Molyneaux, Rt Hon James||Vaughan, Sir Gerard|
|Monro, Sir Hector||Viggers, Peter|
|Montgomery, Sir Fergus||Waldegrave, Rt Hon William|
|Morris, M(N'hampton S)||Walker, Bill(T'side North)|
|Morrison, Rt Hon P(Chester)||Wardle, Charles(Bexhill)|
|Moss, Malcolm||Watts, John|
|Mudd, David||Wells, Bowen|
|Neale, Gerrard||Wheeler, Sir John|
|Whitney, Ray||Woodcock, Dr. Mike.|
|Widdecombe, Ann||Yeo, Tim|
|Winterton, Nicholas||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Wolfson, Mark||Sir George Young and|
|Wood, Timothy||Mr. Sydney Chapman.|
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Griffiths, Win(Bridgend)|
|Allen, Graham||Harman, Ms Harriet|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy|
|Armstrong, Hilary||Heal, Mrs Sylvia|
|Ashley, Rt Hon Jack||Hinchliffe, David|
|Barnes, Harry(Derbyshire NE)||Hoey, Ms Kate(Vauxhall)|
|Barnes, Mrs Rosie(Greenwich)||Hogg, N.(C'nauld & Kilsyth)|
|Barron, Kevin||Home Robertson, John|
|Battle, John||Hood, Jimmy|
|Beckett, Margaret||Howell, Rt Hon D.(S'heath)|
|Beith, A. J.||Howells, Geraint|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Hughes, John(Coventry NE)|
|Bidwell, Sydney||lllsley, Eric|
|Boateng, Paul||Ingram, Adam|
|Boyes, Roland||Jones, Barry(Alyn & Deeside)|
|Bradley, Keith||Leadbitter, Ted|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Leighton, Ron|
|Brown, Gordon(D'mline E)||Lestor, Joan(Eccles)|
|Brown, Nicholas(Newcastle E)||Lewis, Terry|
|Bruce, Malcolm(Gordon)||Litherland, Robert|
|Buckley, George J.||Livingstone, Ken|
|Caborn, Richard||Livsey, Richard|
|Callaghan, Jim||Lloyd, Tony(Stretford)|
|Campbell, Ron(Blyth Valley)||Lofthouse, Geoffrey|
|Campbell-Savours, D. N.||McAllion, John|
|Canavan, Dennis||McAvoy, Thomas|
|Carlile, Alex(Mont'g)||McCartney, Ian|
|Clark, Dr David(S Shields)||McFall, John|
|Clarke, Tom(Monklands W)||McKay, Allen(Barnsley West)|
|Clay, Bob||McKelvey, William|
|Clwyd, Mrs Ann||McLeish, Henry|
|Cook, Robin(Livingston)||Maclennan, Robert|
|Corbett, Robin||McNamara, Kevin|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||McWilliam, John|
|Cousins, Jim||Madden, Max|
|Critchley, Julian||Mahon, Mrs Alice|
|Crowther, Stan||Marek, Dr John|
|Cryer, Bob||Marshall, David(Shettleston)|
|Cummings, John||Marshall, Jim(Leicester S)|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||Martin, Michael J.(Springburn)|
|Darling, Alistair||Meacher, Michael|
|Davies, Rt Hon Denzil(Llanelli)||Meale, Alan|
|Davis, Terry(B'ham Hodge H'l)||Michael, Alun|
|Dewar, Donald||Michie, Bill(Sheffield Heeley)|
|Dixon, Don||Michie, Mrs Ray(Arg'l & Bute)|
|Dobson, Frank||Mitchell, Austin(G't Grimsby)|
|Doran, Frank||Moonie, Dr Lewis|
|Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth||Morgan, Rhodri|
|Eastham, Ken||Morley, Elliot|
|Evans, John(St Helens N)||Morris, Rt Hon J.(Aberavon)|
|Faulds, Andrew||Morrison, Sir Charles|
|Fearn, Ronald||Mowlam, Marjorie|
|Field, Frank(Birkenhead)||Mullin, Chris|
|Fields, Terry(L'pool B G'n)||Murphy, Paul|
|Fisher, Mark||Nellist, Dave|
|Flannery, Martin||Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon|
|Flynn, Paul||O'Hara, Edward|
|Foster, Derek||O'Neill, Martin|
|Fraser, John||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley|
|Fyfe, Maria||Parry, Robert|
|Garrett, John(Norwich South)||Patchett, Terry|
|Garrett, Ted(Wallsend)||Pendry, Tom|
|George, Bruce||Pike, Peter L.|
|Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian||Primarolo, Dawn|
|Godman, Dr Norman A.||Quin, Ms Joyce|
|Golding, Mrs Llin||Radice, Giles|
|Gordon, Mildred||Randall, Stuart|
|Gould, Bryan||Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn|
|Graham, Thomas||Richardson, Jo|
|Grant, Bernie(Tottenham)||Robertson, George|
|Griffiths, Nigel(Edinburgh S)||Robinson, Geoffrey|
|Rogers, Allan||Taylor, Mrs Ann(Dewsbury)|
|Rooker, Jeff||Thompson, Jack(Wansbeck)|
|Ross, Ernie(Dundee W)||Turner, Dennis|
|Rowlands, Ted||Vaz, Keith|
|Ruddock, Joan||Walden, George|
|Sedgemore, Brian||Waller, Gary|
|Sheerman, Barry||Walley, Joan|
|Shepherd, Richard(Aldridge)||Wareing, Robert N.|
|Shore, Rt Hon Peter||Watson, Mike(Glasgow, C)|
|Short, Clare||Welsh, Michael(Doncaster N)|
|Sillars, Jim||Williams, Rt Hon Alan|
|Skinner, Dennis||Winnick, David|
|Smith, Andrew(Oxford E)||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Smith, Rt Hon J.(Monk'ds E)||Worthington, Tony|
|Smith, J. P.(Vale of Glam)||Wray, Jimmy|
|Snape, Peter||Young, David(Bolton SE)|
|Spearing, Nigel||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Steinberg, Gerry||Mr. Tony Banks and Mr. Ray Powell.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.