HL Deb 23 February 1972 vol 328 cc559-605

5.11 p.m.

LORD ORR-EWING rose to call attention to the need for a Broadcasting Council on the lines of the Press Council, so that citizens who feel that broadcast programmes or authorities which depart from the obligation to give a balanced and objective view have a neutral body to which they can appeal; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I count myself extremely fortunate in having won the ballot on the first day of this experiment in your Lordships' House on the mini-debates which provide an opportunity, mainly for noble Lords on the Back Benches, to discuss for two and half hours subjects that we believe are of interest to the public outside and to your Lordships' House.

I have worded this particular Motion more broadly than I at first did. In the first instance I concentrated on the B.B.C.'s services, but I have now worded it to cover B.B.C. Television, Independent Television, B.B.C. sound radio, B.B.C. local radio, and, when it comes into being, independent local radio. Judging from my correspondence, and from the newspapers, the I.T.A. has developed its own procedure; and presumably if the Local Broadcasting Bill passes through another place, where it is at the moment in Committee, and through your Lordships' House, the Independent Broadcasting Authority will also endeavour to evolve a similar procedure. For these reasons I first worded this Motion to cover only public service broadcasting all under the B.B.C.—television, sound, and local broadcasting. On reflection, however, I felt that it was desirable to broaden the terms of reference to cover complaints from all broadcasting in the United Kingdom in the same way as the Press Council covers all newspapers. If I direct my remarks mainly to the B.B.C. organisation it is because I feel that the I.T.A. has a reasonable organisation and that the B.B.C. is our public service national broadcasting system.

I believe that the Press Council has served a most useful purpose. There were suspicions and delays when it was first set up, but it has alleviated some public anxiety and I was glad that in 1964 an independent Chairman, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Pearce, was appointed. It consists of 20 members with special Press knowledge and interests, and five lay members, one of whom is a woman. Since this is an exploratory debate I do not think one would wish to lay down the exact format for a possible Broadcasting Council, but it seems to me that there should be a majority of lay members representing the public. I hardly think that one woman, as in the case of the Press Council, will be sufficient. Broadcasting is essentially into the homes, and whatever we husbands are made to think by our wives, the fact is that they are in charge of the homes and therefore a healthy element from the female side would be highly desirable in any Broadcasting Council. I should equally like to see a minority of professional broadcasters who could bring their knowledge to the consultations just as the experts do to the Press Council. I do not think that this is the right debate to propose a draft constitution, but broadly the objects of such a Council might be to act as an arbiter when members of the public feel that an injustice has been done, or when the broadcasting authorities or the programme companies are thought to have failed to live up to their obligation to produce balance.

On page 166 of the B.B.C.'s Handbook for 1972 (and I see a number of copies of this Handbook on the Benches) it says: The B.B.C.'s Chairman recognises the B.B.C.'s duty to treat controversial subjects with due impartiality"—

I want to underline the word "impartiality"— and to ensure that so far as possible programmes should not offend against good taste or decency, or be likely to encourage crime and disorder, or to be offensive to public feeling.

I feel that the taste and decency aspects are probably best left to the B.B.C. General Advisory Council and Governors. I see no reason why a Broadcasting Council is better able to judge taste or decency than those who are already endeavouring to do this. If representations from the Mrs. White-houses of this world are to be made, they should be made to the General Advisory Council or to the B.B.C. Governors. Apart from that, I feel that the public should have an opportunity of complaining when there is clearly in their view a lack of balance.

It may be argued—I am sure it will be argued—that there are already enough safeguards within the B.B.C. To start with, we have the Chairman of the Governors, the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, assisted by 12 other Governors. Secondly, we have the B.B.C. General Advisory Council—48 persons, good and true, men and women, headed by my noble friend Lord Aldington, whom I am glad to see in his place; and I understand that he is going to speak later. Thirdly, and more recently, we have had the B.B.C. Complaints Commission with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Parker of Waddington, the former Lord Chief Justice, the noble Lord, Maybray-King, the former Speaker of the other place, who is well known to your Lordships, and Sir Edmund Compton, the first Ombudsman.

The essence of my point is that all these bodies in the public image are B.B.C. organisations: the B.B.C. Governors; the B.B.C. General Advisory Council; the B.B.C. Complaints Commission. They have all been set up by the B.B.C. I know that many of these organisations are independent in their judgments, but in the view of the public at large they are too close to the B.B.C., although I recognise that an effort has been made with the Complaints Commission to house them separately and to allow them to recruit their own staff. This is a move in the right direction. I still feel that if public anxiety is to be reduced it would be of advantage if we set up, possibly as a replacement or an enlargement of the Complaints Commission, a Broadcasting Council. If those three very much respected men were willing to serve on a larger body I should have no objection to that at all.

When I was quoting the noble Lord, Lord Hill, I underlined the obligation for impartiality overall. I cannot help feeling, having watched, as many of your Lordships have watched, the early days of Ulster, that as the killings have grown there has been a curious balance in the programmes. There was obviously an effort in these programmes to give a true, balanced impartiality. But we seem to find almost as much time given to the I.R.A., who are dedicated to murder, disruption and anarchy—as we were reminded only yesterday—as is given to the forces of law and order, as represented by the elected men, by the Government, Stormont Ministers, Westminter Ministers and by the Army endeavouring to keep order and peace on the spot.

I know of a member of the public who wrote to the noble Lord, Lord Hill. I must congratulate the noble Lord in that he always endeavours to reply personally—and does—to members of the public. This is wholly admirable; I thought previously that this applied only to Members of Parliament and to Members of your Lordships' House. He says in his reply: Since I have received rather a heavy postbag on this subject"— about the balance of Ulster reporting— I am sure you will forgive me if I reply in rather general terms.

I have Lord Hill of Luton's permission to quote this letter, and he says lower down in the letter: It is inevitable in these circumstances that we should give offence to one side or the other, but our concern is with the truth and with the facts as we find them. We are determined, despite all difficulties, to continue with impartial reporting and to resist any improper pressures, from whatever quarter, that may be designed to prevent us from doing so. I think that most of your Lordships will particularly endorse the last sentence, but there may be some who feel that there were phases of this reporting when it did not quite live up to impartiality. I may say that there have been other occasions, too—Nigeria was one—on an international basis, where great trouble was caused.

I, curiously enough, received in the post this morning, via the Member of Parliament for St. Ives, a petition from his schoolchildren. I am trying to show that anxiety exists not only among members of the public but among others right down into the schools. This petition is worded as follows: This petition was organised in Helston Grammar School. We would like to complain against occasional documentaries and programmes produced by the B.B.C. in Northern Ireland, that we feel are biased against the British Army. In this petition are various signatures of people in our sixth form who feel like us, that the B.B.C. should make their programmes more fair by being biased neither one way nor the other. For a fifteen year old schoolgirl that is a well worded motion, and it is endorsed by all members of that school.

I myself also would say that perhaps there has been a little too much publicity for the Left Wing during recent troubles with the National Union of Mineworkers. The militants always will tend to create news, of course. I remember seeing on "24 Hours" only recently a scene in a pub near B.M.L.C. at Long-bridge. It was a famous pub and the people interviewed there included the convenor of shop stewards and the shop stewards in that factory, who of course are known to be militant Left-Wingers, with a strong Communist flavour. When one asks them for opinions as to whether they think there is fair treatment and whether the miners should get a large wage increase, of course one gets the answer one would expect. Most people dedicated to the Communist cause realise as well as anyone that rampant inflation in a democracy undermines the democracy and of course helps their own particular chance of being re-elected to the union. I agree that in this case the Minister, Mr. John Davies, was given an opportunity of replying. But, judging from my postbag, I am not alone in having seen these programmes and wondered whether too much publicity was not given to people who were selected for their militant views.

Some of your Lordships may have read a most interesting book called The New Priesthood. The title refers to producers in the television mass media. This particular quotation comes from Mr. Anthony Smith, who until fairly recently was editor of "24 Hours". It says this: Television isn't a neutral instrument in any society in which it operates …

I repeat, "Television isn't a neutral instrument". The quotation continues: You tend to find that television does accumulate around it left-of-centre people … certainly attracts the group of people who are concerned about examining the society critically … certainly in this country it would be correct to observe that the people who are responsible for television on both sides of the screen, and both halves of the industry are mainly left-of-centre and the whole direction of television is left-of-centre. And therefore one has to admit that the television community is unrepresentative of the public as a whole. I quote that because it comes from within, from someone who had responsibility for a documentary and a very well constructed programme.

I do not think any of your Lordships would object if the view was only Left of centre. I think that all in your Lordships' House, perhaps excepting two, will understand that people who are dedicated to democracy, even if they are not in agreement with one's own views, Left or Right, are entitled at some stage to form a Government. But I feel that too many people are of the Nihilist outlook; are trying to pull the temple of Britain down around their ears, and not trying to create anything in its stead. It is this objection which I put forward and I think these views could well he put forward to a Broadcasting Council. I believe that the Press Council has achieved something worth while and has created a channel for public complaint. I have been reading. since I won the ballot in connection with this debate, its Report for the last eight years. I find that complaints which in 1963 numbered 199 had risen in 1970 to 497. So not only have the public some confidence that it is worth while complaining, but I think most of your Lordships will agree that there has been some good effect on the standards of agreement set in our national and local newspapers.

