HL Deb 25 July 1974 vol 353 cc1931-4

4.32 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. This Bill seeks to extend for a period of three years to July 31, 1979, the statutory basis on which the Independent Broadcasting Authority provides its television and local sound broadcasting services. Its purpose is to allow adequate time for a committee of inquiry into the future of broadcasting under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Annan, to undertake its task. The proposed extension provides two and a half years for the Annan Committee to complete its work and to report, and it also allows a similar period of two and a half years for the Government to consider the Report, to formulate their conclusions and to prepare legislation and put it before Parliament This brings us to 1979, and the Government consider that this provides a reasonable period in which to consider very carefully the decisions which will influence broadcasting in the post-1979 period.

The Bill before the House introduces no new change in the Authority's responsibilities, functions or duties. The intention is that the present arrangements under the Independent Broadcasting Authority Act of 1973, as amended by the Independent Broadcasting Act 1974, which is due to expire on July 31, 1976, should continue unchanged until July 31, 1979. A similar extension will be arranged for the B.B.C. which, as noble Lords will know, operates under the provisions of a Charter. In addition, the life of that agreement will similarly need to be ex-extended to the same date, namely, July 31, 1979. The Bill is short and uncontroversial, but essential in providing for the continuance of the Independent Broadcasting Authority for a reasonable minimum period during which the broadcasting services for the post-1979 period can be considered. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Harris of Greenwich.)


My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, for explaining the need for this Bill. We on this side of the House, in spite of the fact that we hold the noble Lord, Lord Annan, in great respect and affection, want to know why this Committee is really necessary. A period of two and a half years is going to be needed for the Committee to report and another two and a half years after that before anything can be done on it. It seems a tremendously long time before making the vital decisions which are necessary.

One question which I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Harris, is: are we going to have to wait five years before anything is done about the allocation of the fourth channel? My right honourable friend Sir John Eden, when he was Minister of Posts and Telecommunications in another place, undertook to make a Statement in another place about what was going to happen to the fourth channel before any such Bill as this was granted. Can the noble Lord, Lord Harris, say whether any such Statement will be made on this? As I said, five years seems a very long time to wait for this useful fourth channel, and I hope he will consider whether it could be allocated to Independent Television with possibly some provision included in it for taking over some of the responsibility from the B.B.C. for the Open University programmes.


My Lords, to answer the two points which the noble Lord has just raised, first of all I agree that it is a long time to wait but if I may strike what I trust will be a small note of controversy, although agreeing with him I would only draw his attention to the fact that had the previous Government not decided to abandon the decision of the Labour Government of 1970 to set Lord Annan's Committee to work (the noble Lord will recall that the noble Lord, Lord Annan, was asked to undertake this task in 1970 and when the change of Government took place the incoming Government decided that the noble Lord, Lord Annan, should not proceed) it would by now have finished its Report, and by next year we should probably have new legislation dealing with the I.B.A. I will give way to the noble Lord if he wishes.


My Lords, the noble Lord says "by next year". But he contemplates now—and there was a Home Office Statement to this effect—that consideration and legislation will take two and a half years. All I was going to say was that we thought there was going to be too much delay then; and if we were right on that, how much more delay is the new Committee going to cause now?


My Lords, I would repeat the point that if the noble Lord, Lord Annan, had continued his work in 1970, then by next year a decision on the fourth channel would have been arrived at. Unhappily, in 1970 the Conservative Government, for reasons which they may well have regarded as reasonable, decided that the noble Lord, Lord Annan, should not continue his inquiry. All I am saying to the noble Lord is that in consequence of that we will certainly have to wait until the noble Lord. Lord Annan, has reported before making a decision on the fourth channel. If the noble Lord, Lord Annan, and the distinguished Committee over which he is now presiding, are going to do a serious and worthwhile job there is no point in the Government at this time prejudging one of their most important conclusions. Therefore I fear that all I can say to the noble Lord on the precise question he asked is that there is no question of the Government making any decision on the fourth channel until the noble Lord, Lord Annan, and his Committee have reported.


My Lords, since the matter of the Annan Committee has been raised may I ask the noble Lord a question? So far as I recollect it was not actually repeated in a Statement in this House, but I think I read one weekend that this Committee has now had its composition made up but there were no details of the terms of reference nor indeed of whether individuals or organisations could submit evidence. May we know a little more about this? Perhaps later we could have a debate on the terms of reference, or is the noble Lord in a position to say what would be expected of the Committee and how wide will be its terms of reference?


My Lords, in regard to the two questions which my noble friend has raised, first regarding the terms of reference, these were published at the time my right honourable friend the Home Secretary announced his decision to ask the noble Lord, Lord Annan, to take on this responsibility once again, so the terms of reference are a matter of public knowledge, but I will gladly write to my noble friend and advise her of them. I shall be glad at the same time to give her the address to which communications should be sent by organisations and individuals who wish to give evidence to the Annan Committee. In fact, the noble Lord has already indicated that the Committee are anxious to receive evidence from all interested parties, and I will certainly see that we do the best we can to provide information as to where evidence and requests of this sort should be sent.

On Question, Bill read 2a; Committee negatived.

Then, Standing Order No. 44 having been suspended, pursuant to Resolution, Bill read 3a and passed.