§ 4.41 p.m.
§ Report received.
The MINISTER of STATE, HOME OFFICE (Lord Harris of Greenwich) moved Amendment No. 1:
After Clause 1, insert the following new clause:
§ Exclusion of 1973 section 4(2) and (5) as respects proceedings' in Parliament and proceedings of local authorities etc.
§ (".—(1) Nothing in section 4(2) and (5) of the said Act of 1973 (of which subsection (2) provides for the exclusion from programmes broadcast by the said Authority of the opinions of the Authority and any programme contractor, and of certain persons connected with the Authority or such a contractor, about matters of political or industrial controversy or relating to current public policy and of which subsection (5) provides for the exclusion from such programmes of certain religious matter and of certain publicity for charitable or benevolent institutions) shall apply to a programme broadcast by the said Authority so far as the programme consists of proceedings in either House of Parliament or proceedings of a local authority, a committee of a local authority or a joint committee of two or more local authorities.
§ (2) In the preceding subsection "local authority" means any of the following bodies, namely, a local authority within the meaning of the Local Government Act 1972, a local authority within the meaning of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973, a district council in Northern Ireland, the Common Council of the City of London and, without prejudice to the effect of the said Act of 1972, the Inner London Education Authority.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this Amendment, I should say that Amendment No. 3 is related to it. During Committee on this Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, moved an Amendment to reinstate Clause 2 of the Bill as it was introduced in another place. This clause excluded Section 4(2) and (5) of the Independent Broadcasting Authority Act 1973 in relation to the broadcasting 1629 of Parliamentary proceedings. We discussed this in Committee, and I do not think it is necessary to rehearse the points that were then made, except to say that I agreed that this provision should be reinstated and that, if it was the view of the Committee—as it clearly was—I would move an Amendment on Report to reinstate the provision in the right place in the Bill that is after Clause 1. This reinstatement is achieved by the Amendment we are now considering.
§ The noble Lord also moved an Amendment in Committee to extend the exclusion of Section 4(2) and (5) of the 1973 Act in relation to broadcasts of the proceedings of district or county councils. I pointed out that there were other local authorities in the United Kingdom as well as district and county councils and that, before we made an Amendment of the kind he had suggested, the local authority associations should have an opportunity to consider the matter. The local authority associations have indicated that they would be content to see the exclusion of Section 4(2) and (5) extended to the broadcasting of local authority proceedings. I should like to take this opportunity to express my own, and I am sure your Lordships', thanks to the associations for the speed with which they responded to our request to them for comments on this proposal. In the light of this response, we have incorporated in the proposed new clause an extension of the exclusion of Section 4(2) and (5) in relation to the proceedings of local authorities and their committees or joint committees. I beg to move.
Lord WINSTANLEY moved, as an Amendment to the Amendment, Amendment No. 2:
At end insert—
(3) Nothing in section 4(2) and (5) of the said Act of 1973 (of which subsection (2) provides for the exclusion from programmes broadcast by the said Authority of the opinions of the Authority and any programme contractor, and of certain persons connected with the Authority or such a contractor. about matters of political or industrial controversy or relating to current public policy and of which subsection (5) provides for the exclusion from such programmes of certain religious matter and of certain publicity for charitable or benevolent institutions) shall apply to a programme broadcast by the said Authority so far as the programme consists of statements made by
candidates or spokesmen for political parties made in connection with a Parliamentary or local government Election or a Party Political Broadcast made under the arrangements governing such broadcasts by the Committee on Party Political Broadcasting.".
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to declare an interest once again as a director of an independent radio company. I share an interest in this matter with many Members of your Lordships' House and even more Members of another place. I am sure that it will be for the convenience of the House if I endeavour to say everything that I have to say on this important and interesting matter at one time, and in so doing I hope to keep to the Rules of Order. Since my Amendment seeks to amend Lord Harris's Amendment, I must at once record my gratitude to the noble Lord for the speedy and wholly efficient way in which he has responded to the requests which were made to him in Committee. He has brought forward an Amendment which deals entirely effectively with the anomaly which would have have arisen in your Lordships' House and, indeed, in another place if ever a person who was a prescribed person under the rules of Section 4(2) of the Independent Broadcasting Authority Act, were speaking, either in your Lordships' House or another place. If that were so, the Independent Broadcasting Authority would have immediately been in breach of the law had not they excluded that contribution from the programme. The noble Lord's Amendment deals entirely with that matter, so that particular difficulty is overcome.