I do not wish to develop this section of my remarks to greater depth, because the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, has knowledge and experience which I do not have and I see that he is going to speak after me in this debate. But I do not think your Lordships would underrate the tremendous power of television in any national or international crisis. I reflect on Nigeria; I reflect on just how this country was torn apart between Biafra and Nigeria—and families, too. I reflect on what is happening in Ulster and just how much emotion is raised when we see what is happening there. I reflect even, although it did not create so much trouble, on the U.C.S. problem and just how much publicity the very effective Communist leader obtained in that difficulty.

Please do not think that I am against the B.B.C. Anyone who has worked for that institution as I have for a number of years treats it with love and respect. One always has affection for one's alma mater. But that was twenty years ago and its reputation at that time was tremendously high. I wish its reputation was quite so high to-day. I have even heard contemporaries of my children, and my own, refer to it not as the B.B.C. but as the "anti-British Broadcasting Corporation". Now I am anxious to see its proper reputation return and its integrity recognised, and I believe that this aim would be helped by a Broadcasting Council. If I were Director-General of the B.B.C., or if I were Chairman of the Governors, I would welcome a Broadcasting Council, just because the public would know that it is independent. I always felt the same about the police. When I was a constituency Member I used to have to make a complaint in rare instances about the police. This was always looked into and judged by a policeman from the next-door station, and although the judgment may have been objective I never felt that it was quite so effective as if it had been made by an outside body. We have set up the Ombudsman to hear complaints against Ministries and the Administration; we set up only yesterday Ombudsmen to look into the National Health Service. So there is a public demand, and these creations reflect that public demand, for some independent source to which one can appeal. I hope that we shall have a good debate, my Lords, and that we shall hear views of all different types from all parts of this House about the idea that we should have a Broadcasting Council to hear complaints. I beg to move for Papers.

5.29 p.m.


My Lords, I must first of all congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, upon having won the ballot, and secondly upon having selected this subject and given us an opportunity to debate it. I am going to give him broad support but, if he will forgive me, I am not going to follow him into his particular criticisms of bias in the B.B.C. Most of the people who have urged the foundation of a Broadcasting Council have done so because they wish to curtail the liberties of broadcasters. I support it for precisely the opposite reason: I wish to preserve them. I am as deeply concerned about the freedom of broadcasting as I am about the freedom of the Press. In fact the freedom of the Press and the freedom of broadcasting are indivisible.

In Fleet Street we have come to regard the Press Council as one of the bastions of our freeedom. Because we have undertaken the responsibility of self-discipline we can more successfully oppose new oppressive legislation, and we can more effectively seek to reform the laws of libel and contempt which sometimes press rather heavily upon us. Yet we ourselves in our various ways, as the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger knows, had all the present apprehensions felt by the B.B.C. and of the I.T.A. In fact it was only eventually, under the threat of legislation, that we first moved to create a Press Council and later, under another threat, to extend its authority by the inclusion of lay members and by enlisting an eminent Judge to be the Chairman.

The result of all this over the years gradually has been to distinguish and diminish a number of unethical newspaper practices, an historic insensibility to practices that newspapers used to follow in the early nineteenth century, or practices which arose out of the pressure of intense competition. I should not like to argue that we have by any means reached a stage of perfection in Fleet Street—the halo still eludes us. But we are less open than we were even a few years ago to justified criticism, and each year I think there is an improvement. So I hope the broadcasting authorities, who to-day are the target of far fiercer criticism than we get in the newspapers, will voluntarily put their own house in order before the vague threats which are about us become a real menace. Indeed, I think that we in Fleet Street have a vested interest in their so doing.

The question of privacy is one which is exercising many legal and sociological intelligences throughout the Western World, and it is from this ferment as well as from our domestic concern, that a Commission on Privacy are now sitting, and they may well come up with a proposal for legislation on the subject of privacy. If they did, I should fear it, for either a law of privacy would be futile or it would be repressive. It is difficult to lay down a clear line as to where privacy should begin to take over from investigation. The price of ensuring the highly desirable goal of personal privacy by legislative means might be very heavy in terms of the competing right of the citizen to have access to information about what is going on in our very complex society. I think that a far better solution would be a set of flexible conventions freely accepted by the Press and the Broadcasting Councils, who would act as monitors and see that they were observed in the spirit.

The danger the newspapers are in is that a law which might be introduced chiefly to deal with the intrusive microphone or the questing, long-range camera would apply equally to us; yet in our Press Council we have evolved a feasible alternative to legislation. Why do not the broadcasting authorities follow our lead? It is true, as the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, has said, that the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. have set up small and extremely distinguished committees to deal with complaints. But I do not think they command public confidence, and I do not think they will command public confidence, high though the repute of the members of them undoubtedly is. Nor will they ever command confidence if they fail to publish their verdicts for and against, and their reasons for them. To the public, and to suspicious politicians, they will look like a respectable and defensive façade, no matter with what honesty and integrity they may act.

It may be, too, that the brief which has been given to them is far too general. I would confine a Broadcasting Council simply to what I might describe as the electronic newspapers put out by the broadcasting authorities—those aspects of the broadcasting of news and current affairs which are analogous to the information contained in a newspaper. All else—drama, serials, Woman's Hour, Gardeners Question Time, I would leave to the broadcasting authorities. They can safely be left to deal with questions of taste, propriety, morals and social interest. They are much more in touch with a rapidly changing society and what that society finds tolerable and desirable than any body of men and women drawn from outside the media. Valuable and salutary though Mrs. Whitehouse and my noble friend Lord Longford may be as critics of established institutions, quite frankly I would not like to see them acting as our censors.

Today the news media offend people in a number of ways which are not open to remedy at law. They may intrude on a person who is entitled not to be intruded upon, and they may be unfair to an individual or to a group. And despite honest intentions they may he simply grossly inaccurate. The characteristic of all the media, especially when they are large and powerful, is to avoid whenever possible the shame and tedium of having to say that they got it wrong and that they are sorry. The purpose of the Press Council is to decide when legitimate news gathering has gone beyond the bounds of decent inquiry, or when a newspaper has been egregiously unfair or when it has simply got things wrong. Of course a newspaper enjoys an historic right to partisanship and it is allowed a lot more latitude than the broadcasting authority, which has a statutory obligation to be both fair and balanced; but there are limits for both Press and broadcasting, even though the limits are placed in a different position.

The objection of the broadcasters to any council drawn from outside is that the public safeguard is provided by the Governors or by the Authority. Certainly the Governors were a most adequate safeguard in the days when the B.B.C. was noted for its urbanity, its gentlemanly retreat from questions which passionately divide the nation and its excessive respect for people in public life. In those days the B.B.C. was not just paternal: it was patrician, too. They were the days of the dinner-jacketed announcer, when even a lapse from Received Standard English would cause a blush of shame to run throughout the Establishment. So in those days a gaffe was rare, and when one occurred Broadcasting House was red with embarrassment from the Director-General's office downwards.

Today, the B.B.C. is not urbane. It lives, quite rightly, on fierce controversy. It shows perhaps too little respect for people in public life, and it appears to have grown a suitably thick protective skin, which I think is inevitable and necessary. I admire its courage, I welcome its development; but I do not see how the Governors can be the guardians of the institution and at the same time the guardians of minority groups and of individuals who feel that in some way the B.B.C. has let them down. And the same thing applies, in a slightly different degree, to the I.T.A. They are too closely involved; they must participate in a kind of corporate loyalty; they must find it difficult to investigate and chastise those who have given offence.

The I.T.A. is, as I say, in a slightly different position: it is less involved with the programme companies; it is more remote. Yet one doubts its full competence to investigate, to judge, to wield sanctions against the electronic equivalent of newspaper offences. The sole object of any broadcasting council should be to safeguard the acknowledged though unwritten ethics of good journalism. So I hope that the two broadcasting authorities will get together and create a council. Of course it must include broadcasters and their trade unions, and it must include people who have no connection with broadcasting at all. It must be, as the Press Council is, a court of appeal; it must be the court of appeal after the listener has taken up the case with the broadcasting authority and has failed to find satisfaction. It will be able to throw out the frivolous and ill-founded complaint. I have just lost an 80 year old aunt who discovered in her later years the delightful pastime of sitting with the telephone at her side in front of the television screen waiting to be offended; then she would ring up the duty officer and vent her spleen upon him, and he would reply with an urbanity she did not always find in her nephews.

I think that this Broadcasting Council might publish its judgment on the cases it investigated, expecting that the same sanction which is used for the newspapers would be used by the broadcasting authorities: that is, when they had been found to have committed an offence they would then broadcast the finding. Of course, it would necessitate the appointment of people whom it is now very difficult to identify—in each case a person who has final complete editorial authority over a news or current affairs programme. At the moment, from the outside at least, it looks as though that authority is so diffused that nobody is quite sure where the final authority really lies. I do not think that, in the event, the B.B.C. or the programme companies or the I.T.A. would find such a council onerous; and if they fail to evolve one, then I fear that they may find that their real liberties are affected, sometimes directly, but even more probably indirectly.

5.45 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to preface the few remarks I have to make this afternoon with an apology: I fear it is absolutely impossible for me to stay until the end of this debate. I apologise most sincerely to your Lordships, and assure you that I shall be reading in Hansard to-morrow morning all the speeches I am unfortunate enough to have to miss this evening. I echo the congratulations and gratitude expressed by the previous speaker to the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, for having brought this subject before your Lordships this afternoon. Unlike the previous speaker, however, I wish to oppose the Motion, while at the same time, once again unlike the previous speaker, agreeing that it is arguable that in recent weeks both television authorities, both the B.B.C. and the I.T.A., have tended to express a rather Left of centre point of view. But, as I hope to show later in this speech, that is possibly inevitable and a thing we shall have to live with.

It seems to me, first of all, that the B.B.C. and the Independent Television Authority are far more, rather than far less, hemmed in by checks and balances than are the newspapers of this country. They are first of all controlled from the top by nominees of the Government: the Governors of the B.B.C., appointed by the Queen in Council, under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, consisting of people who have been selected for their distinction, their experience, their wisdom and the breadth of their political and other interests. Looking down the list this afternoon I remember picking out at random a pre- vious British Ambassador to Greece, the General Secretary of the Union of Post Office Workers and the Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford. The same very broadly is true of the Independent Television Authority. Its members are not in fact appointed by the Queen in Council; they are appointed by the Minister for Posts and Telecommunications. But they are of equal distinction: under the chairmanship of one Member of your Lordships' House they include two others—I feel I need say no more than that about their distinction. But it is not only those two Boards who have the control and the ultimate responsibility for all programmes, every word which is broadcast and every picture transmitted on the screens in this country. There are also two other organisations already in existence whose duty it is either to watch or to control the output.

We have heard briefly already in this debate this afternoon about the two general advisory councils. They are, admittedly, only advisory. I had the good fortune to serve on the General Advisory Council of the Independent Television Authority for several years, first under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, and subsequently of that distinguished physicist Professor Ring, who still holds the chairmanship. I was enormously impressed at each meeting by the quality of the debates we had. The members, once again, were taken from extremely broad political, social and academic spheres. I remember two architects, a psychiatrist, a sociologist, a couple of journalists, at least six housewives from various parts of the country, representatives from the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. I believe that everything that we said was taken very seriously by the Authority, just as we ourselves took our duties extremely seriously. We were encouraged to suggest subjects about which we were not happy, transmissions seen which we were discontented with—encouraged to complain and given every facility to see programmes again. We had long discussions about various codes: codes of advertising, codes of the amount of violence, codes of the sort of transmissions suitable for children's pro- grammes. On the whole I felt that we were doing a very useful job.

One might think that with the Governors or the members of the Authority at the top, and such broadly based and responsible general advisory councils on the second level, this in itself would be enough. But in the last six months or so both the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. have in addition appointed yet a third body whose sole and explicit purpose is to deal with complaints. The B.B.C. produced the Programmes Complaints Commission only a few weeks ago, and the Independent Television Authority the Complaints Review Board. I personally have serious doubts whether either of those two were even necessary. I am glad to know that in both cases their principal occupation is to deal with cases where members of the public feel that they have been treated unjustly or unfairly, and if those boards concentrate and confine themselves to such cases of individual complaint, then I think that they should do nothing but good. I also think that they will probably have very little to do, because I know from my own experience how desperately anxious both the B.B.C. and the Independent Television Authority invariably are not to give personal offence to individuals.

I remember once in fact unwittingly giving personal offence myself long ago, in I think 1965, in a discussion programme on Independent Television. I had the misfortune to confuse a high official of the Mothers' Union, whose name was Mrs. Prudence Halifax, with a building society. The moment the programme was over it was intimated to me that a little letter of apology to Mrs. Halifax would not come amiss. I immediately wrote one, pointing out, among other things, that in view of the number of telephone calls and letters that I received addressed to the Norwich Union Assurance Society I knew exactly how she felt. However, that is regression. I cannot think that there will be many cases like that which cannot very easily be settled.

I think the analogy of the Press Council must from the start be a false analogy. "The Press" is a general term, a collective term, an inchoate sort of term which has no cohesion, no solidarity. It has no responsibility to objectivity or impartiality, nor does it claim to be either objective or impartial. Also the Press, were it not for the Press Council, would be almost immune from criticism. As the late lamented Randolph Churchill pointed out, "Dog don't eat dog." One very seldom reads criticisms of one newspaper in the columns of another. On the other hand, how often do we read criticisms of the television services and the sound broadcasting services in the columns of the newspapers. We read them all the time, and not only from review critics but also from members of the public. We have Mrs. Whitehouse, and we have people writing in daily to complain about things that they have seen or that they have heard. The broadcasting companies are under a constant fusillade of criticism from all sides.


My Lords, if the noble Viscount will forgive me for interrupting, is he not overlooking the fact that in all the weekly papers, as well as on both television programmes and on radio, there is now systematic criticism of newspapers, their practices and errors and shortcomings?


My Lords, I agree and accept what the noble Lord says. It is true that there is a certain amount, but there is nowhere near a comparable quantity with the criticism of television and radio in the columns of our papers. That being the case, it seems to me that surely we have now enough checks and balances, enough controls, enough commissions and committees. We surely do not need any more. I am sorry to see that neither the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, nor the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, are going to speak this afternoon. I naturally understand their reasons for prefering not to do so. At the same time I am sorry, because I think we should have heard some views.


My Lords, if the noble Viscount will forgive me, may I point out that they are precluded by the Addison Rules from contributing to the debate.


My Lords, I apologise. I did not realise that. I can only say that I wish very much that they were not. As they are precluded, perhaps the noble Lord would permit me to quote a short extract from his introduction to the 1972 B.B.C. Handbook, which seems to me to be appropriate at this time: The B.B.C. is proud of its right, within proper limits of responsibility, to broadcast what it likes and to choose its time for doing so. Then I miss two paragraphs. Later he goes on: Our critics never say that they want to destroy our independent responsibility. They say they want a broadcasting council. Some who are calling for a broadcasting council evidently want no more than the chance of having a court of appeal when they feel the Governors of the B.B.C. have not dealt fairly with some complaint. This view has now been met by the appointment of a Programmes Complaints Commission. But others have deeper and wider plans. They really want to control the switches. Who are they? Some are politicians. Then I once again omit a paragraph. It continues: It is not only politicians. There are others. There are ladies—and lords!—who want to make sure that nothing on television should raise a blush on a maiden's check. Not only no Frankie Howerd, but I suppose also no Shakespeare. There are others who want all power transferred to the producers. They seem to envisage control by some sort of workers' councils. They would like to see no central authority or responsibility in the B.B.C. That would be a sure way to lose our independence, because it takes strength to resist pressure, and they would disperse our strength. This is the point that I should like to end on. I believe that at this moment it is more than ever necessary to accept both the major broadcasting organisations for what they are. They are admittedly slightly to the Left of centre on the level of the producers and the directors of the programmes, but television is a young industry and it is full of young people. I am afraid that it is inevitable that there should be some slight bias on this side. Ideally it should be corrected. If it can be corrected I am perfectly certain that the Governors of the B.B.C. and the members of the Independent Television Authority, assisted by the general advisory councils and the two complaints boards, should be able to do this. If they cannot do it nobody can, and no other commission will be able to do it any better.

Let us therefore not have any more commissions. Let us be grateful that we have at this moment by far the best broadcasting and television organisations of any country in the world. Let us give them their right to stick their neck out a little from time to time, to make their gaffes and to remain as they always have been: stimulating, adventurous, exciting organisations. Let us be grateful for that, and let us please keep them as they are and allow them to continue; otherwise it is we, all of us, who will be the losers.

5.56 p.m.


My Lords, I join in the expressions of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, for giving us the chance to debate this most interesting and important subject. The noble Lord suggests that a Broadcasting Council might be a valuable means for allowing ordinary citizens to have some influence on this all pervasive modern means of communication.

I begin by saying that your Lordships will understand that I am speaking for myself and in no way representing the corporate mind of the Church. The Church, as yet, has made no pronouncement on the question of a Broadcasting Council. In July, 1970, the Church Assembly at its final session before it gave way to the General Synod set up a Commission to look into a number of questions to do with broadcasting. For the past year the Commission has been hearing evidence from a great many interested people, and I do not doubt that the question of a Broadcasting Council is one of the matters upon which it is spending time. But your Lordships will readily understand that until the Commission reports to the General Synod I can only give my personal opinion, for what it is worth, on the question before us. There are many questions which need to be asked before we might be able to approve such a Council. What would its powers be? How would it stand in the matter of pre-censorship of programmes? Or would it be merely an independent complaints commission? How wide would it be allowed to range in items for its agenda? On all these questions I hope we might have some guidance during this debate.

We know that the Pilkington Report ten years ago strongly urged against such a Council. At the time no doubt they felt that they had good reason for so doing. We can appreciate the principle then enunciated that responsibility for the content of programmes should reside with those who bear overall responsibility for broadcasting. As they put it: Authority and responsibility for the exercise of authority must go together. But having quoted the Report in that respect, I must remind your Lordships that the Pilkington Committee went on to urge the broadcasting authorities to … welcome and indeed invite criticism … which should not be resented because some of it may be misconceived. Have our broadcasting authorities always exhibited such an attitude? And have not complaints, especially levelled at the British Broadcasting Corporation, grown in recent years? I believe I am right in saying that the general attitude of the public is much more critical now than it was when the Pilkington Committee was at work. To my mind, therefore, it would appear that for this, if for no other reason, a fresh look ought to be given to the proposal for a Broadcasting Council.