§ I am also particularly grateful that the Amendment deals with local government sittings. Obviously, if it is right that Section 4(2) of the Act should not apply to the broadcasting of proceedings in Parliament, it seems only reasonable that nor should it apply to broadcasts of proceedings of local authorities. I am deeply grateful for the speedy way in which this has been dealt with in the Amendment. I am frankly surprised that it has been possible to resolve this matter so rapidly. It will remove a number of difficulties which arose and could have continued to have arisen: for example, in broadcasts of proceedings of the Greater London Council and many other council bodies which are regularly broadcast by independent radio.1631
§ I seek to amend the Amendment by trying to deal with two outstanding matters concerning Section 4(2) of the Independent Broadcasting Act to which I have referred previously. Briefly, my Amendment seeks to exclude the application of Section 4(2) of the Act which requires the Authority to exclude from its programmes contributions on various matters by a whole list of prescribed persons: member of the Authority, members of the board of the company, employees of the Authority, employees of the independent contracting broadcasting companies, and so on. I am endeavouring to exclude the application of Section 4(2) from broadcasts of statements in connection with a General Election. Secondly, I seek to exclude Section 4(2) from applying to Party political broadcasts which are made under the arrangements of the Committee on Party Political Broadcasts of Parliament.
§ These are two important and relatively urgent matters. If we proceed without doing anything in relation to the matter regarding elections, we are going to be in a difficult situation when the election finally arrives. There is not the smallest doubt that a number of candidates in the coming Parliamentary Election from all Parties will be people whose contributions have to be excluded by the Independent Broadcasting Authority under that Act. One will then immediately be faced with corresponding difficulties because the Authority will be required to include their contributions under the terms of the Representation of the People Act. If it has to exclude one candidate, it will then have to exclude all the other candidates. That would apply to a number of candidates in the forthcoming General Election.
§ If it is reasonable for a Parliamentary election, it is also reasonable regarding local elections, though it is seldom that there are broadcasts of speeches made by candidates in local elections. I have also extended that provision to include broadcasts made in connection with the coming General Election or any General Election by spokesmen for the political Parties. This is a fairly important matter. It is not unlikely that perhaps the Labour Party might wish to use the services of a skilled and experienced broadcaster—such as Mr. Austin Mitchell—from another place, handling their Press conferences, or doing something else in 1632 connection with the regular broadcasts which take place during an election period. Yet, although he is an unpaid director of an independent radio company, his contributions would have to be excluded only from independent broadcasts, not from the BBC. That would surely be a nonsense.
§ Similarly, we have Sir Paul Bryan on the Conservative side in another place who might also be required to make certain broadcasts, and his contributions would have to be excluded. Even my own would have to be excluded, if it so happened that anyone asked me to make a contribution. It is at least an anomaly, and I shall be very interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Harris, says about how the situation will in fact be dealt with in a General Election period.
§ Let me move now very rapidly to the point concerning Party political broadcasts. Here we have a situation at present, if the Act remains unamended, in which, if any one of the Parties, putting on a Party political broadcast under the arrangements made by Parliament as one of the Party's allotted times for broadcasting, chooses to use in that broadcast a person who is required to be excluded under Section 4(1) of the Independent Broadcasting Act, then indeed we have an extraordinary situation. We have the law and the agreement, which I understand requires simultaneity of transmission of a Party political broadcast on all channels; but then we shall have a situation in which, if the law is to be enforced and the Independent Broadcasting Authority is to follow the rules under which it operates, it would have to exclude that Party political broadcast. So then we should have not simultaneity but a Party political broadcast which could go out only on BBC television or BBC radio. Independent Television presumably would have to go to "black", and therefore the people who chase up and down the various channels looking for something other than a Party political broadcast would presumably find nothing at all on Independent Television.
§ This is really a very difficult problem. It is an anomaly and I am quite sure that it ought to be dealt with. Whether or not it can be dealt with here and now along the lines suggested in my Amendment to the noble Lord's Amendment, I do not yet know; but I shall listen with interest 1633 to what the noble Lord, Lord Harris, has to say about my suggestion. With that, I beg to move.
§ Lord REDESDALE
My Lords, I should like very briefly from these Benches to say how grateful we are to the noble Lord, Lord Harris, for moving so quickly. In fact, I am somewhat surprised that he moved as quickly as he did. I think he has gone a lot further than I anticipated he might do on this occasion and, as I say, we are extremely grateful.
Referring to the exposition by the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, of his Amendment, I should like to say from these Benches, as I said on Committee, that we have considerable sympathy for what he has said. Perhaps at this stage, as I think he realises himself, he may be asking for a little too much. I do not think it is quite "tacking" but it is taking the matter a lot further. I can anticipate a number of problems one might find in trying to put this through at this stage and although, as I say, we have sympathy for it, I do not know that one could ask for too much at this stage. It will be interesting to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Harris, has to say.
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
My Lords, I am very grateful for what the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, and the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, have said in relation to the first Amendment which I proposed. I have expressed my gratitude, and that of the House, to the local authority associations for the speed with which they gave their response to this matter. I should like to add, if I may—though this is perhaps not normally done—that I extend gratitude to the officials of my own Department, who have given a great deal of care and attention to this matter, and it is entirely as a result of that that we are able to consider the Amendment today.
I fear, although I have reflected on this matter since our last debate, that I do not think it would be right to make this Amendment today. The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, expressed his sympathy and also his doubts on the last occasion, and he has repeated them today. I regret to say that from our point of view 1634 this Amendment would be more difficult to accept than that which we considered on the last occasion.