We are all aware—and we have heard about it this evening—of the newly formed complaints review boards set up at Broadcasting House and by the Independent Television Authority. These seem to us to be a step forward. But I believe there is a large section of the public who feel that work of this kind cannot all be left to the broadcasting authorities alone, and that a quite independent body should be set up. I say this with some reluctance, because much of me wishes to subscribe to the view that those administering the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. should be trusted to be at all times so sensitive to their immense responsibilities that they should need no independent Council as well as a Minister to whom they should be answerable.

I want now to refer for a moment to a matter which is causing some anxiety to the Churches. I refer to the Statement made by the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications in another place on January 19, when he announced the end to the restriction at present imposed on the hours of television broadcasting. As no specific mention was made of the so-called "closed period" on Sundays from 6.15 to 7.25 p.m., there has naturally been some anxiety lest this should have been ended; and ended, not with a special announcement that this was so but almost, it would appear, by inadvertence. It is true that the Minister went on to say that "The Authority"—that is, the Independent Television Authority, who had asked for derestriction of hours—had … made it clear that it would not allow any fall in the amount of time given to educational, Welsh-language and other programmes exempt from the present limits."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, 19/1/72; col. 478.] To many people it has not been clear whether religious programmes were to be included in this derestriction, and it has been widely assumed that the natural interpretation of the sentence was that they were. Taking this interpretation, many Churchmen have been quick to point out that the I.T.A.'s phrase, "amount of time", was by no means the same as "amount of peak viewing time", which is what the "closed period" has allowed.

However, earlier to-day the Minister met a small group of Anglicans, and I have before me a statement which the Church Information Office has just released, in which the Minister is quoted as saying that: The derestriction of television hours does not involve the ending of the 'closed period' on Sundays. The Minister went on to say that: It is for the B.B.C. and I.T.A. to judge what religious broadcasts they should do and when. And he concluded by saying that: Both organisations have indicated that they have no plans for changing the 'closed period' or for cutting back on any religious programmes. The crucial point for the Churches is the avoidance of a situation in which religious programmes may be relegated to times when most viewers are otherwise occupied. I myself was very glad to take part in a programme on television this month called "Dialogue with Doubt". And I did not in the least object to the fact that it was shown at 12.15 or 12.30 a.m. But I will say that my wife remarked, slightly maliciously, that this was not exactly "a peak viewing hour". Of course that is what we fear might happen; that all religious programmes might be pushed into times which are not peak viewing hours.

I am making no reference at this time to the quality of the programmes which have been put on in the "closed period". It may well be that the best use has not always been made of this time. My only point is that it should not be ended without full explanation and, I hope, consultation. I expect your Lordships are aware that it has often been remarked that more people go to Church in this country than watch first-class football. Since audiences of religious programmes frequently exceed those for current affairs, there is a strong feeling that if the proposed change resulted in the ending of religious programmes in the peak hours, it would be a serious loss to a great many people. However, the Minister's assurances are most welcome, though it seems surprising that a decision has been taken without any consultation between the Minister and the Central Religious Advisory Committee.

But his assurances still leave us with one major anxiety. It would seem that any future decisions must rest between the B.B.C., the I.T.A. and the Central Religious Advisory Committee. Your Lordships will no doubt know that that Advisory Committee is appointed by the B.B.C., in consultation with the I.T.A. It meets only twice a year. It seems to some of us that a body supposedly representing the Churches, though not appointed by them, must, in conjunction with the two most interested bodies which have the power to determine its membership, decide on the future of religious broadcasting. If those three bodies decided at some future date to make major changes in the timing and content of religious programmes, to whom could the Churches then appeal? It can no longer be the Minister for, if I understand the new situation rightly, he would not wish to be responsible. May it not be that a Broadcasting Council, such as has been referred to in this Motion, could help both the Minister and the public in such a situation? It could be a kind of court of appeal. And so, though we may at the end of our inquiry come to the conclusion that the Pilkington Committee made the right decision 10 years ago, I still believe that a new look ought to be given to the situation to-day. I am very glad indeed that we are doing that to-night, and I very much welcome this Motion.

6.9 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join with others of your Lordships who have congratulated my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing on giving us the opportunity to debate this extremely important matter. Right at the start of my remarks, which will be very brief, as my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing has told me that we are running a little behind our schedule, I should like to express the hope that no early decision will be taken on the setting-up of a Council.

In the first place (and I think the right reverend Prelate made this point), who would appoint the Council, and to whom would it be responsible? That is a very important matter to consider. I think I am right in saying that the Press Council—and I hope my noble friend Lord Ardwick will not disagree with this—has no control over editorial opinion. I believe that this is a very important point to bear in mind, because it seems to me that many people who are in favour of setting up a Broadcasting Council in fact want to control the opinions which they hear on the B.B.C. We should also bear in mind the fact that the Press can, and in fact do, criticise the B.B.C., but I doubt whether the B.B.C. could make very strong criticism of an editorial opinion which they had seen on any particular morning. So, again, we must bear that kind of thing in mind. In addition, we should remember that people read the papers of their choice. If one is on the Right Wing, one reads a Right-Wing paper; one applauds the editorial opinion, a nice glow comes over one, and one thinks everything is lovely. If one is Left Wing, one reads a Left-Wing paper, and again one applauds the editorial opinion and feels that everything is all right. But, unfortunately, there is only one B.B.C. or one I.T.V., and you have to take what you get. This, in my view, is why they cannot possibly cater for the tastes of all those who are either watching or listening.

May I now say a little about Radio 4—and I gather it is suggested sound broadcasting should come into the purview of this Council? I have often thought that if I could not read a newspaper, I should be perfectly content if I could hear Radio 4. Why? Because it is a superb production. Anybody who has been to America frequently and has listened to American sound radio knows how much we are indebted to the B.B.C. for this programme. There is no studio manager running the sound programmes in America: it is all done by a disc jockey who every now and then takes off a record, reads out the latest news and then puts on another record. It is a privilege for us in this country to have Radio 4, and I certainly should not like to have a Council inquiring into that particular programme.

I would say, by all means let us watch the situation. I think that it should be watched; there is a certain amount of anxiety. But I think it would be wrong to decide that a Council should he set up. And if people are advocating a Council from the point of view of censorship, then I certainly believe that this would be a very grave step to take—and the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, made this point earlier. I have always noticed, my Lords, that the Government of the day are critical of the B.B.C.; and, to be quite frank, if we ever reached the point when the Government of the day were not critical of the B.B.C. I should be a little worried. The last Government's anti-B.B.C. attitude carried on, I think, right up to the programme, "Yesterday's Men". It may be that it is changing now, but certainly there was a strong hostility to the B.B.C. on the part of the previous Government. Now, with the present Government, once again we have that same situation. This is how democracy works; and, as I say, if ever it comes about that the Government of the day think the B.B.C. is quite wonderful, then I think we may find that they are not carrying out their necessary duties.

I do not want to prolong this discussion, but I hope that this House will not come to any early decision to set up a Council. We are perfectly entitled to watch the situation, but at the same time we should be very thankful for the wonderful service provided. If I have mentioned the B.B.C. the whole time, it is because the B.B.C. is chiefly the service which is under criticism. I personally think that it does a good job in difficult circumstances. Let us watch for a little longer and see whether it does not sort out its own problems without a Council.

6.15 p.m.


My Lords, I want to thank the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, for introducing this Motion; to congratulate him on winning the ballot, and to say that I share the concern behind his Motion. Now that the Fourth Estate has acquired the new dimensions of television and radio and can invade our homes with varying degrees of responsibility and accountability, I think it is right that the Lords and Commons should be jealous of such a powerful rival. I think they are manifesting their jealousy in some extreme ways, and I shall certainly leave it to much more experienced Parliamentarians to deal with what many regard as a direct threat to the democratic processes or the functions of Government—the threat of the "new men", the "new priesthood", as they were referred to—who, by becoming television personalities, artefacts of the medium, can exert and influence or demolish an argument, or destroy an authority by professional swashbuckling.

But, conversely, I am not going to discuss what many have been tempted to propose in the form of greater political interference or restraint; and I want to say how much I agree with the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill, in the remarks he has just made. I think it would be disastrous, and certainly at the moment would be asking for serious trouble, if we in fact conceived, or attempted to conceive, the imposition of restraints, and, above all, political restraints. Having been Director of Political Warfare during the war, when for military and political reasons we had to have powers over the output of the B.B.C., I can only say that the big stick is always most dangerous, and it was only by rational understanding and shared responsibility that we achieved our purpose. The B.B.C. maintained its integrity while cooperating fully in the exercise of discretion. I insist that this is the relationship which should be maintained.

Everything since the war, not only in Communist countries but in France, with De Gaulle's thumbscrews on the French radio and television and Vice-President Spiro Agnew's recent onslaught on the American media, confirms that the only healthy condition for the Press, the television and the radio is freedom, with responsibility. The operative word—and this is what we are really talking about in this debate—is "responsibility", and whether a Broadcasting Council can ensure that responsibility. I do not seriously think that the Press Council is a valid analogy. As a journalist for most of my adult life, I would remind your Lordships that journalism as a profession and the Press as an industry had no corporate responsibility. The individual journalist who observed the code of ethics found himself vulnerable; and, no matter what people say, we were pressurised by proprietors and advertisers and all kinds of people who, through us, were imposing their views on the public. When it finally came to "protecting the public interest and the individual", the Press Council had to be invented.

But the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. are chartered bodies, subject, if not to day-to-day scrutiny by Parliament, at least to periodic review. The behaviour of the programme companies—the nearest approach, if you like, to the Press proprietors—is subject to the supervision and ultimate sanctions of the I.T.A. So the B.B.C. Governors and the Authority are supposed to be vigilant in the public interest—and, I may point out, with more statutory authority than the Press Council has. If we feel that those public servants have somehow become the "stooges" of the B.B.C. or the I.T.A., then of course we should be doing something about it. Certainly something must be done in the revision of the Charters if we feel that the present provisions are inadequate.

Perhaps there is general misgiving that leaving the handling of complaints to the Governors and the members of the Authority is rather making them judge and jury in their own assize. This misgiving may be justified because our access to those who are supposed to be our watch-dogs is through the Establishment itself. When I have been on delegations and have been called upon to make representations about possible reforms or the removal of abuses, the Chairmen and the Director-Generals of B.B.C. and I.T.A. have always received us with courtesy and tolerance; but they would then put the case to the members. Perhaps there is a case for ensuring that there should be a means of direct representation—a hearings committee, a hearings committee which would be more than simply a complaints committee that would be dealing with specific things. But to reassure the public I feel that there might be more apparent access to those who are supposed to be watching our interests. I would emphasise the complaints committee. After all, we are now getting accustomed to the idea of ombudsmen, and here we have three ombudsmen in the case of the complaints committee.

When looking at the Charters, perhaps we should have a look at the advisory councils to see how effective they are in reflecting the interests and the concern of the public or whether they are merely consulted to give the go-ahead to predetermined plans or decisions of the staff. The politicians and Governments can take care of themselves; the professional lobbyists, like Mary Whitehouse, can take care of themselves; I am more concerned with the rest of us. I am genuinely concerned, not so much with the structure of the B.B.C. agencies but with the nature of broadcasting itself. We are in grave danger and it is something that we ought to be watching, but it is something which I do not think the equivalent of a Press Council would meet. In the words of the ineffable Marshal McLuhan, the "Father Divine" of techno-theology: the medium has become the message. We are in danger of being embraced by the mere gimmickry and techniques of the presentation.

This, I think, is very important because at the moment there is more and more evidence that we are in fact getting in our presentation of productions a great deal of "composting", if you like, of montage productions; and the danger there is not in the deliberate motives of distortion of the producers but in the more efficient production of this kind of thing. By discarding a great deal of what is put in, the "ins", "buts" and "maybes"—we have all had it, all we paraprofessionals in this game—things are taken out of context (and notoriously so in "Yesterday's Men") and, indeed, misrepresented. Here I think there is a strong case to be met by the complaints committee. But there is a great need for a vigilance committee, and I hope that this House will, in fact, constitute itself such a vigilance committee.

6.24 p.m.


My Lords, I have much of an open mind on the question raised by my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing. I think that probably the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of the Maine, will agree with me that we might sit back and read this debate and think out what we have said before we make up our minds. While on that subject as the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich, was properly corrected by the noble Lord, Lord Hill, whereas we are denied his contribution and that of the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, I am looking forward to hearing the noble Lord. Lord Aldington, who is chairman of the General Advisory Council, which has already been referred to.

As other speakers have done, I should like to start by emphasising my faith in and respect for the B.B.C. and the fact that this faith has in a measure been eroded over the last few years. Listening to the last speaker, I have a feeling that it began to crack in the case of the "Yesterday's Men" programme. It may be that some sort of committee is advisable and it may be, as the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, has said, that conceivably it might be welcome to the B.B.C. I do not think myself that the I.T.A. are on the same footing. They are concerned only with television; they are only commercial, and they are only in this country. They do not have the vast responsibilities of the B.B.C. Similarly, I do not believe that the Press Council is quite on the same footing as a Broadcasting Council, as was said by the noble Lord Lord Orr-Ewing—if only because, as other speakers have pointed out, the Press constitutes a channel through which listeners can attack and criticise the B.B.C. whereas the reverse is not the case.

Returning to the question of respect for the B.B.C.—and there are those who remember the war years, particularly if we were many thousands of miles away—one cannot but feel that "Auntie" is a most important part of the whole body politic of the nation. We all respect "Auntie" and it is only because we do not want "Auntie" to become sick that we are being angered at some of the things that are going on. I think it fair to say that during the past few years there has been a growing surge of complaints, rendered the more bitter by the sense of helplessness induced by the attitude of the Corporation itself—which we see in the Charter and in the Foreword of the noble Lord, Lord Hill, to which the noble Viscount referred. There is I admit some merit in the contention that there should be no censorship; but nevertheless a steady and imperceptible lowering of standards of taste seems to be on the way.

As an illustration I propose to make a brief reference to the current "British Empire" series. I do this for two reasons. First, I am greatly disturbed about it; and, secondly, it is quite outwith, to use a Scottish expression, the "four corners" of page 166 of Handbook 1972 of the B.B.C. Any errors or inaccuracies in it are not offensive to good taste, they are tampering with history. Your Lordships will forgive me if I do not mention many items of this problem because I want to await the end of the series before taking a view. We can always have another debate about the whole series when that opportunity occurs. Although I have not seen all the programmes—I have seen the two Indian ones—I believe that some of them have been unworthy on the grounds of approach and of accuracy. In mention of the latter and in talking about inaccuracy, there is the besetting sin of omission; of the producers not having "done those things they ought to have done."

Some of your Lordships may have seen the correspondence in The Times that arose from a letter of mine. I have been flooded with letters about it. I feel that it would be fair in terms of the "four corners" of this debate if I quoted a few words from a short letter, typical I think of the middle of the road: What you said needed saying. My wife and I were also greatly disappointed with the tawdry and unworthy presentation of the 'British Empire', ignoring as it did and as you say the great achievements and bold experiments in democracy and freedom. Please try to ensure that some of these positives are brought out in subsequent programmes"— against which I noted, "Too late, I fear".

Of the many letters which I have received, only one was highly critical of me and I think that I should quote from it as it has a bearing on what we are discussing. This programme is an entirely new set-up in that it is worked out in collaboration with the Time Life Corporation. This other letter contains these words, referring to the first programme about India: It makes me feel sick and wish that I had never been born as a member of this revolting race. What I shall feel when I have seen the rest of the series will remain to be experienced. In other words, it cuts both ways, my Lords. But in this context it is important, and it is conceivable that it might be wise to have some sort of advisory body. That is not an altogether unfair deduction from the first programme and, to my mind, it is disturbing when the B.B.C. declares its intention to repeat the series on Sunday afternoons "so that the children may see it."

Where do we go from here, my Lords? Would a Broadcasting Council help? I doubt it, but we shall see. The B.B.C. has rejected my criticisms but has it referred the matter to the General Advisory Council? I hope that we shall hear about that from the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, and also his views. I leave the matter there, and will endeavour to see the subsequent programmes. Perhaps, when we have another debate, noble Lords better qualified than myself will refer to the programmes on Africa, Canada and the West Indies. It is this sense of helplessness in the face of the apparently absolute power possessed by the B.B.C. which makes one feel like supporting the outcry for a council or something of the sort. I believe that absolute power rests with the B.B.C. which has a quite different set-up from the as was explained by the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, and I think that it must be watched very carefully.

My Lords, to return briefly to the programme on India there were little things, some of which I will quote, to indicate what slant may be put on it. This is a facility which broadcasting has, but which the Press has not got; namely, the angle and the tone of voice or the use of words. In the programme a reference was made to a particularly ornate railway station in Bombay and it was said that this station was built in that style "to awe the common people". That is not so, my Lords; it was built to impress the common people. It was built because there was competition, involving British capital, against another rail company, with British capital, which was building on the other side of the town. Some of these people would say that it was not a question of much-needed sterling being poured into India for its development but rather money invested for filthy profit—how shocking!

As to sins of omission, my Lords, we had a reference to Curzon's American wife and her dollar fortune; and this in a programme which does not mention the great breach between Curzon and the Commander-in-Chief, Lord Kitchener! In fact, I do not think that Lord Kitchener was mentioned at all nor indeed was there mention of the Partition of Bengal. Yet the B.B.C. denies that the series was made with an eye to the American market. If it is suggested that there was no time available, I would say that there was plenty of time when you think of the endless "stills" of memsahibs and their servants. There was no mention of the discovery that the Anopheles mosquito was a vector of malaria. And so on, my Lords. I feel that it is very important that there may be an angle or a slant about broadcasting which does not occur in respect of the written word.

There is another item which I hesitate to touch on but of which I have had personal experience. It is the power of the lighting crew and the camera men to sabotage a production by their skills or lack of them. I think it is a pity that we are denied the assistance of the noble Lord, Lord Hill, and the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone. Apparently, Parliament has little or no control over these matters. I should very much like to know what is the tie-up between Time Life and the Empire series. I think that Parliament is entitled to ask that. In a mischievous moment I suggested to the usual channels that when the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, asked permission to withdraw his Motion I might object and declare that I would like to see certain papers, the contract between the B.B.C. and Time Life.