If I may just go over the ground again—I recognise that this is an important matter, and it is right that it should be ventilated because there is widespread concern in some quarters, as the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, indicated—let me say, first of all, that the problem (which I acknowledge) is that which can arise from the combination of Section 4(2) of the 1973 Act with Section 9(1) of the Representation of the People Act 1969. A candidate at an election who is a director of an independent television or radio company cannot, by virtue of Section 4(2), have his views broadcast by the IBA. The real difficulty is under Section 9(1) of the 1969 Act he can insist that the views of the other candidates are not broadcast either. This is a problem which we shall have to face in the White Paper, and since it relates to electoral law it will have to be discussed through the usual channels.
The Amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, goes a great deal wider than this limited, though complex, problem. Indeed, it extends the new clause into the realm of Party politics. Of course, Parliament and local government is about Party politics, but Parliament and local authorities are elected bodies. I accept also that Section 4(2) should not apply to their proceedings, and indeed we have dealt with that problem by the Amendment we now have before us. But I think we must be extremely careful before we dispense with Section 4(2) in relation to our activities not only as members of these bodies but also in relation to our purely Party political activities. We must be careful before we adopt the stance that somehow there is one law for the politicans and quite a different law for everyone else. But this, with respect to the noble Lord, is exactly what his Amendment is proposing. It seems to me that, leaving aside the broadcasting of the proceedings of Parliament and of local authorities, the law relating to the broadcasting of the views of directors of independent television or radio companies should not, except for good reason, be more favourable for politicians than for other people. It may be that the Government's proposals 1635 for changes to Section 4(2) will be of some assistance to the noble Lord, but that will be for him to judge in the light of the White Paper.
I appreciate that the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley regards this problem as urgent, in view of the fact that there has to be a General Election before October next year. To that I would say that it has been urgent ever since this provision first came on to the Statute Book in the Television Act 1954. This is not a new problem. It is a matter in regard to which Parliament quite deliberately decided to impose these conditions. Certainly I recognise that many now challenge this decision and think that Parliament made a mistake on that occasion, but there is no question of a misunderstanding having arisen. It was a quite deliberate decision by Parliament to impose these conditions on the directors of these companies.
In conclusion, I should like to return to my main argument that politicians should not, except for good reason, be treated more favourably than other people. I do not in any way belittle the problems to which the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, has directed our attention this afternoon, as he did on the last occasion this matter was before us. But in the Government's view the solution, if there is one, lies in an Amendment to Section 4(2), which is of general application. Such an Amendment, if there is to be one, must await the White Paper and the ensuing legislation. However, I would assure the noble Lord that, as I have indicated already, we are well aware of the problem I have mentioned of the combination of Section 4(2) of the 1973 Act and Section 9(1) of the Representation of the People Act 1969.
This problem is one where politicians can be treated less favourably than other people, in some instances undoubtedly through no fault of their own. There was no disposition, therefore, on our part to minimise the extent of the problem, but we do not believe that this is the way in which to set about dealing with it.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harris, for having addressed his mind to these problems and for having accepted so readily that two rather difficult problems here do exist. I should also like to thank 1636 him for having replied to my Amendment in the way in which he has done. He has hinted, I think, that these are matters which might well he dealt with following the White Paper, arising from the report of the committee under the noble Lord, Lord Annan, and if that is the case then so be it. But with regard to what he said about not wishing to sec politicians or politics treated in any way differently, I entirely share his view on that.
I should also like to underline something which he implied just now, and also said at Committee stage. I should regard it as intolerable if directors of independent broadcasting companies and any of the contracting companies, or indeed any other persons, such as members of the Independent Broadcasting Authority, were in some way permitted to use their position of influence and were enabled to express their political or other views in a more favourable way than other persons. So there is no gap between us on that. I entirely share the noble Lord's view, and therefore I completely share his feeling that some kind of Section 4(2) must continue to exist, White Paper or no White Paper.
The noble Lord referred to one of these matters as urgent, but said that it had been urgent for many years. It is only right to remind your Lordships that it has been urgent, but it has been dealt with. In the main, it has been dealt with by inadvertence, because over and over again—and I can count many examples—the law has, in fact, been broken. Prescribed persons have broadcast, and afterwards the Independent Broadcasting Authority has noticed what has happened. Whether it has been blind by malice or otherwise, I do not know. But it is true to say, as the noble Lord has said, that this has been urgent for some time. It has, in fact, been dealt with merely by ignoring it, whereas I suspect that at the moment, now that the matter has come to light, the Independent Broadcasting Authority will feel that it must apply the law with very much more stringency than it has done in the past. Therefore, even though it was urgent before, the matter may now become even more urgent. I shall reflect upon what the noble Lord has said. I am most grateful to him for the nature of his response and for its mood. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment to the Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ In the Title:
Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH moved Amendment No. 3:
Line 4, at end insert ("and to exclude section 4(2) and (5) of the Independent Broadcasting Authority Act 1973 in relation to proceedings in Parliament and proceedings of local authorities and committees and joint committees of local authorities.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Amendment is consequential on Amendment No. 1. I beg to move.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Title, as amended, agreed to.