My Lords, on February 7 The Times published a long letter from a member of the Consultative Committee which concludes with the words: I understand that the B.B.C. are hoping to sell this series all round the world. Neither in the interests of historical understanding nor of our good name does this seem desirable. This letter was written by the author of the official history of the I.C.S, Men who ruled India As I said, I still have an open mind, but I feel so strongly about the series on the British Empire that I hope that the noble Lord who will reply for the Government, or perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, may be able to let us know what is the position regarding Time Life and the B.B.C. I think that there has been too much mystery about this and I am not alone in that view. As I have indicated, the series is unsuitable for worldwide dissemination and unless it can be very severely cut—and I do not see how that may be done—it is also unsuitable for British children.

My Lords, I have nothing further to add. I have made my point about the camera crews and the lighting. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, that the B.B.C. might welcome a Broadcasting Council; and I feel, with the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, that the Press and broadcasting are not on the same footing.

6.38 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that your Lordships will bear with me if I make my speech in a critical tone. I feel that at the present time we are being too complacent. We have terrorism in a part of the United Kingdom; we have industrial unrest, and society is changing on a scale and at a pace that we have not seen for many years. There was a time when the B.B.C. possessed great power to influence public opinion over issues of this kind. Reference has been made in the debate to the power of the Press, but a single broadcast on sound or television made by the B.B.C. reaches millions of people in this country and the impact upon them is instant. It lies in the hands of the B.B.C. to do a great deal of evil or a great deal of good.

I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord' Orr-Ewing for introducing this Motion but I wonder whether the establishment of a Broadcasting Council would be the best way to achieve a balanced and objective view of the serious issues which face us. If one has cause to disagree with comments or representations by the B.B.C. one has to make one's complaints after the event. The broadcast word or the televised picture, as I have said, is one of instant impact. Millions are conditioned instantly by what they see. The damage is done; the effect created can hardly be rectified by an appeal to the Council afterwards. The same applies to the complaints in letters which the B.B.C. receive from the public from time to time.

I should be the first to agree that the Motion in the name of my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing would assist in the circumstances in which we find ourselves, but I think that something much stronger is wanted at the present time. I say this in all sincerity and with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Hill, the Governor of the B.B.C., who is present in your Lordships' House. I should like to see the B.B.C. stripped of all freedom to make political comment at the present time. I will give but one example. As I have said, the violence is with us now.

What happened at the B.B.C. two or three mornings ago? Robert Robinson, in "Today" a daily programme, was interviewing a union representative of the nurses. He asked her a question about their pay claim. It was couched in language as to secure an opinion from that union representative as to whether she thought the union could succeed with their claim by strike action if it were able to bring such power to bear against the nation as was recently exhibited by the miners. I think that interview was thoroughly irresponsible. Millions of people would be listening to this. Do not commentators and interviewers at the B.B.C. realise that such questions give comfort to the lawless elements which exist in our society to-day? Can anyone doubt that such a question would bring despondency to those who have upheld law and order in the most difficult circumstances in this country, and in Ireland? I refer, of course, to our Armed Forces. Can anyone doubt after yesterday's outrage at Aldershot, with the murder of civilians and the terrorists' murder of British soldiers, that despondency would be caused by a broadcast of that type?

I have quoted only one example, but similar broadcasts and incidents on television have taken place. It does not help when a questioner at the B.B.C. so frames his question as to imply, "If you want to succeed you must get the nation by the throat". That happened, as I have said, in the recent miners' strike. Debates on current affairs and political comment should take place in Parliament, which is responsible to the electorate. It is not the province of the B.B.C. to carry out debates of international importance of this kind. Let the B.B.C. concentrate on objective news reporting. It has a world-wide reputation for truth, and nobody can question the validity of this. The final extremity is whether the Government of this country governs or does not govern. I would ask my noble friend the Minister who is to reply to be one jump ahead and not one jump behind. He should accept the setting up of a Broadcasting Council, and he should advise the Governors of the B.B.C. that for the time being, in the interests of the country, all political comment by the B.B.C. should cease.



6.45 p.m.


My Lords, I do not think it would be useful if I were to follow too far the noble Lord who has just spoken, but, speaking for myself, I reject altogether the proposal that he has made, and I am sad that in a reasoned debate about the pros and cons of a Broadcasting Council it should have come out so clearly that some of those who support the case for a Broadcasting Council do so for censorship reasons. Also, if I may say so with respect to the noble Lord, I think that he should choose his words rather carefully. He said that the B.B.C. should make no political comment. The B.B C., as such, do not have a political case; they never deploy the B.B.C.'s political case; they provide a medium through which other people make political comments I think it is right for me to correct the record on that small point.

The case for a Broadcasting Council is one about which we have read a great deal, and I think it is fair to say that what has been written has put forward a whole variety of Broadcasting Councils for a whole variety of reasons. I think it is also fair to say that the Broadcasting Council of the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, is not the same as the Broadcasting Council of the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, and probably not the same as the kind of Broadcasting Council that my noble friends behind me, Lord Ferrier and Lord O'Neill of the Maine, might reach after the watching period. I think there is a good reason for this, as I will try to show during the course of my speech.

In short, I must tell your Lordships that f agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich (I am sorry that he has had to leave), that the case for a Broadcasting Council, for whatever reason, has not been made out. He rightly said that there are checks and balances sufficient already; there are duties and responsibilities carefully laid down for the authorities. I think the only point of difference that I would have with the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich, is that I am not quite as defeatist as he is about the necessity to have a Left Wing bias even among young men in creative positions in broadcasting authorities.

I should now like to give a little of the background as seen from the General Advisory Council, if I may put it in that way. I have been a member of that body for a great many years, and chairman for only one year. I do not attempt to put forward to your Lordships the views of the Council, but only my own views. Of one thing there is no doubt, and that is that the power that is placed in the hands of broadcasters, whether sound or television, is enormous. We all agree about that. And I think we all agree that any nation is wise to lay down rules to see that conventions are established and, having done that, to establish boards of governors, members of authorities, or whatever they may be called; carefully to choose these men and women (and two distinguished women have been on the Board of Governors of the 13.B.C. in recent months), people who combine in themselves both the responsibility for making the right policy decisions in the nation's interests—for that is what they have to do—and have the power to implement those decisions.

There has been an expression of opinion that the B.B.C. have absolute power. I do not think that that is true, though I suppose we could have a metaphysical argument about what is meant by "absolute power". They have power which goes with a very clearly laid down responsibility over a number of matters, together with the final general responsibility to do what seems to them to be in the national interest. Let us look at what the Governors' power is. I believe that their power must be looked at in relation to the difficulty of the task which any persons have in directing broadcasting authorities. I believe this must be one of the most difficult tasks facing any man or woman during his or her life. To help the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. there are advisory councils: they are there only to help and advise. They have no responsibility to the public, nor any public position. In the B.B.C.'s General Advisory Council there can be up to sixty men and women, drawn from every kind of background and with every kind of experience and, I must tell your Lordships, with most kinds of temperament as well.

In my experience, that Council will be unanimous on certain things: on everything that protects the independence of the B.B.C. (they would have risen in wrath to hear the noble Lord, Lord Gridley); on everything that goes with the idea of public service broadcasting, for in that they believe; on their insistence and on the B.B.C.'s insistence on the highest standards of fairness and balance. They will also be unanimous on understanding the very particular management environment that is needed for encouraging creative talent, for monitoring and maintaining the initiative of producers, and doing the same in the case of entertainers, interviewers and so on.

As has been said, many of these are young people, all of them highly idealistic but not, as I have said, all of them Left Wing. Now the task of directing that kind of undertaking is very different from the task which your Lordships may have known in business and in other walks of life, and I believe that one of the real problems in broadcasting is that of direction and management. I do not believe that a Broadcasting Council would help that. I believe that it would positively hinder it, because it would take away from the authority of the B.B.C. Governors and from the authority of the Independent Television Authority.

I make that my first point because I must stress to your Lordships that I have seldom seen any disagreement between sensible men, the Governors and the Director-General of the B.B.C. on what they are trying to do about the codes affecting current) affairs broadcasts and about codes of taste and so on. I have seen problems arise because, frankly, of the difficulty of implementing reasonable intentions and seeing that they are carried out. So I say to your Lordships: do not let us detract from the authority of the B.B.C. Governors or of the I.T.A. Let us rather seek to add to that.

That is the first thing. That is, on the power side, what they have to do. What about their responsibility for reaching decisions, and in particular their responsibility to the private individual or bodies of opinion who may be offended? I agree with what has been said by other noble Lords: that it is surely better to try to anticipate and prevent damage of that kind rather than to rely upon a council which is confined solely to post hoc examination. But if it is supposed that there must be some outside body independent of the Governors, because the Governors are too near the Director General—and frankly I do not accept that argument—then it is said (and it was said forcefully and, if I may with humility say so, lucidly and attractively by the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick) that there is a resemblance between the problems of the television and broadcasting authorities and those of the Press. The noble Lord then came up with his electronic Press Council idea. I must tell him that I agree with Lord Norwich and others that this seems to me a false analogy. In the first place, the Press Council, because it has a majority of Pressmen on it, would not seem to meet all the objections as to what has been done before by the Governors. Secondly, it is designed to deal with a highly competitive industry; and, thirdly, in that industry no one has the duty to be impartial. This is one of the problems. There are, of course, other—


My Lords, if the noble Lord will forgive me interrupting, I would point out that we are engaged ourselves with highly competitive news gathering—reporters and cameramen side by side, working together under rather different ground rules. This is where the analogy exists between the newspapers and the broadcasting authorities: we are all reporters, we are all cameramen together, on the same jobs and competing with one another.


My Lords, I see the noble Lord's point, but I am afraid I do not accept it. I think we should have greatly to alter the Press Council if that were so. But, frankly, I have to tell him, too, that he is dealing with only a narrow front of what I believe the problem to be.




I think that the whole problem faces the Governors of the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. But the Governors of the B.B.C. have accepted that there is a case for a second opinion on the Governors' judgment on representations from individuals about unfairness, misrepresentation and so on. It was for that reason that the Programmes Complaints Commission was established, and I cannot think of a better triumvirate than the former Lord Chief Justice, the former Speaker of the House of Commons (whom I see sitting near me) and the former Ombudsman. If anyone believes that those three distinguished men are incapable of being independent or, as it were, are men who might become the "stooges" of my noble friend, Lord Hill, behind me, that person really is capable of believing anything.


My Lords, would the noble Lord allow me to interrupt? I do not think anyone has suggested that they are not capable of being highly independent and objective in their judgment; it is their terms of reference, as listed on page 169, which give rise to difficulties. These are clearly defined terms of reference, and the Commission are allowed to deal only with people who believe themselves to have been treated unjustly and unfairly in connection with a programme. We have all heard instances in this debate to-day which fall way outside that specific detail. A person has himself to make a complaint to the Complaints Commission. He cannot do this on behalf of somebody else.


My Lords, with respect to my noble friend, I cannot see any great harm in that, because it is not only individuals actually; it is organisations. And it does include unfair treatment generally, which also includes unwarranted invasion of privacy and misrepresentation. This Complaints Commission, or rather, the B.B.C., have to publish their adjudications in one way or another. If noble Lords examine that, I believe they will see that, far from being a second best to what the Press Council does, this Programmes Complaints Commission is an improvement on it. In my humble opinion it is also an improvement on the I.T.A.'s Complaints Commission, in that it is a little more independent.

I will not refer here to the big problem of tastes and standards, except to say that I agree with the noble Lord who introduced this debate (and in respect of whom I should like to join in the expressions of thanks for his having initiated this debate this afternoon) that these matters of taste and standards must be the responsibility of the Governors. So I come back to the point with which I started, which is that we should seek to strengthen the authority and, if you like, the responsibility of those men and women whom we, as the nation, have asked to look after the direction of broadcasting in our country. I believe that is the way to solve the problems. Of course there are problems and of course there are complaints. We know that in a free country there will always be complaints about taste. I should be horrified, and most of your Lordships would be horrified, if there were not complaints about taste. I should be horrified if we became so intolerant as a nation that we agreed on everything.

Let us look at how it is best, in principle, to tackle a problem like this. Surely the answer is to rely on the B.B.C. Governors and on the members of the I.T.A., and to support them in what they are trying to do to protect the private individual's interest. One can agree with my noble friends Lord Ferrier and Lord O'Neill of the Maine that we must watch how this progresses. We must be ever vigilant. One thing remains: if we in this House can recover our confidence in the machinery as it exists, can we be sure that the public will do so? I believe that it can; I believe that we can be sure on this point. I believe that the public, properly led, will re-establish its confidence in the Governors of the B.B.C. and the members of the I.T.A. For that reason I hope that this Motion will not be pressed and that my noble friend who is replying for the Government will not give us a hint that he is considering establishing a Broadcasting Council.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, and in relation to a point raised by my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing, perhaps the noble Lord could let me know afterwards how any complaint about the British Empire series could be lodged with the Programmes Complaints Commission.


My Lords, I am sorry that I did not reply to the noble Lord when he dangled a bit of his fishing rod in front of me. That is the kind of thing that is discussed from time to time by the General Advisory Council. I am sure that if he writes to the B.B.C. in the normal way he will get a perfectly good and satisfactory explanation on his doubts.


My Lords, I hope that no Broadcasting Council will be set up without a full public inquiry.

7.3 p.m.


My Lords, we must congratulate the last speaker on the brevity of his speech. Before starting my own, I should like to say that when we made arrangements last week for these mini-debates my noble friend Lord Beswick, the Opposition Chief Whip, said that they were to be occasions for Back-Benchers and that the Opposition Front Bench would exercise great restraint in the length of their speeches. I hope therefore that the House will not think me disrespectful if I speak for a very short time indeed.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Baroness? There are 41 minutes left on the schedule for this debate.


My Lords, I have never before been urged to speak for longer than I had intended. What I was about to say, particularly as this has been such an extremely powerful, well-argued and forceful debate, was that I did not want to waste the time of the House in summing up the arguments.

After congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, upon initiating such a good debate, I am afraid I must say to him that I cannot really see the desirability of setting up a Broadcasting Council to try to give a balanced and objective view to what goes on. I simply do not think that is possible. What may seem balanced and objective to the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, might well seem highly biased to me and, I do not doubt, vice versa. Judgments of this kind must be subjective. Indeed. I thought that one or two of the noble Lord's remarks tonight were a little biased, and I was a little sad that he brought out the old jibe about the anti-British Broadcasting Corporation.

I find myself in tremendous agreement with the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of the Maine, and the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich. With the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. we have a uniquely good service in this country and we should look around and count our blessings when we see the kind of service that we get. I do not enjoy the "B.B.C.-bashing" that has been going on. Of course we do not always agree with the views that come across; we could not conceivably do so or even think that they are always put in a completely fair way. That is inevitable. I think that the standards are absolutely superb and we ought to admit it freely and frankly to ourselves.

I am afraid that I do not think that the analogy of the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, of the Press Council really holds water. The newspapers are private companies and are responsible to their shareholders. Each newspaper has its own special line which it puts across and for which its readers buy it. This is completely different from the B.B.C. which, as the noble Lord said, does not have a B.B.C. line. I do not think there is a parallel. Nevertheless, I believe everybody knows the tremendous importance of the impact of television on viewers, and of course this applies to listeners, too. Think for a moment of the impact of those satellite programmes from China being beamed all over America. What a breakthrough that is to the American people to see what China is really like!

The importance of T.V. can hardly be exaggerated, and, because of that, and with all the natural fears about violence on T.V. and the fears of the politicians that they will not be as influential as the commentators, and with the feeling about at the moment that we need ombudsmen of one kind or another (though I do not share it myself), I can quite understand why the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. have responded with their complaints councils. The House in general has more or less said that they do not care very much for either of the councils. The general opinion is that the B.B.C. council is almost too distinguished and too august to be a channel of communication for the complainants. The I.T.A. council is felt to be too inter-departmental, if I may put it that way, although I should like to welcome the fact that at long last at least the I.T.A. have a woman on their council. I rather reproach the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, for not having done the same thing on his council.

There has undoubtedly been a feeling through most of the speeches that there is a fear of censorship; that we must at all costs keep the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. free from governmental interference, and the setting up of these bodies might well bring about the things that we are afraid of. There is one point which transcends everything else—and this is a plea that I want to make to the noble Lord, Lord Denham, when he replies. He will know that on this side of the House we do not consider members of Her Majesty's Government to be fountains of political wisdom, nor do we think that they have a lightning ability to adjust to new circumstances. Nevertheless, the noble Lord's right honourable friend, the Minister, is one of the most nimble-witted of Her Majesty's Ministers and I am quite sure that he must by now have regretted that doctrinaire and hasty decision to break up the Commission of Inquiry which we set up and to which the noble Lord, Lord Annan, referred.

There are tremendously important issues before us now, with the possibility of a Broadcasting Council, with the extra T.V. time, with violence on T.V. and with the possibility of a fourth channel. Above all—something which is never mentioned—there are the astonishing technological advances in telecommunications, and with the Charters of the two sides running out in 1976 surely we could have a proper Commission set up. I plead with the noble Lord to ask his right honourable friend to reconsider that decision so that we can have a reasoned, broad and farseeing review, so that we may make the best of these perhaps frightening but absolutely fascinating new media which are at our disposal.

7.10 p.m.


My Lords, broadcasting is a subject of such absorbing interest to almost everyone and, so many people feel, such an influential factor in our daily lives that I think the whole House welcomes my noble friend's debate on this particular aspect of it. It has proved an ideal subject for this experimental form of debate in your Lordships' House. My noble friend, if I may say so, was very well qualified to institute this debate because he must be one of the few, if not the only one, of your Lordships who can claim to have been engaged in the television service during its pioneer days in the 'thirties.

The noble Lord has given expression to a point of view which, to a greater or lesser extent, undoubtedly has found support on both sides of the House. In its essentials, this is that the Governors of the B.B.C. and the members of the I.T.A. have, by reason of their office, a predisposition to support what their organisations do. Therefore, so the argument runs, they are not impartial judges of the performance of those organisations. Therefore there is a need for some other body to be established, so selected as to be able to judge objectively. Its purpose would be to give free expression to the public view of criticism and comment on the programmes broadcast by the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. Such a body would not be hampered, as are the Government, by constitutional inhibitions on intervention in the affairs of the broadcasting organisations. Nor would it have tics of loyalty for the broadcasting organisations themselves. The noble Lord has made it clear that his primary concern is with the maintenance of balance and objectivity in broadcasting. Others who favour the setting up of a Broadcasting Council vary in what they would like it to do, but perhaps the general feeling of supporters of this kind of organisation is that it would give public expression to criticism, and give guidance and perhaps even warnings to the broadcasting authorities themselves. Finally, it might be able to call the attention of Parliament or of the Government to continued or serious breaches of what it regarded to be the obligations of one or other of the broadcasting authorities.

My noble friend's proposal is for a Council to be run on the lines of the Press Council. Whatever the merits of the arguments for having a council of some kind, there are, as has been pointed out by a number of noble Lords, grave difficulties about emulating the Press Council in this context. The bodies with whom the Press Council is concerned, privately run companies responsible only to their shareholders, are of a very different kind from the public authorities appointed by respectively the Queen in Council and my right honourable friend to run the broadcasting services as trustees for the public. The noble Lord particularly mentioned balance and objective view in the terms of his Motion. Newspapers are neither required nor desired to display either characteristic. Most of them openly advocate a particular line of editorial policy and, to a large extent, readers base their choice on the editorial aims of the paper they select. The functions of the Press Council therefore do not include the conservation of balance, objectivity or neutrality. Its main purpose is concerned with the relationships between the Press and the individual, the protection of his privacy and his right not to be persecuted by journalists. The maintenance of standards or the evaluation of journalism from the point of view of its calibre as a medium of information, education or entertainment is right outside the Press Council's purpose.

Furthermore, a Broadcasting Council on this model would not satisfy those who do not consider the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. to be sufficiently accountable to the public. The members of the Press Council represent for the main part the newspapers who form its membership and the trade associations and unions who work in the medium. If that analogy were followed in a Broadcasting Council the effect would be that the examinations they conducted would be to a great extent into their own conduct; into the conduct, that is to say, of one of the only two bodies who are responsible and from whose ranks or from the ranks of whose directors the membership would be mainly drawn. One might get the position in which I.T.A. personnel were being invited to criticise the B.B.C. or vice versa; or in which directors or employees of television programme companies were being invited to criticise each other or to criticise the conduct of their own controlling authority the I.T.A. One might get the position where producers or editors of the B.B.C. were being invited to criticise the judgments of their own Board of Governors. Such a situation could hardly lead either to objectivity or to good personal relations.

My Lords, of the various kinds of more broadly based council, one appointed by Government would stand the best chance of impressing its views and findings on the broadcasting authorities, themselves appointed by Government. To describe it is, however, to expose the anomaly of its position. Already the Governors of the B.B.C. and the members of the I.T.A. are selected for their public standing, wide outlook and experience. They are appointed to take responsibility as trustees for the public for the conduct of broadcasting. They are deliberately appointed on a part-time basis; thus their scope for participation in the executive direction of the organisation is very small. The most important part of their function is to fulfil their trust by making judgments in detachment from the burden of executive control.

It is very difficult to see how a further body composed of just such people would make superior judgments or judge by better criteria. To the extent that they meet less than the Governors or members, they could be expected to have less understanding than they. What is certain is that the more active they were and the more influence they had, the more the Broadcasting Council would come to be regarded as responsible for standards but without having the authority to impose them, while the broadcasting authorities would have been relieved of the responsibility and yet would remain in charge of the provision of service. The feeling would almost certainly emerge that the broadcasters were not really responsible and the new body might come to operate as a buffer between the broadcasters and Parliamentary and public opinion.

Moreover, if a Broadcasting Council were appointed by the Government to make such decisions, it would either be making them for the Government, in which case the independence of the broadcasters from Government control would have been gravely jeopardised; or, if not, for whom would they be making judgment and how would the judgments be publicised, and who would be responsible for implementing them? My Lords, these are all matters that have to be taken into account.

Several noble Lords have mentioned a Programmes Complaints Commission of eminent independent witnesses set up by the B.B.C. to take a critical and dispassionate view of how it is carrying out its responsibilities. That was a decision of the B.B.C. to set up a body to help it. The I.T.A. has also established a committee to consider complaints, chaired by the Deputy Chairman of the Authority and assisted by the Chairman of the General Advisory Council. These bodies bear no comparison with an outside body set up to criticise them. Supposing one were to concede, which we do not, that there was some place for a piece of inspectorial apparatus to look over the performance of the broadcasters: at once one finds oneself faced with the necessity to define terms—terms which specify what they are to do, terms which specify who they are to be, terms which specify, their powers of action.

But, having said that and having put, I hope, some of the difficulties that occur to my right honourable friend, I should like to say that he should read very thoroughly all the opinions that have been expressed from all sides of this House in this debate and not close his mind to them. And we should continue to think about ways of helping broadcasters to improve the service they can render to the community.

7.19 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank all those who have remained to take part in this debate. This is a matter of some importance. I still believe there is quite a measure of disquiet in the nation as a whole and therefore we have done a duty to air this problem this evening. I would thank my noble friend who replied from the Front Bench. Normally on such occasions—this is what 22 years in politics has taught me—you would say that this is the wrong moment or you say it is the right idea but you are going about it the wrong way or you list the difficulties which make the idea impossible to carry out. My noble friend tended to take the third of those three choices. I would remind him of Winston Churchill's phrase: The difficulties speak for themselves; tell us how to get on with it. If I score the boxing aright I make it that I have a slight margin of "pros" rather than "antis". But there were quite a lot of, not neuters (I would never say that of anyone in this House) but neutrals who are sitting on the fence. Let me say straight away, having grown up in the television age, having designed the first television receivers, having joined the B.B.C. in 1936 in the television service in its embryo days, I am a person who loves television and I want to see it set or maintain standards which are an example to the world, and I just felt in raising this matter that a Broadcasting Council might help it re-establish the position it has held in the affection and respect of everyone in this country.

I absolutely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, that the B.B.C. has no editorial policy. It is just done by the producers. I was a producer and naturally I selected chaps I liked working with. As I was in the sporting and outside broadcast field there were no political views; but naturally you select people—whether you are a producer in the film industry or in the theatre or in television—with whom you work well, and you therefore produce better results. It is the producers who count. This is why the book The New Priesthood underlines the power which a producer now has in this mass media, with audiences of 10 million people, which cannot be censored: and I have never wished for censorship. It is the producers who select the speakers and the interviewees. The noble Lord, Lord Aldington, in making such a very able speech, said he did not like the analogy with the Press Council. I should like to associate myself with Lord Ardwick's expression because I thought he chose his words extremely well and effectively. I think we have to remind ourselves that the Press themselves stood out against a Press Council until the weight of public opinion forced them to set up one—first, entirely "within the house", and in the second stage with a neutral chairman. I would endorse his view that the Press has become more independent and more secure as a result of the Press Council than it was before; and I really do not think that the B.B.C. or the I.T.A. have as much to fear.

Much was said, and I interjected, about the Complaints Commission. It is an admirable idea, but I come back to this. Complaints must come from people or organisations who believe themselves to have been treated unjustly in connection with a programme. Again, I come back to something that occurred only last week, on "24 Hours", on February 16. Who complains because those selected for the interviews, who claimed sympathy with the miners, were the shop stewards from the pub just outside the Austin works at Longbridge—known to be extremely militant Left-Wing shop stewards? They were selected to open the programme. Who complains? The people who should complain, of course, are the great British public or the old-age pensioners, because they stepped up, by virtue of the views they put forward, massive inflation which may well lead to industrial anarchy. But under present procedure I cannot see who is going to lodge a complaint.


My Lords, may I make my points clear to the noble Lord? The question is not only who complains, but what is done. Who does things? The Governors of the B.B.C. put it right. Who put right the problem of Ulster on the news reports and so on? The Governors and the Director-General; not anybody else.


My Lords, I will agree that the situation regarding Ulster got very much better after there was literally a wave of anger, I think, in our nation at the way in which the I.R.A. had been treated by publicity. There was a double operation. There was a publicity operation by the I.R.A. as well as a bestial operation in what they were carrying out. I agree that it was put right. I am delighted that it can be put right. I hope that the confidence of my noble friend Lord Aldington is justified. I feel it is a shame that the Addison Rules prevent the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, whom we should love to hear speak on this matter, from justifying his views. Particularly I should like to hear him justify the "24 Hours" programme I have referred to, with an audience of 6 million people, at a very critical moment in the negotiations. When I kept hearing that the British people were entirely sympathetic with the mineworkers' claim, I wondered whether the other view, about inflation and possible industrial anarchy, was ever put forward to the people at large.

I still feel that something would be accomplished by this proposal and I believe people should consider it. The B.B.C. have made nine public apologies so far in the last year, and I feel it would be easier if these matters came before an independent body. I hope they have nothing to fear, because I am the first, like every democrat in this House and in the other House as well, to defend the independence of the communications media. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion standing in my name.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.